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Travel Guide: Portugal

The Rebecca Sanders Wormhole of Envy (brought to you by Deb & Ben Johns trip to Portugal):

Sunbathing, beaches, fruity drinks, fancy drinks, cold drinks, cold fish, hot lobsters, croquettes, big old baguettes, cool people, jamón serrano, beautiful people, crystal waters, hand-painted tiles, fishnet ceilings, mythological sculptures, rocky coasts, la vida loca, romance, culture, billowing linen, fish, art, antiquity, nostalgia, white sand, Siglo de Oro


Before you continue reading this sermon, basta (stop) and review this menu. Historic, yet trendy with nightly music and dancing in the streets, the Ciado district is the ideal, bustling neighborhood for this joint. Like many “traditional with a twist,” al fresco dining options, Cafe Lisboa has revamped some timeless classics with the guidance, sweat, and soul of a charming, young chef.

Chef José Avillez is exactly who one imagines when they think of a handsome, yet, approachable, Portuguese chef (since that’s a pretty common thing to think about, right?). His smile has this way of saying, “You’re too wonderful to help with the croquetas. Relax on the patio, and I’ll bring you a glass of wine. Will you be my wife?” I love my fictional Portuguese fiance.

H10 Duque de Loulé is a beautifully preserved dream. The rooms are covered in signature Portuguese blue and white tile, hand-painted exclusively for the hotel. There are heavy overtones of white linen. This is the kind of place where you truly feel like a “guest,” rather than a haggard hotel patron. Jose and I have booked the 89 rooms for our wedding guests.

Like the Central Park of Lisbon, Eduardo VII Park features grassy and tiled areas dotted with ponds, botanical gardens, and eateries. So, the two parks I need to go to - Central & Eduardo. Better start saving!

A play on “je ne sais quoi,” (I LOVE it when people get clever with wordplay like this)  JNcQUOI serves, you guessed it, Portuguese fare with a modern twist. With desserts from the luxury French bakery, Ladurée, a bookstore, and wine bar, I’m certain I’d be setting up camp for a day. Nestled in the Lisbon luxury shopping hub, the spot is ideal for unique food, people watching, and casual local camaraderie.

Located in a village just outside of Lisbon, El Palacio Nacional de Pena sits atop the second highest point in Sintra. Interestingly enough, I learned a fair amount about this palace in my Spanish Poetry & Drama I course. La Reina Amelia spent her last night in the palace before fleeing the country. Fun fact that we didn’t learn: Madonna owns a 16,146-square-foot, 8th-century Moorish Revival mansion here that she calls “home.”

Nerd ALERT. I'm going to take another opportunity to spit some knowledge a la my hard-earned minor in Spanish. Castelo dos Mouros was established by the North African, Mouros, to guard the town of Sintra, but, unfortunately, fell into disrepair after the Christian conquest of Portugal. King Ferdinand II restored the castle in the 19th century. It serves more as a “romantic ruin” feature of the Palacio gardens. It’s a pretty steep hike through gardenia-filled, lush woodlands, but a highly recommended must-see in Sintra. This is an OG castle from la Epoca de Romanticismo, so you better believe there are battlements, turrets, watchtowers, and fortresses.

Once the house of the famous poet, Maria Amália Vaz de Carvalho, La Reserva, was totally renovated by the famous interior designer and decorator, Paulo Lobo. He’s famous for using vintage furniture and beautiful XIX Century blue tile for a Golden Age lewk. Ben and Deb sat on the terrace and enjoyed melon and ginger gazpacho with mint, carpaccio, beautiful views of the coast and inlet pools. "Wow, what a terrible way to spend a day,” is what I say to myself as I hunch over my keyboard and gulp a watered-down cold brew.

True to its namesake, House of Wonders is really something special. The rooftop cafe and restaurant serves fresh, creative Mediterranean cuisine & raw vegan patisserie. Not only does the food look beautiful, but the aesthetic... Any Instagram influencer to stumble upon this place would have a cow, or, erm, “tofu.” With a lush rooftop garden scattered with antique sculptures, a fishnet canopy providing the perfect amount of dappled sunlight, and patio furniture that looks straight out of an Anthropologie shoot, I dare you to find a dreamier spot.

Deb gives the Farol Hotel “cinco estrellas.” This seaside beauty is a chic, sleek, contemporary and rare escape from masses. It’s immaculate. It’s luxurious. It’s almost too painful to look at their image gallery.

The site of a pharmacology museum, Pharmacia serves “flavorful fun” Portuguese fare. There’s also a sweeping front lawn, perfect for pre-dinner cocktails. The restaurant’s decor features memorabilia like medicine bottles for water, specimen jars with your bill, and a waiting area modeled after a doctor’s office. Deb would 10/10 prescribe.

This massive fortress is a converted 5-Star hotel, spa, and a gallery with two restaurants and shopping. The impeccably manicured greenery and oversized sculptures are the perfect details in a world of white stucco.

Casa de Santa Maria was constructed by George O’Neil, an Irish millionaire who made his fortune in the tobacco industry (yes, let's acknowledge that this is kind of random). Once the most luxurious private residence of Cascais, Casa de Maria, was constructed with materials only found in Portugal. The blending of various architectural styles and influences, including Moorish and Arabic, gives the estate a unique appeal for the public to enjoy, free of charge.

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