Travelling with a newborn – how difficult can it be? I’d heard plenty of advice, both on the ‘go for it’ and the ‘you’d have to be mad’ sides of the fence. Needless to say, I was keen to introduce Ellie to the world of travel, so with her crisp new passport in hand, we set off for a three-night trip to Lisbon when she was 12 weeks old. I’ve already written the Portugal entry for my 100 countries series, so this is an adjunct or additional post. I’m very keen to do more trips with my baby globetrotter so I’d love to hear your tales of successful and (not-so-successful!) travels and your recommendations of any great websites and blogs on travelling with babies, so please do post your comments.
First things first, Lisbon is not a pushchair-friendly city. As my fiancé was quick to point out, I’d visited the place several times before: how could I not have registered this fact? Plus, Lisbon, like Rome, lays claim to being a city of seven hills. With that oversight of mine out of the way, everything else was perfect. The October sun shone bright and warm and the streets, patterned in black and white cobbles, gleamed and twinkled as if polished each night by a celestial cleaner. The people were friendly and welcomed babies warmly (crying or not!), street cafes and hip hangouts abound and historic buildings and grand squares are everywhere. Last but not least, those Portuguese custard tarts – the famous pasteis de nata (which I have sung the praises of before on this blog – are to die for!
With the River Tagus flowing through on its way out to the Atlantic, the above-mentioned seven hills rolling amongst its streets and so many of its buildings painted in cheerful pastels or decorated with colourful tiles, Lisbon is a glorious-looking city. Sweeping views can be had from the ramparts of Sao Jorge castle, a huge fortification dating from the twelfth century. Climbing up the deep stairways hewn into the walls (with our new stroller tucked away at the bottom!) we wandered along the top of the battlements and then relaxed in the garden café, watching male peacocks preen in the branches of an enormous tree while the peahens scavenged fearlessly amongst the tables.
I wanted to take the number 15 tram out along the river to Belem, not least to taste the famous tarts at the Café Pasteis de Belem – more of those later. However the tram was suspended on account of the Lisbon marathon. So after watching the victorious runners complete their athletic feat on the vast plains of Praça do Comércio, three sides of the square lined with imposing tall buildings, the fourth open to the churning blue of the river, we took the train out to Belem instead. Guiltily ushered to the front of the tourist queue because of having a baby (see, this city is super baby-friendly, despite the hills and the cobbles!), we visited the lovely Torre de Belem. Built on the northern bank of the Tagus between 1514 and 1520 as part of the Tagus estuary defence system, the Tower of Belém is described as ‘one of the architectural jewels of the reign of Manuel I’. It is a squat mini-castle with pleasingly rounded turrets jutting out over the water and breezy vistas from the top of the tower.
And so to those tarts, which I have to confess were a big factor in my desire to revisit Lisbon, in addition to the promise of autumn sunshine and my memories of this being a friendly, laid-back place. I had The Café Pasteis de Belem, which has been serving them to lucky Lisboans since 1837, in my sights. The queues are long, the cavernous rooms of the café are packed, but the tarts are worth it. Apparently about 23,000 are made and sold every day! I contributed three to that day’s total. Crisp pastry, a slightly burnt dark finish on top of the custard so that your teeth have to break through a thin teasing crust to reach the sweet-but-not-too-sweet creamy filling. Delicious. While I found it hard to believe these tarts could be bettered, in the interests of research I committed to eating more elsewhere. I had a perfectly scrumptious one in the pasteleria on the square below (several levels below!) our apartment and bought a souvenir pack at the airport that were also meltingly good. But the best ones, in my opinion, were those from Fabrica Manteigaria, served either in the bakery itself, standing at a marble espresso bar (great coffee too!) or to takeaway. We did both. Several times.
With baby in tow, we skipped most of the cultural sites, of which the city has many worth visiting. I’d love to come back and go to the Gulbenkian Museum again, for instance. And the district of Belem has now become a thriving cultural district, with modernist concrete buildings housing attractions such as the modern art gallery, the Berardo Museum. And pushchair or no pushchair, it’s well worth tackling those steep hills for the custard tarts!
Cultural highlights – I can recommend the Gulbenkian Museum from a previous visit; the Berardo museum looks interesting and the vast Centro Cultural Belem looks as though it houses a wealth of cultural attractions
Food & drink highlights – obviously the pasteis de nata. And port. Grilled sardines. Portuguese wine
Natural highlights – those seven hills and the views they offer! The River Tagus – we took a relaxing sightseeing cruise on the water with the Yellow Bus Company
If you liked this you might also like:
- My previous posts on Lisbon: #19 Portugal: Moorish castles and custard tarts and Moorish castles and wheelie bags, which includes a short video of the tarts in the Café Pasteis de Belem
- My Around the world in 100 countries overview
- This blog post on the Barefoot Blonde website – I found it both encouraging and practical
- My blog post On the Marie Claire trail in sherry country