Portugal, just a quick jump from New York City, has the same cracking glaze of history as Italy but the shorter distances between regions makes it easier to see more in less time. Fly into Lisbon and take it all in: eat, hunt and see all of the quirky museums. I stayed at the York House, a boutique hotel on the cobblestone streets of Alfama. A block away is the old mansion housing the Museum Nacional Arte Antique, filled with marvellous Anglo Indian Portuguese furniture and porcelains from all over. Take a break in the museum’s leafy garden café overlooking the bay. Also right nearby is the amusing Museum da Marinetti. Grab an espresso and make your way farther along the bay to the Oriente Museum, where you will find a truly incredible collection of crafts from former Portugese colonies, including my favorite, Indonesian Warung puppets. For dinner or lunch hit the Time Out Market, lined with food stalls from Lisbon’s best restaurants. Catch a soccer match on a huge screen as you sample hams and creamy cheeses accompanied by some light Portuguese wines.
The next day I wandered the Castelo De Sao Jorge. Get there early or you will be swamped with tourists. I took a taxi to what is of course my favorite museum in Portugal, The Tile Museum. A whole museum devoted to the history of tiles in Portugal and how they are made. If you still have some steam don’t miss The Calouste Gulbenkein Museum for Oriental rugs, textiles and Iznik tiles.
The next day I visited the Coach Museum: 50 historical carriages from the 16th -18th centuries. The stark modern building is the perfect foil to the baroque carriages. A few blocks away is the Jeronimos Monastery. Again, go in the morning or the end of the day, as it is a very busy attraction but worth a spin around.
The next day I drove to Six Senses in Duoro Valley to chill out and see the small towns, vineyards and, of course, to drink lots of the region’s famous wines. The hotel is an old vineyard updated with a modern spa and rooms still surrounded by vines.
I drove to the charming old town of Pinhao to wander and take pictures, then lunch at DOC Douro, a fancy restaurant on the river, never a bad place to eat. Then on to the town of Lamego. Make sure you Google this one as I literally drove up a goat track to find Chapel San Pedro, a 7th century monastery. It was well worth the harrowing drive, but there is an easier way to do it. Lots of beautiful churches and a famous museum, so give yourself a good part of a day for this town. After days of spa treatments and hiking I drove the few hours to Porto, an up and coming town with buildings being restored on almost every corner. I recommend the Rose et Al Townhouse Hotel, a renovated townhouse with breakfasts I still dream about.
I wandered the old parts of the city and down to the waterfront. Sao Bento station, Santa Clara church and Rua das Flores Sao Francisco Cais da Ribeiro. Take pictures of the lovely decay before they fix them all and the town loses its crumbling charm.
The Serralves Museum and gardens was a highlight, with an intriguing modern art collection and rambling gardens that were out of this world.