Touring Portugal: A Conversation with Laura Canales
This month, we’re interviewing women from all over the world and asking them about their experiences traveling to Portugal. We had the privilege of speaking with Laure Canales about her experience traveling through Portugal. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation.
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What inspired you to go to Portugal?
I live in Boise, Idaho with my husband of 33 years and our two Rottweilers. I am a CPA and I own a public accounting firm, specializing in management consulting, administrative systems design, and tax planning. When I’m not traveling the world, I travel in my state, play golf, and cook and entertain friends.
I lived in England for seven years, and had the opportunity to travel a lot in Europe. Our trip to Spain and Portugal happened about halfway through our stay.
How long did you go for? How did you spend your time?
We spent about three days touring Portugal. We started in Sintra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We packed a simple picnic of cured meats and fruit and sturdy bread, since we expected to be touring most of the day. The hilltop Palacio de Pena was spectacular! So colorful, with such varied architecture and views of the coast for miles. It is a bit of a hike, and does get crowded in the afternoon, so be aware. On the way down the hill we stopped at the Castelo dos Mouros, which gives great views of the Pena Palace as well, and has a lot of history. Then down to the National Palace with its twin chimney towers, one of the best medieval palaces in Portugal. It has been continuously inhabited since the 1400s, and been kept in good repair. It is best to start at the top and work your way down, as all of these are within walking distance of each other.
The next day we headed to the beach town of Cascais, on what is called the Portuguese Riviera. We walked up and down the beach, and wandered the streets window shopping. We stopped at the Baia Hotel for a drink at sunset, and took a taxi to the Torre neighborhood for dinner. We left for Lisbon the next morning, stopping at the Torre de Belem on the way – lovely sea views and spectacular architecture! It seemed to me that there should have been two towers, sort of like a grand entrance to the town. We had lunch just a bit away from the tower, and drove on to Lisbon.
On the way into town, we stopped to see the Padrao dos Descobrimentos just a bit down the road from the Belem Tower. It’s a stunning, bright white monument to the Portuguese explorers. The ground has a gorgeous inlaid compass and world map that can more easily be seen from above; there is an elevator you can ride. You can also see the Belem Tower from up inside the monument. And again, more of the wavy tile promenades leading to the monument. Just across the street is the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos which we visited for a bit before going on to our hotel to drop our luggage and get some dinner. Since we were in the Alfama district, we stopped in at Santa Rita to eat; off the tourist path, but worth it. The next day we toured Castelo de Sao Jorge and the Fado Museum, then on our way back to Spain!
What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
Portugal was probably the most enchanting place I’ve ever been – and I’ve traveled a lot. What I remember the most are the tiles. Hand-painted tiles cover the fronts of so many buildings. Hand painted tile street signs. Hand painted ceramic plates, bowls, all kinds of dishes. Color and pattern everywhere! And the tiled promenades – wavy and herringbone patterns on the sidewalks.
The biggest disappointment? The Sintra palaces didn’t have much in the way of signage explaining the history of the buildings or their occupants.
What do you wish you knew before you went?
I wish I had known about Vinho Verde, the light, crisp white wine that goes with everything – or nothing. I also wish I knew ahead of time that even in summer, the hilltop palaces in Sintra would be a bit cool and breezy – dress accordingly!
Any favorite restaurants/hotels/hostels/sites you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
Snack Bar Pampilho (our Cascais lunch spot) had some of the best service, and is open pretty much all day morning til very late (8:30 am – 2:00 am).
The Blue Bar in the Baia Hotel Cascais had the best views of any of the restaurants we visited.
Pateo do Petisco, where we had dinner in Cascais had some of the best tapas, and was very reasonably priced for a resort town.
Restaurante Sagitario near the Belem Tower was great for lunch – surprisingly inexpensive for somewhere so near a huge tourist landmark.
I had a bacalhau in a sort of spicy (but not hot spicy) rice soup that was delicious.
Santa Rita restaurant was the bomb! Best grilled sardines – a specialty in Portugal – I ever had. Inexpensive, too – both of us ate for about 15 euros each including a bottle of wine.
My favorite and most memorable site was the Padrao dos Descobrimentos. It looked as if it were moving, though it was made of stone.
Is there anything that women specifically should know before they travel to Portugal?
If you are touring the three palaces of Sintra, leave the sandals/heels/wedges at home and wear a good pair of walking shoes – and don’t forget to carry a wrap or sweater, it can get cool and breezy up there, even in summer when it’s hot at the beach. Also in Lisbon, it can get hot in summer and you’ll dress accordingly, but keep that wrap with you to wear into the churches or other sacred buildings – it’s disrespectful to enter with bare shoulders (tank top or strapless top is not good) or lots of cleavage showing. Some don’t allow shorts, either, so a lightweight skirt/dress (again not too short) or capris/lightweight slacks are best to wear. In all areas I felt safe, though I was not traveling alone.