When is the best time to visit?
Many think the best time to visit the Lisbon coast is early and late summer when the beaches are quieter. May, June, September and October enjoy an average of eight hours sunshine and an average temperature of 20º. Temperatures can reach 30º in July and August and most days are extremely sunny. This is a great time for children and sun-worshippers because the sea breezes help keep the temperature under control on the beaches.
What do the seasons offer?
Portugal’s southerly latitude gives it a Mediterranean type climate but the summer heat is tempered by the Atlantic breeze. The warm spring and autumn weather means the holiday season on the Lisbon coast is a long one. The weather is particularly pleasant between May and October. The summer average in Lisbon is 27º. The Lisbon coastal region can be very atmospheric even in inclement weather making it a great place to visit in winter when the temperature rarely falls below 10º.
Rain is unlikely in July and August and minimal in June and September. Higher rainfall accounts for the beautiful lush vegetation in nearby resorts like Sintra and Cascais.
BBC weather for the Lisbon can be accessed here.
What’s the national language?
The 10 million population speaks Portuguese but Mirandese is also an official language since 1999. It’s spoken by 10,000 – 15,000 people on what is known as the Planalto Mirandês (or Mirandese Plateau). Read an interesting account by a journalist of his trip to the area to hear the language being spoken.
Portuguese is a Romance language, whose roots date back to the Latin spoken by Romanized Celts in the regions of Galicia and northern Portugal, over two thousand years ago. It’s the fifth most spoken language in the world and the third most spoken in the Western world. In addition to Brazil and Portugal, it’s still used in former colonies like Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea -Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, São Tomé & Príncipe and East Timor.
It’s not the easiest of languages on the ear but fortunately, for tourists, English and Spanish is also widely spoken on the Lisbon coast and in particular by young people. And although it’s possible for a tourist to get by without speaking a word of Portuguese, making an effort with the basics is really appreciated.
The Portuguese language has been linked to literature from the outset. From the troubadours in the 9th Century, to the Portuguese national epic Os Lusiaadas (The Lusiads) by Luis de Camões, and more recently, the renowned Fernando Pessoa and Nobel Prize winner, Jose Saramago, this descriptive, emotional language has inspired its artists.
What’s the food like?
The Age of Discovery had a huge influence on Portugal’s cooking, allowing for the distribution of new and exotiic foods and spices between its colonies and the homeland. The legacy of this trade has had a lasting influence on Portuguese cuisine.
Portuguese people love their food and are very hospitable. While breakfast is often just coffee and a bread roll, lunch is quite a different affair and can last for up to two hours, anytime between noon and three o’clock. Dinner is earlier than in neighbouring Spain, at about 8 o’clock and is less substantial than lunch.
Although the food varies from region to region, fresh fish and shellfish are common. The national dish is “bacalhau,” dried, salted cod and its believed that there are 365 different ways of preparing it, one for each day of the year! Specialty seafood restaurants abound, many with beautiful displays of lobsters, shrimp, oysters, and crabs. “Arroz de Marisco” is a great favourite. Sushi restaurants are now quite popular on the Lisbon coast and Carcavelos beach boasts one of the best. Grilled sardines are also popular as is a fish stew called “Caldeirada.”
If you like your fish, percebes or goose barnacles are worth a try. The food blogger Charlie Skelton described them thus: ‘the bright enamelled head with its ruby lips sits atop a snakeskin sleeve which pulls away to reveal a glossy, luscent finger of flesh, marbled and grey at the neck, bright orange at the tip.‘
Meat is also popular and a favourite national dish is “cozido à portuguesa” a traditional thick stew of greens, carrots, turnips and potatoes with beef and/or pork. Chicken and chouriço (smoked sausage) can also be added. Pork is very popular and is served in a variety of ways. Pork with clams ‘porco a alentejana’ is particularly popular – deservedly so.
For dessert, cinnamon-flavoured rice pudding, flan, and caramel custard are popular.
Cheese is abundant and cheeses made from sheep or goat’s milk are particulrly enjoyed.
Portugal is famed for its pastries. These were created by nuns in the 18th century, sold to supplement their meagre income. Many of their creations have names like “barriga de freira” (nun’s belly), “papos de anjo” (angel’s chests), and “toucinho do céu” (bacon from heaven). “Pastel de nata,” is a small custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon and loved the world over!
Portuguese wine has come a long way since the days when Mateus Rosé was the one familiar to many of us and that’s still available if it’s your preferred tipple. Wine is now plentiful, delicious and cheap and local supermarkets carry a huge selection. Wine from the Alentejo and Porto regions are well worth getting familiar with! Barca Velha is considered to be the best Portuguese wine. If you fancy trying a bottle expect to pay 200€ for a 2000 bottle, and over 700€ for a 1964!
Vinho Verde literally means “green wine,” but translates as “young wine,” as opposed to mature wine. It may be red, white or rose. Ideally it’s drunk within a year of bottling.
Port is derived from wine whose fermentation process is stopped by adding brandy. It’s produced in the Duoro region, is now world famous and is currently enjoying a renaissance.
Several varieties of port exist – white, ruby and tawny.
Madeira is a fortified wine that originated in the Madeira islands. It’s aged for several months in special rooms called estufas, where the temperature is much higher than in wine cellars. This ageing process is what gives Madeira its deep caramel colour.
There are four major types of Madeira: Malvasia, Bual, Verdelho and Sercial. It can be sold either as a vintage wine – aged for more than 15 years, or as blended wine aged for 3, 5, 10 or 15 years.
What music might I expect to hear?
The Portuguese pride themselves in the word ‘saudade’, a word unknown in other languages. ‘Saudade’ is effectively the grand theme of Fado, which finds its inspiration in the Discoveries, and sings the sadness of people, standing at the port, seeing their loved ones leave for a world as yet undiscovered. ‘Saudade’ is an overwhelming feeling of missing somebody, charged with emotions such as loss, uncertainty, hope and nostalgia.
Famous Fado singers, some with a modern interpretation, include the former ‘barefoot diva’ from Cape Verde, Cesária Évora, the stunning former Mozambiquean Mariza, and Lisbon’s young Ana Moura, to name but a few.
Music is not confined to Fado however. FNAC in the Baixa area of Lisbon holds a vast array of music – including fado, local pop and indie.
How easy is it to buy books in English?
Portuguese people like to read and bookshops are plentiful, selling new and secondhand books. Bigger shops in Lisbon and Cascais Shopping such as FNAC, carry a limited supply of translated Portuguese literature, as well as bestsellers in English and other languages, travel guides, maps etc. Another great chain is Livararia Bertrand.
Can you recommend a good historical book about Lisbon?
One I’d recommend is Lisbon: War in the shadows of the city of light (1939-45) by Neill Lochery.
The blurb on the Amazon website says:
Lisbon had a pivotal role in the history of World War II, though not a gun was fired there. The only European city in which both the Allies and the Axis power operated openly, it was temporary home to much of Europe’s exiled royalty, over one million refugees seeking passage to the U.S., and a host of spies, secret police, captains of industry, bankers, prominent Jews, writers and artists, escaped POWs, and black marketeers. An operations officer writing in 1944 described the daily scene at Lisbon’s airport as being like the movie “Casablanca,” times twenty.
In this riveting narrative, renowned historian Neill Lochery draws on his relationships with high-level Portuguese contacts, access to records recently uncovered from Portuguese secret police and banking archives, and other unpublished documents to offer a revelatory portrait of the War’s back stage. And he tells the story of how Portugal, a relatively poor European country trying frantically to remain neutral amidst extraordinary pressures, survived the war not only physically intact but significantly wealthier. The country’s emergence as a prosperous European Union nation would be financed in part, it turns out, by a cache of Nazi gold.
You can access it free here.
Should I worry about personal safety?
No, in a word. Portugal is generally a very safe country for tourists. Just be as street savvy and alert here as you’d be when travelling or living anywhere else. The famous 28 Tram is increasingly being targeted by pickpockets however, so be especially aware on it.
Who was Diogo Cao?
OK, I’m cheating. It’s not a FAQ but because the apartment is in Praceta Diogo Cao, I thought you might be interested!
Diogo Cao was a Portuguese explorer who had ‘discovered’ the Congo river in 1482 whilst looking for a route around the huge African continent, to India. In 1486 and still looking for that route to India, he discovered what is now called the Skeleton Coast of modern day Namibia. Despite the hidden rocks and treacherous currents, he and his crew made it ashore and became the first Europeans to set foot there.
They raised a two metres tall padrao – a cross inscribed with the Portuguese coat of arms, in the empty desert, and claimed it for Portugal and King Joao 2. The padrao stood a lonely vigil for 408 years, in a horizon without trees and framed by the Brandenburg mountain.
It was uprooted by sailors of the German navy in 1893 and transported to Europe as a trophy for the German Naval Academy, in Kiel. A replica cross was erected in 1895 but this time depicting the Kaiser’s crest. Almost 100 years later, in 1980, the Namibian governemnt commissioned a granite replica of the missing padrao to be placed where the first sailors landed in what is now known as Cape Cross. And there it remains, standing proudly alongside the German one. Portugal’s original padrao remains in Germany, in the New Hall, Deutsches Technikmuseum, Berlin.
Now wasn’t that interesting?