What better way is there to celebrate the sweet new smell of self-employed freedom than going straight away on a well-deserved vacation and combining it with a first scan of potential collaborators of our up and coming business...
Obviously, the days of picking a holiday destination only for its beautiful beaches have ended with the founding of HIITU. Not for my friends though, this is why it was easy to trick them into accompanying me to Portugal by the sheer mentioning of endless sandy coastlines with practically no one around.
So for week one, we found the perfect holiday home outside of Azeitão, in the region of Setúbal, about 50 km south of Lisbon airport. The house was surrounded by a huge garden with figs, pomegranates, strawberries, limes and all sorts of herbs to pick from. And the absolute cherry on the cake was the terrace with a beautiful 180 degree view from the top of the hill out into the wilderness of the Arrábida National Park. The location of the house was ideal for Portugal newbies like us. It was around 20 to 30 minutes from a bunch of places worth looking at. After spending the afternoon of our arrival by the pool, we were ready for some beach exploring the following day. The closest beach nearby was the small Praia do Portinho da Arrábida. It was located in midst of the national park in a calm bay, which made it actually possible to really swim - no given on the Atlantic Coast... There were many locals and we didn’t hear a lot of foreign voices. There was a delicious restaurant with fresh fish and seafood called O Farol. Order the clams with garlic, oil and coriander. To die for. Actually, everything we ordered was.
The second beach we went to and actually returned twice more was Praia do Meco. It was pretty much at the bottom of the 40 km coastline going towards Lisbon. So if you headed up north you could go for long walks along the wavy sea and endless sand dunes.
My personal tip: about two kilometres up north you come by the Lagoa de Albufeira, where salt and sweet water meet - great for a swim!
Directly at Meco beach, there is a good restaurant called Bar do Peixe - order the stuffed crab!
An absolute must when you are in this area is a little detour towards Sesimbra, or more precisely 15 km outside of it, to the Farol do Cabo Espichel, a lighthouse, and the Santuário de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel, a convent. They are located at what we were told to be the second most western point of continental Europe. Gaze out into the endless horizon, step on the edge of the super steep coast and look down 200 Meters to watch the huge waves crash onto the rocks below - you‘ll feel so little yet so alive, it is breathtaking. My body and my mind were so energised afterwards, it is hard to put it into words. Watch out for the strong wind though, it might blow you away.
Next on our list was a day trip down south to Comporta. It started out with a 30-minute drive through the mountainous Arrábida national park with amazing views on the steep coast and the sea. When we arrived in the town of Setúbal, we got on a 20-minute car ferry ride over to Tróia, the peak of a 20 km long tongue of land that ends in Comporta. The landscape was rough and moonscapy. We came by a number of beaches along the main road, among them the most famous Praia da Comporta, where the hip crowd mingles. Following a recommendation of my Portuguese friend Ricardo, we decided to go to Praia do Pego, a little further down south. There is a delicious restaurant called Sal. Order basically anything off the menu, especially the fried baby squid and the black rice. And leave some space for the frozen lemon cheesecake and the almond cake to round things off... The restaurant has a bar too, which was voted one of the best ten beach bars this year. Super relaxed and understatement. Loved it! Since we were on a day trip we only had the chance to try out their fresh juices - go for pineapple and mint! Yummy! Pego was definitely my number 1 beach on our trip. The sand is super soft and fine, the atmosphere is relaxed and the restaurant was top.
We rounded off our trip with some shopping before we headed back towards Setúbal. There are a number of nice little hippie boutiques around Comporta town worth checking out: Loja do Museu do Arroz Comporta, Manumaya, Loja Lavanda and TM Collection.
The next day Lisbon was on the agenda. We went on a long stroll around the city, from viewpoint to viewpoint. Miradouro do Castelo de São Jorge, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara and Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte are definitely three hotspots for awesome views from all angles. Grab a coffee from many of the kiosks on the way and dive into the slow nostalgic mood of the city. I also have one little shop recommendation: check out Republica das Flores in Rua da Misericordia n. 31 – the beautiful store sells very nice interior, accessories and decoration.
If you want some proper touristy action you shouldn‘t miss out on looking at the Mosteiro do Jerónimos, a beautiful monastery in Belem. And while you are there have a pastel de nata at the famous Casa Pasteis de Belem.
My restaurant tip for Lisbon is the super traditional Cervejaria Ramiro that also Ricardo recommended to me (he had already told me about Sal – obviously a connoisseur!). You cannot book a table in advance which means that there is an impressively long queue outside the door already from about 7 pm onwards. But stay strong, your patience will be rewarded with outstanding seafood, fish and to finish off the so-called „dessert“ which is actually a steak sandwich. You must leave some room for it - keep this in mind, it will be difficult! From all the restaurants I tried during my trip this was the greatest culinary explosion, it is not even describable!! So simple, yet so freaky delicious. Don‘t miss out on this gourmond experience.
After our final weekend in Lisbon, my friends left for home and I continued on my own. I spent a night in Estóril with my Portuguese/German friends Marlies and Antonio. The next morning Marlies took me on a drive in her convertible towards Sintra. It is a super picturesque drive through traditional old villages, forests and along the coastline. You come by really nice bays with beautiful beaches like Praia do Guincho and Praia da Adraga. You can see impressive Quintas, the typical country estates of the Portuguese aristocracy, which were built in consequence of the king‘s construction of the Castelo dos Mouros at the end of the 19th century. The houses are often still in great shape, all scattered around the large Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais that surrounds the castle. Unfortunately, it was a Monday and the castle itself was closed but already the look of it from the distance was impressive, so if you have the chance don’t miss out on a visit inside.
The following day I continued my trip towards Porto. I stopped at the famous Mosteiro de Alcabaça which you should definitely go visit when you have the chance. It is rightfully listed as a world heritage site by the UNESCO and beautiful to look at. Put on your headphones, wander the halls with a good track list and find out more about Don Pedro and Doña Ines, the Portuguese version of Romeo and Juliet, who are buried here.
After a short walk on the beach of Nazaré, I continued north. I got to Porto in the early evening just in time for...dinner. I met up with Daniela, a very nice friend of a friend of a friend that had started her own shoe line Weekend Barber a couple of years ago. Check out her shoes they are very cool and unique! She took me to Brick (Rua Campo Martires Da Patria n. 103) where we ate a delicious soup and salad and talked about shoes, fashion, fashion business, starting your own brand...and so on and so on. A very inspirational evening!
The next morning I went on an investigative trip around the shops of Porto hunting down traditional Portuguese crafts. I found some beautiful shops that are definitely worth mentioning. Check out Rua das Flores for silverware and jewellery. There are many great shops up and down that road, I particularly liked Ferreiras and Ourivesaria das Flores. The whole area around that street is known as „downtown“ Porto and has beautiful little shops, bakeries and cafes. For a delicious organic snack go to Mercearia das Flores in Rua das Flores n. 110, they have good salads and cold cuts as well as delicious cakes. For shoes, fashion, accessories and jewellery of young designers, mostly from Portugal, you should definitely check out The Feeting Room in Largo dos Lóios n. 86. I bought a beautiful golden ear cuff from the Portuguese designer Carolina Curado, which I haven’t taken off since. Also, check out the shop HATS & C.A.T.S. (cosmopolitan articles of tradition and simplicity) in Rua do Infante Dom Henrique n. 117 – it sells cool straw hats and accessories from around the world. Also their second shop Lobo Taste in Rua de S. Domingos n. 20 is worth a visit – you can find typical Portuguese accessories. Another good shop for traditional products is Santo da Casa Shop in Rua de São João n. 56.