A natural beauty

Piodão1Usually, when thinking of architecture, we tend to think of big buildings, whether modern or old. The way I see it, however, credit should also be given to more “popular” types of architecture, using natural materials – like stone!

piodão4Today I’m bringing you a few snapshots of one of the most famous schist villages from Central Portugal, the village of Piodão.

piodão2Located close to the Serra da Estrela region, Piodão is one of a total of 27 schist villages in the heart of the country. In a place with an abbundance of schist as well as zigs and zags, ups and downs, what do you build your houses with? Why, schist, of course!

piodão3Getting to know these villages is very much worth the trouble of getting away from the city and maybe even getting lost on your way back because the GPS isn’t working and it’s a rainy night and you can’t see s**t. Not that it ever happened to me! This is also the part of the country where you’ll find some of the most beautiful river beaches.


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A change in perspective?

View of the river Douro, waaaaay up in the north of the country, in Miranda do Douro. Portugal to the left, Spain to the right of the picture

View of the river Douro, waaaaay up in the north of the country, in Miranda do Douro. Portugal to the left, Spain to the right of the picture

As you may (or may not) know, Portugal has a new President. Just to give you some context, in Portugal, Presidents are not the ones who actually rule (that’s for Prime-Ministers). They act like diplomats, in a way, and can veto laws from the Government.

This post is not meant to be about politics and I’d like to stress that I have no political affiliation and it is not my intention to give Beyond Lisbon a political colour of any kind. Still, I couldn’t help but be surprised when checking the news this morning and coming across a sentence, which the new President recently said (sorry, it’s in Portuguese), regarding the presidential ceremonies that will take place in Porto: “Because Portugal is more than Lisbon” (“Porque Portugal é mais do que Lisboa”). Now… that has always been my motto, Mr. President!😀

headerHonestly, I hope this type of action, coming from the President, will help pave the way for a change in perspective regarding the way people (both in Portugal and abroad) look at the country.


The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Under your feet

gruta da moeda_4Most people visiting Portugal will want to see the monuments, cities, towns and villages, besides the landscapes. But… did you know Portugal also has caves? In fact, Portugal has lots of caves, but plenty of them can’t be visited because they’re not, well, easy to access.

gruta da moeda_1In the area of Serra de Aire e Candeeiros (not far from Lisbon and close to Fátima) there are several caves that you can visit. Today I’m bringing you some images from Grutas da Moeda (literally, “caves of the coin”).

gruta da moeda_2These caves were discovered in 1971, when two hunters were chasing a fox. The fox eventually hid in a hole in the ground, which they found out to be an entrance to a cave. The two men explored that entrance for almost two months, discovering some of the galleries that you can visit today. gruta da moeda_6The part that you can now visit is about 350 meters long (not very long, but there’s plenty to see!) and there’s a constant temperature of 18ºC all year round.

gruta da moeda_5Obviously, like with so many other places in Portugal, there’s a legend about these caves. Many, many years ago, a wealthy man was passing by the area and he carried with him a bag heavy with coins. A band of thieves tried to rob the man and, in the struggle, he ended up falling down a hole in the ground (the cave, as you probably guessed), taking with him the bag of coins.

gruta da moeda_3

Enjoy!  🙂

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Strange things in strange places (part 4)

altar3Roadtrips can be surprising.

As we were driving along a road in the Trás-os-Montes region, in the north of Portugal, I thought I saw a sign mentioning an “altar of sacrifices”.

Wait. What? Go back.

Yep, it does say “altar of sacrifices”.


I couldn’t find much on this site, I have to say. I’m not an archaeologist but I can’t see anything resembling an altar of any kind. Still, it is strange (to say the least) and probably stranger still is the casual sign by the side of the road.


Known as “altar of sacrifices” or “Pias dos Mouros” these are two parallel rectangular structures, which were dug on granite. The smaller one is about 2 meters long by 0,55 meters wide, while the bigger one is roughly 2,47 meters long by 0,60 meters wide.


On the sides you can see several carved stone steps. As far as I know no real archaeological exacavation has ever been carried out on this site, but it is believed to have been built previously to the arrival of the Romans to what is, today, Portuguese territory.

Its true purpose and origin? Still a mystery… But it only goes to show that sometimes fascinating things can be where we least expect them!

Enjoy!  🙂

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Killing “saudades” with a box


As you may or may not know there were a lot of Portuguese people leaving the country in the mid-20th century and have been, again, over the past few years. Writing about this phenomenon would give me enough material for a book – several, actually. However, the subject of today’s post will have a lot to do with emigration, saudade and the fact that, like I said before, we have an emotional link to food. In some ways, this will also be a very short kind of guide to “do it like a Portuguese would”!🙂

I got this box from the nice people over at Tugabox. The word tuga is the short version of portuga, aka, Portuguese and, today, it’s already part of our everyday vocabulary. The idea, with these boxes, is that you can live outside the country but have a bit of Portugal delivered every month to your doorstep with the contents being a surprise, but always Portuguese. The way I see it, they’re also fun if you’re not Portuguese but wouldn’t mind getting to know more about us, beyond the stereotypes of wine and caldo verde.

So, what was inside November’s Tugabox? All of this:


First, there’s a short explanation about the contents of that month’s box. Then, there’s a recipe for Francesinha and two flocos de neve. 


Francesinha literally means “little French girl”. Its origins are somewhat mysterious, even if this is a fairly recent creation. Although it first made its appearance in Porto, today you can enjoy Francesinha in several parts of the country and in several variants. This sort of cooked sandwich is not for the faint of heart but it’s certainly delicious. With this helpful (and cute) card you can make your own Francesinha – you might need some help from a dictionary if you don’t know Portuguese.😉 Flocos de neve are small white balls of sugar, basically, and their name means “snow flakes”. Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s they were omnipresent and, in some places (like my school), kids could be given a couple of these as change at the school cafeteria if the staff had no change left (I’m talking about the equivalent to, say, a few cents). How’s that for healthy?😉 Note: if you’d like to troll people around you and make a kind of sound which is funny but quickly becomes obnoxious, do the following: get that red plastic wrap from a floco de neve, hold the wrap, stretching it slightly with fingers from both hands and blow!😀


Generally speaking, Portuguese like a lot of bling on their Christmas trees. It doesn’t have to be fancy bling, it just has to be shiny and sparkly! Chocolate Santas are both decorative and yummy, with that much appreciated bling factor! They’re a staple in most houses as Christmas tree decoration and some smart-ass kids (cough cough) will probably eat a couple of said decorations when no one’s watching!

Erva doce means “sweet herb” and is, in fact, anise or aniseed. It’s commonly found in traditional, more rustic types of Portuguese baking and it’s also commonly used as a sweetener when boiling chestnuts – a common snack during the Autumn and Winter months. Leite creme is the Portuguese version of crème brûlée, with a few small differences. It’s the kind of dessert that nearly all Portuguese grannies, aunties and mums know how to do. It’s the type of thing that brings us happy childhood memories. This is the quick version with instructions on the back of the box – which means even you can make it!


Beer and toasted peanuts: not much to say here; it’s a classic combo for many Portuguese. In this case you can try it with a craft beer, one of the many that have been showing up in Portugal over the past couple of years.


Honey and lemon drops. Tasty and with a reduced guilt-quota.🙂 Handy for the Winter months and the kind of thing Portuguese grannies and aunties carry in their bags for when they want something sweet or feel faint and need a quick sugar rush (“Hey, it’s medicinal!”). If you’ve been to Portugal, particularly to Lisbon, you may have noticed that it looks like we have a love for canned fish. In a way, we do. Tuna with black eyes beans is a snack/light meal which is delicious if served cold or at room temperature, like a salad. Serving suggestion: pour the contents on to a plate, let them cool for a few minutes in the refrigerator and enjoy your snack while sitting outside on a sunny day!😀

Queijo de figo is a traditional product from the Algarve and, contrary to what you might think, it’s actually healthy. The name means “fig cheese” only there’s no dairy here, but lots of figs. Together with almonds, carob or cocoa (along with a few other ingredients; there are variants), figs are reduced to a naturally sweet and dark paste which is firm like cheese (more or less soft like, say, Edam, not hard like cured goat cheese). Queijo de figo is a kind of energy bar that was invented before energy bars!

Enjoy! 🙂

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Snapshots of Nazaré (and a revelation!)


View from the lighthouse at the Fort of St Michael Archangel.

Nazaré is one of those places that has its own mystique, legends, folk lore and, in more recent decades, tourists and surfers.
In the late 1940’s Nazaré attracted the attention of a then-young photographer called… Stanley Kubrick! He captured bits and pieces of the lives of the people of Nazaré (fishermen and their families, mostly) with their somewhat “exotic” hats and clothes, squinting in the sun and smiling – sometimes.

nazaré4Life by the sea can certainly be hard, particularly when you’re facing giant waves in tiny boats. Ever heard of the “Nazaré canyon“? Probably not, but that’s the phenomenon which caused the famous 100 foot (30 meters) wave surfed by McNamara in 2013, in Praia do Norte.


Even in Praia do Norte the sea can sometimes be flat – like on this day! Just my luck!

Traditionally, the women of Nazaré wore not one, not two… but seven skirts! Why? Well, there are several theories, but no certainties. Some people say it has to do with the magic usually associated with the number 7 (and, particularly, with the seven waves, since they used to spend a good part of their day near the sea); others claim it was simply because the women used those skirts to cover both their heads and ther legs while they sat in the sand, waiting for the men to come from the day’s fishing activities. Contrary to what some people might think, yes, it does get cold in Portugal and, yes, we have fog, cold drizzle and wind, even on the beach!😉


And if you think that Nazaré sounds reaaaaally similar to Nazareth… well, that’s connected to the legend of Nazaré!


Remember the lighthouse from the first photo? It’s that tiny spot on the left.

There’s a giveaway taking place right now on the blog’s Facebook page. It’s your chance of getting a box full of Portuguese goodies – for free!😉

P.S.: If you follow the blog you may have noticed that I haven’t posted so often lately. No, I haven’t given up on the blog or the site. It’s just that I have… let’s call it “a new project in the making”!🙂

coming soon

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Portugal in a box


Can you put Portugal in a box? The Portuguese company My Own Portugal proves it can be done!

How does it work? Very simple: each month there’s a new box with a different theme. Inside the box you’ll find several Portuguese products, a postcard and a guide – all related to that month’s theme.

I got this box full of goodies dedicated to their September theme: Portuguese libraries. Inside the box there was a craft beer, a chocolate bar, a savory jam, biscuits, a notebook, a pencil, a guide to Portuguese libraries, a postcard and several discounts for bookshops. So, for this post I’ll suggest Portuguese writers to go with these products – a kind of food pairing, but with authors.😉


Starting with the biscuits I’ll suggest the poems by Florbela Espanca, who lived between the late 19th century and early 20th century. Her poems aren’t what I would call “sweet”, but rather melancholy. Feeling like curling up with a book on a grey Autumn afternoon? Prepare you favourite cup of tea, grab some of these biscuits (shaped like letters, did you see that?) and lose yourself in Florbela Espanca’s poetry.


Moving on, we have my favourite Portuguese writer: Fernando Pessoa. I could have a whole blog dedicated to him and it probably wouldn’t be enough. Here we have a milk chocolate bar with a reproduction of a famous photo of him and a quote, which reads: “Because I’m the size of what I see and not the size of my height”. Fernando Pessoa was an incredibly prolific writer who had dozens of different personas, all of which with independent characters and types of writing. Several of his works are translated into English, so do get to read them if you can!


Next we have another prolific writer and a big name from 19th century Portuguese literature: Camilo Castelo Branco. This red pepper and chili savory jam bears the name of that which is, probably, his most famous work. Amor de Perdição is a tragic love story involving 3 people, two rival families and plenty of autobiographical details. If you’re into literature you might find it interesting that, although this work falls, mostly, into the Romanticism category, it already has a few characteristics from literary Realism.


Last but not least in our list of authors for this post we have a Nobel prize winner: José Saramago. He stirred a lot of strong feelings and opinions throughout his literary career – most people either love him or hate him. So, for a strong craft beer like this an equally strong writer is just the right match! Pictured here is my autographed copy from Saramago’s O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ).


In case you want to start your own book (or just write down a few thoughts) there’s also a cute little notebook. This pencil with multiplication tables is a classic item from the Portuguese school materials from decades ago (rarely used today, but I think I probably had at least one pencil like this – until my teacher found out, of course).


Enjoy! 🙂

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Along the coast


Along the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast you’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal. This area covers most of the Alentejo coast and part of the Algarve, in a total of about 110km of cliffs, unique plants, big waves, rich culture and history and, yes, amazing sunsets. Actually, this is such a special region that it is the only place in the world where storks make their nests in the rocks by the sea – and by rocks I mean cliffs!


But today I bring you another side to this coast: The town of Vila Nova de Milfontes, in the Alentejo, as seen from the river Mira. No cliffs seen from here, just the peaceful sunset inviting your mind to drift away and relax. There’s a lighthouse at the mouth of the river; you can see some boats and a few of the white houses from the town. The beaches are empty now and every living thing seems to stand still to appreciate the sun going down and the moon coming up.


Enjoy! 🙂

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Beauty beyond the hills

The region of Trás-os-Montes (literally “behind the hills”), in the Northeast “corner” of Portugal, is often half-forgotten. Seen by many as being “too far away” the fact is the region is rich with traditions, tough hard-working people and gorgeous landscapes.


Trás-os-Montes is also home to century-old chestnuts, small happy rivers and music that can make your granny dance like she’s 18 again. I’ll be talking about some of those traditions (which include men in skirts) in future posts – today I want to show you some of the happy little rivers.


Sometimes you get to enjoy their beauty in small, more of less secluded, river beaches and some other times you can only appreciate them from a distance. Either way, it’s always worth it.


This region is also known for having “nine months of winter and three months of hell” (nove meses de Inverno e três de inferno) because the weather goes to extremes, with very little space left for autumn and spring. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons behind all be beautiful sceneries?



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Once in a lifetime

When I was a kid several of Sintra’s monuments, which today are crowded with tourists at any time of the year, were kind of my weekend playground.
I remember Capuchos when it was a semi-abandoned place, which I later refused to visit having known it had been vandalized. I also remember the castle and the old man selling entrance tickets, postcards and pots of honey on a stall with cats sunbathing on its roof. But my favourite of these places was, probably, Pena.
As a kid I was obviously impressed by the outside architectural “layers” and details, in a time when it was all, still, in different shades of dusty grey (the palace was later painted with its original colours). What really had a magic of its own, however, was the park. It was, to me, a piece of forest with mystery around every corner: The stone tables, the well, the metal bridge, the sculpted warrior and the gigantic trees seemed to me to be “extra magical” at a time when there really wasn’t a lot of information around regarding the park. I was always secretly hoping to come across a fairy somewhere – and I could almost swear I caught a glimpse of a pointy red hat once!
When I read that Parques de Sintra would open the Pena park and palace at night I had a “now or never” kind of feeling. Besides, they were doing it for charity purposes, so what could be better?
Although it had only been two days after a full moon (which means plenty of moonlight) Sintra did its best to keep up with its reputation and the whole area was surrounded by fog. While it was certainly amazing I really don’t have any good photos of the park that night because of the fog and because most places were, well, almost pitch black – except for the fireflies!
The lakes looked amazing at night with the fog and the Fonte dos Passarinhos, lit by our lanterns, had its own mystique. My good friend, the ginormous Western red cedar, was part of the tour as well, as did the century old ferns.
One of the ferns in this part of the garden was, if I’m not mistaken, planted in 1850, which makes it… 165 years old! Did you know that the ferns in the Feteira da Rainha and the surrounding trees make up an ecosystem of their own? The trees protect the ferns from the harsh Summer sun, but allow for enough sunlight in the Winter, after their leaves fall. This was all part of the king‘s project when he planned the park. This plan was so detailed, in fact, that it even took into account the winds coming from the sea.
When reaching the highest point, near Cruz Alta, the wind transformed the heavy fog into rain, so when our group got to the end of the tour, and we “emerged” into the middle of the crowd near the palace, we all looked like we had actually ran a marathon!😀
I didn’t get to visit the inside of the palace this time (too crowded!) but I did get to wander around the terraces a bit. Once again, the fog worked its magic!
The best part of this night? They actually managed to collect a total of about 5 tons of food! Everyone working there, from the five companies and institutions involved, was a volunteer. I can tell you our guide was one enthusiastic volunteer!
P.S.: I do hope this will not be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and that they repeat it sometime in a not very distant future!

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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