How shopping for pans took us to one of the best views over Lisbon

It’s been one month since we’ve been offering our cooking classes in Lisbon and next week, we’re hosting our first large group. Like any chef, Amelia (our instructor) , is always afraid of not making enough food and therefore wanted to buy some big skillets.

It’s been a busy summer but today I finally managed to meet her after lunch and find some free time to go shopping. This was supposed to be a banal act but soon became a fun afternoon.

It’s not hard to shop for home goods in Lisbon, but there is one store in particular that stands out above all of the others.  Here, cookware comes in all shapes, sizes, brands… and what a view!

There was a lot to choose from but once decisions were made it was time to sit down and have a drink, enjoying the fabulous view from their terrace.

Seven cruises in the same day

     Today Lisbon will be exceptionally crowded. Seven cruises are on port and the city will receive about 8500 passengers only from the cruise ships.

     Crazy day? Maybe yes, maybe not. Though the city is not so big, I’m sure that many of them will decide to enjoy the beach in Cascais, the history in Sintra, religion in Fatima or wines in Arrábida. All these towns are easy to visit just in a couple of hours, which gives passengers passing by Lisbon many options in how to spend their time.

     Though receiving seven cruises in one day is a little uncommon, April is normally a peak month.. It’s the beginning of the season for Mediterranean cruises, which happens at the same time than the re-positioning of Mediterranean and North European cruise ships.

     This year, only in April, we’ll have 55 cruise calls. 33 cruises will be passing by during the day, 17 will be in turnaround and 5 in inter-porting  This means a 41% growth when compared to the 39 calls registered in April 2012.

Curious? Come on board and discover Lisbon!



We want a Fernando Pessoa doodle

     I’ve just received this email from Casa Fernando Pessoa and couldn’t resist to share it:

     ”On June 13th 2013, Portugal and the Portuguese language (spoken by more than 280 million people all over the world), will be celebrating the 125th birthday of Fernando Pessoa, our most universal writer and poet. Internationally revered by readers, Fernando Pessoa was the first writer ever known to have dispersed his creativity through tens of literary personas and the genius creation of the concept of three main heteronyms, whom he embodied but at the same time giving them a life, a biography and a style all of their own. Writing in Portuguese and English all his life, Fernando Pessoa, through himself and his own others, was the epitome of Portuguese literary innovation breakthrough, on the XX century. His legacy is now more alive than ever, having been translated and published in more than 40 languages.

     With all this in mind, we thank your doodle team, in advance, to take his upcoming 125th birthday under serious consideration.”

      Copy / paste this text and email it to [email protected]

“To be great, be whole;
Exclude nothing, exaggerate nothing that makes you.
Be whole in everything. Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you endeavour.”

Google Doodle – Bordallo Pinheiro

     Have you checked google today?

     Today’s google doodle celebrates the 167th birthday of one of the most important Portuguese ceramists, Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro.

     One of his biggest creations was the “Zé Povinho” (can be somehow translated into “John Doe”), representing the average Portuguese man in the 19th century. This is the man you can see in the doodle, with his hands in his pocket, a little bit confused with the actuality and politics. The image is a little bit dated, but we still use the expression today, when we refer to an average person, mostly regarding politics.

     Another creation was the pottery with the shape of a cabbage leaf. Dishes, terrines and bowls with this inspiration can be found almost everywhere in Portugal. In 1884 a factory was created with a view to revitalizing the traditional arts of ceramics. It has been in business since then, recovering old and creating new pieces, always preserving the tradition of our ceramics.

The good side of a rainy day

     On Saturday the wine course was great. Can’t believe how many things I’ve learned and how useful they’ll be. Vines, casts, and most importantly: how to match (or “marry” as Silvia would say) wine with food.

      On Sunday it rained all day. You know how disappointing it is to have a rainy day when you’re touring: you can’t walk around, sit outside nor take good pictures. On the good side, you don’t need an excuse to do a pub crawling and sample different wines and dishes.

    The cheeses were great and same thing about the smoked ham, the sausages and the roasted kid. However, if I needed to choose a winner, I think I’d pick the “lagartos” – “lizards” in English. Don’t worry, I’m not eating reptiles.

“Lizards” are a pork cut, from the pigs back. It’s very tender and tasty but the pieces actually have the shape of lizards. Check the picture, don’t they look like lizards?

Sorry for the crumbles on the dish but you can’t imagine how good the bread was!

LisbonStories goes South

     It’s no secret that I love the north of Portugal but I have to admit that the south has its charm too.

     Alentejo is a land of small towns, small businesses and old traditions, still hand-made. It’s also a region that takes its time to explore, as time goes by very slowly. This way, I decided to spend a couple of days, with time and no defined schedule or itinerary, to discover this region.

     To start, I’ll be joining a wine course provided by Silvia from “Wine Time – Da vinha ao copo“. Silvia is the person that does our winery tours in Alentejo. Her knowledge about wine and the wine-making process has been impressing me and our clients so much that I begged her to create a wine course. She was skeptic at first, but the course sold out quite fast!

     After the course? I don’t know. Small dairies and sausages factories, a huge dam, archaeological sites, small towns and old craftsmen are all on my list.  It may take me longer to update our facebook page, but as a reward, I promise I’ll be including some of these places in our tours.

     Looking for unique wine tours? Just keep posted!

Hey, it’s Carnival!

     Today is Carnival day and from the North to the South all the country is celebrating… and probably masquerading too.

     Carnival is a great opportunity to do some tricks and jokes, masquerade and have fun during five consecutive days. Is it a bank holiday? Theoretically no, but in reality it almost is. At home it’s time to make or buy costumes. Most inspiration comes from movies and fairy-tale characters, professions, other cultures and so on.

     Traditions vary throughout the country but happiness and a care-free spirit are something they all have in common. After all, “É Carnaval, ninguém leva a mal”. It’s Carnival, no one can get offended, is probably the most heard sentence.

     Recently some towns (like Ovar, Sesimbra or Mealhada) got inspired by the Brazilian Carnival and now boast Samba dancers, with colorful and short costumes. Others, like Torres Vedras preserve the tradition. Here most men dress like women and the Allegorical cars used during the parade satirize politicians and important situations.

     Tomorrow night it will be time to “bury Mr. Carnival” and burn a scarecrow, symbolizing the end of festivities. During old Catholic times this would mean the culminate of celebrations and the beginning of Lents fast.

MacNamara and the waves of Nazaré

     Thanks to Garrett MacNamara even those who couldn’t care less about surf have been hearing a lot about Portugal as a surf destination. I’m going to be honest: I’m not a great fan of surf myself, but the pictures leave anyone speechless and have been going around the world.

  Last year MacNamara was recognized by Guinness World Records for riding the largest-ever wave, a towering 78-foot wall of water. Now he claims he broke his own record, after surfing a 100 foot tall wave, also in North Beach, in Nazaré. Tó Mané, a local photographer, took the magical shot and this picture is now being published by world reference newspapers.

Photo by Tó Mané, originally published by Zon North Canyon

      Is our coast that rough? Incredibly, not at all. Nazaré Canyon is a rare phenomenon created by a gap in the Continental plate. It’s about 105 miles long and 3 miles deep and focuses the Atlantic energy right on the beach of Praia do Norte, creating huge waves.

      If you ask me, I’d give you other solid reasons to visit this area. In Nazaré you can still see women wearing seven skirts (the traditional costume) or dressing all black once they become widows; try incredibly fresh (and affordable) fish in local restaurants; see the fish sun-drying in the beach and relax watching the beautiful waves and beaches in the Atlantic Ocean.

      Any time is good for a visit, as Nazaré is an open door to an almost lost world of local traditions, centuries old and to a never ending variety of table delights. Sounds like a perfect destination for a family trip, doesn’t it?


What about American movies shot in Portugal?

     When you think about beautiful movie scenes and movie actors, you might think of Cannes, Sardinia or possibly Beverly Hills. But what about Portugal?

      It’s no surprise that Wim Wenders shot his films “Lisbon Story” and “The state of things” in Lisbon as they clearly used this city as a part of the story. But did you know that “Invisible circus”, directed by Adam Brooks, with Cameron Diaz, was partially shot in Portugal too? Same thing about The Dancer Upstairs directed by John Malkovich.

     Remember the Mexican landscape of “The House of the Spirits” with Antonio Banderas and Meryl Streep? Well, actually it was a Portuguese landscape as that movie was filmed in Alentejo, a beautiful region of flat and dry land, with great wines and food, in the south of Portugal.

     And where was Ian Flemming when he “created” the most famous international spy, James Bond? In Hotel Palacio, in Estoril. The Casino of Estoril gave him the inspiration to write “Casino Royale” and “On his majesty’s secret service” were featured many scenes of Praia do Guincho, near Cascais. This was definitely a perfect set for the incurable romantic and the dreamers.

      More recently Bille August directed “Night train to Lisbon” a movie that should come out really soon. It’s based on the homonymous novel by Pascal Mercier and after reading the book, I just can’t wait to watch the movie.


Take the lead and come along to shoot your very own movie in Lisbon!

Lauren, will you marry me?

     We’ve all dreamed of wonderful proposal stories with medieval castles, sunsets by gorgeous views, or even surprise trips. Well, this is one of them, but actually happened.

     Lauren was going to visit Lisbon on her own, and Nathan decided to give her a little surprise. Two months in advance he emailed me and asked for my help to put up something really special. How could I say no?! My mind immediately started to conspire different ideas.

     Nathan told Lauren he’d have a surprise for her in Lisbon and gave her a letter she could only open on the plane. The letter said that the surprise was a tour of Lisbon but little she knew what it really was.    When I picked her at the airport and found her a little upset as she wished a bigger surprise… she even asked me twice if her boyfriend was in the city! I had to lie and apologize, saying that I only exchange a couple of emails with Nathan (we might have exchanged 20) and he only asked for the tour.

     I suggested we’d start the tour with Lisbon’s castle (the chosen location) and then asked her to come downstairs, where the tiles were waiting for her. Words can’t describe Lauren’s reaction (I think that her brain just blanked) when she saw the tiles with her name written on. I had to ask Nathan to hurry up (he was coming downstairs by then) before she’d get a heart attack, but she only got more confused when she finally saw him.

     It was a magical moment when them met halfway in a long flight of stairs, in Lisbon’s castle, by the sunset, with a gorgeous view and many emotions. He got on one knee, showed her the ring and… she said Yes!  It was such a delight to meet them and take part in such a lovely proposal. Best wishes guys!

Love this story? Do you need some help to make something similar? Let us know!

We are back!

Many were the reasons that forced Lisbon Stories to “freeze” this blog but today we’re really happy to announce that we’re back!

Want to know what we did during our silence? Looking for useful information about Portugal and helpful tips for your visit? Just keep posted!

I hope that you missed us as because we missed you too!


Is Portugal a child-friendly country?

     Since LisbonStories offers child-friendly tours and doesn’t charge anything for children car seats or booster seats a good part of our clients come with their little ones. Scott family emailed me asking if Portugal is a child friendly country. They’ll be travelling with a 9 mo boy and 6 yo girl and are quite concerned.  Assuming they are not thinking of taking their kids to a night club nor to a fashion show, spending a holiday in Portugal as a family is easy peasy as children are welcome pretty much everywhere.

      Culture: Museums, palaces and monuments, wherever you go most likely there will be a special program or guided visit for your little ones. If you want to enjoy the place as a family, you’ll find plenty of 50% discounts, free entrances or family packages with friendly prices.

      Eating: Going out to eat whether it is lunch or dinner, shouldn’t be a problem either. Most restaurants have special menus for children, a high chair and sometimes colouring paper and pencils. In some places they won’t mind if you share your dish with your kid nor if you ask them to warm a soup for your baby. Just mention that you have children in the group when you make the reservation.

      Sleeping: most if not all hotels have big rooms where an extra bed or a crib can be installed, just for a small extra fee. Communicant rooms are usually available and if you decide to go for a romantic adult’s dinner ask at the reception to call a baby sitter as they’ll have some contacts and good references.

      Walking around: Don’t be surprised if someone starts playing with your child, talking to you about their pretty eyes or trying to console them if they are crying. Don’t be alarmed! We just love children and don’t mind showing it. Lisbon is a very safe city and in some neighborhoods kids still play football in the streets… your kids are welcome there too.

Prepare your kids for the trip and let them color Vasco da Gama and his vessel! You’ll  certainly feel as part of the family over here!

Autumn or Fall

I know that everyone prefers to travel during Spring or Summer but in the late years I’ve discovered the best season to discover Portugal and it’s not one of these.

During Autumn days won’t be that long nor that warm, but since it’s not so hot, you won’t have to run from shade to shade and drinking coffee or wine outside will definitely be pleasant. During the day a nice breeze will cool the temperature and at night a chilly atmosphere will give you the perfect excuse to wear your new jacket.

Summer peak is the period of the crowds, high prices, busy service and a tired waiter. After September it becomes a lot easier to find a table or a good hotel room. Streets will be half empty and everyone will welcome you everywhere.

If you like to blend in with the locals, it’s also the best moment as everyone is already back from their vacation and you’ll get to see the real country’s life.

The real reason why I like the Autumn so much? It’s the beginning of the low season and soon I’ll be walking through the city on my own, with a package of “burning” roasted chestnuts to warm my cold hands!


One museum per month

    Hi everyone! As of today there will be a new category in our blog: “Featured museum”.

     When one visits a new city there’s always a huge range of museums to visit, but, having a limited time it’s always hard to choose the most interesting one. In order to help you every month we’ll be picking one of our favorite museums and tell you why we love it.

     This month we’ll start with a hidden gem, just in the center of Lisbon. Even its location is also very special, as the Red Carnation Revolution happened in front of it. Curious? read the post, it will come out in 5 minutes!

    Why posting this on a Monday if National Museums and Monuments close on Mondays? A little bit of irony never hurts, so, stay tuned on the 1st Monday of every month!

Portugal has the best tourism movie in the world

    The Portuguese movie “Beauty of simplicity”, launched by the Official Tourism Board is officially a hit.

    I has already received the of silver medal in the “BestWorld Films Awards” in the category Short film in New York; the gold medal in Latvia at the “RigaTourfilm” 2012 in the category Commercial Film; and the 2nd place in Warsaw competition for the best film promoting country, region or city.

    Now it was just awarded a gold medal in the International Film Festival of Tourism and Ecology of Serbia - “SILAFEST 2012” in the category of Best Tourism Film. Besides, we also know that it will be one of four award-winning films at the CannesFestival Corporate Media & TV Awards 2012, the biggest event of the European corporate films.

    The music was made by Nuno Maló, a Portuguese musician living in Los Angeles and is nominated for the Jerry Goldsmith Awards 2011 in the category of “Best Promotion Score”.

Are you curious? Here it is :)

Ano do Brasil em Portugal

    Aí pessoal do Brasil, hoje este post é para vocês! Bem sei que na LisbonStories escrevo sempre em Inglês, mas tendo em conta que hoje é o dia de inauguração do Ano de Brasil em Portugal… há que abrir uma excepção!

    Leram bem: começa hoje a celebração do ano de Brasil em Portugal. Para celebrar, haverá (já desde hoje) exposições, concursos de fotografia, workshops de samba e concertos em muitos bairros emblemáticos de Lisboa e Porto, as duas principais cidades portuguesas. O melhor? É gratuito!

    Este sábado à noite vai ter concerto de Ney Matogrosso e Monobloco e domingo concerto de Martinho da Vila, Carminho, Paulo Gonzo, Zeca Baleiro, Boss AC e Zé Ricardo, a partir das cinco da tarde.

    Ficou com fome? Tranquilo. Vai ter também um espaço gastronómico para provar quitutes portugueses e brasileiros: pastel de carne, pão de queijo, kibe, bolinho de bacalhau ou até mesmo salada de polvo.

    Mas tem mais, muito mais. Basta visitar a página oficial e programar bem a sua agenda!

Where have I been

    I know that it has been a while since my last post. September 2012 is the busiest month ever here in Lisbon Stories and it has been really hard to keep up with everything.

    Where have I been? I spent the last week with a lovely and fun group of friends who have been travelling together, once a year, for the last 12 years. Why am I sharing this with you?  I don’t know, maybe because we saw and did a lot and this was one of those tours that I really enjoy too and almost forgot that I was working.

    We visited Lisbon and then headed North passing by Coimbra where we visited the city and the old university; spent two days in Aveiro, enjoying the city, the coast and Vista Alegre factory; did a culinary workshop in Aveiro’s fish market; visited Porto and then came to Cascais where they spent some time before visiting Sintra, Roca Cape and some hidden spots on the mountain… wow!

I’ve just taken them to the airport and truth is that I miss them already! Hope to see you soon girls!

Tipping – how much?

    Doesn’t matter where you go, tipping is always an issue, or at least a question. Is it included in the bill? Wen shall you tip? How much and to whom?

    In Portugal tips are welcomed but are not mandatory. Tipping is a reward for a special / remarkable service and not a customer’s obligation. We tip about 10% of the bill or more when the service was extraordinarily good.

    Since it’s not mandatory, it will never be charged together with your whole bill. In case you’d like to pay the tip together with the check, on your credit card, ask the waiter if that’s possible as normally we pay with credit card and then tip in cash.

    Last question: who shall you tip? We tip mostly waiters and doormen (when they help us with luggage). In the case of taxi drivers we normally round up the bill a little bit.

    And if this post helped you, feel free to leave a tip… a comment, I mean ;)

A salty post: Salt pans in Aveiro

     Last week was truly amazing. The good part of delivering tours in the whole country is that every now and then I can leave Lisbon and Sintra (where I spend 95% of my time) and enjoy other regions of my beloved country.

     While beautiful landscapes, great food, historical sights and world heritage monuments can be found almost everywhere in Portugal, there’s something that can only be found in few areas: Salt pans! I think that this really was the highlight of the tour for J&K.

     How many of you have already been to a salt pan? How many of you have already thought about the origin of our beloved silent ingredient? Today most of the salt we eat comes underground mines and is heavily processed but long time ago the organic one used to be so important, to preserve the food, that people would be paid in salt. This originated the word “Salary” (sal = salt) that we still use today.

     History aside, it was a lot of fun to walk trough the salt extraction tanks, touch (and climb) salt pyramids and to talk to a “Marnoto”: the person who extracts the salt. By the way, do you know those little pots of “Salt flower”, the finest type of salt that you’ve been buying in those gourmet stores for a fortune? Apparently, buying from the producer only costs 5€ for 3 pounds and he even offered us 10 pounds of sea salt!

Aveiro 2.5 hours away from Lisbon but is not so far from the main highway when going up to Porto, so, feel free to ask me to pass by on our multi-days tours.

Porto and surroundings

Though this company is called “Lisbon Stories” I’ll be spending the next week quite far from Lisbon: I’ll be doing a tour in Porto and it’s surrounding areas, visiting Barcelos, Guimarães, Aveiro, Viana do Castelo, Régua and Douro valley.

All those who know me fairly well know about my passion for the North of Portugal. Porto, the main city and 2nd Portuguese city is now becoming a fancy “outsiders” destination and won several travel awards. Why is this city so special? Some say it’s because of Douro river; others mention the port wine, aging in its oak barrels not far from the city, many mention the baroque style carved on the granite stone, or even the famous sandwich “francesinha”. I have another reason: the laid-back personality of the inhabitants and the city itself couldn’t care less about this sudden popularity and didn’t change its character.

Being there it worths to pick a car and drive around this green region, discovering “Minho” area. Here you’ll find small scale agriculture, the catle raising and untouched Natural Parks (like Gerês), for the wild life, small rivers, lovely views from its mountains and also for the Green Wine. As for towns to visit, I specially love Barcelos and Guimarães. Guimarães was declared World Heritage by Unesco for its lovely historical center. Barcelos is also worth visiting, specially on Thursdays when its traditional framers market happens and a visit won’t be complete without passing by its open-air archaeological museum, one of my favorite museums in the whole country.

I could keep writing about this region forever, but, it’s time to pack my things and get ready for this trip. Thank you Kristin for booking this tour!