BTL (Bolsa de Turismo de Lisboa) is Portugal’s most important annual travel fair, which is why I go every year. The first few days are for professionals, press and trade but from Friday evening throughout the weekend, the public have the chance to find out what’s on offer in Portugal and other countries.
As well as show cooking, food and wine tastings, musical performances and craft demonstrations, there are competitions and discounts on holidays and activities. If you live in or near Lisbon and want ideas for your next holiday, or the chance to sample what Portugal has to offer, it’s worth a visit.
Among the novelties at this year’s event are virtual reality experiences that range from tours of cities to the one I tried, basket sledding down a steep hill in Funchal.
These are some of the highlights (for me) from the 2017 edition of BTL (apart from being a finalist in the BTL blogging awards!).
Portuguese arts and crafts
Nisa’s traditional crafts
This year, as usual, I started in Pavilion 2 and the first stand I saw was Nisa, a small town in the upper Alentejo. I’ve driven past it and even stopped for coffee but have never spent any time there. That’s going to change. Having seen the beautiful embroidery, appliqué and decorated earthenware, my interest has been piqued. At the very least, I intend to visit the Museu do Bordado e do Barro (Embroidery and Pottery Museum).
As well as the traditional version of these crafts they also have some examples of contemporary clothing and home decor from Jans Concept Store. If you miss the BTL travel fair, pop into Jans Concept Store in Lisbon (Rua da Rosa 212, Bairro Alto) to see contemporary designs using traditional Portuguese materials and techniques including cork, ceramics and wool.
Ovar is another small town, this time in Central Portugal, and has taken full advantage of its wealth of painted ceramic tiles (azulejos). There’s a tile route, which I have partially followed, that culminates in a tile painting workshop (book ahead). Since I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity while in Ovar, I jumped at the chance to have a go during BTL. My not-so-perfect tile will be taken away to be fired and I can collect it when I next visit the town.
Vila do Conde flowers
Every four years, the streets of Vila do Conde come alive with colourful carpets of flowers. I was gutted to discover that I already have travel plans that make it impossible to go and see it this year (15th June). Instead, I had to content myself with a demonstration of how the intricate patterns are created.
The BTL travel fair provides producers with an ideal opportunity to present their wares and for Portuguese regions to showcase their culinary delights.
These were among the gastronomic highlights this year:
Fruit from Madeira
When I visited Madeira, and especially the market in Funchal, I was amazed at the varieties of fruit. Despite the fact that Madeira is famous for its bananas, I hadn’t actually tried one until I happened upon the fruit presentation. The bananas, along with all the other fruit I sampled, are delicious!
I spotted the canned eels shop in Lisbon’s Baixa district several months ago and turned my nose up at the idea. More fool me. When presented with a sample at BTL, I cautiously took a bite and am happy to report that they’re actually rather tasty.
Aside from cakes and cured meats, another thing that’s never in short supply in Portugal is cheese. The best one I tasted on this trip was the tangy, crunchy Cheddar-like Queijo da Ilha, made on the island of São Jorge in the Azores.
Also noteworthy were the semi-cured cheeses from Nisa and Rabaçal.
It’s pretty obvious that many Portuguese have a sweet tooth so there were plenty of cakes, desserts and biscuits to try. The prize for novelty factor goes to Casa dos Doces Conventuais in Arouca, with its cake inspired by the geological phenomenon of the stones that ‘give birth’ in the nearby natural park.
Portuguese wines and liqueurs
I got to try Vinho de Talho, which is made in massive terracotta urns in the Alentejo region. Several other wineries are now on my list of places to visit as a result of this year’s BTL travel fair, including Quinta do Infantado in the Douro, Quinta da Santa Cristina in the Minho, Quinta Quetzal for its wine and art gallery and Herdade das Cortiçadas, both in the Alentejo.
I’m also curious to find out more about a herby Portuguese liqueur called Singeverga, made in a monastery in Santo Tirso. It’s not as sweet as my first love, Licor Beirão, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Find out more: BTL travel fair website