Souvenirs and handicrafts, Lisbon
On our way down the hill from the castle we came across an attractive display of tiles outside a small shop. This isn’t unusual in Lisbon, where the traditional blue and white azulejos are sold all over the city (both new ones made especially for the tourist market, and odd tiles salvaged from old buildings and sold singly as decorative items). But these tiles were different, being of more modern design. We wandered inside and of course ended up buying one – a small green and white tile with a single flower on it to hang in our kitchen alongside many other holiday mementoes. This cost just €6. Our friend Pete bought a slightly larger one in a cheerful blue and yellow – a present for his wife back home.
Prices started at €4 for the smallest tiles and went up to quite a lot for the large multi-tile panels. The guy who sold us the tiles told us he makes them all himself and was clearly pleased with our words of appreciation. I think this may be a new business, and if so I hope he makes a success of it – it was great to see someone taking an old tradition and bringing it bang up to date while still respecting the past.
Instead of spending your euros on the typical souvenir items, visit Santos Oficios Artesanatos. They specialize in items made by artisans who have been practicing their craft for many years. Handmade pottery, and statuary, tablecloths and napkins adorned with intricate needlework. I bought a crucifix that had been hand carved from a piece of granite. I enjoy having it so much more than I would enjoy wearing a tee-shirt. Each piece is accompanied by a biography of its creator. So, I know that my crucifix was carved by an octogenarian who has lived his entire life in a small town. Most of his life he has worked carving stone.
What to buy: They have woodwork, ceramics/figurines, stone carvings, metalwork, cork products, tiles and many other handicraft folk art.
What to pay: Prices range from five euros to a couple of hundred euros.
Located in an old stone building below the Castello St. Jorge, this shop represents numerous local artists. We found the quality of the crafts to be excellent and could have purchased a lot more had our suitcases had room. We settled on a humerous nativity scene.
I came to this shop based upon another review I read and what little knowledge I had that most urbanized pottery shops (in the malls) were very pricey. We drove the 36 miles and @ 6 Euro's in tolls to get there - parked right outside the shops door and as I walked to the entrance, my son and I had to avoid stepping on the roaches (May 19th). The shop was very disappointing to me; it was small, dirty and smelled badly. There was not a very good selection of antique pottery to speak of. Lots of old mildue smelling books and old vinyl records; some glassware and trinkets that to me, were just junk. Oddly enough - I'm American and living in Setubal - another couple, from the US came in looking for old pottery too. They however, just came from the outdoor market (Mercado) which was just around the corner. And based upon their feedback, we went there. There was LOADS of things to walk around and look at (parking was virtually impossible and not for the faint of heart, but we managed to find a spot). It was not more than 15 minutes from arriving that I found the perfect old Portuguese pottery vase that was signed, dated and clearly antique. There was no bartering - 20 Euro's, and I was thrilled to be giving this as a gift from Portugal, to my mother on my next visit home! I just imagine what I would have paid for this sort of item back in the US!
What to pay: 10 - 50 Euro's
Antique shop, or old things´ shop, in Portuguese it is VELHARIAS. The most important thing about this shop is that it is not touristique, there you will find authentique Portuguese and European old things and antiques.You can go there on the way to well-known and one of the oldest fairs in Portugal and Lisbon, Feira de Ladra. It is situated just on the way, near to metro and sea ship station Santa Apolonia and Museu MIlitar, Military Museum.
You will be pleased with the prices that are reasonable, far lower then all over Lisbon.
And, of cause, even if not buying anything it is worth seeing - like a small local museum, this shop posesses pieces of traditional Portugal life, household and art.
And don´t forget about the friendly athmosphere: nice people working there are always happy to show the way or give a piece of advice.
What to buy: Lots of traditional pottery, dishes, plates, cups, glasses.
Portuguese painting, wooden frames for pictures of all sizes.
Tea caddies and tins, inlaid boxes in wood.
Old beautiful candelsticks and lamps.
And, of cause, decorative tiles,"azulejos".
Many small interesting things and nice souvenirs
and much more...
What to pay: There you can find things for all prices, from 2-3 euros up to several hundreds.
It is garanteed to find something for any traveler´s budget.
What to buy:
Portugal has a long tradition in ceramic arts, and the well-known "azulejos" or the blue and white decorative tiles that grace the walls of many of the country's palaces, monasteries, and monuments is evidence of that. What is less known though is that there remains a relatively small but important industry of fine ceramic art making in decorative objects such as vases, plates as well as dining and tea sets. Central Portugal is where the best of these are being made, in the area around Alcobaca.
They come in dainty blue and white designs, or a mix of yellow, blue and a few other colors with design themes from some romantic period, e.g. hunting scenes.
The traditional souvenir shops along the main shopping street in the historic center of Lisbon, Rua Augusta, also display and sell these objects. They're commonly displayed in the shop windows. These souvenirs, expectedly, cannot be found in the hole-in-the-wall types of souvenir shops that abound in the tourist area which sell cheap buttons and keychains with Portugal stamped on them, none of which is made in Portugal.
What to pay: These items do not come very cheap, though with such fine craftmanship, the pieces could easily cost more in the bigger cities of Europe or the US. A very ncie blue and white teapot with base costs 68 euros, just as an example.
Quite a mysterious city Lisbon is. Her geographical location, topography, historical context and all her physical attributes point to a place somewhat mythic, legendary, even chimerical.
A city where everything moves rather unhurried as tho every entity of hers is a well kept secret and time and space have conspired in such a way as to make existence here unsolicitous like a simple gesture without selfish meanings but in its wake a beautiful dreamy scent wafts along and lingers and settles in one's being.
Which brings me to the very fact of scent of which Lisbon has her own definitely, that which you can detect awakens embody and embrace for the duration of your stay and then also becoming the scent that shakes you up in the middle of your dream at night already far away from her.
Scents of Lisbon. Well, there are literally enumerable as they come: from old walls, ancient tiles, coffee from her old colonies, tilia and jacarandas, the sea constant and nearby, grilling seafood upon her sidewalks, dama de noite the night-blooming jasmine, pastries and the country's collective memory.
But to bring you down to earth with her natural blooms and floral and herbal scents, this too Lisbon has aplenty. And I'd advise you to bring home as a gift one of these which are readily available throughout the city and use it to scentify your rooms at home, the bed, as a body refresher and sweet indulgence...even to spritz up a perfume upon your recollections.
A great little place to find these ultra-natural scents is the Perfumaria Alceste located on Rua da Conceicao, 85 right in the Baixa district which is the lower section of the city. It is a tiny store looking so ancient but timeless and ran by an equally timeless grand lady Dona Fernanda. Her beautiful little store which is nameless on the outside carries a gamut of natural scents from floral to herbal to tree-derived scent extracts, even the extracted scents of coffee, chocolate and all the spices.
She prepares each one for you in tiny bottles either in atomizer form or ordinary capped-bottled fill that are quite handy and easy to carry and store. The small 8 oz. bottle only cost a mere 5 Euros which could last you over several months, the larger bottle of about 12 oz. a 10 Euro transaction. Still a huge savings than the those name-brand Parisian style scents but beyond that that the product is all natural and fresh.
Lisbon is a haven for antiques. They are practically all over the city. Because it is a perfect city for walking and ambling about, her streets snaking round her old neighborhoods are storefronts of many old and new merchandises, among so many of them dark and dusty rooms selling antiques.
The best neighborhoods with a good concentration of antique stores are the bohemian Bairro Alto especially along Rua Dom Pedro V walking towards Rato and all the way deep into the very Dickensian neighborhood of Sao Bento, the streets parrallel the Calcada do Combro above the Chiado, the Alfama into Santa Cruz and the Graca districts beyond the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
What to buy: Being a deeply Catholic country, a city like Lisbon carries tons of religious artefacts and ritual paraphernalia. It has bountiful of old ceramics, furniture, porcelain, jewellery, paintings from past centuries, vintage clothing and much much more.
What to pay: The items carry a price tag of varying degrees. But overall the antiques found in Lisbon are generally cheaper in price than at other big capitals of Europe. It is okay to haggle here but under a less aggressive and more sensible bargaining exchange.
Leather gloves are back. Well, to many especially the real afficionados, the use and fashion of this most practical and necessary accessory never really faded away. And the one place/city where glove wearing particularly among women is very much high in the 'elegance-index' still is Lisbon. But it's equally popular among men as well I noticed from my years of continual visitations to this great city.
The practice of glove-wearing is very much in vogue and conspicuous of course during colder months but I have noticed myself that in Lisbon gloves are casually worn particularly among women even in the summertime. It first caught my attention when in Lisbon one summer recently I had dinner with a female Portuguese friend. When I asked her about it she said 'it's because of the very type of hand-gloves that are specially made and then acquired in Lisbon which are buttery-soft like no extra skin that ladies just love to wear.' But in the summer? 'Well, if one is interested in keeping one's hands protected and skin youthful, of course you must wear them!' was her response.
After our dinner continuing on with our lovely conversation, we happened to walk along the Chiado district, the city's most fashionable and elegant side. As we descended towards the Rossio along Rua Garrett and down Rua do Carmo, she pointed out to me a little store and exclaimed, 'there, that's the place where you can find the best and most elegant of all leather hand gloves!'. The name of the store is Luvaria Ulisses.
Luvaria is Portuguese to mean a place that sells gloves. So we went in and decided that I should check it out - after all my friend raved so much about leather gloves that she wouldn't step out of the house without them. Indeed, Luvaria Ulisses at immediate glance sells fabulous-looking leather gloves and convincingly so upon inspection. What to me is particularly interesting about them is the fact that they're all made in Portugal and from the finest calves skin there is, but there are other types as well made out of lamb and even pig's skin. But be warned, they're decidedly not cheap. On the other hand, none of it is exceedingly expensive. No matter, they make for a memorable and lasting purchase either as gifts or exclusively for oneself.
Luvaria Ulisses has another store also in the Baixa right along the Rossio Square (also called Praca Dom Pedro IV) located on the eastern side of the praca close to the Dona Maria theatre at the far end of the square.
What to pay: Prices range depending on the high quality of the leather and also interestingly enough as with the type of color of the glove. Expect to pay as low as 35 Euros a pair upwards.
I thought I've tasted already the best coffee until I came to Lisbon.
New York City gets about every type of coffee from everywhere in the world but Lisbon has the absolute best. And if you're an avid coffee drinker or 'coffeeholic' as they say, then you must come to Lisboa (to refer to her the proper way) to be blown over.
I've tasted coffee in other European cities, Paris, Rome, Florence, etc. for which they're all good. But the types of coffee available in Lisboa are not so much staggerring in numbers but rather in the superior quality of the selection and then the recombinational process they use to arrive at the most astonishing coffee tastes imaginable.
Their secret? Import and use only coffees from places where Portugal's own history has had deep irremeable connection and important ties, meaning, all the former Portuguese colonies. And that would be Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Goa, Cape Verde Islands, Timor, just to name a few. These places are major coffee-producing countries to this day and coffees indeed monopolized by Portugal. Sure, one could nowadays also find coffees in Lisboa from the rest of the world as well but they are few and far between. And when you partake a Portuguese coffee, you can be sure it's the kind which comes from a well chosen and designed merger of flavors from the old colonies.
Coffee is gold in Portugal. The Portuguese are among the most heavy coffee consumers in the world. They drink it as voraciously, passionately and as much and even more than anyone do from anywhere else. When you're in Lisboa, one of the highly noticeable aspects of this great city are the seemingly endless feature of coffee shops and establishments which abound practically at every street and square. And each never without many customers all quaffing up 'bicas', the most notoriously potent coffee there is equal to that of the Italian double expresso. The very kind by the way I truly am fond of.
All this lament about Portuguese coffee aside, I would here then venture to say to suggest to go ahead and buy coffee in Lisboa to take home with you to have and as gift which is a better choice in instances especially when you're at a loss what to buy for friends and family.
They're literally everywhere these coffee specialty stores. My own favorite tho is the A Carioca Cafes, a tiny non-descript shop located down the hill in Bairro Alto where it meets up with Chiado, the fashionable district of Lisboa. At A Carioca Cafes, they sell nothing but the choice coffee beans from all the former Portuguese colonies. You can buy bulk in beans or ground to your specification for which they'd vacuum pack for you.
When you enter the store, you're right away amazed at the sight and smell of bin after bin of coffees and how busy it is with all the machines going and people jostling for their order filled. When it's finally your turn, the salesperson will first ask you (seeing you're not a regular customer of theirs) what type of coffee flavor you prefer in your cup. You'd at first might look surprised from the question but soon the salesman will go thru for you the different flavors, their individual personality and aroma and finally suggests a better coffee combination for you. The store by the way also sells a wide array of delicious Portuguese candies and coffee making machines and coffee mugs.
My favorite of all is the coffee from the island of Timor, which was the scene of violent uprisings against Indonesia up until recently in their quest for independence as a nation which was eventually achieved in the late 80's.
What to pay: Coffee in Lisboa is not expensive, if one especially considers the high quality one gets. Expect to pay between 5-6 Euros for a small bag of about .25 kilo and 12 Euros for a full kilo.
Portuguese wines are a best kept secret. This is certainly true outside of Portugal itself where the norm for wine drinking instilled in most people's minds over pretty much these many years has been the safe familiar brands of French, Italian or Spanish or the wines from California. But Portuguese wines are in a class by itself, a true delight and as superlative if not even more so than the ones across her borders and beyond. Tho Portugal is a relatively small country, her wine growing capacity however is enormous covering practically every region on her map from the Minhos and the Beiras up north to the Estremadura around Lisbon to the dry and dusty Alentejo all the way down to the sunny vacation paradise Algarve. The Portuguese wines that have somehow managed successfully to venture out commercially - tho perhaps limitedly so far - are the ones coming out of the Douro region up north. And one would be tempted to think, especially without having yet set foot in Portugal. that the availability would be limited to just these ones. But come to Portugal and to Lisbon especially where at stores and restaurants you will discover a mind-boggling list and so display of available Portuguese wines that having another kind would seem certainly to be puny and obtrusive.
The fact that Portuguese wines continue to be largely unheard of and only being tasted selectively in many parts of the world is a sad phenomenon indeed, tho admittedly a fact considered rather insubstantial and even irrelevant to the discerning wine connoisseur. And there's ample evidence that once tried, one would be hard pressed to continue drinking the very same old steady familiar kinds from the well-connected European countries.
What to buy: The wines from the Douro certainly are well-deserved. But the lesser known from near Lisbon in the Estremadura are superb and thus worth looking into. I personally like the reds from the towns of Cartaxo and Alpiarca, if one can find it easily in Lisbon. The wines coming out of the enchanting village of Colares below the hills of Sintra are also highly prized, most simply carry the Colares name itself.
Right accross the river Tejo, along the Troia peninsula in Setubal, Sesimbra and Azeitao are great wine-growing and producing places. Setubal is famous for its sweet Muscatels and not far from here are the Fonseca wineries producing outstanding wines.
Then farther afield in the agricultural Alentejo where the wines again especially the reds are robust and bold and unforgettable. These are truly my favorites especially the reds from Borba, Reguencos, Arroiolos and Evora.
What to pay: Because Portuguese wines are not widely known so far, they are for the most part very inexpensive. And in Lisbon, where one can find the supply and different brands practically inexhaustible, the pricing are even more reasonable. Expect to find good labels even as low as from 5 Euros a bottle. In restaurants, the equally good house wines served are remarkably a steal.
Azulejos are tiles in Portuguese. And they're at their best in Portugal with Lisbon clearly having the widest selection of all.
The art of the azulejos has been around in the greater Iberian peninsula since the late 1500's which was introduced by the conquering and occupying Moors with their established kingdoms in Andalucia in Spain and in the Algarve (then called Al-gharb by the Moors). Their introduction first surfaced in Spain with the thickly glazed green tiles, as well as with the multi-colored ones thereafter. The artistry gained a foothold in Portugal by the 1600's from which they formulated and re-calibrated the art into their own coming out with the distinctive blue and white tiles referred to since as azulejos. These days one can find many different styles but the blue and white azulejos has become the symbol of that which is uniquely Portuguese.
Before you go out to buy them as souvenirs, explore first the old city, preferrably on foot and casually, where on Lisbon's many old medieval-like neighborhoods many houses and buildings decorated with tiles continue to showcase themselves to amaze the bypassing visitor.
Azulejos can be had from the stores at remarkably inexpensively as an individual piece. They can be found also from individual artisans very often displaying their work in collapsable stalls along many of Lisbon's streets. But one of the best and reliable azulejos stores in Lisbon is the Fabrica de S'anta Ana in the Chiado district. It's a very renowned old factory creating, selling and sending out special orders of azulejos. They have an endless variety of designs to choose from and will even create one from your own specification.
Souvenir stores of course are all over Lisbon and of course at major attractions. Portugal of course produces some wonderful ceramics and these can be bought in plates, ornaments and tiles. Other crafts are embroidered items and lace. Local markets are often held in the squares but also in streets and will sell a both crafts, household items, clothes and local produce.
Don't bother buying anything "local", especially handicrafts in the centre of Lisbon. For instance the south end of Rua Augusta in Baixa is full of touristy shops selling that sort of thing.
Instead hop on the train and go to Cascais for half a day, it's 1.65 Euro one way and takes half an hour. Look in my travel tips for details of the train trip.
In the centre of Cascais for example on Rua Visc. da Luz there is a fantastic shop full of pottery and other local handicraft, half the price of those on sale in Lisbon. For example I bought a hand made coffee mug for 5 Euro, in Lisbon the same is 12.
They have all sorts, every single type of pottery item you can imagine and loads of other stuff like linens and slippers.
The shop I visited is towards the end of the street on the right hand side just before the square with the town hall.
They have a small selction on the street level but go to the basement for the huge selection (see photos and that's only about half of it!). Upstairs for linens etc.
What to buy: Pottery, linen, souveniers, tiles, all sorts of Portugal and Lisbon souveniers.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Out of Cascais train station, straight across the roundabout in front, take Av. Valbom to the right, walk to the end, there is park on the right hand side. Where Av Valbom finishes take the second on the left, Rua Visc. da Luz (down towards the sea as the street carries up the side of park as well)
What to pay: 5 Euro for a coffee mug, 4 Euro for a mug without a handle I'm using as a toothbrush stand!
Madeira Shop, a very small shop at the Rossio square, with a lot of nice things and a great service. Very nice people and the prices are ok.They have all sorts of souvenirs, both cheap and expensive.
If you are coming from the Rua Augusta, it will be on your left hand side just oposite the fountain. It easy to miss it, since in september 2006 they had no name on the shop.
It is allways the first and last shop we visit when we come to Lisbon
What to buy: I have a great collection of cork things, like the Belèm tower, monuments,boats,bullfighters and so on, all bought at the Madeira Shop at Rossio.