During a recent trip to Lisbon for the SISAB Expo and a visit to Colares, Europe's oldest wine growing region, we stopped off in the coastal town of Azenhas do Mar. This picturesque small seaside town is perched on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. White houses with orange tiled roofs spill down its terraces to the base of the cliff where a wonderful seafood restaurant lies. Next to the restaurant is a large pool filled by small waterfalls cascading downwards from the heights.
Azenhas do Mar translates to "Water Mills of the Sea" and in several places throughout the town we noticed old millstones lying about after climbing the long staircase from the lookout to the bottom. The town appeared to be empty with the exception of a few restaurant workers and other tourists like myself, who were easy to spot because we all had our cameras out, trying to capture images that would bring back the memory of this incredibly beautiful place. We found that the best times to take photos of this beach town were right before, during, and after sunset, over the rails of the lookout point just south of the cliff (be careful!).
After working up a healthy appetite, we headed to the town's most famous and picturesque restaurant, Azenhas do Mar Restaurant Piscinas. One of the great things about this restaurant is that it serves straight through the late afternoon every day of the week, from 12:00 to 22:00, so you can beat the crowds by having a late lunch or early dinner. When we came in around 17:00, there was only one other table filled.
It had been awhile since I'd had fresh shellfish and their menu fulfilled every seafoody dream a person could have. We ordered half a dozen raw oysters, and 300 ml each of fried shrimp and percebes. Percebes are barnacles, sourced by brave Portuguese divers along the coast, and are a special delicacy found throughout the country and occasionally exported for ridiculous prices. The prices make sense however, when considering the deadly risks the percebeiros take to gather and bring their catch to market.
Each dish is incredibly fresh, the sweet flesh of the seafood mixed with the brine of the sea. The percebes were bare of any additives having been quickly boiled, usually in seawater to preserve their taste. The garlic and herbed butter that the shrimp were fried in was heavenly and we scooped up every last bit of it with slices of bread brought to our table.
For budget-conscious travelers, the prices at Azenhas do Mar Restaurant Piscinas were expensive by Portuguese standards, but very reasonable by most American or British ones. We paid €51 for a large water, 2 small beers, bread, 6 oysters, and small plates of percebes and shrimp.
After the sun set, it was back to the view point south of the town to capture Azenhas do Mar at night. The lights in the village come on, illuminating the white buildings in a golden glow. The surf crashes against the rocks, like it has for millions of years, and we head back to our restaurant with full bellies and happy hearts.