Lisbon Europe’s ‘most underrated’ city

A street in downtown Lisbon's Baixa quarter

Travelers looking to experience something new this summer could do worse than head to Lisbon, according to new research released July 6.

 

The Portuguese capital, often ignored by tourists choosing instead to flock to the country’s sunny south, topped a list of most “underrated” European cities released this week.

It managed the distinction above Bruges, the “Venice of the North” which has yet to crack the mass tourism market, and Edinburgh, Scotland’s historic capital which often proves just a little bit too far for visitors to London to visit.

The survey, conducted among over 3,500 European travelers by travel review site TripAdvisor, also revealed some surprising – and utterly unsurprising – opinions on other capitals.

London, for instance, was named the “easiest to get around” by respondents, despite boasting a notoriously unreliable underground rail network and being larger than most of the other cities featured, although it also won the distinction of being the most exciting.

Parisians, rather unsurprisingly, were named the least friendly locals, along with the rudest cab drivers – not that taxis are a particularly effective way to traverse the French capital anyway.

If you’re looking for some romance, steer well clear of Birmingham in Britain, said the survey, and head instead to Venice – where the combination of good weather, sprawling canals and quaint buildings appears to have won the affection of visitors.

Via: ©independent.co.uk

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Four Gulps of Porto, Portugal

 

At the mouth of the River Douro in Portugal, it appears a child’s crayon box has exploded. Rusty reds, mustard yellows, royal blues and tempting shades of turquoise adorn the crumbling buildings of Porto.

 

Porto may come second to Lisbon in terms of visitors and population, but the northern city has a whole crayon box of options for travelers to explore.

 

From the historic Ribeira district with its cluttered balconies to the tiled churches around nearly every corner, Porto presents a satisfying gulp of more than just its signature drink.

 

If you are planning a trip to Portugal, don’t short change Porto. While the experiences in the city abound, here are a few musts for the first timer.

 

Climb to the top of Torre Dos Clérigos—For a bird’s eye view of classic Portuguese red-tiled roofs, Torre Dos Clérigos is the only place to go in Porto. While the work of an Italian, architect Nasoni, the baroque tower is a fixture in the city. It began its days as a look out tower for ships. One lucky duck would take in the view while guiding ships into Porto. Completed in 1763, Torre Dos Clérigos glows at night, but its views by day allow you to see the good, the greater and the great of Porto. Just be prepared to walk up over 200 steps to a height of 76 meters.

 

Peek in Mercado do Bolhão—The two-tiered market in the heart of Porto is a standout for its 19th century wrought iron composition. Upon closer inspection, the building holding the market is just the beginning. Here you will find everything and the kitchen sink up for sale. Fish vendors screech their catch of the day in hopes you are hungry. It is a noisy, chaotic, yet peaceful scene at the same time. Foreigners may have to plug their noses as they walk past the salt cod, but you can take in the smells of Mercado do Bolhão in other means. This is a cultural whiff of Porto’s buying and selling, and screeching.

 

Walk across Ponte de Dom Luís I—If you are still view hungry, you can walk across Ponte de Dom Luís I, perhaps Porto’s most famous double decker bridge. The bridge connects Porto to its nosy neighbor, Vila Nova de Gaia. The two towns sit so close to each other, you probably think you are still in Porto once crossing over from the city’s Ribeira district. Created by a student of Gustave Eiffel, Ponte de Dom Luís I might even lend a show in summer time. Teens take to the bridge to drive into the cool Douro, much to the headshake of Porto’s older generations.

 

Sip on a Port Wine—After a long day of sightseeing in Porto, there is no better way to unwind than with the city’s signature drink. Port wine production stemmed from the area, rising in popularity by the mid 18th century. The largest concentration of port wine bottlers and exporters can be found in Vila Nova de Gaia, just opposite Porto on the River Douro. Tours and tastings are given for those that love the taste of the sweet, rich wine. If you aren’t a fan of Porto’s cocktail, at least give a tawny port or vintage port a sip while in the city. After all, you will be able to boast you had port in Porto.

 

Flickr: aromano

Passionate People – Portugal for work

“I intend to come back when I have more time. And I’ll certainly bring my kids.”

He was in Portugal for work, at the Estoril Conferences, but he has already promised to return with his family.

World-famous for his Larry King Live programme, broadcast by CNN since 1985, he is one of the most recognised radio and television personalities in the whole world.

He confesses that what interests him when he is travelling “are the people” – he has conducted over 50 thousand interviews during his career – and he leaves Lisbon “impressed”. “This is my first visit to Portugal and I’m very impressed. Especially with the people. For me, this is what’s important and the Portuguese are warm… passionate”.

An Emmy winner and host of the CNN programme with the highest ratings, this “titan” of American journalism has been described as “the most remarkable talk-show presenter ever” by TV Guide and as the “master of the microphone” by Time magazine.

Surf’s up in Portugal

The Portuguese town of Ericeira could be Deirdre Mullins' home

If I was a surfer, I would be a soul surfer. I would spend my days on sunny beaches, surveying the horizon for the perfect break. I would be happiest when I’m on my board connecting with the oceans’ unbridled energy and carving on waves the size of houses. I would have sun-bleached hair, salty lips and a freckled face. And when I’m not traversing the globe in my combi van, I would live in a town that suits my relaxed disposition.

The Portuguese town of Ericeira could be my home. Located just a 40-minute drive from Lisbon, its laidback attitude has an instant relaxing effect. Surfers stroll its pedestrianised cobbled streets while elderly women hang their washing outside whitewashed cottages. The town square is lined with leafy trees, under which the locals sit on communal benches and discuss the issues of the day. Nothing is done now; everything can wait.

Ericeira is a traditional Portuguese fishing village-turned-surf resortEriceira is a traditional Portuguese fishing village-turned-surf resort. What’s so endearing about the town is that it manages to retain its charm while offering all the tourist necessities like good bars, excellent restaurants, stylish boutiques and a good range of accommodation. Thankfully, there is a noticeable absence of McDonald’s and Starbucks.

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Ericeira’s reputation as one of the best places to surf was made official last February when it was awarded the title of a World Surfing Reserve. It’s one of just four reserves worldwide, the others being in Santa Cruz and Malibu in California and Manly in Australia.

There are 10 surf beaches within the four-kilometre stretch of the town and they cater for all levels of surfers. Two kilometres north of the town is the beach Ribeira d’Ilhas which hosts the World Qualifying Surf Championships every August. You can catch a glimpse of how the professionals ride the world famous point break, Coxos, from a vantage point at the top of the road.

I travelled to Ericeira with the Irish company Surfholidays.com. Dubliner Nicky Kelly set up Surfholidays.com four years ago after he realised there were no websites that act as a one-stop shop for booking surf holidays. Accommodation, transfers, board hire and lessons can be booked on his site before you leave home.

The Ericeira Echo LodgesI stayed at the Ericeira Echo Lodges. There is no battling for balcony space here; instead the afternoon can be spent in a hammock or sunbathing around its eco-friendly pool. Located just a five-minute walk to the centre of the town, the Eco Lodges are six wooden, self-catering lodges in a secluded garden and around a pool. The lodges are basic but comfortable. Each one sleeps four and has its own kitchen and bathroom. The communal facilities in the complex are excellent: there is a barbecue area and a big common room resembling a traditional Portuguese wine cellar with an honesty bar, pool table, internet, TV, DVD player, reading library and some gym equipment if the surf is not enough exercise for you.

As surfing is strongly connected to nature, it’s great to stay in a place that is too. All the lodges use solar energy to generate their electricity and little stickers with environmental facts are dotted around the living area, making you more mindful of the environment.

The pool is an ecological pondThe pool is an ecological pond, meaning that it’s chemical-free and uses special plants to clean the water. Don’t let its bright green water discourage you from swimming in it. This is a much more enjoyable experience than bathing in chlorinated water, provided you’re not squeamish about sharing the pool with small amphibians. I didn’t see many frogs but they do make their presence known with their croaking 24-7. If you’re a light sleeper bring ear plugs, because they seem to get louder at night, although there is something magical about being lulled to sleep by a frog song that’s not McCartney’s one.

The next morning I met my fellow classmates on Ericeira’s surf beach for beginners, Foz do Lizandro, just two kilometres out of town. Our instructor, Flavio, greeted us with a smug smile and asked “Do you like my office?” as he pointed to a stunning stretch of sand surrounded by green hills on one side and cliffs on the other. I did like his office and also admired his fit body and relaxed demeanour. I was suddenly very jealous of his way of life.

Learning with FlavioAfter a short warm-up with some jogging and stretching we practiced our surf stance on dry land before hitting the water. Beginners don’t need to be in water more that a metre-and-a-half deep, which makes surfing doable for kids and poor swimmers. All of the class was standing on the board by the end of the first lesson. I find standing easy; it’s staying there that I have the problem with.

Surfing isn’t an easy sport to be good at. The learning curve is slow compared to the likes of skiing or snowboarding – that’s why lessons are so important for beginners. What is different about learning to ski or snowboard is that that when you fall surfing it’s not sore. It’s a crash into water or a churn in a foamy wave, which equates to a release of adrenaline and lots of fun.

A great place to unwindTwo hours of surfing works up a special kind of hunger – one that’s not restrained by guilt – so it’s fitting that Ericeira is renowned as much for its excellent seafood restaurants as it is for surfing. A Parreirinha and Tic Tac are good restaurants but don’t have the stunning views that can be seen from Esplanada das Furnas. Furnas is all about freshly caught fish cooked simply. The staff show you the catch of the day and then barbecue your choice on the spot – and to perfection. I recommend washing your meal down with a bottle of Portuguese Vinho Verde and trying their delicious homemade apple pie for dessert.

The Sunset Bamboo Bar is worth a visit. Located just off the main square, it does a good, inexpensive lunch and has free Wi-Fi. The owner, Bruno, makes excellent mojitos and caipirinhas and plays some nice chilled out tunes.

That’s where I spent my last evening in Ericeira; reflecting on my perfect days on the waves and dreaming of the life I wish I had. But maybe now I’m one step closer to becoming a soul surfer – I’ve got the state of mind perfected anyway!

Deirdre Mullins

Deirdre Mullins travelled to Ericeira as a guest of Aer Lingus and Surfholidays.com.

Travel Guide – Lisbon, Portugal

A helpful travel guide for anyone planning on visiting the beautiful city of Lisbon, Portugal.

Taste Portugal | 2011 English

First, the sea and the land. Salt and sun. Then, the olive presses, granaries, wine cellars and fumitories. Bound by a people, a Country. Every day, at dusk, Portugal and the Portuguese, celebrate at the dining table.
The Taste Portugal Programme has in its mission to show the Portuguese unique gastronomy to a globalised world. To invite people to sample the authentic flavours of reinvented delicacies. To educate the palate for wines that have acquired a complex simplicity.

Portugal Invites You!