Planning a Last-Minute Portugal Day Trip with Citi Prestige Concierge
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Last week, my family and I visited one of my favorite destinations in Europe: Portugal. I'd only ever been to Lisbon, so I was pretty excited when the rest of the group was willing to take a day trip to explore some of the nearby towns. We'd decided to make the trip just the day before, and with a very full schedule, I didn't have any time to plan an itinerary.
Now, traditionally I would have phoned up The Platinum Card® from American Express concierge, but I recently had a fantastic experience with Citi's new concierge service for Citi Prestige cardholders, provided by a company called Aspire Lifestyles. I've found one concierge in particular to be extraordinarily helpful (Steve S.), so I emailed him directly. Gabriella and William ended up assisting, and they were fantastic as well.
I emailed the concierge service at 10:30pm local time (5:30pm ET), explaining that we planned to travel the next day and that I'd be heading to bed. I said we wanted to do some sightseeing in Sintra, have lunch in Cascais and then head to a vineyard or two in Setúbal. When I woke up the next morning, I had a complete itinerary planned out — William had even researched the routes to make sure we were avoiding extra driving, and provided a backup rental car option in case ours fell through. Fantastic! Here's what he and Gabriella recommended, and what we ended up doing.
Sintra (25 minutes from Lisbon)
Our fantastic Airbnb host Ruben ordered a rental car from DSCAR in Lisbon on our behalf — it ended up costing €50 (about $57) for the day for a Fiat Grande Punto, including all taxes and insurance (supplemented with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card). While the Punto was pretty compact, we were only the third renters, so it was pretty much brand new. We planned to pick up the car at 9:30am, but we ended up getting there about an hour late, which threw off the day's schedule a bit.
Here's what William recommended for our first stop, in the picturesque town of Sintra:
Name of Sight: Quinta da Regaleira
Address: Rua Barbosa du Bocage
Hours: Opens at 10 AM tomorrow
"This magical villa and gardens is a neo-Manueline extravaganza, dreamed up by Italian opera-set designer, Luigi Manini, under the orders of Brazilian coffee tycoon, António Carvalho Monteiro, aka 'Monteiro dos Milhões' ('Moneybags Monteiro'). The villa is surprisingly homely inside, despite its ferociously carved fireplaces, frescoes and Venetian-glass mosaics. Keep an eye out for mythological and Knights Templar symbols."
Pricing is about 6 EUR per adult.
Name of Sight: Castelo dos Mouros
Address: 2710 Sintra, Portugal
Hours: Opens at 9:30 AM tomorrow
"Soaring 412m above sea level, this mist-enshrouded ruined castle looms high above the surrounding forest. When the clouds peel away, the vistas over Sintra’s palace-dotted hill and dale, across to the glittering Atlantic are — like the climb — breathtaking. The 10th-century Moorish castle’s dizzying ramparts stretch across the mountain ridges and past moss-clad boulders the size of small buses. The best walking route here from Sintra-Vila is not along the main road but the quicker, partly off-road route via Rua Marechal Saldanha. The steep trail is around 2km, but quiet and rewarding. Tickets and info are available at the entrance."
Pricing is about 8 EUR per adult.
Palácio da Pena
For Sintra, the concierge recommended a visit to the Castelo dos Mouros. I only just now realized that we never made it there — instead, Google Maps brought us to the nearby Palácio da Pena, which was absolutely incredible. We only found that attraction thanks to Citi's recommendation, though, so the concierge did come through here.
After driving through the exceptionally touristy town of Sintra (which we hoped to return to later), we made our way up the hill to the Palácio da Pena. The palace was packed with tour groups, but it was still worth a visit. The views were incredible.
The architecture was very cool as well — just check out this attention to detail!
After touring the palace and making a stop at the massive kitchen, it was clear that we were pretty hungry, so we made our way back down and on to our next destination.
Fortunately, we didn't have far to go — Cascais, a popular Portuguese fishing village, was just a 25-minute drive away.
Cascais Fishing Village (30 minutes from Lisbon)
Here's what Citi had in mind for an affordable seafood lunch in Cascais — I checked out the restaurants on TripAdvisor, and while they both seemed pretty solid, #2 was the clear winner for us:
Restaurante O Pescador
Rua das Flores 10, Cascais, Lisbon, 2750-348, Portugal
Hours of Operation: Friday 12:05PM - 11PM
"Fresh seafood fills the menu at this folksy restaurant, a favorite since 1964, where a cluttered ceiling and maritime-related artifacts distract the eye. Sole is one specialty. Bacalhau (dried salt cod) is another; it's often baked here, either with cream or port wine and onions."
Invalidos 32 2750 Cascias, lisbon Portugal
Phone: 214-833734 / 214-820274
Hours of Operation: Friday 12:00 pm - 2:30 pm, 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Specialties: Seafood, Mediterranean, European, Portuguese, Soups
"Ideally situated in the center of Cascais, the restaurant Dom Pedro offers both varied and balanced dishes. You may not be surprised to learn that the specialty here is 'bacalhau', or cod as we know it. It is cooked in several different ways so that every aspect and element of it can be appreciated. Also on the menu however is rump steak and grilled pork, although the dish that everyone comes here for, tourists and Portuguese alike, is the chef's cooked rice. Available with octopus, seafood or regular fish in a highly aromatic sauce, this one is sure to get the taste buds tingling."
Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, Dom Pedro's kitchen was closed. The friendly host recommended that we walk a couple of blocks to a restaurant called Melody, which he said was excellent as well — it was.
Lunch at Melody
Melody isn't quite as highly rated on TripAdvisor, but the reviews were very positive overall, and the other restaurant seemed sure that we'd like it — though it's certainly not much to look at:
Fortunately, the food was just as good as it was cheap. I ordered my new favorite, dorada (sea bream), and my sister had an incredible fish stew — both were less than €10 (about $11). We also received a few sides to share (included in the price of the fish).
Perhaps the highlight for me, though, was the set of crayons and markers they brought out for my four-year-old sister — they came in a Lufthansa first class amenity kit (that, admittedly, had seen better days)!
After our leisurely lunch, we spent another hour or so wandering around Cascais, which, while worth the time, meant we probably wouldn't be making it to our wine tour...
Thanks to an accident on the road leading to Lisbon's 25 de Abril Bridge (that looks nearly identical to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge), the 50-minute drive to wine country ended up taking an hour and a half. It was certainly scenic, though.
The traffic going back into Lisbon was even worse, so we decided to keep going, even though we wouldn't be able to tour any of the wineries.
Portugal Wine Country (45 minutes from Lisbon)
Portugal's best known for Port wine, of course, but the country also produces several other varieties, including a sweet wine in Setúbal, a region located less than an hour from downtown Lisbon. Here are the two winery tours Citi recommended there:
Name of Wine Tasting: Tour to the House Museum + 6 Wine Tasting
Address: Rua José Augusto Coelho, N.º 11/13 - Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, 2925-542, Setúbal - Peninsula de Setúbal
"Established in 1834, José Maria da Fonseca is one of the leaders in the areas of production and sale of table and fortified wines. This brand is marketed in more than 70 countries.
The portfolio of José Maria da Fonseca comprises more than thirty brands of high quality, representing the major national wine regions. Many of them enjoy today great popularity, national and internationally and are emblematic of our country."
June 17, 2016 4PM Pricing: People 4 = $44.32 USD
Name of Wine Tasting: Tour to the Palace, Museum and Quinta Da Bacalhoa
Address: Estrada Nacional 10 - Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, 2925-901, Setúbal - Peninsula de Setúbal
"Discover a privileged landscape passing along the gardens and the vineyards to the lake house, where you can find the first tile dated in Portugal and discover the unique pieces of art of the private art collection of the Comendador."
June 17, 2016 4PM Pricing: 4 People = $27.00 USD
Of the two options, only José Maria da Fonseca was still open when we arrived a few minutes after 6pm (roughly two hours later than expected).
While the tours were done for the day, we did get to visit the store, though the tasting "machine" was broken. Instead of doing a paid tasting, which wasn't available, the friendly clerk brought out glasses of the winery's "Reserva," which was available for €7.50 per bottle (which actually made it one of the more expensive options at nearly $8).
José Maria da Fonseca had bottles available starting at just €1.99 — that's an enormous contrast to what I'd found in Napa Valley just a few weeks before. We chatted with the clerk about our plans for the evening and mentioned that we were planning to have dinner in the down of Setúbal. Rather than taking the route Google Maps was suggesting, she instructed us to drive through the enormous Arrábida Natural Park.
We got to the park just as the sun was beginning to set. It was definitely worth the (slight) detour.
After a few minutes of walking around in the hills, we returned to our Fiat and made our way to Setúbal.
Dinner at Restaurante Carnes do Convento
Just before we pulled into Setúbal, I was once again able to connect to the local cell networks via Google Project Fi, at which point I scrambled to find somewhere for us to eat dinner (given that it was already after 9pm at that point). I landed on the #1 TripAdvisor-recommended restaurant, Restaurante Carnes do Convento, which ended up being out-of-this-world fantastic. We were only able to get a table on the chilly sidewalk, but after a week of eating mostly seafood, it was worth the discomfort to have a fantastic steak dinner.
The meal began with a variety of free appetizers, including cheese and meats.
Then, for the main course, we shared an incredible €35 tomahawk steak, which was enough for at least three people (our waiter had pitched it as enough to feed two).
While we didn't end up following through on all of our Citi-recommended plans, we never would have found our stops without the concierge team's help. I've managed to get many thousands of dollars in value out of the Citi Prestige card, primarily thanks to the card's insane 4th Night Free benefit. So while I definitely didn't need to be sold on this card's value, the concierge service is not to be overlooked.
I also very highly recommend that you plan a visit to Portugal. Lisbon and its surrounding areas don't seem to be very popular with US-based tourists, but the country is incredible, with very affordable hotels, meals and transportation.
Have you tried the Citi Prestige concierge? What was your experience like?