Four years ago, in my architecture office in Lisboa, we started to work on a restoration project of a historical building in the northern section of the city. The Bensaúde manor was built during the final years of the 19th century, surrounded by an estate in Paço do Lumiar, an old hamlet that was absorbed by the growth of the city. The manor has had a series of eminent proprietors and was designed and altered by some of the most notorious Portuguese architects of the 20th century.
It is presumed to have been designed initially by Ventura Terra, one of the most renown architects of the turn of the century. Then, in the twenties, Raul Lino intervened, expanding the house and laying out plans for great decorations on several rooms of the manor. Mural painings, painted ceilings, boiseries (panelling), azulejos (tile works), decorated fireplaces and wrought iron designs were added all over the manor. In the sixties, França Ribeiro designed the expansion of a façade, to make room for an extra compartment and a terrace.
In the more recent years, the manor has been under the guise of public institutions, presently IAPMEI, who mobilized efforts to see this built heritage renewed and used again. A great part of the preservation work is to keep a building occupied. The vigilance gained from having people daily interacting with a historical building is what can save it from deterioration.
The preservation of Raul Lino’s paintings and tiling was a complex task of the project, and was assigned to a specialist crew who had to delicately redo some of the paintings, based on the ones that were intact, clean and refit the wall tiles, preserve the wrought iron works and repaint and polish the fireplaces.
Taberna do Vilarinho is a restaurant at the base of the castle hill in Lisboa. The menu is traditional portuguese cuisine with a focus on special delicacies. This means for starters, you’ll be recommended some juicy cabeça de xára (slices of slow-cooked pig’s head), somewhat similar to galantine. If you’re in for a safe choice, the bacalhau à brás (cod-fish with scrambled egg and straw-cut fries) much enjoyed in Spain, or the borrego com batata doce (roasted lamb sided with sweet potato). But if you keep on with the staff’s recommendation, you’ll go for the samos de bacalhau com grão (cod-fish swim bladder stew with chickpeas), an organ used by many fish to control depth. It’s kinda spongy and squishy and all the fluids add to the thickness of the sauce, but you can really taste the cod-fish flavours there. Would eat again!
The manager was a friend of ours, so we got to hang out in the small cosy restaurant after the doors were shut. Bottles of wine were popped open and leftover deserts were served. That’s when we got the chance to taste pêra bêbeda (drunken pear – a pear dipped in port wine), the delicious and sugary tarte de ameixa (plum pie) and the surprisingly refreshing ananás de coentrada (pineapple with coriander).
More people arrived, friends, and friends of friends. All of a sudden, there was a party! The cell phone connected to spotify went around as everyone added a song to the playlist in some sort of “who plays the coolest song” competition. The accuracy of the sketching quickly waned as it was getting in the way of more dancing and drinking. As the evening drew to a close and everyone started to get the munchies, the chef, who also doubles as a jazz drummer, discreetly slid to the kitchen and brought back plates with heavily spiced raw tuna slices. Not quite sashimi, actually much better!
Here’s a place to definitely come back to.
The diversity of the shores of Lagos makes up for a large part of the area’s beauty. The east coast, closer to the town, is rugged with sandstone and limestone cliffs that give in winter after winter. A myriad of small beaches of coarse sand can be found in the meanders of the cliffs. These rocky beaches are said to have been havens for pirate ships many centuries ago. Dona Ana is one of these beaches. Divided into two parts by the irregular cliffs, this small beach has micro-atmospheres of their own within itself. The central, crowded area, where mostly families stick around, thrives with the activity of the out board engine boats regularly taking tourists around the nearby grottos. The hidden part, which can be accessed only in the low tide, is usually quieter. But as noon approaches, it becomes hard to find a quiet area. The early peaceful morning haze that comes with the sunrise is quickly replaced by a contrasting sunshine and screams of children and conversations in many different languages. It is one of the few beaches in Portugal where one can enjoy the sunrise while facing the oceanic horizon.
Porto de Mós is a single long beach that takes up most of the south coast. The cliffs are still part of the scenery, but here the softer sand gained the upper hand. This beach is usually the meeting point of many groups of friends which often intermingle. The length of the beach provides ample area for sports, the most usual being raquetes – beach tennis – played with two wooden racquets and a rubber ball that make that ubiquitous characteristic wooden percussion – tak! tak! tak! – like a very lazy, very large woodpecker that takes frequent breaks in his work.
Life is swell in the south.
During the winter, Lagos is but a small town in southern Portugal. When not working, the locals indulge in simple pleasures like hanging out with family and friends, usually at bars, coffee shops and terraces if the weather allows. In the summer the small town gets invaded with tens of thousands of tourists that feed the local economy for another year and turns into a bustling seaside resort. Local businesses go about like squirrels, stockpiling for the winter, making hay while the sun shines. The town fills up with new bars and restaurants that cater almost exclusively for tourists.
But the diaspora of locals that come to spend holidays at home seek out the simple (often secret) pleasures that are there all-year round. B.A. is a haven in that sense. A step outside of the beaten track, this tiny tavern offers affordable booze, a nice outside patio and friendly familiar faces.
Recently opened Esquina do Fado was a pleasant surprise. A wine bar-slash-preserves trader-slash-music club attracts a mixed crowd and often has spontaneous jam sessions with local musicians, playing mostly yankee music. Not complaining here, I’m a sucker for some good blues!
Then there’s matraquilhos, or foosball in english. Always a thrill! On a smoky mezzanine of Black Cat, the 50-cent-a-game matraquilhos table at all times being pounded, slammed, kicked and lifted. Full-time gang bang on the 22 metal players made out to look like a 50s version of the two largest teams in Lisboa – Sporting and Benfica. The teams lined up and put a 50 coin on the table to get in the queue. Whichever team won the match, could play the next challenging team. The guys handling Sporting won every single game as soon as they got in. It was almost unfair how well they played. But that got me the chance to sketch them in full.
In the story of going on holidays to Portugal, food is, of course, one of the main characters.
In Lagos, O Lamberto is the unofficial family cafeteria. It’s outside the city centre, so the few tourists that ever get there want to get there. The highlights there come mostly from the sea, such as the grilled squid or the octopus salad. Going for something grilled here is playing on the safe side. Don’t forget to squeeze lemon all over it.
A Oficina was a new place for me. A friend took us there for a snack session. It lays in a town in the outskirts of Lagos with a fitting name – Mexilhoeira Grande – “The Great Mussel Picking Place” (?!). Yeah… Anyway, the house specials: olives with pickled carrot, goat cheese, bucho (a sliced blood sausage), feijoada de buzinas (cowries with beans), parafusos (shrimp wrapped in pastry, deep-fried), tiras de lula panadas (deep fried breaded squid stripes) and the ubiquitous snails. These came with twisted metal picks that brought a tear to my eye! Everywhere, these traditional picks that make the job of pulling the snails out of their shells have been replaced in restaurants all over by common wooden toothpicks. It was a joy to use one of these again!
For desert, we shared a slice of delicious cookie cake (Marie cookies dipped in brewed coffee, piled together with a buttery cream) and Morgado, a delicacy from Algarve. It’s made of almond paste, eggs and squash jam (Gila) and was heavenly prepared.
Sol e Pesca is a former bait and fishing shop in the semi-prostitution slash new-hip area near Lisboa’s shore known as Cais do Sodré. Its concept is unique (as far as I know): preserves of different Portuguese brands are served in their own oil, with some herbs, bread and drinks. This keeps the place from the restaurant status, while serving a satisfying and delicious meal. Looking at the menu, you just want to have a taste of all of them!