My children have become very discerning travelers. While my son loves to explore churches, museums, and historical sights, my daughter can get very overwhelmed. So, every trip we go on we try to find different things to do that provide a unique experience for her. Our trip to Portugal was no different! While we decided to do these three very cool experiences for her, they turned out to be some of my most favorite moments of our time in Lisbon.
Baking Class of Portuguese Treats
My daughter, the baker, has been so fortunate at her young age to have had baking lessons at different locations around the world. So, we arranged for her a lesson to learn how to create the Portuguese traditional dessert, Pastel de Nata. We ventured to a little bakery in the Avenida Roma section of Lisbon called Chao Das Almas. Mariana Cardosa, of the company Lazy Flavors which organizes special culinary events for guests, met us at the bakery and introduced us to the owner, Christina, and her staff. We fell in love with Mariana and Christina immediately.
Christina and my daughter got right to work. What an incredible, patient, and kind teacher for my daughter! They began working on the Pastel de Nata which is an egg tart pastry consisting of egg custard, puff pastry, cinnamon, and lots of sugar. Christina also taught my daughter proper techniques for whisking, rolling, and mixing. While they were working, she explained the story behind the dessert. The recipe they used was the traditional recipe that had been used by the nuns in the convents for many years. (The dessert was actually created by the monks of Jeronimos Monastery in the 18th century). After placing their pastries in the oven, Christina explained that the nuns never wasted anything. So just like the nuns, Christina and my daughter took the leftover ingredients and created a second dessert, Apple Roses. This beautiful dessert tastes like an apple pie but is just so pretty. Fitting for the nuns to make a dessert as a rose which is the symbol of the Virgin Mary.
After the desserts were both completed, we sat down with Mariana and Christina and enjoyed the finished products. To be honest, I did not eat another Pastel de Nata after because these were the most delicious ones I tasted. Aside from the fabulous dessert, spending time with these Portuguese ladies was a highlight of my trip. They were so kind and generous with us. We truly enjoyed our afternoon with them.
I am definitely much more of a fan of art and history than science. So, I begrudgingly agreed to go on a backstage tour of the Lisbon Oceanarium. I was so glad that I did! The Oceanarium is the largest indoor aquarium in Western Europe. The building is so cool! It looks like an aircraft carrier and sits over a man-made lagoon next to the Tagus River. It's located in the Nations Park section of Lisbon, a modern area that is a stark contrast to Lisbon’s older sections. This area was built for the 1998 Lisbon World Expo. Walking into the building, you are greeted by a beautiful waterfall fountain that pours from the roof. So cool!
We met our guide on the ramp heading into the building. Our guide was fantastic and very passionate about not just the Oceanarium but of marine biology as well. We began our tour at the bottom of the tank learning about the various fish including sting rays, sharks, and a huge sunfish. The Oceanarium is one of only a few aquariums that have a sunfish due to the expense of caring for them. What an amazing fish to look at.
Next, we went up to the top level of the aquarium above the water tank. This was a real treat. We watched the biologists feed several different animals. There were three sharks being introduced into the tank for the first time so we witnessed firsthand this process which takes several weeks. The sharks have to adapt to their new environment. We took the elevator to the bottom level of the building. Here we learned about the filtration systems and the basic operation of this complex big fish tank. We ended our tour walking through the various ecosystems the Oceanarium presents: an Antarctic exhibit with penguins, a Pacific Ocean system with otters, a Tropical Indian ecosystem with tons of corral, and a North Atlantic Ocean environment. This entire experience was really fun and interesting. We all agreed that watching the sharks and the huge sunfish swimming around was aweseome!
Sintra and Cascais
A trip to Lisbon is not complete without a drive out to Sintra and Cascais. Sintra home to the Pena Palace is right out of a fairy tale. Any child or adult will feel like they are in a movie visiting this spot. Located a half hour drive from downtown Lisbon, Sintra is a very beautiful hilly town. It is located in the foothills of the Sierra de Sintra. The town is covered with pine trees and has a noticeably cooler climate than Lisbon. It was for this reason that the nobility chose to build their summer palace here.
Climbing a very steep, densely forested road is the only way to visit the Pena Palace. It was a crazy drive in our car; I can’t even imagine how the Royals drove up in a coach with horses. But the sight at the top is so worth the trip up the hill. This stunning castle is a national monument and an incredible example of 19th century Romanticism. The Romantic movement placed emphasis on the individual, emotion, whimsy, an appreciation of the beauty of nature and the exotic. The Pena Palace exemplifies all of this! The turrets and colors of red and yellow all reflect a Moorish influence and a magical feeling. The views are stunning. The day we were there was a bit cool and foggy but on a sunny day you can see all the way to Lisbon and the ocean.
The castle began as a chapel to Our Lady of Pena in the middle ages. In the 15th century, King Manueline had a monastery built on the site housing 18 monks. The vibe still remains one of peace and contemplation as you walk around. After the great earthquake of 1755, the monastery was ruined and remained that way until the 1840s. King Ferdinand decided to rebuild the monastery into the Royal summer palace. The Royal family used the palace until the Portuguese Revolution of 1910 when the state took over. Queen Amelia, the last Queen of Portugal, spent her last night as Queen here before heading to exile. Today the Pena Palace is a UNESCO world heritage site and a national monument.
While the palace was built in the Romantic style, it also has elements of neo-Gothic, neo-Renaisance, neo-Islamic and elements of the Belem Tower. The whole palace is stunning. Walking through the cloister, the private rooms, and the public rooms, it is easy to understand why the Royals loved it there. The inside features tromp l’oeil panting and incredible tile work. The Queen’s terrace features an incredible sundial that used to fire a cannon every day at noon. We all fell in love with the whimsical, magical Pena Palace.
A short 15-minutes drive from Sintra is the beach town of Cascais. A former fishing village, it is now one of the richest towns in Portugal. What a charming seaside town! Check out the gorgeous tiled sidewalks. They are created with Portuguese pavement consisting of fabulous patterns made from black and white basalt and limestone. Sidewalks throughout all of Portugal are done in this beautiful art form.
After a short walk around the beaches, we decide to have a treat. My kids were addicted to Santini’s, an incredible ice cream shop in Portugal. The Santini shop in Cascais is the original one and definitely worth the calories. Not an ice cream lover, check out the Portuguese pastry shop across the street- delicious! This beach town is very popular with locals as it’s a quick trip from Lisbon (only 19 miles). One fun fact: scenes from the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service were shot here.
While I love wandering through churches and museums, these three extraordinary experiences truly enriched our trip. Kids and adults were happy with all of them. My daughter was thrilled with these unique experiences. Now that we are home, my daughter has made her Portuguese delicacies several times and we are transported back to Lisbon. So yummy! Lisbon truly has so many wonderful things to experience.