Alison Cornford-Matheson and husband in Portugal

The latest in my series of interviews with travellers who’ve visited Portugal stars Alison Cornford-Matheson. Understandably, she is smitten and keen to come back.

Note: This interview is part of a series that I conducted with other people who had recently travelled to Portugal, back in 2012-2013)

Can you tell us a little about yourself, please?

I’m Alison Cornford-Matheson, a Canadian travel photographer and writer based in Brussels, Belgium, since 2005.

 When did you last visit / travel in Portugal and how long did you stay?

My first (and hopefully not last) trip to Portugal was last April. We had four nights in Lisbon and one in Sintra.

Baixa, Lisbon, Portugal
Baixa, Lisbon, Portugal

Did you come for business, pleasure or something else?

My parents visit my husband and me, in Belgium, every few years and we always do a big road-trip with them. This time we decided to fly to Lisbon, rent a car and explore Portugal and Andalusia.

How did you get here?

We flew with TAP direct from Brussels International Airport to Lisbon.

 Whereabouts did you stay?

In Lisbon, we stayed at the Holiday Inn on Av. Antonio Jose De Almeida and the Airport Holiday Inn Express on Priority Club Points. In Sintra we stayed at the lovely Sintra Bliss House boutique hotel.

And what sort of accommodation did you have? How was it?

The Airport Holiday Inn Express was fine although a bit difficult to find. The Holiday Inn was quite dated and in need of upgrading. The location however, was great for us. We simply walked straight down Avenida Liberdade every morning, to get to the city centre. As we booked them both on points, we really couldn’t complain.

The Sintra Bliss house was small, modern, central and perfect. We would definitely stay there again.

How did you get around while you were here?

In Lisbon we walked a lot and took public transportation occasionally. We rented a car to drive to Sintra and the coast.

Tram, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal
Tram, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

What research, if any, did you do before your trip?

I’m a research junky, so I researched on-line, had a guidebook and asked friends for recommendations. In the end though, we played a lot by ear.

Where did you find the most useful information?

I’m a huge fan of Trip Advisor and local knowledge because I like to see beyond the tourist sites. I also use Google Image Search to help scout good photography locations.

What were you most looking forward to doing or seeing in Portugal?

After a Belgian winter I was definitely looking forward to the mild sunny weather. I’m also a huge foodie so food and wine were high on my list. We love visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so there were a few we could check off our list in Lisbon as well.

Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal
Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal

Of the places you visited, which would you recommend to other travellers and why?

I loved Lisbon; pretty well all aspects of it and I’m itching to go back. The Jerónimos Monastery was a photographer’s dream. I could have spent days photographing there.

We also really enjoyed the gardens and palace of Monserrate in Sintra. It was much calmer than Pena Palace but even more lovely, in my opinion.

Monserrate Palace, Sintra, Portugal
Monserrate Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Is there anywhere you think people should avoid?

We didn’t do or see anything we didn’t enjoy.

What about the food – did you try any local dishes? Any you’d recommend?

We loved the food and especially the wine. We found a great little wine bar called Wine Bar do Castelo near the Castelo Sao Jorge that served great tapas with the tastings.

We also enjoyed Faca & Garfo Restaurant near the top of the Santa Justa Lift. It was just a rustic little place, but people were lined up outside the door for the grilled meats.

Did you buy any souvenirs? What / Why not?

I’m not much of a souvenir person, besides my photos, but we do collect cheesy magnets from our travels. We bought a Lisbon trolley magnet to add to the collection.

What would you do differently if you could do this trip over?

I think this trip was a perfect ‘taste-test’ for our first visit to Portugal. We got many of the typical touristy things out of the way so next time we can really explore like locals.

Would you like to come back to Portugal? If the answer’s yes, where in particular?

I’d love to visit Lisbon again and spend more time exploring with my camera. I would also love to see the coast and the countryside. Of course, the Douro wine region is on our list to visit as well.

Blogger Biography:  Alison can usually be found blogging at CheeseWeb, which is a friendly resource for eating, shopping, living and discovering Belgium for expats and travellers, as well as a collection of great travel stories and photos from around the globe. Follow her on Twitter, @Acornn or Facebook.

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