3 April 2011

The sun's out and it's nearly holiday time

I am often asked where I am going on holiday.  This usually produces a reply on the lines of not going anywhere as I have everything to hand here that I would normally have gone on holiday for.  Some portuguese find this strange.  The portuguese love to travel if they have the opportunity and finances available.  Sadly, the lure is usually over-priced London.  I do my bit of promoting the rest of the country as hard as I can and was thrilled when Gabi, who set up my blog for me, told me she and her husband and son, were off to the UK during the last half term. 

Gabi is half English so is not unaware of the beauties of the UK but this time she had already been on line and booked up bed and breakfasts.  Out of interest I asked her where she would be staying and then got very excited as she was going to be in areas that I know well.  I sent her lots of links to places that I could recommend and she made a note of them.  A couple of times whilst they were away, I got a text message to say how grateful she was for the recommendations and one message that really thrilled me was the one where she was having lunch in The Whole Hog in Malmesbury, where I lived for 15 years before moving to Portugal. 

The Whole Hog, Malmesbury just behind the Market Cross

Must be the original sign as the phone number should be 0166

When Gabi came home, she invited Glenn and I over for tea to show me her photographs and to tell us all about the trip. They had had a brilliant time and loved my suggestions and hopes to pick up a few more for when they go over again.

When you go on holiday it is so much nicer when you get personal recommendations or have 'someone on the ground' to point you in the direction of something different.  I have always felt very, very sorry for tourists who come off the cruise ships into Lisbon and if they have not booked a tour, are left to their own devices and miss so much that can be seen in a short space of time and sometimes, due to lack of confidence, end up eating in a worldwide chain restaurant and miss out on the wonderful portuguese cuisine.  Back in January, an old friend of ours arrived in Lisbon from a cruise and we arranged to meet up with him and his friends for lunch.  On Steve's previous visit via a cruise, he had caught the train down to Cascais and we showed him round and took him for lunch in a lovely traditional restaurant in Areia, just out of Cascais. 

This time I thought long and hard about where to take him and his friends for lunch which would be something different.  I decided that the restaurant Casa do Alentejo  would be ideal.  This is the most amazing building which unless you are 'in the know', you would never find as it is so subtlely hidden in a side street off Rossio in Lisbon.

The entrance hall

The dining room

Glenn and I took the train from Sintra to Rossio and walked down to meet up with Steve and his friends.  It was a very wet day so it was lovely to go for lunch in this amazing old palace.  The food, the ambience, the decoration just add to the atmosphere and as they said, they would never have found the place themselves.  Check out their website for more stunning photographs and if you have never been, try it.  http://www.casadoalentejo.pt/ .  The site is not in English as yet, but they are working on it and you can still appreciate it quite easily.

Another of my favourite restaurants to take visitors, is in Alfama - the oldest part of Lisbon with a wonderful history.  Alfama sits just under O Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George's Castle)  and is a maze of twisting turns, alleys, unexpected views, tiny cafes, shops and restaurants.  I am lucky enough to count the owner, Vitor, as a friend as I have known him for many years and all my friends love going to the restaurant for its food, atmosphere, music and not least for Vitor, who is a wonderful host and gets loads of mentions in The Rough Guide to Portugal and quite right too.

The fabulous Malmequer Bemmequer Restaurant in Alfama

Vitor speaks various languages so there is never a problem and the food is fresh and fabulous.  He also has an incredible wine list to choose from - always go with his suggestion as he is a great authority on portuguese wines.  The website is still under construction, but you can see some nice shots of the interior.  It is only small but is very portuguese.  http://www.malmequer-bemmequer.com/ .

I have overheard some ex-pats complaining about having to show visitors the sights time and time again - why?  I never, ever get tired of showing off my adopted country.  Nothing better than driving to Cabo da Roca and walking to the end of the most western point of Europe and staring out to sea.  I can understand why the brave sailors of the past thought they would drop off the edge of the horizon as it is an incredible view.  Normally the sea looks very calm but I have not been during a gale yet.  I want to do that this year because I can imagine it would be some sight.

The monument with the famous inscription from the portuguese poet Camoes

Next stop ....

This week my friend Wendy came to visit as Glenn went to the UK for a few days.  Wendy has been here a lot and knows her way around very well now, but this was her first visit to my present house as she was unable to come last year.  It was such a pleasure to be able to take her to the villages, shops and markets where I now shop.  We always end up at some point at Bar Moinho de Don Quixote in Azoia.  This is a beautifully converted windmill with gardens overlooking the bay of Cascais.  In cold weather it is nice to sit inside with the log fire but it is rare that you cannot sit outside gazing at the view and patting the lovely tabby cats that also live there.

Bar Moinho de Dom Quixote

Part of the gardens with views down to the bay of Cascais and Guincho

The colourful interior

The one thing to always remember when visiting is to take cash as they do not have a credit card system - something worth remembering these days as more places resort to the 'cash' only method due to the horrendous charges by banks.

The weather was pretty good whilst Wendy was here so we had ice creams down at Praia Grande watching the waves crashing onto the beach and getting slightly pink in the process.  The water was a beautiful blue which makes the crests so much more dramatic as they roll and break.  We also had a trip round the corner to Praia das Macas to see the bigger waves and to remember a summer a few years ago when Wendy and her daughter Chloe came to stay and we narrowly missed a soaking as a rather large wave sneakily tried to get us - it missed but got lots of the other people which was very, very funny.

The waves on 1 April at Praia das Macas

We were really lucky as we had a crossover with Glenn yesterday and therefore we were able to all have lunch before Wendy took the train to Lisbon for her flight home.  We went down to Alvide and had a lovely meal at Restaurante Cubata do Crossas.  We usually go here with my friend Martin, who lives round the corner and sit outside under the awning but it was a bit windy yesterday so we sat inside.

Restaurante Cubata do Crossas

The interior

So then it was off to the station to see Wendy off on her return to UK - always an emotional moment but at least I know she and her husband will be back in July - I can't wait!