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Porto - Coimbra - Sintra - Lisbon: 18 ladies and 8 full days! Trip report

Greetings!    

We've just returned from our trip to Porto-Coimbra-Sintra-Lisbon trip!   

I know that if I start writing a very detailed report, I'd probably give up somewhere on day 3 ;))  So instead, I am going to try and write in sort of bullet points and tell what I thought worked great for us, what we could have done differently.  Also, whenever I plan our trips, I am kind of obsessed about food, so restaurant choices to me are as important as the sites we visit (if not more so!).  

First of all thank you to everyone who has found the time to answer my questions, give comments and advice, write reports and ask questions which I've pursued in the preparation for the trip.   You have made it possible for me to create a trip that we will never forget!

Some basic info: A group of 17Japanese  ladies (65-83) and me!   
sept 10th flew into Porto
Sept 19th flew out of Lisbon

Hotels (2 in total)
4 nights at the magnificent Maison Albar Hotels Le Monumental Palace with the best location (my first ever truly 5-star hotel experience).   Very walkable and close to Rua Catarina for shopping.

5 nights at H10 Duque de Loulé (worried that after Porto's hotel it would be a bit of a letdown, but it was charming, clean, and the staff at the reception just amazing.   the only thing I wish would be different is the location slightly away from everything which was not a problem (we had charter buses) really except for the day when I wanted to let everyone enjoy free time in Barrio Alto.  They would not be able to return on their own, so hence the location is not best for elderly Japanese ladies. 

Transportation: 
charter buses 
taxis (restaurant transfer)
charter tram (totally worth it for the experience if you are traveling with a group of people)

Walking:   I worried too much about not being able to walk.  Should have gone with my gut when looking at the distances instead of following the advice of our agent (the one who booked buses and guides).  In the end, the bus could not drive us between some areas, so we ended up walking anyway!  Especially that was the case in Porto.   I think us being from Tokyo (lots of walking here), Porto's and Lisbon's historical areas are very small by comparison.  So if you are thinking of walking, do!   The only thing is as everyone says "shoes shoes shoes SHOES!!!"   must have good shoes for walking,   And keep your eyes open at all times!   

Problems:   Back to the above, walking didn't cause as much problem as I feared, but... We did have a couple of problems though. 
Day 1, one of the ladies tripped on one of those car prevention barrier thingys.   She just really was not paying attention to where she was going.   So, the poor lady ended up at the hospital getting MRT scan and stitches on her forehead.   BUT!  to my complete bewilderment... all of it was free!   It was a public hospital and so we did'T have to use our insurance at all.  Wow...  THat is amazing.  Don't recommend anyone falling on purpose ;)) but if you do, then Portugal is a good place to do it!  The lady was a trooper, cause getting back from the hospital, right away she joined our "welcome to Portugal" dinner. 

Another lady who uses a walking stick and has mobility issues weathered pretty well till our last two days.   Then, unfortunately, her leg started to hurt a lot, so she had to miss a trip to Belem.   Feel sad about it, but she did better than I expected. 

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Restaurants: Always with reservations only because of the size of the group. the biggest problem was the portions. whatever they serve for 1 person in Portugal is about a portion for 3 people in Japan ) we just could not manage!

day 1 (Porto) lunch: Brasão Cervejaria Coliseu Baixa (email reservation), great Francesina sandwiches and craft beer! large portions beware!

day 1 (Porto) dinner: Barao Fladgate, a lovely setting (email reservation). The food was good. There were some noisier younger British women _. We ordered the traditional opening of the vintage port (2005) which was included in the price of the wine. I thought that was a great show and an interesting way to welcome us to Portugal

day 2 (Douro valley) lunch: WOWOW.... Picnic at Quinta do Seixo (Sandmen) overlooking Douro river (email reservation)! Totally recommend! The setting was amazing, the table setting was refined, the food yummy and plentiful as was the wine. I wish we had more time to enjoy such an idyllic place and food.

day 2 (Douro valley) dinner: rustic food at Quinta do Morrocos (email reservation). Lovely people. Too much food! Wonderful white wine (10EUR/bottle which we bought to take back home). I went all out and arranged for a folk-group to sing and dance. This was so much fun! I cannot believe the group is about 25 people including an adorable little boy of about 6. Oh my goodness. Such a great day!

day 3 (Porto) lunch: éLeBê Entreparedes (email reservation) this is spectacular and ohh.... so reasonable. There was so much food and all you can drink wine for about 30 EUR. It totally was worth it. I think the prices are the same for dinner, so perhaps that would be even better. The wine included was wonderful.

day 3 (Porto) dinner: free. majority of us ended up using Cafe Monumental which is part of our hotel. Service is amazing. The food was great too. Wonderful non-alcoholic cocktails. Lovely!

day 4 (Coimbra) lunch: Arcada Comes e Bebes (reserved on Facebook). A charming tiny place in a narrow lane. We had a whole bunch of dishes-- must order a sardine boat. make s a fun picture! The young staff there lovely.

day 4 (Lisbon) dinner: Forninho Saloio (asked the hotel reception to reserve). Wow, such a local and great place for seafood. One of the young waiters spoke perfect English. He helped to create our order so that we could share and taste many things. wowoowowo.... Grilled octopus the best! shrimp kebabs, salmon, etc etc. Great for grilled fish. Very reasonable.

day 5 (Lisbon) lunch: Bonjardin (asked hotel reception to reserve). This is following so many recommendations here. Super chicken with piri piri sauce and again, very reasonably priced. Dessert...walked 5m! to the Fábrica da Nata for our first taste of these. So delicious and yummy!

day 5 (Lisbon) dinner: drum roll, please...... Ramiros for seafood! I used to think Japan has the number one seafood, I don't anymore. OH MY GOD! first of all, I was told by my agent, guide, hotel, etc that they don't take reservations, but I emailed and perhaps for large groups as ours, they do take reservations. we got there, the table was ready. after reading a million reviews I knew we had to order goose barnacles, clams, crab, stuffed crab, grilled prawns, carabineros, langoustine and green wine! no one was talking at the table, we were in a state of euphoria just munching away! the food just kept on coming at a speed of light! The servers were fun. So all in all, for me the best food of the trip.

day 5 (Lisbon) cocktail on the rooftop of our hotel. Great!

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day 6 (Sintra) lunch : Romaria de Baco (email reservation). Ok, if I had to pick one place where I wish things went differently, this would be it. first, even though through emailing the owner (?) was very nice, maybe because of the language barrier, I had a bit of a hard time. Suspecting that portions would be too big, I asked if we could share some plates. but in the end, had to order menu 1) roasted octopus menu 2)Roasted Hind Shank of Suckling lamb. Honestly wanted to do the lamb shanks just for the impact of seeing it intact and having a shutter chance. but it actually came out deboned, so it was just pieces of meat. the wost part of this lunch was that they had trouble with the oven, so lunch ended up being over 2 hours long! cutting into the little precious time we had for Sintra's excursion. So, I found that Group menus here were pricy (30EUR) and because of the oven problem, my review would not be too good.

day 6 (Sintra) dinner: Bar do Fundo. Amazing setting! We wanted to witness the sunset and celebrate 83rd birthday of one of our ladies. Lovely food. The owner allowed us to choose main dishes from the following (cod with egg and potatoes, octopus rice, mushroom risotto, squid ink pasta with shrimp). The majority went with black pasta which was the only disappointing dish! It was a bit overcooked for our tastes. But the octopus rice, cod dish, and mushroom risotto were excellent! As well as their almond cake. my only regret, because of the driver's schedule and because we lost time in Sintra at lunch, dinner was a bit rush. We stayed probably for 1.5 hours only. I would recommend walking the beach and enjoying a leisurely lunch/dinner. Much better experience than having 1.5 hours in total!

day 7 (Lisbon) lunch: Mar ao Carmo (email reservation). Amazing seafood cataplana. I think it's 45UER / 2 people. What an array of seafood. We only had octopus carpaccio as an appetizer. so this was more than plenty and even had to leave some unfinished.

day 7 (Lisbon) dinner: Parreirinha de Alfama (email reservations). Great place to enjoy fado! Atmosphere.. performers... top notch. I would not go anywhere else. Apparently, the current Japanese emperor when he was still the crown prince enjoyed Fado here too. If it's good for the Royals, it's good for me ) Food was good, even better than expected. But it's a popular place with only 3 servers, so it's better to be prepared to wait a bit to get things.

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day 8 ( Belem) lunch: O Recanto (the funnies reservation ever... no email, no answer to facebook messages, 3 different tel numbers... so finally when I got some lady on the phone, she didN't speak English. She asked if I spoke Spanish. Nope. But I recalled reading that one of the servers speaks some Russian..so I asked "Russian?" Hahha... The family who owns the place is from the USSR! So, I managed to make a friend and find one of the best places for grilled fish!!!!) 200% recommend!!! Had wonderful sausages, cheese, sardines, grilled tuna, grilled dorado fish, salads, etc etc. Super friendly, super delicious, super inexpensive!

day 8 (Belem) tea time: Pastel de Belem. Well...... that was a bit of a zoo!!! I think too crazy to enjoy. We could not wait for 30-40 min to get tables. so in the end, bought take out to eat at the park. Were they better than Fabrica de Nata? I can't tell. I think they were delicious, but the lines and the number of people, I would not wait for it if I had a chance to visit again. Also, our guide (young Portuguese guy) said that the server serving me was a bit rude. I don't speak Portuguese, so I have no idea, but everywhere else servers were very kind.

day 8 (Lisonb) dinner: Tágide (email reservation). Have to say that pictures do not do justice to this restaurant the setting is very refound and very beautiful. The only thing that I can complain about is that they do not give you any freedom in choosing the menu. Usually, restaurants of this caliber allowed me to pick 2 choices for appetizers, mains, desserts so that it's more fun for the ladies ot choose on the day. Here you are set into the same menu no matter what. the second point I wish was different is that our round tables were right next to the "bar" area, and when a large group of German travelers came to enjoy their pre-dinner drinks... well, their b.tts (behinds) were right in the face of my ladies, plus they do speak very loudly! the restaurant should not place tables so close to the bar area. But overall, I was happy with the choice for our last dinner!

Most places we visited are the places everyone goes. I'll put a list and just highlight the ones that I thought for our were great!

Porto : Cathedral, Sao Bento station, Ribeira, Bolsa Palace, St. Francis church (great local guide, so loved the tour!), cable car to Gaia, Funicular from Ribeira, Harry Potter bookstore (8EUR entrance! ouch!), Igreja do Carmo and narrow house (fun!)

Douro valley: everything was a highlight -- picnic at Quinta do Seixo, dinner at Quina do Marrocos, Rabelo boat (75min)

Coimbra: Library and University. too packed with people but I guess worth going if you get the tickets for the library. Batalha monastery: too crowded (I expected fewer people) but the architecture is mindblowing! Amazing place. Loved it.

Lisbon: Historic tram (charter. YES!), Estrela Basilica climb to the roof (absolutely YES!) and Jardim de Estrela (lovely to get away from the crowds), Museu Calouste Gulbenkian (on a free entrance Sunday! and not crowded.... a must! need at least 2-3 hours which we didn't have), Sao Roque chapel, Carmo convent (just to see the structure, no museum. for someone from Japan with our earthquakes, that was a must-see), Elevator Justa view deck only (great views), short Alfama walk (Casa do Bicos to Fado restaurant. Great way to experience Alfama and not break sweat!), Barrio Alto for shopping (disappointed as I could not find any good shoes or leather bags _)

Sintra: Quinta de Regailera (the only place we visited! Great!), horse carriage ride (fun!), Cabo da Roca (+ certificates = happy ladies!)

Belem: Coach museum (a Highlight!!! fascinating and videos doe not do it justice), Belem tower outside, Monument of Discoveries outside, Jeronimos monastery (of course amazing).

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Ha.... just realized that I put more into writing about food... well, I think places to visit are easier to pick than restaurants, so if this is in any way helpful, it would make me happy!

I'm off to start planning next year's trip to.... I'm thinking Sicily! Any thoughts )))

Thank you,
Anna

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1176 posts

Thank you Anna- what a great trip! I am sure those ladies appreciated all your detailed planning.
I have bookmarked this for future reference.

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1067 posts

Great report! Your enthusiasm for your trip and your 'ladies' shows. So glad you had such a great time.

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1709 posts

Hi Anna! What a great trip you so successfully planned and executed for the lucky ladies. It sounds like it was wonderful. I appreciate all the restaurant recommendations as I will be in Portugal beginning the 11th! Thank you for taking the time to post this thoughtful and comprehensive report. Wish I had been along!

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25 posts

Thank you so much, Anna, for the detailed and lively report! I am making copious notes and will be sampling your restaurant choices in October.

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13314 posts

Anna, I'm glad everything worked out so well and the trip was a success, barring the mishap (your injured lady truly is a real trooper) and the one lady who lost steam at the end.

Sicily is very different, but as wonderful. When is the trip?

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Thanks for sharing. I am so glad that I got to read this trip report. Will definitely look into the restaurants listed especially the seafood ones for our trip in Nov!

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Oh! I am so glad my report can be useful in some way to others planning to visit Portugal! It's been already about a month since our return back to Tokyo. I am missing Portugal a lot! Still day dreaming about the seafood at Ramiro's ;)))

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10931 posts

Thanks for posting this report. I just got back from Japan, and am in the middle of writing my trip report, so this is inspiring to me.

"the biggest problem was the portions. whatever they serve for 1 person in Portugal is about a portion for 3 people in Japan"

Even the US, famous for its large portions, is hard-pressed to compete with Portugal when it comes to the sheer amount of food. One of my guidebooks explained that you can often get a half portion (meia dose) for a bit more than half the price of regular serving, and that this is a good idea because "a full dose serves two." No, as you say, a full dose serves three, and I found it difficult to finish even the half portion!

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30 posts

Thank you so much for this wonderful, enthusiastic report, and great foodie observations. We are going for the first time in March-April 2020, and I've bookmarked your post.

Posted by
644 posts

@Anna: Thank you! Your information is very helpful as we will be traveling to Portugal next year.