Last Friday, I decided it was high time I get myself out to Belém, one of Lisbon’s most beautiful areas. Perched on the bank of the Tejo, this place is a historical, architectural gem. It is pretty well always pretty busy, tourist-wise, but that’s with good reason. Jumping off the bus just after Alcantara, I strolled down the waterfront, first taking in the stunning views of the 25th April bridge, which crosses the estuary to Almada, on the other side.
It was a bright, sunny day, but with a pretty serious wind coming in off the water, so it felt a bit chilly. Arriving at Belém itself though, any thoughts of the elements disappear when you see the great monument to the discoveries. This monument is here to symoblise the golden age of Portugal, when its explorers were going out into the new world and claiming new lands for the empire. In spite of any misgivings you might have about colonial activities and their more unsavoury exploits in the new lands, it was, undoubtedly, a thrilling time for the “old” world and this monument sets that scene on a grand scale.
From here, a short walk through the subway under the main road and railway lines takes you to the gardens of the monastery of St Jerome and its connected chapel. In the blustery conditions, the fountain at the centre was soaking everything but looked very impressive.
But, before any thoughts of entering the church, it was essential to take in the other famous element of Belém – the Pasteis de Belém. All over Lisbon, you can’t avoid – and nor would you want to – the Pastel de Nata. A custard cream tart, which is pretty much my favourite cake, these days. The Pastel de Belém is the same thing, but the original recipe from way back in the 19th century. Still sold in the same rabbit warren factory-café that it started in all those years ago.
They come straight from the oven, and are just that little bit crispier than the regular pasteis de nata you’ll find throughout the city. They were fabulous, dusted with a little icing sugar or cinnamon. Don’t however, make the mistake that we made in taking some home. They lose the crispiness very quickly and the crust even becomes oddly chewy. Though they do come in this attractive tube. A lesson learned.
On from here to the inside of the church, which is pretty seriously grand. Sadly, it didn’t come across so well in my photos, due to their entirely reasonable “no flash photography” rules. Hopefully you can some idea of the grandeur of the place.
One thing which didn’t come out in my photos at all, sadly, is the burial tomb of Vasco de Gama. It’s quite something, and really worth seeing.
From here, all that was left was the short walk up the river front to what was to be, for me, the most impressive sight of the afternoon. Through the garden of Belém to the Torre de Belém. The tower was originally an ornamental piece, but was actually used as a first line of coastal defence later on. The position of it, as this magnificent, beautiful outcrop into the river is so breathtaking. It’s a must see if you’re in Lisbon.