scenic

Azulejos & Amazing Views in Lisboa

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My first impression of Lisbon, Portugal's capital, was that I've been to this city before even though I hadn't. The bridge looked familiar, the trolley cars going up the steep hills, the morning fog....San Francisco! Yes, that's it, this city is the Portuguese version of San Fran! Technically the bridge was constructed by the same people who designed the Bay Bridge (not Golden Gate) but the paint color on this bridge going across the Tagus, known as the 25 de Abril Bridge or simply the Tagus Bridge, is the same color as the Golden Gate making its resemblance uncanny. 

the Tagus Bridge

the Tagus Bridge

In addition to its San Fran like beauty, Lisbon gets some of its unique flair from the many buildings adorned with stunning tiles (azulejos). In fact most of my photos from this city are of azulejos and when I wasn't fixated on the tiles, I was capturing the breathtaking views from all the many hilltops (my butt and thighs were barking this entire trip, BTW). There is so much eye candy here, a photographer's dream!

Getting to Lisbon is super easy from the east coast and Portugal's national airline TAP makes a visit to this city quite enticing with its free stopover program. Since Lisbon is the airline's hub, travelers en route to Europe with TAP will naturally stop in Lisbon and have the option to stay up to 3 days to explore what the city has to offer free of charge before continuing on. Seriously, it's great for us travelers and great for the country's tourism. A true win-win!

Ready to pack those bags? If you're not convinced yet, then keep on reading about this lovely city! 

Praça Rossio

Praça Rossio

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Go for a stroll through the central Baixa district (and do a little shopping if the wallet permits) to get your bearings. Start at the northern end in the big square known as Praça Rossio and walk south towards the river ending at the impressive, scenic Praça do Comércio.

Praça do Comércio

Praça do Comércio

Venture into the elegant Chiado district and stop in Praça Luís de Camões for a coffee and Portuguese pastry. Café A Brasileira is one of the city's oldest, grandest cafés perfect for a caffeine fix with some people watching. But the highlight of this quaint square is Manteigaria for its pastéis de nata (amazing Portuguese custard pastries and I don't even really like custard). Usually a line out the door but worth the wait. Don't forget to sprinkle some cinnamon and powdered sugar on top!

Praça Luís de Camões

Praça Luís de Camões

Forget a guided tour and instead take a nostalgic ride on the yellow Tram 28. Riders are in for a treat as the tramcar screeches and rattles through the narrow streets of the city. Perfect for when your legs need a rest from all the hills! 

Visit the city's oldest neighborhood, the Alfama & take in the view from Castelo de São Jorge. You can either reach this neighborhood on foot (be prepared to walk uphill) or hop on Tram 28 (above) at either the Chiado stop or the Rua da Conceição stop in southern Baixa. Get off at Portas do Sol and the castle is a short walk (uphill). After your visit make your way down the hill through the narrow charming side streets and get your camera ready.

The view from Castelo de São Jorge, with the bridge in the distance

The view from Castelo de São Jorge, with the bridge in the distance

Admire the gorgeous views from various viewpoints (miradouros) throughout the city. Brave the super tall Elevador de Santa Justa (which looks like an old-school elevator, but outdoors) or take the yellow funicular a.k.a. Elevador da Bica to the top for views from the Miradouro de Santa Caterina. Either way, you won't be disappointed!

Experience the beautiful melancholy music native to this city known as fado at A Tasca do Chico. Located in the hip Bairro Alto neighborhood, which is full of nightlife, and often a wait to get in but worth it. While you're there order the caldo verde (Portuguese kale) soup, which was quite yummy. Note that the entire bar falls completely silent while the performers sing their tune but there are frequent breaks to talk about how amazing they are.

Beautiful façade of azulejos

Beautiful façade of azulejos

Do some souvenir shopping at Conserveira de Lisboa. This shop caters to the tinned-fish lovers in your life. Don't know any? Well that's your/their loss because these little tins actually make some tasty snacks alongside a crusty loaf of bread. The labels are super artsy and fun and the employees do a wonderful job wrapping them up in parchment paper & baker's twine.

Warm up and take a shot of Portuguese sour cherry liqueur called ginjinha at A Ginjinha. Join the locals as they congregate here after a long day at the office. If you're brave, eat the cherry on the bottom! 

the Baixa district at sunset

the Baixa district at sunset

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Cantinho do Avillez for amazing food in a cozy, upscale, trendy setting. Rezzies needed. For a little more casual, opt for Bairro do Avillez by the same chef. Specifically request to sit out back in the patio. It's lovely!

Pharmacia for yummy small plates in a quirky, fun and charming space. As the name suggests, this place has a medicinal theme incorporating a bit of the building's history as a pharmacy. Great views from this area and there is an outdoor patio for when it's nice out.

Sea Me for seafood in an upscale atmosphere. Perfect for bubbly and oysters.

Cervejaria Ramiro for seafood in a casual locals' spot.

Mercado da Ribeira for a gourmet lunch in a large indoor marketplace. The market is huge and has many great options for casual dining or with sit-down service. I recommend O Prego da Peixaria for a prego (Portuguese steak) sandwich.

Yao Pressed Juicery for when you've had too many pasteis de nata. This tiny little place makes their own cold-pressed, organic juices, smoothies & mylks and each one we tried was super fresh and tasty.

Duque Brewpub for great craft beers in the buzzing Bairro Alto neighborhood. Get a flight.

Quimera Brewpub for craft beer in a super cool space that used to be an old stagecoach tunnel. Located a little outside the city center, in the Estrela neighborhood so you will need to hop in a taxi but it's a cheap ride.

Elevador da Bica

Elevador da Bica

Fresh, cold-pressed juices

Fresh, cold-pressed juices

Cobblestone streets

Cobblestone streets

WHERE TO STAY

Memmo Alfama or Santiago de Alfama for charming, boutique properties in the city's oldest neighborhood.

Bairro Alto Hotel to be a little closer to the action without losing the lux boutique feel.

Also to note is that Airbnb is a great option in this city. Many offer private terraces with outstanding views of the river. Specifically look for one in the trendy Bairro Alto neighborhood or next door in the sophisticated Chiado neighborhood. 

Stay tuned for my next post, which will feature a place out of a fairytale that makes a great day trip from Lisbon. As always, obrigada for reading. Bom dia!

Colorful buildings

Colorful buildings

Azulejos in the Alfama

Azulejos in the Alfama

Windy roads in the Alfama

Windy roads in the Alfama

Lisboeta streets

Lisboeta streets

Praça do Comércio getting ready for Christmas

Praça do Comércio getting ready for Christmas

Living La Dolce Vita on the Amalfi Coast (Part I)

No shortage of gorgeous views from the Amalfi Coast

No shortage of gorgeous views from the Amalfi Coast

A year and a half ago, I had the privilege of spending a week of my honeymoon on the beautiful Costiera Amalfitana and I swear my life has never been the same. Italy tends to do that to you and it's so unfair! Every day since then, I've been plotting my return checking flights to NAP on the regular. What makes the Amalfi Coast so special, you ask? The laid back culture, gorgeous views of the Mediterranean and the food, naturally. It is here that I believe the phrase "Il dolce far niente" was born, translating to "the sweetness of doing nothing." Once you go, you'll understand and wonder why it took you so long to visit. Or like me, you'll wonder what it takes to own a villa on the cliffs...hmm... Just so you know where exactly I'm talking about, the Amalfi Coast is the stretch of coastline along the Gulf of Salerno between Positano to the West and Salerno to the East. When planning a trip to the Amalfi Coast I recommend doing your research because it is a large area that is impossible to cover in just a week, two weeks even, so you need to be strategic on where you want to spend your time. Don't try to do it all because you will miss the little bits of culture that make this place so charming.

Despite being off the beaten path, the Amalfi Coast is extremely touristy which can deter a lot of people at first. The easiest way to avoid all the crowds is to choose the right month to visit--June and September in particular offer lovely weather without (as many) crowds. Otherwise, be strategic about which town you stay in. I can speak from experience that there are parts of this region that are less touristy than others so the town you decide to stay in can heavily influence your vacation. We knew we wanted some solitude so with a little research we found the town of Praiano which was next door to Positano. It ended up being perfect because it was small and quiet yet we could easily get to all the action in Positano via hotel shuttle and visit the other towns via public bus. We could also get to the island of Capri which we wanted to see. Others who don't mind the busy-ness of these two larger towns prefer to be in the heart of it all. That's fine too. The important thing is that you get to enjoy what this wonderful area has to offer.

There is a lot to be said about the Amalfi Coast so I plan on breaking it into two parts for digestibility. First, we will talk about getting here and around, and where to stay. In my next post I'll get into the good stuff--what to see, and where to eat and drink. So:

 

GETTING HERE & AROUND

The Amalfi Coast is reachable by both Naples Capodichino Airport (NAP) and Salerno Costa d'Amalfi Airport (QSR) or alternatively you could arrive to either of these cities via Trenitalia hi-speed train service. From these two cities you will need to take either the public SITA bus or hire a car to reach the coast, making it a little bit tricky to get to. NOTE: The roads along the Amalfi Coast are SO windy and the local drivers are fearless so be prepared (and ginger candies recommended for those who get motion sickness). But the journey is well worth it once you take in the view from atop the cliffs for the very first time. Once you're there, the SITA bus runs pretty regularly between towns if you decide not to rent a car and there is ferry service between some of the larger towns and cities (i.e. Positano to Capri, Naples to Sorrento, Amalfi to Positano and Salerno, etc.).

A long journey from Firenze, but we're happy we finally made it!

A long journey from Firenze, but we're happy we finally made it!

If you are arriving via Naples, I recommend spending an evening in this chaotic city. Why? For the pizza of course! Most importantly, this is where pizza was invented and Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale, 1, Napoli) offers some of the best authentic pies around. They only offer two varieties--margherita and marinara--but after trying one your life will never be the same. Its location is perfect for exploring the old section of town known as Spaccanapoli, a must-see. Secondly, Napoli is where espresso comes from so I recommend that you have a shot of the thick, tasty stuff to fuel your jetlagged day. Gran Caffè Gambrinus (Via Chiaia, 1/2, Napoli), the city's oldest cafe, offers table service and an outdoor patio to enjoy your doppio and traditional sfogliatella pastry. And lastly for those history buffs out there, Pompeii is just a short drive or train ride on the Circumvesuviana line.

Arriving by ferry to the city of Napoli

Arriving by ferry to the city of Napoli

Wandering the streets and squares of Spaccanapoli 

Wandering the streets and squares of Spaccanapoli 

A bustling piazza in Napoli

A bustling piazza in Napoli

Pizza and Peroni at Da Michele...best pizza of my life! 

Pizza and Peroni at Da Michele...best pizza of my life! 

WHERE TO STAY

I highly recommend staying away from the crowds where we stayed in Praiano at a place high up on the cliffs for the most majestic views, unless you have mobility issues. There will be LOTS and LOTS of stairs to get down to the beach but they're great for counteracting all the eating and drinking that will be happening. NOTE: Don't expect beaches to be large or sandy--they are usually made up of pebbles instead of smooth sand or consist of large rocks from which you can jump off of (don't worry, there are ladders to help you get out). But the cerulean blue of the Mediterranean is so inviting that you must do as the others do and jump in!

Casa Angelina - It was our honeymoon after all so we splurged on this 5-star resort and it was worth every penny. The upscale hotel is minimalist with large windows and white furnishings to offer a gorgeous contrast against the blue sea outside. Guests have complimentary access to exclusive One Fire Beach Club several hundred steps and a lift below. Relaxing on a bright orange chaise lounge with glasses of prosecco and a side of taralli and large green olives becomes routine. (Via Gennaro Capriglione, 147, Praiano)

Casa Privata - This lovely & stylish 4-star B&B is a great choice and a little easier on the wallet. The 8 rooms are located in a recently restored old fisherman's villa and garden house. The grounds include a pool, small private beach, and an organic garden used in the restaurant's offerings. (Via Rezzola, 15, Praiano)

Hotel Tramonto d'Oro - This comfortable 4-star option includes a cliffside restaurant and pool with sweeping views and access to La Gavitella beach below as well as a shuttle to the only sandy beach in Praiano. Rates are some of the more affordable ones in the area. (Via Gennaro Capriglione, 119, Praiano)

Grand Hotel Tritone - This 4- star hotel might not be as stylish as the others but certainly makes up for it with its facilities. Guests looking to swim and bask in the sun can choose from the pool perched high on the cliff, one of the few private beaches in town, or the pool down by the beach. There's even a restaurant on the beach so you don't have to go all the way up those stairs for a bite. (Via Campo, 5, Praiano)

If you would prefer to be in one of the larger towns and don't mind a splurge or big crowds, check out Le Sirenuse in Positano or Grand Hotel Convento in Amalfi.

The view from our private terrace at the Casa Angelina hotel

The view from our private terrace at the Casa Angelina hotel

Loved having complimentary access to One Fire Beach Club courtesy of Casa Angelina

Loved having complimentary access to One Fire Beach Club courtesy of Casa Angelina

The hotel Tramonto d'Oro perched high on the cliff

The hotel Tramonto d'Oro perched high on the cliff

So now that you've picked out a hotel and figured out how to get there, I will tell you how to best spend your time on the Amalfi Coast and where fill your bellies (and hearts). Stay tuned for my next post which will do just that.

Stairs on the Amalfi Coast are no joke

Stairs on the Amalfi Coast are no joke

A beach typical of the Amalfi Coast
A beach typical of the Amalfi Coast
The view of the cliffs from the beach 

The view of the cliffs from the beach 

Life from under an orange umbrella....One Fire Beach Club 

Life from under an orange umbrella....One Fire Beach Club 

My favorite snack of taralli and olives
My favorite snack of taralli and olives
Enjoying lunch al fresco 

Enjoying lunch al fresco 

The popular town of Positano as seen from the sea 

The popular town of Positano as seen from the sea 

Awesome Alternative Accommodations in Italy: the Agriturismo

Castello di Bibbione
Castello di Bibbione

In my last post about places to see in Tuscany, I mentioned that you have some options in where/how you stay. Florence provides a great home base for taking day trips and is chock full of hotels, B&Bs, hostels even. It is also a common jumping off point for organized tours and public transportation such as trains and buses. But a great, affordable alternative is to experience an agriturismo. Agriturismi are actual working farms that offer accommodations in its farmhouses or villas. The style of accommodations can vary-- from rustic to luxurious, traditional Tuscan to modern-- and some even offer swimming pools and spas. One thing they all have in common is that they produce some type of food, usually olives for olive oil or grapes for wine, that you get to sample and bring home as a souvenir. Yes, you're technically staying on a farm but since you're in Tuscany the scenery is spectacular and nothing like Old MacDonald's. I've stayed in both a hotel in Florence and an agriturismo in the countryside and both were lovely experiences in their own way. The most memorable though was my week at Il Castello di Bibbione, an agriturismo in San Casciano in Val di Pesa, known for being Niccolò Machiavelli's hunting grounds. It is located just 30 minutes south of Florence, about 40 min north of Siena, and close to the autostrada (the major highway) which made it a perfect location for exploring. The grounds consisted of a castle which had a few separate rooms, a 4-bedroom villa for large groups, several 1 & 2-bedroom apartments, 2 swimming pools and a breakfast room. At one point in time it used to be a small village so the buildings are all in walking distance of each other. Each room/dwelling was outfitted in rustic yet charming Tuscan décor and each had its own kitchen so you could cook a meal with the food you picked up from the local market that day. Some apartments had outdoor patios with a grill and the villa even had a wood-fire pizza oven built into the side of the building. You can bet we took advantage of that!

Two things that you probably won't find at an agriturismo are daily room service (although you can request new linens if necessary), and a concierge (however the receptionists are very knowledgeable and friendly). That doesn't necessarily mean you won't find high-end amenities though if that's what you're looking for. They do exist, especially with luxury agriturismi popping up on the map more and more lately (I just saw one on Jetsetter). Also, some do not have restaurants onsite or only offer meals during part of the day, so that is something to keep in mind. But hey, it gives you a great excuse to get a flavor for local life at the market in town as you stock up on provisions. Which brings me to my next point.

A car was imperative for staying at the agriturismo and for exploring the area. You might be able to find some that are accessible by bus but more than likely you will be quite off the beaten path so I highly recommend renting a car. Don't be scared, rent that Fiat and have fun with it! Cars, especially stick shifts, are pretty inexpensive to rent ($100-150/wk for a standard size). Automatics are tougher to find but it is possible and you do need to reserve one in advance. Note: it's totally worth renting the GPS with your car or you're stuck reading maps and I bet it's been awhile you've had to do that, thanks Google. If you're not keen on driving, then you might be better off staying in Florence where you can catch trains, buses and tour groups.

Important note about driving: If you are renting a car, be sure to watch for signs indicating you are about to enter a Limited Traffic Zone or Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL). You are NOT allowed to drive in these zones which are usually found at the historical city center of most cities in Tuscany and you WILL get a ticket. They have cameras set up that take pictures of your license plate and the rental agency will mail you a piece of paper in Italian several weeks later when you're least expecting it. More info on ZTLs here. Also, when on the highway watch for signs indicating a speed trap known as Controllo elettronico della velocità. You are always warned ahead of time, several times actually, that one is approaching so just keep an eye out for the sign with a little policeman on it and slowww down. Yes, that is probably why you see all the people ahead of you randomly braking. Do yourself a favor and take the hint.

Tuscany is such an amazing destination that no matter how you see it you will find enjoyment. But I hope that this article encourages you to trade the chain hotel for an agriturismo on your next trip. You might surprise yourself--I know I did--and find out there's more to traveling than staying at the Hilton.

Note: If you're not sure about how to go about finding an agriturismo, let me know below or shoot me a message and I'll show you a few websites that I've found to be helpful.

The view at Castello di Bibbione

The view at Castello di Bibbione

Villa il Poggio, Castello di Bibbione

Villa il Poggio, Castello di Bibbione

One of the two pools

One of the two pools

Tuscan living room

Tuscan living room

Pizza oven

Pizza oven

Our Fiat for the week. Meep meep!

Our Fiat for the week. Meep meep!