An October 2004 trip
to Lisbon by travelwisdom
Quote: Situated on seven terraced hills, along the Tagus River, Lisbon is like a lovely and mysterious gypsy lady -- timeless and tantalizing.
Hotel | "Sheraton Lisboa Hotel and Towers"
(Heads up: join Starwood’s Preferred Guest program before making reservations and enjoy the privileges of a preferred guest room.)
A very large marble bathroom offered a deep tub and massaging shower. The toilet and bidet were in a separate glassed area. Bath amenities were deluxe. Fluffy robes and slippers were another nice touch.
At 145€ per night, accommodations were certainly not a bargain, but the price was in line with other major hotels.
Avoid the restaurants at the Sheraton Lisboa. There are two dining options here. The Caravela Restaurant services a buffet breakfast and buffet and á la carte lunch. We made the mistake of having a "light" breakfast there the first morning we were in Lisbon. The full breakfast buffet is 24€-whew! (At $1.25 to the Euro, this is a $30 skimpy breakfast.) Granted there are many choices, and the food appeared fresh and good. We opted for the continental breakfast buffet with only pastries and fruit. Our tab was still 12€ each and definitely not worth it. The following day we discovered several wonderful and reasonable typical Portuguese pastry shops in the shopping center across the side street from the hotel and had breakfast for under 5€.
The Panorama Restaurant on the hotel rooftop is promoted heavily by the Sheraton Lisboa as a gastronomic experience. Thinking we might splurge there one evening after a tiring day, we ventured to the top. The view is spectacular. Soaring floor to ceiling windows afford sweeping panoramas of city and harbor lights. The prices for drinks and food are also soaring. We quickly decided to return to the Restauradores district, where we had enjoyed delicious meals on previous evenings.
Final heads up: Do not make an international telephone call from your room at the Sheraton Lisboa. With add-on and taxes (19%), two brief calls to our parents in Florida resulted in a total of 61€-over $80! And don’t count on a quick email home from the Business Center. It is also a pricey communication channel. Make your calls and emails from public telephones with international calling cards or from a cozy Internet café over a powerful Espresso!
For further information about the Sheraton Lisboa (if I haven’t talked you out of it), visit www.sheraton.com/lisboa.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on November 26, 2004
Sheraton Lisboa Hotel
RUA LATINO COELHO 1
No visit to Portugal is complete without discovering the charm of small coastal and interior cities with romantic names such as Estoril, Cascais, and Sintra. With only two short days in Lisbon before embarking on a transatlantic crossing with Oceania Cruises, we wanted to get off the beaten path and see as much of Portugal as possible. Researching our options on the Internet, we found Tours for You, and in turn met one of the most knowledgeable and charming tour guides we have ever encountered in our travels.
Tired of packed buses with 45 or more guests jockeying for good seats and pushing on and off the bus at overcrowded tourist stops? Then you have come to the right place. Tours for You does it right when it comes to sightseeing tours. It must have been serendipity to discover their website amongst the many commercial tour sites in Portugal.
Imagine riding in comfort, safety, and style in a new Renault Grand Espace IV van with panoramic glass sunroof and window seats for everyone. No pushy crowds; Tours for You has a six-person limit on all their tours. No inconvenience of trying to locate the tour office or being picked up on one bus and transported to a central point to change buses for numerous tour departures. Tours for You guests are picked up and returned to the door of their hotel. Forget canned speeches and itineraries set in stone. Because of the small group, tours are personalized, there’s plenty of time for questions, and schedules are somewhat flexible. Tour guides are college-educated. Their English is flawless.
Come with us on a day journey with Josue. We’ll tickle your travel fancy and whet your appetite for a trip to this captivating country. Our guide, Josue Batista, is a handsome young man with a personality to match his smoldering "Antonio Banderas" good looks. But don’t let the pretty face fool you -- this is one intelligent and interesting professional tour guide. With a degree in Anthropology, specializing in heritage, museums, and cultural animation, Josue’s pride and passion for Portugal is contagious.
We begin our journey with Josue as we drive along the coastline, leaving Lisbon for our first stop in Estoril. We learn about the history of Lisbon and get an overview of the two hubs of the inner city. Josue is armed with suggestions and recommendations for our remaining time in the city -- the best places to see, shop, dine, and simply sit and savor. Passing through Belem, Josue points out the National Coach Museum, the most visited attraction in Lisbon. The coaches stand in a former horse ring and date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. This is not a stop on our tour, but we learn how to reach it via public transportation. If you want to relive the days of gilded glamour, this is the place. Can we squeeze it into this trip? Probably not. Other popular attractions in the Belem area are the Maritime Museum (the largest and most important one in Europe) and the beautiful cloister of the Jeronimos Monastery.
Along the scenic coastal highway, colorful fishing boats rock gently on the surf, and a continuous line of freighters await their turns into this busy port. Estoril is an elegant beach resort about a half-hour out of Lisbon. It was created by the Portuguese Royal family. During WWI and WWII, it was a haven for many exiled monarchs and royalty escaping the ravages of the war. Today, the hub of activity in Estoril is the casino and its gardens and golf course. Said to be the largest casino in Europe, it attracts many of the "rich and famous" throughout the world.
In Cascais, we enjoy a walk around the quaint city centre. Cascais used to be a fishing village. In contrast to the lively resort and nightlife of Estoril, Cascais has retained much of the charm and flavor of its early days. Groups of school children are on a "field trip." We ask Josue about their curriculum. One of the most impressive things he tells us is that it is compulsory in Portuguese schools to learn at least two foreign languages, most commonly English, fluently.
We are mesmerized (or maybe dizzied) by the intricate patterns of the cobblestone sidewalks and streets in Cascais. Black and white sandstone and basalt stones are inlaid in undulating patterns that appear wavy to the eye. This is a trade handed down by generations of artists and a dying art -- beautiful to look at, durable through the ages, but rough on high-heel shoes. Josue tells me that Portuguese women do not even notice the uneven surfaces. They have walked them in heels from their earliest days.
Our next stop is the lighthouse at Cabo Da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe. The sky seems bluer here, as wisps of fluffy clouds float by. The sheer cliffs give way to crashing surf and a rocky beach. As we scamper along the cliffs, enthralled by the spectacular scenery around us, we enjoy breathing in the crisp, cool, salt-filled air. Josue has timed this stop just right. We have the place to ourselves. As we depart, one of the big tour buses is dispersing a very large group of tourists. We feel like celebrities with our classy van and private guide.
Leaving the coastline, we travel through the Sintra National Forest, climbing, turning, and twisting around hairpin curves flanked by dense forests on both sides of the narrow road. Suddenly, Josue pulls to the side of the road and points out cork trees. We learn that 80% of the world’s cork comes from this area. He dashes out into the forest to bring us a sample. Yep -- it’s cork. In the distance, we see a 9th-century Moors fortress perching high on a mountaintop. How did they get those stones up there? Glad we were not on the labor force back then!
Sintra was once described by Lord Byron as a "glorious Eden." The town abounds in history. It is dominated by the twin conical towers of the Sintra National Palace, summer home of the royal family since the 15th century. Did we mention all the other "little" palacios and historic 15th- and 16th-century homes and buildings? And then there’s the Jardins de Monserrate, a vast 19th-century garden with endless exotic trees, flora, and fauna. There are horse-drawn carriage rides and modern automobiles, ancient tile shops and modern fixture shops, all making for an exciting and strange mixture of past and present.
Josue treats us to piriqui, a selection of decadent pastries and espresso. Between the sugar and the caffeine, we are energized and ready to move on to another highlight of our tour. The usual stop on this tour is the Sintra National Palace. But this is Monday. Heads up: many museums and national buildings are closed on Mondays throughout Portugal. Plan accordingly.
Today, we will see the Pena National Palace, known as the most romantic palace in Portugal. The palace perches on a plateau above Sintra almost 1,500 feet above sea level. As we exit our van, we quickly discover that the climate has changed. Josue tells us that there is as much as a 12-degree temperature difference between the front and back sides of the palace, due to the regional coastal and mountainous climate.
As we tour the palace under Josue’s guidance, other visitors would obviously like to join our small group. Josue’s commentary is the best advertising Tours for You could offer. The palace a fascinating example of layers of history entwined. It was the fantasy of Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, husband of Maria II. Over the centuries, each set of royalty added their own eclectic influence to the décor and the design. The last member of royalty to occupy the palace was Queen Amelia, when she returned to Portugal in 1945 after fleeing the ravages of the ending monarchy. Surrounding the palace is Pena Park. These lush ponds and gardens were started in 1846 by Ferdinand and continue to be cultivated and maintained today. They are a respite from the world.
All too soon, our day is winding to a close. As we travel the inland highway back to Lisbon, we question Josue about his life in Portugal, the political climate, and his future aspirations. His pride and passion for his country are evident. He answers all our questions with no hesitation and an honesty and charm that endear us to him. What a wonderful day this has been. If we had been content to stay in Lisbon and shop or simply rest, we would have missed a rich and rare opportunity to take this magical journey. We can’t recommend this company -- and Josue -- highly enough!
Contact Tours for You owner Nuno Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website at www.toursforyou.pt.
Mary Esther, Florida