Archive for March, 2012

Portugal’s Other World Heritage Sites

Monday, March 26th, 2012

They’re not officially on UNESCO’s list, but these sites of extraordinary cultural significance could very well end up there one day, joining the 14 others in Portugal (like Sintra and Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower).

Mafra

MAFRA PALACE
It’s one of the world’s biggest palaces and it has some singular features such as a total of six organs that are unique in the world and the world’s largest collection of church bells in addition to one of Europe’s finest libraries. One of Nobel Prize author José Saramago’s most translated novels is about the building’s unbelievable construction (published in English as “Baltasar and Blimunda”).

Baixa

DOWNTOWN LISBON
The only reason Lisbon’s downtown isn’t yet a World Heritage Site is because many of its buildings have reached an advanced state of decay and have been stripped of many of their original features. Before it can present its candidacy to UNESCO it will have to restore everything back to its original state, but even without the official recognition Lisbon’s downtown is already a remarkable place. You couldn’t tell by simply looking at it, but this is Europe’s first urban planning project, using large-scale pre-fabricated earthquake-proof techniques that included modern sanitation. This type of grid of broad streets was later replicated in other European cities such as Paris and Barcelona.

Sagres, Portugal

SAGRES
Prince Henry the Navigator’s inspirational coastline is just as mystical and mysterious today. It’s Europe’s southwesternmost tip and was therefore believed to be the end of the world in ancient times. Prince Henry however, wondered what laid beyond the horizon and started a project of “discoveries” that paved the way for Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Christopher Columbus and all the other famous explorers. An enormous compass believed to have been used to study navigation is still seen on the ground in Sagres today.

Vila Viçosa, Portugal

VILA VIÇOSA
This town is made almost exclusively of marble. Like most others in the serene Alentejo province, it’s a rather sleepy place today but it was once a royal town with a palace belonging to the royal family of the Bragança dynasty. The palace is naturally also made of marble, as are benches and pavements, as this region is rich in this “white gold.”

Marvão, Portugal

MARVÃO
This near-Heaven village is a fortified medieval place described by the New York Times as “a fairytale mirage.” It’s one of the world’s highest settlements, standing close to 3,000 feet up high on a mountain, all inside a wall and protected by a castle. It’s almost unbelievable how anyone chose to settle here, but you’d have to have a 13th-century mentality to understand it.

Universidade, Coimbra

COIMBRA UNIVERSITY
It’s one of the world’s oldest universities and it’s quite a special one, with unique traditions associated with it over time. It includes one of the world’s most remarkable baroque libraries and is the most likely candidate to end up on UNESCO’s list in the near future.

Buçaco Palace Hotel

BUÇACO FOREST
It was one of the first forests in Europe to reunite plants from all over the world. It’s also the site of one of the continent’s first palace hotels, surrounded by a magical atmosphere.

Arrabida Park

ARRÁBIDA NATURAL PARK
This isn’t just another beautiful natural park. It’s one of the best places for geologists to learn about three key phases of the earth’s evolution and its tectonic plates, as well as a curious landscape of Mediterranean flora that’s actually on the Atlantic, developed around 180 million years ago when it was under water. The diversity and singularity of the park in terms of vegetation distribution gives it a natural heritage unmatched anywhere in the world.

Lisbon to Become Closer to More Destinations

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Lisbon

As Lisbon grows as a tourist destination, so do the number of airlines and cities interested in being connected to the city. The low-cost easyJet will have a base in the Portuguese capital next month, and starting this week the airport’s terminal 2 will be used exclusively by low-cost airlines.
Other non-low-cost airlines are also reenforcing their Lisbon services to meet demand this summer, and Emirates will fly to the city for the first time in July, from Dubai.
As for the new easyJet destinations they’ll be Amsterdam, Asturias, Bordeuax, Copenhagen and Venice.
Five other destinations will be operating to/from Lisbon airport for the first time this year, but those have yet to be announced. They’ll be from TAP (which will also begin service to Berlin this summer), Transavia and bmibaby.
This way not only residents of those cities will have more access to Lisbon, but tourists will also be able to better combine a trip to the Portuguese capital with another destination in a longer holiday or city break.

The 5 Best Ways to Save in Lisbon

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Lisbon, Portugal

VISIT MONUMENTS ON SUNDAY MORNINGS
Most of Lisbon’s national monuments and museums are free on Sunday mornings until 2PM. That means that if you’re in the city on a weekend, be sure to wake up early on Sunday and head to the Jeronimos Monastery. After a visit to the church and cloisters, head next door for the Archaeology Museum (currently with an exhibition of Portugal’s Celtic and Roman past and with the “sick mummy”), then next door again for the Maritime Museum (telling the story of Portugal’s history at sea).
Then cross the road using the underpass across from Jeronimos’ gardens and walk towards Belem Tower. It’s also free until 2PM. Then walk back again, past the Discoveries Monument and enter the Berardo Museum for its surprising collection of international modern art. This museum is always free, every day of the week.

GET THE LISBOA CARD
Even if you take advantage of the free Sunday mornings for monuments and museums, you’ll still have to pay for transportation. So to avoid having to look for change and taking time buying tickets, acquire the Lisboa Card. It’s the city’s tourist card which provides free unlimited rides on all of the city’s buses, trams and metro except for the special airport bus. It saves you lots of money and time on getting around, but it also offers free admission to all the major attractions, even when it’s not Sunday. The few attractions that are not free with the card still have reduced admission with it. It’s really the best investment you can make in Lisbon.

EAT AT CAFÉS
You’ll find that eating out in Lisbon is much cheaper than in most other European capitals. However, prices have gone up and it’s probably a good idea if one of your meals is not at a restaurant. The best lunch options are often at cafés, especially in Chiado. Many offer great-value meals often with restaurant-sized portions. Those may includes pastas, salads or sandwiches. The same type of light meals are found at fast food restaurants in the shopping malls. Next to McDonald’s and other well-known names you’ll find local options such as “Go Natural,” “Vitaminas” and “H3” offering healthier choices. The Armazéns do Chiado mall in Chiado has a good food court with city views, with several of those fast-but-good restaurants.

STAY AT AN APARTMENT
Although Lisbon’s hotels are officially the best-value in Western Europe (especially 5-star accommodation according to annual surveys), you can really save by staying at an apartment. Many renovated houses in charming residential neighborhoods like medieval Alfama or in the heart of the city in Baixa are now used for tourist stays. GoLisbon has the most Lisbon apartment choices online, for as little as 20 euros per person per night. That means your own Lisbon home, with more privacy and even more space than a hotel room. It’s perfect for families or for those looking for the “living in Lisbon” experience.

DON’T OVERLOOK THE FREE ATTRACTIONS
The Berardo Museum mentioned above is not the only major attraction that’s always free. The Design and Fashion Museum is also free, and so are the most impressive churches: São Roque Church, Estrela Basilica and Santa Catarina Church. Also don’t forget that perhaps Lisbon’s main attraction is the city itself, its setting and scenery, so sitting at the terrace viewpoints will perhaps be your most memorable experiences, where you take the most beautiful photos, and it’s always free!

Weird Lisbon: Strange Trees Growing in the City

Monday, March 5th, 2012

There are close to a million trees in Lisbon, and around 65 of them have been classified and protected. Many of those are naturaly in the city’s parks and gardens, others are isolated on the streets. Here are the ones that most catch the eye of the tourist:

Largo do Limoeiro

Close to the Santa Luzia viewpoint, up the hill from the cathedral, is this strange tree which probably came from Brazil. It was placed here just over a century ago, substituting a lemon tree that grew on the site. Its roots, branches and trunks are growing wildly in every direction on the sidewalk, causing many to stop and take a look. Children sit and hide inside it while parents take photos. Many give their own interpretation of what each shape looks like, with some more perverse minds seeing phallic symbols.

Principe Real garden

This 130-year-old tree with a 23-meter (75 feet) diameter is a gigantic umbrella in the garden of Principe Real. The official scientific name is Cupressus lusitanica, and while “lusitanica” recalls the name of Portugal during Roman times, this tree does not have origins in Portugal or even in the Iberian Peninsula. It’s from Mexico and probably ended up in Portugal in the early 1600s when it was planted in the Buçaco forest. Sadly, the iconic tree in Lisbon is slowly dying and probably won’t last for many more decades.

Botanical Garden, Lisbon

The strangest trees in the city are found in the enchanted forest that is the botanical garden. Among the countless species from all over the world is this strange subtropical dragon tree. It’s native to the Canary Islands, although it’s also found in Portugal’s Azores, the probable origin of this one growing here for decades. And we do mean grow, as it’s rapidly expanding more to the sides than up.

Botanical Garden, Lisbon

This majestic tree welcomes you to the botanical garden and has strangely developed several trunks over the years. It’s originally from Australia and it’s been here for over a century. It’s usually planted to provide shade, as it can grow up to 60 meters (around 200 feet) tall.