April in Portugal

One of Portugal’s top international musical hits is a song called “April in Portugal,” originally sung by the great Fado diva Amalia Rodrigues but also performed by other big names like Eartha Kitt, Louis Armstrong, and Bing Crosby. The first version is from 1947 and was called “Coimbra” as an homage to Portugal’s old university city, but came to have yet another name, “The Whisp’ring Serenade.”
In the mid-20th-century the month of April came to be associated with tourism in Portugal, which promoted it as a great time to be in the country, with the temperatures rising and the flowers in bloom. This time of the year remains a great time to fly to Lisbon, especially in 2013. Here is what you’ll be able to experience this month:

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

On April 5th, the new Julio Pomar Museum opens its doors. Julio Pomar is one of Portugal’s top contemporary artists, currently living between Lisbon and Paris but this will be the permanent home of dozens of his works. It’s an old building by Bairro Alto (Rua do Vale, 7) which has been refurbished by local Pritzker Prize architect Siza Vieira, and the first exhibition will be on display until September with free admission.

Lisbon’s biggest gastronomic festival is “Peixe em Lisboa,” the “Fish and Flavours” festival which this year happens from the 4th to the 14th in a courtyard of Comercio Square. Portuguese and international chefs will show off their art in preparing fish and you can try them and learn how to prepare them yourself.

The “IndieLisboa” festival is back, from April 18 to the 28th. In its 10th edition it will once again screen independent films from all over the world, and will close with the local premiere of “Before Midnight” starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply (it had its world premiere at Sundance and will be in theaters worldwide in late May).

On the 5th and 6th, four museums in the Belem district will host special events, from concerts to film screenings. The Coaches Museum, the Archaeology Museum, the Berardo Museum and the Museum of the Presidency will also provide access to their permanent collections through one single ticket valid for all spaces.

The São Luiz Theater will host a special jazz fest on the 6th and 7th featuring national musicians in concerts and workshops. The events start at 4PM on both days, lasting until well past 1AM.

The Belem district will host yet another festival later in the month, the “Dias da Música” in Belem Cultural Center. The annual event takes place on the 19th, 20th and 21st, with over 60 concerts, debates and a special market. This year it will focus on the music of the late 1700s and early 1800s, with classics by Beethoven and Chopin.

The river sightseeing cruises are back for another season. Available from April to October, it takes you on a two-hour tour of the city’s ancient and modern landmarks, from the old center to the Parque das Nações district and the Age of Discovery monuments of Belém.

When in Lisbon, go to Sintra. Now that the colder and rainier season is coming to an end and that the bigger summer crowds haven’t yet arrived, it’s the best time to see Portugal’s romantic fairytale town. It’s also at its most verdant and colorful, and a palace you should make an effort to visit at this time of the year is the Monserrate Palace, recently renovated but still overlooked by those who only give themselves enough time to see the famous Pena Palace. After you visit the interior, be sure to relax at the beautiful gardens.

The Other Lisbon Coast

Carvalhal Beach

When people talk about beaches in Lisbon they usually mean the coast immediately west of the city center which are the towns of Cascais and Estoril. For most locals they also mean the long stretch of sand that is Costa da Caparica south of the city. But further south is a lesser known and more upscale paradise. It’s the Troia Peninsula, still relatively secret because it doesn’t cater to mass tourism. It’s also a more recently-developed area, complete with a landmark design hotel and other newer accommodation choices, golf courses and even a casino.
The waters are calm and clean, and there’s lots of sand with plenty of space to spread your towel. All around you is pristine natural beauty and not very far into the Atlantic is a natural habitat of dolphins which you may observe on a boat trip.
All of it is just about one hour south of Lisbon. The main beaches are Comporta and Carvalhal by the village of Grândola. They’re two of the few that remain completely wild, preserving their natural vegetation and fowl. You’ll still see several storks and their nests, and feel the fresh scent of pine trees.
But you don’t even have to look for Comporta or Carvalhal, since all around the main resort areas of Troia is fine, soft sand. The weather is usually sunny and mild or warm from late April to early October.
If you’re coming to Lisbon with peace and relaxation in mind, Troia is an alternative to Cascais or Algarve and is just a short trip away. You can find accommodation here: Troia (Grandola) Hotels

Troia Design Hotel

A New “Jurassic Park” North of Lisbon

DinosaursThe world’s largest open-air dinosaur park is about to be created north of Lisbon in the town of Lourinhã. This is one of the richest areas on the planet when it comes to dinosaur fossils (including the biggest collection of dino eggs), so in addition to a leisure destination it will also be something of a museum scientifically recreating the Jurassic habitat. It will have over 200 life-size models of the creatures that once ruled the Earth, spread over 2.5km of woodland. A central building will be an actual museum presenting the important collection of fossils and will include a restaurant and an auditorium.
The project costs 10 million euros, and if that comes as a surprise at a time when Portugal is being one of the victims of the euro crisis, it should be noted that this comes from private investment, in part from a German company. Studies show the park will be profitable with just over 135,000 visitors per year, something quite achievable when considering that the village of Obidos nearby attracts 2 million people every year.
If everything goes as planned, the “dinopark” can be ready by late 2013.

Survey Says Majority of Tourists Want to Return to Lisbon Soon

Lisbon, Portugal

A survey conducted at the airports of Lisbon, Porto, Faro and Funchal showed that the vast majority of tourists (88%) left “very satisfied” with their experience in Portugal and want to return within the next three years. Close to half said their stay exceeded expectations, highlighting the landscapes, beaches and cultural attractions.
The tourists that most enjoyed Lisbon arrived from Spain, the Netherlands and Brazil, while the French preferred Porto.
With the highest satisfaction rate is “friendliness of locals” at 75%, while the reasons that led them to choose Portugal as a destination ranged from recommendation of friends or family (25%) to internet information (33%).

The 10 Strangest Foods in Portugal

Every culture has them: Foods that only a local could love. In case you’re brave and curious enough to try new things, or prefer to be informed of what can be avoided, here are the ten strangest foods in Portugal.

Arroz de Cabidela
Recently a tourist reported an experience at a restaurant in a Portugal Pousada where a waiter explained what the “arroz the cabidela” listed on the menu was like. He correctly described it as rice soaked in chicken’s blood, and the facial expression of the tourists reacting to that description must have surprised the waiter because he quickly added “with chicken!” as if that made it sound any better. Yes, it’s a bloody good delicacy if you’re familiar with it, but for anyone hearing about it for the first time, it’s understandably disgusting. And the cooking process is even more disturbing: After the chicken is killed, it hangs upside-down for the blood to be drained out. It’s then added to the meat when it’s cooking, giving the dish a brownish color.

Arroz de Sarrabulho
If “arroz de cabidela” sounds good to you, perhaps you’ll also want to try “arroz de sarrabulho.” Instead of chicken, the meat is now pork, but it’s also soaked in its own blood. It’s a specialty from the north of Portugal and the blood also gives the rice a greyish-brown color. You may be surprised to know that it was one of the 21 finalists in the vote for the “7 gastronomic wonders of Portugal.”

At this point you’re probably thinking there’s something vampirish about Portuguese cuisine, but here’s one more bloody food: Morcela, a sausage made with blood! This type of sausage actually exists in several cultures in almost every continent, and the Portuguese version is mostly meat-free. It varies from region to region, but is always filled with rice and pig’s blood. In some cases, pieces of pork are added.

The French call them escargots and have turned them into something of “haute cuisine.” In Portugal they’re “caracois,” also meaning snails and are eaten mostly in the south of the country. For whatever reason the people in the north are not fans, but it’s a favorite dish on a sunny summer afternoon in Lisbon’s cafés and restaurants. In reality, what its devotees really like is the stew they’re cooked in, and not exactly the tiny wormy shelled mollusks that you can barely taste.

Coelho à Caçador
There are some who say that a rabbit’s flesh is the closest to that of a human. Many may agree and may wish to avoid eating what in some cultures is a beloved family pet. In other countries it’s a wonderful meal, including in Portugal. It’s made popular by hunters, and is most often accompanied by rice or potatoes in a dark sauce.

Quail is definitely not unique to Portuguese cuisine but it’s another favorite of Portuguese hunters. While mostly served at home, you can find them listed on menus of restaurants in the interior of the country. They’re usually cooked and served whole, leaving the job of cutting the wings and legs for you on the plate.

Tripas à Moda do Porto
It’s one of Portugal’s most historic dishes but also one of its least appetizing. When Prince Henry the Navigator asked the people of the city of Porto to provide food for the men going into the sea, they gave all their meat and ended up with only the animals’ stomachs. Out of necessity they had to create meals out of them, and so was “Porto-Style Tripe” born. Tripe is also present in French, Italian and Eastern European cuisines, and Portugal’s version includes pieces of sausage and beans.

This cholesterol-filling delicacy is made of pig skin and fat. It’s cut into small pieces and fried until it becomes crunchy. The Portuguese took this tradition to Brazil, becoming quite popular in the northeast of that country, often served with beans.

Cozido à Portuguesa
At the risk of receiving hate mail from the most patriotic Portuguese, we’re going to include one of the most emblematic dishes of the country on this list. This national specialty mixes a variety of vegetables, sausages and meats, and it’s the choices of meats that may be a problem for some. It seems that no single part of a pig goes to waste in Portugal, and this dish often includes a nice crunchy ear with tiny hairs. If there’s no ear, you just may find a foot.

The Portuguese don’t eat snakes but they do enjoy the snakelike eels. Popular in the coastal areas of the north of the country, they are often bought alive. No matter how many spices or delicious condiments may be added, the very sight of them will make many people lose their appetite.