Spa treatments and traditional games in Castro Daire at BTL travel fair

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.

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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.

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Ovar azulejos

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.

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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.

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Portuguese food

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!

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Canned eels

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.


Cheese galore

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.

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Portuguese cakes

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.

Cakes inspired by the rocks that 'give birth' in Arouca
Cakes inspired by the rocks that ‘give birth’ in Arouca

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.

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Find out more: BTL travel fair website


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    Hi Julie. I have been enjoying your regular contributions. My wife found this comprehensive Barcelona guide recently and while the weather content was our first point of interest we were investigating the ‘go-to’ buttons on the bottom of the page and found a comprehensive section about security, pick pockets and scams.
    We are always careful but one must ask, it this over dramatising or is Barcelona or Spain overall, this bad? And if so how does Portugal rate by comparison?
    We are counting down the days now before we head your way for An action packed four weeks.
    We are traveling with another couple but we will certainly be on the look out for potential problems.
    We will look forward to your comments as we always do then your newsletter arrives.

    Thank you
    Geoff Battersby

    1. Author

      Hi Geoff, I think Barcelona is getting better than it was but you do need to keep your eye on your stuff and your wits about you. I was robbed twice while I lived there. By comparison, Portugal is far safer, although pickpockets are quite skilled, especially on public transport. Whereas I would always keep my handbag on my lap or in physical contact in Barcelona, I am more relaxed in Portugal, especially out of the touristy areas. Usual street smarts should be sufficient.

  2. Hi Julie, enjoying your insights into travelling in Portugal , I am spending time in Faro and Lisbon, with a 3 day hop to Madeira then 2 plus weeks in Portimao, so keen to see as much as possible while there ! Any input ?

  3. Hi Julie, this and your previous blog were so informative and interesting. the more I read I discover what a country of surprises Portugal is. I have forwarded this info to Celia, and maybe we will be on the BLT next year promoting the art school! Susan

    1. Author

      Thanks, Susan. Let’s hope so. Did you go ahead with the house in MM?

  4. Lovely Julie. I wish I could go but I can’t. Is the BLT always in March? Maybe next year I could timetable it in! Thanks for writing about it.

    1. Author

      Hi Margaret, It’s usually end Feb/beginning March but the dates change each year so you need to check.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.