We’ve recently returned from our summer adventure to Portugal and Spain, and dove head first into the fall rituals of back to school and the like. I have enjoyed going back, viewing and organizing the hundreds of photos, and doing a mental recap of all of the fun we had! We visited so many different places and I have to say looking back, (because it didn’t always seem this way in the moment), the kids were really amazing. It was so special to see everything through their eyes, because of course everyone is getting a little older each month which is happy and sad at the same time. It really makes such a difference in how they experience travel though! Sienna, who mostly despises being photographed at this point, is very interested in taking photos herself, and has a love of art and architecture. Luella is really taking everything in, being so inquisitive and easy going, and just such a happy girl overall and a delight to be with. Isla is a little parrot, imitating everyone, in every language. She had us laughing hysterically the entire trip; that is when I wasn’t about to cry during one of her utterly unreasonable moments of demanding impossibilities. That lady is really one of a kind with more personality than we know what to do with!!
Circling back to our travel diary, we started off in Lisbon and stayed in a gorgeous apartment with amazing details and design right on Avenue de la Avenida, which is such a pretty area. As we have done lately, we found the apartment on Kid and Coe, a worldwide family friendly apartment/house rental site and once again we were beyond happy with our choice! The apartment was huge and airy with a full kitchen, and the perfect place to unwind and get acclimated at the start of a few weeks of travel. In my search for accommodations I came across a few other really amazing options in Lisbon where I would love to have a future stay, such as the tucked away design hotel Memmo Alfama which I will mention again below, and the Santa Clara 1728, a gorgeous collection of suites in a renovated 18th Century building. A short list of others that looked intriguing are Memmo Príncipe Real, the Altis Belém Hotel & Spa, and Palacio Belmont,
We arrived Friday, late morning hit the ground running, (most of us anyway) and after getting settled briefly ventured out and had a nice lunch of traditional Portugeuse food at A Gina, a restaurant a block away from our apartment that was recommended by the owners, and which we loved. Very simple local dishes, perfectly prepared. Jon always needs a nap, and so headed back to the apartment for a siesta while all of the ladies headed for a gelato and a walk down to the river to explore the city a bit. I really loved Lisbon, and the pictures I had seen didn’t do it justice. Such a varied city, almost Parisian in some areas and then totally unique in others such as the Alfama, with it’s Moorish influences.
After a little walkabout we headed home to get ready for dinner, which we planned to have at the Memmo Hotel, in the Alfama district while watching the sunset over the rooftops. This plan only went slightly awry when we had to take two taxis, (as is often the case when there are 6 of us traveling) and mine brought me to a dead end with Sienna, Isla, and two strollers. If you’ve walked the Alfama you know that strollers are pretty useless (I knew this in advance but had planned for possible stroller napping at dinner, and had not planned on lugging everything uphill on gorgeous but steep winding backstreets.) The others made it to the destination without issue. So, after some seriously sweaty hiking (and just a touch of frustration) uphill carrying Isla and one of the aforementioned strollers, (big thank you to Sienna for hauling the other) we turned a corner and Jon appeared! Definitely miraculous and not a moment too soon. All of this wandering meant that we had missed the sunset by about 8 minutes, however the rooftops were still vibrant and lit with a colorful glow. The Memmo Alfama is such a cool hotel, I had looked into it but it didn’t seem suited to our kid- heavy crew – a doubt which was confirmed when I saw the gorgeous but hazardous red tiled infinity edge rooftop pool. It was the perfect place for cocktails and a casual light dinner on our first night, the decor was amazing and I loved all of the hotel’s little design details. After dinner we had a little nighttime wander of the magical Alfama backstreets, with Fado music echoing in the background, finally coming upon the massive and gorgeous cathedral where talented musicians played in the streets. We had one last cocktail while Isla danced on the sidewalk, and suddenly felt exhausted.
Saturday morning we woke up slowly, but with an ambitious plan that was fully realized. First I have to mention it was pretty hot, not hot to the degree that you can’t even go outside and tour around hot, which did in fact happen to us in Athens a couple of years ago, but just a sticky and sunny heat that made walking up and down stairs carrying toddlers not the easiest.
Our first mission was to head over to the Belém area of Lisbon, where many of the city’s famous sights are located, and have the famous Portuguese custard tarts, Pastel de Nata. As we were headed right down the road to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos next, and there weren’t the storied lines of tourists snaking down the block we stopped at the classic, Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. Lu and I loved the little tarts and thought they were amazing, but the rest of the family didn’t seem overly impressed, especially Isla who wouldn’t even try one. I don’t think she’s inherited my die hard love of desserts.
Down the street the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a lovely 16th century monastery, did already have a long line of people sweltering in the heat. We jumped in but had quickly decided to abandon ship when the nicest man told us that because we had two strollers we could go in a priority line, where there were zero people waiting. I often forget some of the advantages of traveling with small children, and this one would help us again and again! The monastery was beautiful and we enjoyed walking the halls, but by this time Isla had fallen asleep in my arms where she would remain on and off for the next few hours, exhausted. From there we walked through a lush garden and on to the scenic Tagus River boardwalk, beginning at the Discoveries Monument, and ending at the Belém Tower (Torre de Belem), which we had planned to climb. Thankfully we had purchased all of our tickets at once at the monastery box office, which saved us another 45 minute wait in sweltering heat. The tower had beautiful views over the sparkling blue Tagus River, the Belém district, and several bridges. We did indeed climb to the top, via 90 tiny steps in the windiest stone spiral staircase I’ve ever seen, all the while I’m still holding a sleeping Isla glued by sweat to my shoulder. This might sound sort of miserable but somehow wasn’t, the excitement of exploration perhaps? Needless to say we needed a wine and gelato break after all of this walking and so that’s what we did next, at a cute little spot near the river, whose name now escapes me. After that we took a tuk tuk (more on that later) back down to the main square where we started and visited the National Coach Museum (Museu Nacional dos Coches) one of Lisbon’s most visited museums, housed interestingly in two separate buildings across the street from one another, one as huge,vast, and starkly modern as the other is small and antiquated. Think large collection of Cinderella-style carriages, from the drab to the ornate, and actually more interesting than I would have thought!
By now Lu had fallen asleep in the stroller as well, and the rest of us were starving so we headed over to the Time Out Lisboa Market, to check out all of the food stalls and shops and have lunch. If you’ve read any of my other posts you know I’m obsessed with food markets and never miss the chance to visit the main market in any city, and the Time Out Market was really modern and well done. It was super crowded at the common seating inside but we were lucky enough to find a table at one the amazing seafood restaurants on the perimeter that went from inside the market to out on the sidewalk. The lunch was amazing, we had so many great things but the two highlights for sure were Sienna eating an entire bowl of delicious little clams, and Karen trying an oyster and completely rejecting it.
Lunch and vino verde revived us, and Lu and Isla had napped for a combined 6 or so hours so we decided to jump in a motorized tuk tuk for 6, really the funnest way to get around and see a city I’ve decided, and headed off to explore the Chiado neighborhood, which is a very nice area for shopping and sidewalk cafés. We walked around here for an hour or so, and then decided on one last stop before taking a mini siesta, The National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo). I’m a lover of ornate tiles, not in my personal home design aesthetic, but I love a beautiful tile wall in churches or monasteries, and when done well in other people’s design projects. The Portuguese are known for their tiles, and this museum is definitely worth a visit. There is a pretty, tropical courtyard with beautiful gardens, and intricately tiled halls to walk, along with a gleaming gold chapel. The girls most liked the turtle pond in the indoor garden, Isla became obsessed with a baby turtle cooing to it, “You little cutie!” which we all thought was very cute indeed.
That evening, the exhausted kiddies relaxed at the apartment with Karen, and Jon and I had a solo dinner at Belcanto, definitely one of our most memorable dinners to date, due in large part to the surprise of eating at the Chef’s Table in the kitchen, amongst the chefs. This is definitely a lengthy and indulgent experience, but the food was really amazing.
Sunday we slept in a bit, still adjusting to the new time and got a later start then we had planned on for our day trip to Sintra. We took the train from Lisbon’s Rossio statin, and it was a quick 35 minute ride with interesting scenery. We arrived right around lunchtime, and walked from the station into the pretty little main square to find a restaurant and save ourselves from the heat. At first glance you are surrounded by many touristy looking options, but we wandered uphill through a couple of little cobblestone alleys, (seriously struggling with the umbrella strollers), finally finding a little spot that looked to be a bit more off the beaten path and had a great little lunch in the shade. After lunch we headed off to La Quinta Regaleira, a romantic old estate and palace, now a UNESCO heritage site and resplendent with lush gardens, grotto, caverns, and fountains. We quickly decided that walking extreme uphill, in oppressive heat, on tiny sidewalks while pushing two strollers was going to be pretty brutal and hailed down a motorized tuk tuk, the transportation we would use for the rest of the day. I would recommend this mode to anyone traveling Sintra with small children. The breezy ride up winding streets was seriously beautiful, and it was such much easier to appreciate the magic of the city from the seated vantage point of the tuk tuk, as opposed to huffing it uphill with your head down. On a cooler day, sans little kids, the walk would have been an amazing experience as well!
La Quinta Regaleira was truly one of the most beautiful and enchanted places, the kids loved walking through the underground cavern paths and across the grotto stepping stones, through the gardens, and down the path of the winding well. It felt a little bit Indiana Jones-esque at times. We explored the grounds for a while, and visited the palace and chapel before luckily stumbling upon our same tuk tuk driver, and heading up, way up, to the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains and on to the Palacio da Pena, the castle in the clouds. This oft-photographed Romantiticist castle has an interesting history, and I had high hopes of wandering around aimlessly and taking in the views over the city, hopefully with some great photos thrown in for good measure. Sadly this was not to be, Isla decided for the second time that day she wanted to nap, but would only do so in my arms, and so I carried this child up every stair, through every hall, and onto every viewpoint, literally so sweaty it was beyond. Randomly, it’s usually cooler there because of the altitude, but that particular day happened to be the hottest of the summer up to that point, lucky us. Still, we found the palace and the views to be spectacular, it was all well worth it in my opinion, and we explored the building in it’s entirety. I managed to get a few decent photo ops as well, although not the family photoshoot of my dreams, especially with everyones hair matted to their heads like a helmet.
There are so many places to explore in Sintra, and I would have loved to see more of the city that day, but I was happy with choosing these two main palatial places from my list, and taking them slow and really enjoying them. When traveling with little ones, or even just adults I’d say a big mistake is trying to cram too much into too little time. It’s nice to really BE somewhere as opposed to just checking sights off a list. Traversing Sintra by tuk tuk and seeing the many palaces, colors, and architecture; along with dense, lush forests where light can barely shine through is an experience in itself. We eventually made it down the mountain and back to lower elevation, where it was definitely time for an afternoon cocktail for the adults and a sweet treat for the kiddies. We found the cutest little cafe, called Saudade with a kids’ kitchen set in the corner and had a cold wine while the girls played restaurant and had beautiful little cakes and lemonade. Sintra, you stole our hearts and we would love to see you again!