- Travel - PORTUGAL - Visiting Madeira & Lisbon

Lisbon, Madeira Mystical, Magical...Portugal A lifelong dream became a reality as Michael and I stepped off the plane in Lisbon to begin our nine day Portuguese adventure. I anticipated a beautiful country, rich in history, with a varied topography including mountains, forests, farmland, vineyards and wonderful coastal resorts. My expectations were greatly exceeded! Located at the western-most point of continental Europe and approximately the size of New Jersey, Portugal is a destination often overlooked by travelers planning an overseas vacation. This is truly unfortunate. Not only replete with old world charm, Portugal also offers outstanding hotels and superior dining in many of its fine restaurants. The people are warm, friendly and hospitable, many of whom speak English. About two weeks before our departure date we decided to make arrangements for a driver to escort us to the sights and towns that we had selected. We were extremely fortunate to have Armando, recommended by my son and his family who had discovered him last year on their trip to Portugal. Not only was he a delightful person and excellent driver, he was an invaluable guide with a wealth of information about his beloved country. Now I highly recommend him as a "must" if you consider a visit to this fabulous country since there is so much more to see than just the city of Lisbon as you will soon discover. But for now, the spotlight is on Lisbon. Michael and I chose the Pestana Palace for our first three nights in Lisbon. Formerly the home of the Marquis de Valle Flor, this stately palace with its black wrought iron gated entrance, retains the grandeur and history of its past. The entrance hall is remarkable for its marble staircase and huge stained glass windows. The gardens are a delight, featuring plants and flowers reminiscent of impresssionist gardens found in the south of France. The opulent salons, dining room, bar, music room and chapel also have a French influence in their design and decoration. Complimentary buffet breakfast was served every morning in the formal dining room. Dress was casual and relaxed. The first three days we spent getting to know the city and its historic sights. In the Belem district the impressive monument depicting the navigators who sailed forth from Portugal to discover new territories stands as a tribute to the country"s fifteenth century status as the Navigation Center of the World. We explored downtown Lisbon, its outdoor cafes and lovely shops along the Rua Augusta. We visited the Belem Tower, the Jeronimos Monastery, St. Anthony's Church and drove along the Avenida da Liberdade, Lisbon's main avenue lined with exclusive shops such as Armani, Escada and Louis Vuitton. Armando guided us through the Alfama, the oldest surviving district where, fado, the national music of Portugal originated. The last three nights in Lisbon were spent at one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, the Lapa Palace. Built in 1870 and converted into a hotel in 1992, it was the former residence of the Count of Valencas. Located in the heart of the city, surounded by embassies, Lapa is one of the most exclusive residential areas of Lisbon. From the moment of your arrival, greeted by an attendant in top coat and hat, to the moment of departure you are treated to the attentive service of the superb staff. The rooms and suites are exquisitely appointed with balconies or terraces affording spectacular views of Lisbon, the hotel's lush tropical gardens, heated swimming pool and the Tagus river. The Cipriani restaurant located in the hotel lobby is a culinary experience you will want to repeat. Each morning the cheery dining room located on the lower level served a delicious complimentary buffet breakfast. Later in the evening the sounds of classic melodies from the marvelous piano player invited us to enter the elegant bar with its rich velvet sofas and cozy nooks. To top it all off, the La Prairie Spa, Switzerland, offers guests a wide range of facial and body treatments including its exclusive, unique caviar facial rejuvenation service. We fell in love with this hotel and know you will, too. A visit to the Lapa Palace will put you right where you belong...in the "lap of luxury." Our last three days were spent visiting towns on the outskirts of Lisbon, each within an hour or two driving distance from the city. One day we explored the towns of Estoril, Cascais, Guincho and Sintra, each of which has a character of its own. With Armando making the introductions we soon became acquainted with the beauty of each town. Estoril, the chic resort known as a playground for royalty, has beautiful beaches, a famous Casino and the deluxe Palacio Hotel. Cascais, a former fishing village, now has a yacht harbour, a lovely park holding open air concerts, a beautiful beach and a bullfighting ring. Mercifully, in Portugal the bull is spared. Guincho is known for its famous beach and high waves that attract windsurfers from all over the world. Not far from Guincho lies the westernmost point on the European continent known as Cabo da Roca. What a marvelous feeling it was to stand at that point and look out across the Atlantic! Sintra is one of the oldest and loveliest towns in Portugal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its nineteenth century Romantic architecture. The fabulous Pena Palace, a summer residence of the royal family of Portugal, was formerly a convent which, with the exception of the Chapel, was completely destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. Reserve several hours for a tour of its many rooms. Also worth seeing are the National Palace and the Palacio de Queluz often compared to the Versailles Palace in France. The last day we drove to Obidos, a charming medieval double-walled city dotted with cascading fuschia flowers and lined with cobblestone streets filled with small shops offering linens, ceramics, wine and woodcarvings. I highly recommend not missing this town! Last, but hardly least, we arrived in Fatima, a world famous pilgrimage site. If you are at all spiritually inclined, then you must visit Fatima for its historical importance as the site of the most famous miracle of the twentieth century. We found it to be a humbling and mystical experience that we will never forget. There is a feeling of peace at Fatima that words cannot really describe. From Lisbon we boarded our one and a half hour flight to Madeira. Landing at the Funchal Airport, we were met by a gentleman from Reids Palace, the sumptuous hotel we chose for our three night stay on this gorgeous island. When we arrived at the hotel we were overwhelmed by its location. Sitting atop a cliff above Madeira?s Bay of Funchal, it has a commanding view of coral capped homes clinging to mountain terrain that gently spills down to meet the sparkling sea. Our luxurious suite on the ninth floor, featuring three terraces, afforded us this view and more. The exquisite swimming pool, swaying palm trees, lush foliage and bright sun-kissed flowers were among the other views. This magical island has it all and Reids Palace is a major contributor to this magic! The staff was the best. Ever ready to be of assistance, you felt as though you were the only guest there. One evening we dined at the Italian Cipriani restaurant, another evening we dined under the stars at the French restaurant, Brisa Do Mar. Both were excellent! The complimentary daily buffet breakfast was exceptional, augmented by the dining room's views of the sea. You could also order eggs or an omelet that would be delivered piping hot to your table. This is one hotel not to be missed on an island not soon forgotten. The magic of Madeira will linger on for us...now you and your family are invited to experience it. Portugal is a country that has so much to offer. The range of land configurations from mountains to coastal and resort areas provide visitors with many activity options. In addition to all the historical sites, the opportunities for surfing, sailing, visits to wineries, hiking, bicycling and golf abound. Portugal is now one of the most highly regarded golfing destinations due to its year round mild weather and its many championship golf courses. Some of these courses may be found along the west coast, particularly near Estoril and Cascais, and twenty-nine are located in the Algarve resort area located in the southern region of the country. Add to all of this that Portugal, although on the Euro, is still the best value in Europe and you have a destination well worth considering. Do call me at 201-891-8441 and I will be delighted to help you plan your trip and your introduction to Armando who will be equally delighted to make your trip one you'll never forget! Also choose a cruise or group tour to see this beautiful country. We are a Virtuoso agency and as one of our customers you will receive VIP treatment and amenities. Try us...you'll LOVE us! And remember, it costs you nothing to have me do all the work. I'll make your travel plans a reality.

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