Four Days in Portugal + “RECIPE”: Portugese Couvert

Let’s talk about vacation and good food and happy things, because really, what else is there to do at a time like this?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not just fun and games over here. I’m working hard to find my own path forward through this whole mess. I’m just like you. I can’t stop staring at the headlines and I’m scared as hell that all the things I love might fall to pieces.

But as someone raised by a serious do-gooder and someone who essentially came of age in the non-profit sector, I know one thing for certain about fighting for what’s right. It’s exhausting. It will knock you down in ways you can’t even imagine.

In hard times like these when there is so much to be done, it’s especially important to find time to stop– to find time to take trips and talk about trips and cook great meals and laugh! Because it’s a long haul game that we’re all in right now, and we’re no good when we’re burnt out and broken.

So here are some pictures from a really wonderful journey across the world to a place I’ve completely fallen in love with followed by a whole heck of a lot of recommendations (you know in case you ever find yourself with a $500 plane ticket to Portugal) and a “recipe” (aka a list of things) to make a classic pre-dinner Portuguese couvert.

Antonio’s Place in Portela // Only travelers who have experienced serious travel mishaps can understand the importance of outstanding hospitality. After a mistake with a rental car followed by some seriously bad printed maps, we arrived at our AirBnb three hours behind schedule at 1:00 a.m. (after 36 hours of travel). We were stressed, we were tried, we were grumpy. Antonio and his home were a dream come true. He greeted us with kindness and accommodated our every need. In the very short ten hours we stayed at his home he told us about his life, his family, and Portuguese history, culture and geography. He even played us fado music with our breakfast! It is the perfect place to welcome you to a new country.

Lagos & Self-Guided Walking Tour // This city is so charming with loads of history and culture even in the slow winter season. But what we really came for was the scenery. The surrounding landscape is stunning. I think its some of the most beautiful along the whole southern Algarve coast. I love the jagged cliffs, the intermittent beaches of every conceivable size, and just the general wildness of it all. If you find yourself in Lagos allow 4-5 hours for this walking tour and pack a lunch to enjoy along the way. It’s probably only five or six miles of walking, but you will want to take time to stop and explore. If you’re really ambitious and allow a whole day, you can hike all the way to the next town.

Don Sebastião Restaurant // Our first meal in Portugal was possibly my favorite of the whole trip. Walking into Don Sebastiao Restaurant feels like walking into another time. It’s cozy and charming but somehow also feels regal with its white tablecloths, elegantly crafted wooden chairs and a sprawling wine cellar. It may sound fancy and I suppose it sort of is, but you can easily buy a meal here for under $50. The meal I describe below was €50 including tip.

We started our meal with a couvert of bread, olive oil, butter, cheese, pickled carrots with coriander, pate and flaming (yes, like on fire) chorizo sausage followed by a tomato soup that was pure decadence. I ordered the crab salad which was stuffed inside a giant hollowed out tomato (recipe coming this summer when our tomatoes are in their most prolific phase of growth) and my Carrot ordered an olive oil poached sea bass with an array of coriander scented vegetables and new potatoes. My Carrot sipped on a massive SuperBock and I had my very first Vinho Verde (and second and third). The meal ended with a basket of complimentary dried figs and almonds.

Tonel Apartments // When I couldn’t find anywhere to stay at the tip of Southwestern Portugal (many places along the Algarve close up shop for the month of January), I threw the task of finding accommodations near Sagres, Salema or Vila de Bispo to my Carrot. True to form, he found us these gorgeous newly renovated apartments that were available by the night for only $40 a day. We were one of two guests staying at the place so they gave us their best room complete with kitchen, living area and two balconies.

Sagres // Sagres is this sleepy little surfer town (though possibly only sleepy because it was January) along the Southern coast of Portugal that really feels like you have stepped into southern California in the 80’s. There are VW campers parked everywhere, every beach is full of vagabond beach bums who seem to really have the good life figured out, and the sunset is the main event of each and every day. We chose Sagres largely due to its close proximity to a hike we wanted to do, but what we found was a romantic, isolated place at “the end of the world”that we’re seriously thinking of retiring to when we’re done with this farming life.

Intermarche // When we asked the front desk of our hotel which restaurants were still open during the off-season and where they would recommend, she pointed us in the the direction of three local grocery stores. Luckily, grocery store visits are among my favorite parts of traveling to foreign lands. We got pastries for breakfast, pre-made sandwiches for lunch during our hike, loads of fresh fruit, coffee, the fixings for a kick ass cheese board and plenty of beer.

Hike to the End of the World (a.k.a. Cabo Sao Vincent) // We originally planned to do one of these hikes but ultimately decided we loved Sagres too much and wanted a little more time to explore the surrounding area (rather than taking a cab to another town and spending the full day hiking back to Sagres; don’t worry, we plan to dedicate an entire future trip to exploring Western Portugal using the Rota Vincenta). Instead, we walked right out the door of our hotel and headed west along the coast following meandering fishing trails until we reached the lighthouse at the end of the world passing an incredible beach (that my Carrot won’t allow me to say the name of on this blog so that it doesn’t get overrun by tourists) and the Fortaleza de Belixe perched high on a cliff. My Carrot would be disappointed if I neglected to tell you about the remote-control drone that was flying along the coast for part of our journey and even into the closed Fortaleza de Belixe (likely taking videos of the interior).

Vila Nove de Milfontes // We look the quick tollway from Lisbon to the Algarve on our trip south, because after 36 hours of travel we were ready to get somewhere quickly. It traveled through the main farming region so that was cool, but overall it was pretty flat and boring. We decided to take the coastal road on our way back to Lisbon. The beautiful roads weaved along the coast, up mountains, through small towns and past citrus groves. We tried not to stop too much, but had to take a break at the beach of Vila Nove de Milfontes where the Mira River meets the Atlantic.

Porto Covo // This sweet little town is the main reason we decided to take the coastal road back. After Antonio came us a glowing recommendation of this seaside village on our first night in Portugal we really wanted to see it for ourselves. We spent an hour walking along the coast, eating lunch and watching a bad-ass old fisherman climb on the craggy rocks with a 15-foot fishing pole. The coast here was completely different than the Southern shore. The rocks were dark and more menacing, the waters felt angrier as the slammed into the shore.

Sintra // The small town of Sintra outside Lisbon was high on our list of things to do in Portugal. What began as a resort town and a place for the wealthy to escape the busy bustling city of Lisbon n the 19th century has become a well-preserved place of opulence, magic and whimsy. The whole visit felt like we were visiting somewhere from a fairy tale.

Moorish Castle // Atop a massive hill sprawling up from the town of Sintra sits Moorish ruins from the 11th century. Rick Steves say you can walk it if you’re feeling ambitious, but even in great shape I’d highly recommend taking the roundtrip bus. The talent of these bus drivers as they swerve around hairpin turns through what can only be described as an enchanted forest is well worth the €5. The well-preserved and restored Moorish castle is truly a sight to behold. We loved running from tower to tower and seeing the sweeping views of the lands below.

Pena Palace // Atop a slightly higher hill directly behind the Moorish Castle was a colorful palace owned by the German brother of crazy King Ludwig (the man behind Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria). We actually didn’t think the interior was that awesome, but the beautiful architecture made it well worth the visit. Had we gotten there earlier or had the sun not set at 5:00 p.m., we would have explored the sprawling grounds and likely loved it.

Incomum // Back down in Sintra we hunted for a dinner locale. We stopped into the first place we saw and expected it to be underwhelming and overpriced since we were in a touristy town and didn’t wander of the beaten path, but were pleasantly surprised. I tried two more kinds of vinho verde (both delightful) and we worked our way through five flawless courses.

Lisbon // What an absolutely perfect city. Cobblestones, narrow alleys, wrought-iron balconies, trolleys, stunning views, grand architecture, history, charm. It’s easily one of the most romantic cities I’ve ever been to. We only had 28 hours in Lisbon so we had to be efficient. There wasn’t much time for museums or traditional sights. We took three self-guided walking tours through the most quintessential Lisbon neighborhoods (Alfama, Baixa, Chiado and Barrio Alto) and a ride on trolley #28 to São Jorge Castle. It was brief but it was everything you want 28 hours in a city to be.

The Lisboans // Centrally located in between the Alfama and Baixa neighborhoods, our Lisbon AirBnb was a little slice of heaven. With high ceilings, wood accents, natural light, minimalist design, and locally-made wool blankets, this place was the apartment of my dreams. Complimentary wine at check in, a fridge fully stocked with breakfast ingredients and a morning delivery of fresh bread and orange juice made it seriously hard to leave. Everything about this place is well done from the renovation to the design to the convenience and customer service. If you ever find yourself in Lisbon, stay here.

São Jorge Castle // My Carrot loves the old historical features of Europe: castles, palace, forts, ruins. If it’s more than a couple centuries old he wants to visit it and feel the power of the people who walked there before us. Sometimes I’m interested, sometimes I could care less. This spot was the perfect compromise. My Carrot explored while I grabbed a bench cut into the old castle wall that looked out over the city. Even if you don’t care much for castles this place is more than worth it for the stunning views.

Duque da Rua // After lots of meandering through a city with steep hills and lots of stairs, we were starving. We stumbled upon a recently opened tapas restaurant behind the Rossio train station. We gorged ourselves on bread, olive oil, olives, and tuna in the dimly lit bar before saying goodbye to our new favorite city and new favorite country.

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For me Portuguese food was all about two things: trying to eat all the seafood I could get my hands on (especially the stuff that isn’t too great in the middle of the country) and learning to love olives. The seafood was easy. I had crab, tuna, sea bass, sardines, shrimp, muscles, razor clams, oysters and lobster all in a span of four days.

Olives on the other hand, I’ll consider that only a mild success.  I did eat them every day. Sometimes I almost enjoyed them. What really made the olives palatable was all the yummy stuff they came out with. We began each Portuguese meal with a couvert. This could be as simple as bread, olive oil and olives or as fancy as the spread below. It’s really just a Portuguese version of a cheese board but the pickles, olives and pâté add major interest. Hope you enjoy the trip stories and whip up a new appetizer this Sunday.

Lots of love through these Portuguese memories,
Leek

PORTUGUESE COUVERT

Takes 20 minutes
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon favorite flavored salt, we bought a bag of Kosher salt infused with dried chili peppers in Portugal and that would be my first choice but morel salt, citrus rosemary salt, or fennel salt would all do the trick
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon favorite flavored salt, we bought a bag of Kosher salt infused with dried chili peppers in Portugal and that would be my first choice but morel salt, citrus rosemary salt, or fennel salt would all do the trick
1 loaf favorite bread, preferably sourdough, sliced, I love Madison Sourdough Pepitas Polenta
2 tablespoons butter
2 ounces semi-hard cheese
2 ounces pâté, homemade or store-bought
1/2 cup olives, a mixture of black, green and kalamata would be best, the more interesting the better
1 cup favorite pickled veggies, these Moroccan-style pickled carrots are what I’ll be making

  1. Sprinkle salt down the middle of a plate. Drizzle olive oil over salt.
  2. Place remaining ingredients individually in varying sizes of serving dishes.
  3. Enjoy!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Great photos of Portugal!

    Like

    1. Leek says:

      Thank you!!! SUCH a beautiful place!

      Liked by 1 person

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