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Last Great Expo of the Century

Since the advent of world’s fairs (also called expos) beginning in London with the 1851 Great Exhibition and continuing into the 20th century, fairs with varying themes have been held in the far reaches of the earth including Africa, New Zealand and Japan. Nations and private companies contributed pavilions to promote commerce, industry, science, entertainment and tourism. In our time energy, communication, transportation and space have been but a few of the motifs around which these giant gatherings have centered.

Now it is Portugal’s turn and the country is throwing the last great party of the century. The theme, The Oceans–A Heritage for the Future, is an apt one for a nation where nautical culture is so pervasive and whose intrepid ancient mariners discovered previously uncharted sea lanes. Opening day, May 22, marks the 500th anniversary of the historic voyage of Vasco da Gama around the Cape of Good Hope to India.

The centerpiece of the fair is the Oceans Pavilion, the largest aquarium in Europe, with selected habitats of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Sub-Antarctic all united within a single open environment. Although Expo ‘98 closes on September 30, the building will be renamed the Oceanarium and will remain a permanent part of the Lisbon landscape. For tickets call Edwards & Edwards Global Ticket Service (800-233-6108).

Capital City

Lisbon, clad in pastel stone and rolling over seven hills, is one of the loveliest capitals in Europe and one that has been consistently overlooked. Perhaps with the summer’s millions of visitors and EXPO URBE, an ambitious urban renewal plan, it will, like a neglected beauty, suddenly become the focus of more attention.

Oceanarium, Lisbon

Not every tourist can time his travels to take advantage of all that Expo has to offer, but a trip to Portugal with its year-round temperate climate yields the pleasantest of experiences in dining, sightseeing, shopping, accommodations, sports and just relaxing. Add to that the advantages of easy access from the East Coast of the United States, a very favorable exchange rate and an eminent resort area, Costa do Estoril, close enough to Lisbon to be considered a suburb.

To view the grand boulevard that is part of every majestic town, stroll the Avenue de Liberdade to the city’s heart, Rossio Square. Climb St. George’s Castle, the former palace of the royal family and the oldest part of the city, to admire the vistas from one of the highest of the seven hills. A giant periscope is being set up on the ancient Ulysses Tower so that visitors can see images that are almost life-sized. Explore the Alfama, a cobbled quarter of narrow tiled alleys and steep stairs dating from the Middle Ages. Drive or walk along the waterfront to observe the Belém Tower (the symbol of the city) and the Monument to the Discoverers.

A new bridge, the longest in Europe, named for Vasco da Gama and built to transport sightseers to Expo, has altered the skyline. The old one is now the Bridge of the 25th of April (in 1974 democracy was restored on that date). Christ the King, a replica of the statue in Brazil, was erected to commemorate the country’s neutrality in World War II and stands high on the horizon.

Many of the convents, churches and monasteries are called Manueline in style because King Manuel I introduced the architecture in the 16th century. Foremost examples are Jerónimos Monastery, a must-see, along with the National Royal Coach Museum and the National Tile Museum, repository of some fine examples of Portugal’s most significant art form. Flea market aficionados might plan their days to include a stop at the Feira da Ladra, taking place on Tuesday and Saturday mornings in Campo de Santa Clara behind the Santa Engrácia church.


The Estoril Coast whose main centers are Estoril, Cascais and Sintra is a mere fifteen miles from Lisbon and easily accessible by auto or train. As you drive west from Lisbon along the shore road the changes from big city to smaller towns are dramatic. The first metropolis you meet is Estoril, a polished gem with an elegant pedigree. The mountains rise behind the pristine beach; the private homes are stately; and the main avenues are lined with majestic palm trees. Then it is on to Cascais, a village that blends the charm of a fishing community with the smartness of a seaside vacation locale. Finally comes Sintra, a mountainous resort, favored for centuries as a summer refuge by Portuguese royalty. Perhaps the most romantic of this triumvirate, it was praised by Lord Byron as the Glorious Eden.

Costa do Estoril

Sintra was designated a World Heritage Site a few years ago and its attractions include several fantastic former palaces: the National with unusual twin cone-shaped chimneys and the Pena, the area’s best-known luxurious former estate. Since the Palacio de Setais, a magnificent example of 18th century architecture, is now a hotel, the curious are not encouraged to poke around its stunning public rooms and glorious grounds. Instead, go there for a wonderful tea in the garden (351-1-923-3200).

In low season, November to March, the Tourist Bureau offers free tours with pick-ups at four hotels. On Monday and Friday mornings excursions might include a windmill, museum or pottery or tile factory. On Wednesday nights church concerts, mime, fado and folkloric dancing are scheduled. To reserve call 351-1-467-07-93.

If you are lucky you might watch an early morning or evening auction at the Cascais Fish Market where boxes of just caught creatures from the sea are purchased by restaurateurs and fishmongers.

Sportspeople are attracted to Estoril because of the motor racing competitions, the polo tournaments and the tennis and fishing facilities. Golf, however, has the most pull. There are seven courses and the newest Belas Clube de Campo (351-1-962-35-36/7, 351-1-91-08-40) was designed to meet American standards. For information on the others call Costa do Estoril Hotline (888-428-1515) or Costa do Estoril Tourism Board (351-1-467-07-93).

Guincho beach is one of the coast’s most favored because of its fine white sand, its width, the protective cove in which it is situated and the large breakers, which make it ideal for surfing.


Predictably a country surrounded on two sides by water offers a bounty of quality seafood, but Portuguese cuisine also holds a few surprises. The flavors are simple, yet they are satisfying to the most discerning palate. Although olive oil is used constantly and profusely, the food is neither heavy, greasy nor rich. Garlic and coriander are the herbs of choice. Fish common to the table may sound like denizens of the aquarium to us, but they are daily fare: moray, conger, sea bream, plaice, barnacles, robalo and lamprey.

The Portuguese relish their world-famous fresh sardines served in one classic form, broiled over a charcoal brazier. To appreciate their full flavor one must eat them home territory. Like hot dogs on the Fourth of July, sardines grilled with salt and served on a slice of bread are the celebratory food in the Alfama during the Feast of St. Anthony (June 12).

Dried salt cod or bacalhau, which Escoffier once said put the world in debt to Portugal, is used in a variety of dishes. Of the many different preparations, the one incorporating potatoes, onions and black olives (bacalhau à gomes de sà) remains a favorite along with codfish cakes.

Faithful to the blessings of their fertile land and moderate weather, the quality produce is used with originality. Also prominent and prepared with imagination are meat and poultry: partridge, suckling pig, pork filets, sausages, veal, lamb and smoked ham.

The cheeses, unknown in our own country, are sublime. The superb, popular queijo da Serra made from sheep’s milk has a smooth consistency that changes with age. Fresh serra (meaning mountain) is hard on the outside and slightly runny on the inside. As it matures it takes on a texture like mozzarella. Other favorites are serpa, creamy cheese from Azeitão and white castle. Breads are crusty, yeasty and taste as though they were freshly baked in a brick oven.

The Portuguese are fond of desserts and pastries and the variety is staggering. Even more astonishing is that many of them are based on egg yolks, sugar and almonds without inhibiting the diversity. Because the clergy could most afford the expensive ingredients, the centuries-old recipes were prepared in convents and monasteries. Among the most coveted are queijadas (little cheesecakes), which people travel to Sintra to buy, and pastéis de nata, pastry shells filled with cream custard.

Mention Portuguese wine and what immediately comes to mind are Port and the ubiquitous Lancers and Mateus Rosés. But the selection of excellent choices is so vast and varied that despite its size Portugal can vie with other significant wine-producing countries. As an aperitif you might try a chilled White Port. The best year of the century for all ports is ‘94. Although the white wines are quite good, the reds are more important. Green Wine or Vinho Verde, meaning young and fresh, is fruity and astringent and is excellent with fish. Meat might be paired with a mature red wine from the Douro, Dão or Alentejo regions. Sweets can be accompanied by Tawny, Ruby and Red Ports, as well as Moscatel. For a stellar dessert wine tasting of raisins, almonds and butterscotch ask for Quinta do Barõa from the demarcated region of Carcavelos. To complement your coffee you might try the local version of grappa, Bagaceira, as an alternative to brandy.


Fado, the soul-searing folk music, expresses the special lyric sadness and nostalgia of the Portuguese people. Often described as the country’s blues, legend holds that it started with ballads that were first sung in the 16th century by lonely, homesick men who went to sea. Today it has evolved to a form that deals with a range of emotions lamenting one’s fate or fado. In Lisbon crowds gather in the old quarters–Alfama, Bairro Alto and Mouraria–to hear the mournful tones of black clad torch singers telling of lost loves and broken hearts. Accompanied by one or two guitars, men also sing fado, occasionally breaking the sadness with a more lively melody.

Fado cafes and restaurants are intimate, smoky and dimly lit with candles flickering against the tiled, stuccoed or brick walls. Patrons are not shy about volunteering as vocalists. Entertainment goes on until the wee hours of the morning or until the last guest leaves.

We enjoyed fado at the Parreirinha de Alfama. Although the food was only fair (dreadful caldo verde or green soup and passable pork with clams and loin of pork ), the music more than made up for it. The performance is continuous from 9:45 on, but you should arrive before 9:00 at which time every seat is taken. The narrow room hung with pottery has a very Iberian look.

Parreirinha de Alfama, Bego Do Espirito Santo,1, Alfama, 1100 Lisbon. Tel. 351-1-886-82-09. Moderate. Reservations essential.


To sample Port wines stop in at the Solar do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Institute). The list is long and the drinks are very reasonable.

Solar do Vinho Do Porto, Rua de S. Pedro de Alcântara, 45, Lisbon. Tel.351-1-347-57-07/8/9. Open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 11:45 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

To tour some of the vineyards call Eno Tours, managed by Mário Louro, an expert in Portuguese wines.

Eno Tours, Rua de Conde Redondo, No. 91 - 6 Dto, 1150 Lisbon. Tel. 351-1-3523193, fax 351-1-3523196.

For an unusual meal cooked and served by students visit the Centro Escolar Superior de Turistico e Hoteleiro do Estoril (The National Hotel School). Both prix fixe and a la carte lunches and dinners are served.

Escola Superior de Hotelaria e Turismo do Estoril, Avenida Conde de Barcelona, 2765 Estoril. Tel. 351-1-46609-99, 351-1-466-35-35. To reserve call the school or the Tourism Board (351-1-466-38-13).

To taste one of the delectable pastries, pastéis de nata, (called pastéis de Belém here) visit Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, a cafe that is open from early morning until late at night when the tarts run out. Dating from 1837, it seats many customers and is always full.

Antiga Condeitaria de Belém, Rua de Belém, 84 a 92, 1300 Lisbon. Tel. 351-1-363-80-77/8. Open 7 days.

Piriquita, another popular cafe and bakery, is so renowned for its cheese tarts and pastries called pillows that people travel to Sintra to buy them.

Piriquita, Rua das Padarias, 1 e 3, Vila, 2710 Sintra. Tel. 351-1-923-06-26. Open 7 days.

Although there are many pottery and tile stores in the Estoril region, we found the prices and selection at A Esquina off Sintra’s main square to be quite good.

A Esquina, Praça da Republica, 20, Sintra. Tel. 351-1-923-34-27.


Quinto Patiño, the former palatial home of Antenor Patiño, the king of tin, and the 116 wooded acres surrounding it are being developed as an exclusive private club. The residence functions as a clubhouse for meals, screenings, guest rooms, reading and entertaining. Plots, restricted to 130, are for sale on the property and members may design and build their own homes. The prestigious Estorial Golf Course is adjacent to the grounds and the sea is nearby.

Quinta Patiño, Av. da República, 1910, Alcoitão, 2765 Estoril. Tel. 351-1-469-10-61.


The Lapa Palace, formerly the Hotel da Lapa, was acquired by Orient-Express Hotels in July 1998 becoming the third property in their Portuguese portfolio. The others are Reid's Palace in Madeira and Hotel Quinta da Largo in the Algrave.

Situated on a hilltop in the heart of the city's most exclusive suburb, The Embassy District, the hotel, a restored 19th-century noble family's stately home, is a 15-minute taxi ride from downtown.

To create the traditional Portuguese ambiance, the craftsmen used the country's typical materials‹marble, stucco, carved wood and lavishly patterned azulejo tiles‹in the design.

Set amid century-old gardens dotted with ornamental fountains, a goldfish-filled stream and a waterfall cascading over a tiled backdrop, the Lapa Palace is the only hotel in Lisbon with an outdoor swimming pool.

The 94 rooms and suites in the main building and Palace wing are decorated in 22 individual styles‹Algarvian, Biedermeier, Colonial, Portuguese tile, Art Deco, 18th-century Classical and so forth. Many have terraces, some have two and all have Jacuzzis. Every accommodation overlooks the Tagus River and the hotel gardens.

The fitness center includes a heated pool, gym, solarium, Turkish and Scottish baths, sauna, steam room and spaces for massage and beauty treatments.

Lapa Palace, Rua do Pau de Bandeira, 4, 1249-021 Lisboa Portugal. Tel. +351 21 394 94 94 . Rates begin at$264 double occupancy and include complimentary parking. www.lapapalace.com/web/olis/olis_a1a_splash.jsp

Built in the 19th century on Cascais Bay by the Duke of Loulé as his own personal palace, Hotel Albatroz became a hostelry 90 years later. After extensive remodelling and the addition of a new wing the accommodations now number 40. The rooms in the new wing have balconies; the old ones could use some sprucing up. Nevertheless, this five-star establishment is recommended for its beach location, fine service and buffet breakfast, which is included.

Hotel Albatroz, Rua Frederico Arouca, 100, 2750 Cascais. Tel. 351-1 483-28-21. Rates begin at $133.


The best dish we ate during our visit, stewed partridge, came out of the kitchen at Conventual, one of Lisbon’s first class restaurants. The partridge, served on toast spread with liver pate was flambéed with brandy; pine nuts and chestnuts were added to the sauce. It was accompanied by stewed turnip tops, white asparagus and a crisply fried basket of shredded potatoes filled with tiny white onions. The dressing of fresh white cheese and garlic on the mixed salad was just as heavenly. The lovely dining room, decorated with ecclesiastical artifacts, is on the site of an old bakery and is so named because many of the recipes came from convents.

Restaurante Conventual, Praça das Flores, 45, 1200 Lisbon. Tel. 351-1-390-91-96, 351-1-390-92-46. Open Monday to Friday, lunch; Monday to Saturday, dinner. Moderately expensive.

On Lisbon’s outskirts at the Mercado do Peixe a waiter helps you choose fresh fish, which is priced by weight; a large sign posts the prices. Some of the choices might be turbot, sea bass, swordfish, squid and langoustines. They are then grilled to perfection with just a hint of salt and olive oil and served with a raw green salad and a cooked one of peppers, onions, tomatoes and potatoes seasoned with oregano. Appetizers are Portuguese ham or chaves and sausages baked in bread. The Mercado do Carne, housed in the next building, is known for suckling pig and leg of mutton.

Mercado do Peixe, Estrada Pedro Teixeira, Caramão da Ajuda, 1400 Lisbon. Tel. (+351) 21 361 60 70. Open Monday to Saturday, lunch; Monday to Friday, dinner. Moderately expensive. www.mercado-do-peixe.pt

Not far from Porto de Santa Maria is a fish nursery where crabs, crustaceans, lobsters and barnacles are gathered. The restaurant’s owner buys the seafood shortly before mealtime to feed the patrons, many of whom arrive by helicopter from Lisbon. Such is the fame of this spectacular modern looking dining spot with windows on three sides overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Furnishings are made of bleached wood to give it a beachy look.

We started with barnacles, which although tasty, proved to be too much work to extract such tiny morsels. We saw many people eating entrees that looked delicious like a whole fish baked in bread, sea bass cooked in salt and lobster Thermidor. I thought our main course was rather disappointing. Açorda de marisco, a dry soup cooked with crumbled bread, was reminiscent of oatmeal. What a shame to waste delicious seafood on it. Nevertheless, some of my American companions gave it thumbs up.

Porto de Santa Maria, Estrada do Guincho, 2750 Cascais. Tel. 351-1 487-02-40, 351-1-487-10-36. Open Tuesday to Sunday, lunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderately expensive depending on selection. Costa do Estoril has outstanding appetizers, among them excellent grilled sardines, two kinds of codfish balls, fried green beans, lentils, dense whitefish roe, octopus and chouriço grilled at the table on a small burner. Choose your own fish from the selection of local varieties and it will be prepared to order. Fado is sung on Fridays at this informal restaurant.

Costa do Estoril, Avenida Amaral, 2765 Estoril. Tel 351-1-468-18-17. Open Tuesday to Saturday, lunch and dinner. Moderate.


TAP Air Portugal flies to Lisbon from the gateway cities of New York, Newark and Boston. 800-221-7370. www.tap.pt/eportal/v10/EN/jsp/index.jsp

Post Script


I returned to Manhattan from Portugal longing for many of the tastes of the sea, but mostly the soulful codfish dishes and especially one incredibly delectable rendition of bacalhau made with onions, scrambled eggs and olives. I tried to replicate it at home and it lacked spark. I ordered it in a restaurant in the heavily Portuguese section of Providence, Rhode Island. What they brought to the table bore no resemblance to what I had eaten in the old Lisbon section, Alfama. No point in consulting the phone book.

In 1998 there were no known fine Portuguese restaurants in New York. While posted at the Mission of Portugal to the United Nations, Miquel Jerónimo recognized a gastronomic void. In 1999 he opened Alfama adding his acclaimed native cuisine to the Big Apple dining scene. On the menu among the selection of codfish appetizers and entrees was my favorite, bacalhau a bras as well as codfish cakes, soufflé and three baked versions of bacalhau.

The menu is large with a full range of poultry and meat prepared national style. Signature dishes include the famed green soup, fresh marinated sardines and seafood stew. Filet mignon appears on a hot stone and sizzles before your eyes. Start cutting the steak one slice at a time and every piece you lay on the fiery surface is cooked to your liking.

The green wines of the country are in short supply in America, but Alfama has a selection of these light and fruity bottles from the vineyards in the north. Some of the special sweet treats are a quintessential loaf cake, milk pudding and crunchy almond and walnut tarts.

The cheerful and simple Greenwich Village dining room is decorated in the county's ubiquitous colors, white and blue. A tile panel with a view of Alfama and the works of contemporary Portuguese artists adorn the walls.

Alfama, 551 Hudson Street, corner of Perry, New York, NY. Tel. 212-645-2500. Dinner Monday to Saturday, Sunday brunch. Moderate. www.alfamarestaurant.com

Spring 1998