Northern Portugal

After flying back into Lisbon from Madeira, we rented a car and headed north.  We really enjoyed seeing some smaller Portuguese cities, including:

Nazaré.  Nazaré had the first sandy beach we’ve seen in a really long time, and it also wooed us with this amazing fish stew:

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Funchal

After a few amazing days in Porto Moniz we drove back across Madeira toward Funchal.  Along the way, we took a detour to Pico do Arieiro, one of the highest peaks on the island.  The drive turned out to be pretty perilous and a lot longer than expected.  By the time we got to the top, we were in danger of missing our rental car return time, so we had about 10 minutes to take some photos and admire the view.  It was still worth it!

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Paradise in Madeira

Since the beginning of this trip, Ian and I have known that at some point we would want to drink madeira in Madeira.  But, other than its viticulture, we knew very little about the island (actually an archipelago, but Madeira is also the name of the largest island, a la Hawaii).  As it turns out, this place is a tropical paradise.

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Pasteis de Nata

I’ve never been a huge fan of egg tarts.  We’ve had the Portuguese pastry in Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Macau, and I’ve always found them to be too much like sweet scrambled eggs.  I hoped Lisbon could change my mind about egg tarts, and it did – big time.  Manteigaria in Chiado has been cranking out pasteis de nata since…about a year ago.  They are doing it right – rich, custardy centers in a super flaky crust, all a tiny bit burnt on top.

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You can eat your pastel and have an espresso at a long marble counter, Italian style, while watching new batches of pasteis being made.

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There are other famous pastel de nata bakeries in Lisbon, most notably in Belém, but Manteigaria is the one that stole our hearts.  We’ll be back.

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Mini Bar Teatro

We made a reservation at Mini Bar Teatro after having an excellent lunch at one of its sister restaurants.  Mini Bar offers a la carte small plates, but we opted to put ourselves in the chef’s hands with the “epic menu,” which includes 12 mini courses that are all a surprise.  It’s so fun to eat this way but usually really expensive.  Fortunately for us, Portugal is really affordable.

The dishes were all delicious, and it was clear the staff had a lot of fun presenting them with some flair and mystery.  It was really dark in the restaurant so the following photos are not the best.  Here’s the full menu:

1st course: Margarita apples.  These apples were themselves a cocktail, having been soaked in (or injected with?) tequila and lime.

1st course: Margarita apples. These apples were themselves a cocktail, having been soaked in (or injected with?) tequila and lime.

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Sintra

Sintra is a small city about an hour outside of Lisbon that is home to an absurd number of castles, monuments, and palaces.  We went for a day trip and stopped at three of the attractions.  First up, the Moorish castle:

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Plitvice Lakes

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Bam.  Stunning, right?  We spent one of our favorite days ever at Plitvice Lakes in Croatia last week.  It rained throughout our entire visit and we hardly noticed.  The park was bursting with fall colors and the waterfalls were near their peak.  The walkways were even washed out and closed in some places due to the high water level.   (more…)

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