Rreservations for MVC Playa Andalusia on points for next Fall are simply not looking good for us (ya, not turning out to be a good year for point redemptions for ole Watashi-wa here. ) This means we need a plan B. Portugal was suggested by one family member. I torpedoed it. Then along came this little gem Reflections from the Youngest Insider – Five-Year Old Travels the Globe, where young Master Charles espoused the virtues of Praia D'El Rey Marriott in Obidos, Portugal. Yes, I am now rethinking Portugal and Lisbon. Also considering the RC in Abama, Spain, as well as Madrid and Barcelona.
My request to you, my fellow Insiders is this: Sell me on Portugal and also Lisbon. Anyone been to these properties/places? What's there to do and see? I'm particularly curious about Lisbon. I read it kind of went downhill during the recession and needs a little TLC, but has begun to come back. I think I'm starting to see the light with regards to Porto. We love to move (walk and hike), we love water, we love food and energy (and wine), local culture, urban exploration, old stuff (history), architecture and museums. We range in age from upper 40's to upper 70's.
I'm not sure what you are concerned about with the recession. It hurt the locals, but makes it great for tourists as you can get amazing food and wine really cheap.
I lived in Lisbon for two years and loved it. You mentioned walking and hiking... you should know Lisbon is extremely hilly and the calcada they use on the sidewalks is usually very uneven and can be very slippery if wet.
There are tons of architectural and historical sites to see in Lisbon as well as lots of awesome street art.
The Marriott is slightly outside of the city so you'd have to take a taxi in, but they aren't expensive. I never stayed there, but I lived just down the street from it and attended some events and had some friends that stayed there and said it was basically just ok, but I think it's not too pricey so it isn't a bad deal. Also, the airport is basically on the outskirts so it's a cheap taxi ride to either the Marriott or to downtown.
Lisbon is full of awesome architecture and I love the aqueduct. There are beaches practically in the city and then some nicer ones a little further out if you cross the river or head down to the Algarve. I mostly found the water too cold for myself to enjoy, but that's partly because my daughter was too afraid to let me take her in farther than knee deep and so I was never able to acclimate to it.
Not too far away is Sintra which is up in the mountains. There is the Moorish Castle, Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira and a few other sites. Just over the mountains is the Cabo da Roca which is the easternmost point of continental Europe. It is good for a 10 minute photo op stop unless you can make it down the steep hike to nearby Praia da Ursa. It looks beautiful as you can see if you do an image search, but I never went down there as it looked to difficult for a young kid (and likely for 70-year olds too).
Across the river from Lisbon there are bigger beaches and some wineries. The walled city of Evora is pretty interesting with its Chapel of Bones. Further to west across the border into Spain is Merida which has some of the best Roman ruins outside of Italy. It's probably closer to Lisbon than it is to most major cities in Spain.
North from Lisbon is Obidos. We did a weekend getaway to Praia D'El Rey and it was a nice large resort. It was off season, so not too crowded. The resort is above the beach and I think it may be a pretty steep walk to get down to it... I think there were stairs, but I don't really remember. I know we walked down to it once without any problem to see it, but we just went to the pool most of the time rather than the beach. And, the city of Obidos itself is kind of cool as it's basically a walled city on top of a mountain.
And, of course there is Fatima if you are interested in that.
I highly recommend the Convento de Cristo/Castelo de Tomar in Tomar. My parents came for a few weeks and that was the highlight of their trip.
We really liked Porto as well, but we only spent a few nights there. If there are any Harry Potter fans, there are a few points of interest as that is where J.K. Rowling lived when writing it and there is a famous stairway in a bookstore that inspired the one in Dumbledore's office. (Or something like that, I'm not big on it myself, but it was a cool stairway. The bookstore isn't too keen on tourists and has a strict no-photo policy outside of very limited time frames. They want to be a bookstore and not a tourist spot.) Of course, the Douro valley and many wineries are nearby, but we didn't do that at all. From what I hear, they are very generous with their tastings so be prepared.
Just touching on the other locations you listed: Barcelona and Sevilla are two of my favorite places while I didn't care much for Madrid at all.
Generally speaking, it's much easier to get by only knowing English in Portugal than in Spain.
If you rent a car, Portuguese roads have more tolls and taxes where Spanish roads mostly don't. They mostly aren't expensive, but it can just be inconvenient. Try to make sure the rental car has "Via Verde" (like a fastpass that auto-pays the tolls) and then the rental company can just charge you (I guess, I had my own car so I never rented).
And, prices are generally a little cheaper in Portugal than Spain.
I like both countries and I guess a lot of what I'd recommend would vary depending on length of stay etc... It it was just a weekend, I'd probably say Barcelona though Lisbon would be fine too. If you are going for a week or more and are interested/able to rent a car and get around than I'd say Lisbon has a probably more to offer in side trips (but I'm biased since I lived there for two years and made lots of weekend trips from there).
Thanks for the great feedback and information. There is woefully very little info on Insiders regarding Portugal, and Lisbon in particular (although arkwright offered some nice info on Lisbon here not too long ago, and much appreciated).
What I meant regarding the recession years, and which Bob expounded on, was that for a time, there was a finance shortage, which sort of threw Lisbon into a state of deferred maintenance, which caused places to be not kept up or as well maintained. Now that the economy is recovering, they can begin to restore the city to its former glory. But also with a recovered economy comes recovered pricing in the tourist sector.
So funny, my whole family wants to go to Portugal but me. We'll be in Spain this summer too. Looking at maybe a 3 or 4 day trip there, just to keep them happy and maybe they can prove me wrong.
I've heard that it's hard to stay in MVC Playa Andalusia with points mostly in summer, less so in fall, but their summer goes into our fall. I'd say they see summer as ending in Sept.
Although I can't answer for Lisbon or the Marriott, I have been to the Algarve a few times, the in-laws own an apartment there. I'm not as enthusiastic about Portugal as they are but the weather is very pleasant into the fall and although Portugal had a tough time if it during the Euro currency crisis, it has dug itself out and the tourism market is vibrant again. I've enjoyed all my stays there!
I've been in Portugal a few months ago and really liked it!
Porto is a very unique city with a romantic atmosphere during evening time by the river. Worth visiting and walking around the center.
Lisbon is great! The center part is walkable, and there're many attractions around the city, like the westernmost point in Europe!
Plan in advance and you'll have a great time.
fistuk, It's so nice to hear from you!! Been wondering where you've been. Thanks for the reply, and please don't be a stranger.
I have some stuff from the Algarve and southern Portugal from our road trip to Seville, Spain. I'll dig it up when I get settled down later tonight.
I'd get some feedback from 7...He was there for quite a while and had some good insights.
I tried tagging 7 but it doesn't seem to work... try this 7
Sorry, pluto77 - I'm of no use on this... I had conflicts both times I was invited to Lisbon, so it remains on my to-do list. Having said that, I've heard nothing but good things about it!!!!
Hello Pluto - and many thanks for your kind remark.
On Lisbon, I've only a few comments to add to the excellent input you've already received:
1. I would not be at all put off by references to Lisbon appearing slightly down at heel. It was ever thus - from times decades/centuries before the 2007 Crash - as far back as the 1755 Earthquake (though even my memories don't go back this far!) It is part and parcel of the charm of the place - though at times, particularly related to transport, it can be maddening.
2. I would add a visit to Coimbra to your list. Relatively close to Lisbon, and easily accessible by road/rail, it is a charming old city which is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe (ca. 1290, I think).
On alternatives, I would advance the merits of Seville. For me, it is without doubt one of the most fascinating cities in Spain, if not Europe. It was of course the departure point for Columbus' little trip across the pond, and from then on, for at least a hundred years, it was a "boom" city, largely because it was granted a monopoly on all trade with the "New World" - which included, then most importantly, gold and silver. This wealth enabled it to build great edifices like the Cathedral and La Giralda and stimulate a great artistic heritage: the city was home (at various times) to Velasguez, Murillo and Zurbaran.
At the start of the 17th century the Guadalquivir River silted up, and the ocean-going galleons moved their base downstream to Cadiz. From then on, Seville struggled to recapture its glory days - without ever achieving lasting success. But what remains - particularly the buildings and atmosphere - is mesmeric.
Today, in addition to its heritage, the city is a rejuvenated gastronomic centre - with many, small, modern fusion bars - like Azotea for example. And, if you've not explored this part of Spain, it serves as a perfect base for visits to Cordoba and Granada, as well as Jerez, the Pueblos Blancos and, one of my favourites, Cadiz. (see below)
On hotels, Marriott is not particularly well represented now - the 2/3 AC's are OK, but no more - but SPG can offer the Alfonso XIII and the Hospes Las Casas, both well worth considering.
All best wishes,
arkwright, Your remarks regarding Seville are most interesting, and no, I've not explored the area, but yes, very interested in doing so. Many thanks for the fascinating information. We will also not neglect Lisbon, then. Lots to think about and organize.