A Perfect Afternoon

When people ask our favorite pastimes in Portugal, what sights not to miss, what restaurants deliver the best experience–our answers don’t really follow those of your average top ten list.

On a Friday afternoon, given a few free hours to do whatever we wish in our little corner of Sintra’ coast, we choose these simple pleasures…

A hike up in the woods by Monserrate. If you pull over and head up a track just before you get to Monserrate’s parking lot, there’s an area to leave your car for an hour or three as you explore the forest that covers the top of the Serra da Sintra. I can count on one hand the number of times in four years that we’ve seen more than three cars parked there. You may encounter bicyclists, or from time to time another forager, but the paths remain quiet and just a little overgrown. Every season offers a new element to the tapestry. We let the dogs run, and our minds refresh.

A salgado and a cerveja at the café on the beach at Adraga. As more people discover this pocket gem, the parking lot fills on nice afternoons. And the restaurant inside is justly famous for its seafood. But we’ve never had trouble pulling up with the pups and having a rissois de leitão or camarão caseira. The dogs can’t run on the beach in the summer, but they can hike up the steep trails behind the café and look down upon the grotto-lined beaches. It’s a bit of a hack, but because of that, you’re generally on your own. You can even find spots to camp for a night—just don’t light a fire, please!

A bruschetta and a vinho at GiGis. For a moveable feast, catch the popular pizza truck during the ends of the afternoon, around 4 pm, and grab a bruschetta or a samosa, and a tumbler of white wine to wash it down. We catch up with friends, laugh with the staff as they have their communal meal, and watch children play on the old car seats and run through the grass. The pups have some water and sleep under the awning.

A burger and fries and a vat of wine at Luis’ beach café. We just can’t say enough about the sublime combination of a cheap-but-good burger and enough wine to swim in as we watch the sun set on Praia das Maçãs. 

A quick stop for fish from the town market. We’ve picked up sardines from the market across the street, from Francisco, for the next day, our execution of Festas Populares. We’ll turn them onto the grill with only a sprinkle of rock salt and a finely chopped stuffing of herbs from the garden—most Portuguese don’t bother with this dressing up, and you can certainly do without. We parboil potatoes to put over the charcoal next to the plump fishes, and serve a salad with a Dijon-driven vinaigrette alongside. 

Four years ago, Stephen showed me how to slit the sardines and debone them at a restaurant in Gaia along the Douro. It will always be one of my favorite food memories of Portugal.