People often think of Lisbon as a port city in Portugal and an ocean beach destination, though the city itself is not actually on the ocean at all or even a direct beach destination. For starters, the coastal areas of Lisbon are on the banks of a river, the Tagus River. The Torre de Belem, the famous tower near the city limits that you see in photographs is ten kilometers from where the mouth of the Tagus River meets the Atlantic Ocean.
An enormous natural bay formed by the river around its delta contains a mix of salt and fresh water, and is home to expansive wetlands where thousands of bird species migrate through every year, making it one of the richest and most biodiverse places on the planet. This alone should make Lisbon a nature tourism destination, but the city is better known for nightlife, gastronomy (food) and beaches. The nightlife is good and often even great, as are the wealth of restaurants that range from inexpensive dives to fine dining.
Portuguese cuisine like the language itself is unique. Heavily influenced by its proximity to the ocean, Portuguese food features a lot of fish and seafood, but also beef and pork. The most famous dish is bacalhau; a salted, seasoned cod, that is best in a stew or casserole. A close second may be the sweet, Portuguese egg tart. Some other great dishes...
As we said earlier, Lisbon itself isn’t really a beach or swimming destination at all. Those famous beaches people talk about in the same breath as Lisbon? They’re known as the Beaches of Almada and there are twenty eight of them. Yes, 28, from Praia Trafaria to Praia da Adiça. All fairly easy to access.
To get to the Almada beaches, you’ll have to get out of the city and across the stunningly beautiful 2KM suspension bridge known as Ponte 25 de Abril, where you’ll then find the closest beach is about a half hour’s drive away and some of the others are up to an hour’s drive away. The best of them include Praia da Cova, Praia de São João, Praia do Tarquínio-Paraíso, Praia Nova, Praia da Saúde, Praia da Cornélia, Praia da Mata, Praia da Riviera, Praia do Castelo, and Praia da Morena.
Pick one or several to visit. Your favorites will depend on whether you like to be with others or more isolated by yourself.
Another reason we love Lisbon because it is literally the beating heart of Portugal. Within an hour of the city, you have nature reserves, preserves, and national parks. All spectacular and stunning in their own way. Costa de Caparica is a nature preserve of protected coastal plains. Estuário do Tejo is a wetland estuary. Pena, Monserrate and Sintra are national parks within a forested mountain range, featuring mountain-side palaces and cliff-top castles.
One of these cliff-top castles is Castle of the Moors, shown below in a fine art photograph by William. Our photoshoot of the Castle of the Moors was incredibly challenging due to the mountainous terrain.
Most photos of Castle of the Moors are on the approach or close up, but William wanted to photograph the castle in a way that was different. As a result, we didn’t get the shots we wanted on our first visit to the castle. Instead, it was an exploration of approaches, light and terrain.
Getting around the mountainous terrain proved to be the biggest impediment. The narrow roads wind through the nearby village and up the steep mountain side. If you lose your way or miss a turn, you have to go around and around to get back to where you lost your way. On the mountain side, car parking ranges from difficult to near impossible. Hop on the shuttle or wander too far and you can easily lose where you parked, then hike the steep terrain for hours looking for your car.
After seven days of trekking up and down and all around, we came away with six photos of Castle of the Moors that William knew were keepers. Six of hundreds that were discarded. Still, those days weren’t all about a castle, they were also about a palace that looked like it was pulled straight from a fairytale. The Palace of Pena at Sintra.
If Castle of the Moors was William’s white whale that week, the Palace of Pena at Sintra was a dream through fog. The Palace is notoriously crowded from the time the park it lies within opens to the time the park closes. The Palace also has been photographed and photographed.
William took shots from many different angles and approaches. In different light. Early morning, full sun, late in the day. Day after day, he wasn’t happy with any of them. None of them were what he was looking for. Then on the fifth day as it rained on and off, William snapped two photographs of the palace emerging into the light from behind the shadows of clouds and knew they were the ones he’d been waiting for. Michelangelo of sunsets indeed. William works with light and shadow like few others.
One other photograph from the series of photoshoots made the cut. It was a photograph that also showcased shadow and light, taken from within the palace itself, on one of the many self-guided walking tours of the interior we took. Some photographs speak to you. Some loudly. Others in unassuming tenors, with simple splendor.
For fellow writers out there, it is true that one can write from anywhere, but it took a lot of special considerations to ship the crates of servers that William needed for technical how-to writing for Microsoft from one place to the next. But he never missed a deadline, and never told where he was writing from :)
Hui Cha Stanek and William Stanek
About Hui Cha Stanek & William Robert Stanek
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