Visiting Europe in the New Normal: Portugal, Paris & the Cotswolds in Spring 2022

Twice postponed and a full three years in the making, an extraordinarily gorgeous wedding celebration for an insanely beautiful couple, finally took place in Lisbon, Portugal. My family has been so fortunate to know and love the bride and her family from our many happy summers together in Bermuda. And so my amazing gung-ho parents and my dazzling gung-ho daughter and I were fortunate enough to attend the celebration. And it was certainly well worth the wait!

We also chose to add on a few other experiences and locations both before and after the wedding, like surf breaks near Lisbon and touring around Sintra, Cascais and Estoril. We also fit in a few days in Paris. And finished off the two-week trip with dear friends in the Cotswolds, where the celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee was in high gear.

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To begin the trip, I flew solo through Geneva on Swiss Air to land in Lisbon allowing enough time to settle into the hotel https://www.pestanacollection.com/en/hotel/pestana-palace, recover from jet lag and prepare to surf. The indoor pool was my happy place, and so was the lobby bar, which I discovered I could have all to myself up until 10pm, at which point it came alive with well-dressed people ready to have dinner and party.

May 25th was carved out as my one and only day to surf. And on every level, that day exceeded my expectations. My dad gets all the credit for finding the best surf guide possible for exactly what I was hoping to accomplish. And the answer was Antonio, co-owner of www.ride351.com, who drove me with great care to all the right breaks at the right time with the right gear. He made sure the surf experience was an extremely positive one, making sure food, drinks, towels, etc. were always at the ready. He was a wonderful ambassador, giving such great detail not just about the surfing here, but about the culture and the region. He also took epic photos and videos before, during and after the surf session.

Antonio collected me from the hotel early that morning, having already taken wind, tide and swell conditions of multiple surf breaks in the area into consideration. Thanks Antonio! With my very limited window of time, this was essential. So, we proceeded to Peniche, where I quickly got into a brand new ONDA 4/3 suit https://www.ondawetsuits.com/pt/en/ and a brand new 9’1” fiberglass board from https://www.alexsurfschool.com/rentals. I was so impressed by the quality and selection of their boards and suits.

We then pulled up to the beach break and met up with Guilherme Salvador  @baleal_surf_apnea. We chose the more wind-protected area of Praia do Baleal Norte in the Peniche region since the other side of the peninsula was far too blown out. And it was a great session of manageable peelers, followed by a freezing cold local outdoor shower where the wind whipped the water every direction, making it a raw and memorable experience.

Next stop was Nazare, and a great lunch right on the beach at A Celeste, which featured an entire menu dedicated to Garrett McNamara, credited for bringing world attention to the giant waves of Nazare. Sitting alongside that break, barnacles, octopus and sardines never tasted so good. Yes. Barnacles!

Then came what I’d been anticipating for years, to stand at Forte Sao Miguel Arcanjo https://praiadonortenazare.pt/sobre/forte-s-miguel-arcanjo/ and look out over Praia do Norte from that insane vantage point. The waves were not reeling off like it does in the winter, but I had expected that, this being May and all, but just simply being at the lighthouse, at that glorious mecca—home to the 100-foot wave—was a bucket list moment for me.

While I know that I will never be a big-wave surfer, I’m pretty obsessed with those who are. So, it was a wondrous thing to wander around the big wave surfing museum inside the fort and see Will Skudin’s board among all the other “guns” (big wave surfboards) of those who have braved the mind-blowing challenge of this break. The oddity and extremity and rarity of it all stuns me. Antonio was so patient, answering all my questions and taking plenty of photos all the while.

The fort attendants finally kicked us out and shut the door behind us. I walked slowly back up the steep hill away from that place of such significance and energy, begrudgingly. I knew I was leaving the exact spot where Sebastian Steudtner of Germany had—less than 24 hours before—been awarded “biggest wave ever surfed” (86 feet) by the Guiness Book of World Records for his October 2020 feat right here at Praia do Norte, Nazare. 

Driving back to Lisbon with Antonio, I was so high from the day that we agreed to meet the next morning so that I could go surf in Ericeira, 28 miles northwest of Lisbon. I was getting greedy by squeezing in another day of surfing, but that is the nature of the beast. So I poured myself into another 4/3 suit and this time onto an 8’6” epoxy board from Ericeira Surf Center. The water was hovering around 59 degrees but conditions were just so perfect at Ribeira d’ilhas. Great lines at the most famous wave in the region—and a key part of Europe’s first World Surfing Reserve—go figure. Being designated as such, this magical and revered part of the coast holds onto a high level of protection and conservation. But all I cared about that morning was how gloriously fun it was, riding those cold and perfect waves. 

That is, up until I decided to exit the water on my last wave and did not stay close enough to the cliffs. I was suddenly a rag doll on a rock reef, and it was not good. But I survived, and was mostly unscathed except for my pride and my big toe. My feet and hands were frozen stiff, but I was too high on adrenaline and endorphins to care. The experience reminded me that I’m still a kook at heart, having only learned how to surf at age 41. And usually, in good kook fashion, I let my stoke override my abilities whenever the ocean lets me.

We got back to Lisbon and I switched gears back into wedding festivities mode.

The intimate family and friends dinner that night was so personal and special. My parents and daughter had arrived that morning from New York and so the four of us attended, held at a fabulous secluded restaurant. Of course, it was amazing, because it was hosted by the magnificent Scott Mead, Father of the Bride.

The next day, May 27 was spent enjoying the many palace offerings such as the outdoor buffet breakfast and the spectacular outdoor pool. The welcome barbecue was held that night at https://praiaprincesa.com Princesa Beach Club in Costa da Caparica, and it was unbelievable. Bentley’s https://bentleys.net , the bride herself, and Suling, Mother of the Bride had managed to create a London club atmosphere right on this gorgeous stretch of beach. A most perfect sunset and sea view was the backdrop to all that dancing and celebrating. A candlelit wooden-planked path led the way home.

We got back to the hotel to the news that my son Jeffrey had arrived to Lisbon from Croatia as planned, and was not feeling so hot, then came some mixed covid-test results. So, out of an abundance of caution, he chose to stay in his hotel room for the weekend. Yes, he missed the entire wedding celebration (thanks Covid). Jeffrey, I love you. 

We also learned that night that if your youngest daughter drops her iPhone down the elevator shaft four stories, it can be retrieved by the hotel staff and returned within 20 minutes, completely unharmed. It was most definitely a strange evening of ups and downs.

May 28th was the much-anticipated day of the wedding. And we woke up to the news that Emily, my oldest daughter, would not be making the wedding after all. Her flight from New York was so delayed from crew shortages (again, thanks Covid) that her presence in Portugal was not to be. I’m so sorry, Emily! It was a huge disappointment to swallow, along with my morning coffee, but we all did our best to adjust and carry on. 

The wedding itself turned out to be even more mystical than anyone expected. The most glorious weather unfolded, helping us all wallow in the jaw-dropping scenery of the vineyard, like pigs in mud. The intrinsic artistic beauty of Palacio da Bacalhoa—a 15th century farm located in Azeitão— was not lost on a single one of the wedding attendees.

It was all so gorgeous and glorious and no one could refrain from trying to capture the moment, the views, the scene. It was stunning. I felt regal. We threw rose petals from paper cones and stood among the grapes and tall tapered Cypress trees feeling ancient ourselves, and somehow worth more by simply being present. 

 

It got better. Soon the wedding goers all wafted over, like a floating cloud of pastels to the shallow green pool, flanked by stone walls and archways. The sun had begun to paint us all into the folds of its golden hour beauty and we metamorphosized into glittering beings aligned with the stone statues that surrounded us. 

The sparkling Rosé was flowing and we stood in heels and dresses, ties and jackets and felt warm and glorious, on the inside and the outside. We watched as the wedding party smiled and posed for photos and laughed and cheered, raising glasses and looking like they would never come down off this bubble of beauty and joy. Then somehow, it got even better. 

There we were, floating on top of, and yet also inside of the vineyard, while the sun glowed orange across the stunning maze of hedges. We arrived through an ancient stone archway onto a swath of hot pink carpet, that led to a massive clear tent where we used hand-made personalized ceramic tiles to find our tables. We then cheered wildly as the bride and groom, husband and wife, came running into the tent and onto the dance floor. 

Amanda and Martim! All hail the new couple, and OBRIGADA to you both! Of course, there was amazing food, dancing and cake. And of course, there was a bottle of wine the size of the Bride to drink from, and of course, the party lasted until 4am. Why would it not? This was Amanda after all, and her style and grace and ability to celebrate had proceeded her for as many years as we had known her. And God Bless her for being one of the most charming people I know, and for finding her perfect match and equal in Martim.

The next day was a beautiful brunch, thankfully placed steps from the hotel in the Pestana Palace Old Stables, and at the reasonable hour of 1pm. We enjoyed that time immensely, talking with the couple, oh so perfectly clad, she in comfy Alexander McQueens and a dress, and he in a handsome suit. We bid them farewell, as they were off for their honeymoon in Bermuda. And we—my mom, daughter and I– took off with Antonio bound for Sintra—three generations of female energy off on an adventure. As it turns out, Antonio’s cultural tour guide skills equal his surf guide skills! I felt so grateful that he could, with such short notice, guide us around the UNESCO World Heritage site, Palace of Pena

https://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/parks-monuments/park-and-national-palace-of-pena/. His photography skills there were also fantastic and he made sure we took the time to enjoy the tea and custard tarts Pastel de Nata with the hands-down best views in Sintra. We had developed such a wonderful rapport with him in our short time together. We then drove along the coastline, making sure to pass through the exquisite Cascais and Estoril, before making it back to Lisbon in time to pack up for our travels the next day. 

We departed Portugal at the crack of dawn on Memorial Day, bound for Paris on TAP airlines. My parents and I had an uneventful trip and settled into Ritz Paris https://www.ritzparis.com/en-GB in Place Vendome. In case you didn’t already know, the hotel is just beyond beyond. So absolutely opulent and decadent and over the top that I kept feeling like they would come find me in my room and kick me out for not being fancy enough. After all, I’m no model or celebrity or CEO of a fortune 500, so what on earth was I doing there? But anyway, go if you can. It is an experience that you will never forget. So, now you know.

We went out into the warm 73-degree sunshine of early June, with blue skies and puffy white clouds like Dorothy landing in Oz. It took a few hours to find our bearings, which included stopping into 5 rue Daunou to check out Harry’s Bar https://www.harrysbar.fr/language/en/ and a late outdoor lunch at a bistro on Rue de la Paix with outrageous cheese, but of course. Portugal may have cream tarts and sardines, but this, this was food that could make you weep after every bite. 

After lunch, I did what I very rarely do, I napped in the hotel suite, right there on the antique blue satin chaise facing the fireplace, where city noises were so perfectly muffled to oblivion by the upholstered walls and heavy silk drapes. 

We had the most wonderful dinner just a few blocks away at https://hotelcostes.com . Sitting in the corner of that terrasse, I could feel the full buzz of being in the center of things, in the heart of Paris. And we melted into the cosmopolitan scene with each word spoken and each delectable bite eaten.

The next day, May 31, we enjoyed that ridiculous Ritz breakfast again, in what we now seemed to consider our own personal banquette. Then we wandered around the hotel shops and grounds until we began to stroll around the Jardin des Tuileries https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71304/Jardin-des-Tuileriesand then across a bridge covered in locks and then along the Seine, all the way to the Eiffel tower https://www.toureiffel.paris/en , drawn to it like helpless moths. We were exhausted from taking in all the sights of this highly fashionable, attractive and well-organized city. 

But the Ritz Club’s indoor pool recharged us in minutes. We took a taxi to the Paris apartment of Nicole and Henri, family friends since my mom was only 17 years old. My mom’s modus operandi is clearly: stays friends for life. Nicole lived in England with my grandparents in 1961 in order to learn English, then in 1984 she worked with my mom to set 15-year-old me up in a suburb of Paris with a Duke and Dutchess, to practice my French.

The next day, June 1, we had an amazing time shopping. We then ate Croque Madames for lunch at Le Café Marly https://cafe-marly.com/en/  overlooking the Louvre. Talk about a scene! We were bathed in glorious vibes and the people watching was unreal. All over the city, in fact, we took in the sights of Parisiens, so coiffed, polished and proud, riding city bikes in suits or high heels. We noticed scooters shoot around the city center like gleaming streaks of city-owned efficiency.  The whole town is so well-cared for, so perfectly manicured and clean. It is pristinely pretty, sophisticated and so wildly different from what I’m used to. Yes, NYC, I’m talking about you.  

We ate an impeccable dinner that night at the chic Paris apartment of Anne Sophie and her husband Jerome who leads the high fashion of https://us.clergerieparis.com. Anne-sophie was my family’s au pair in 1985, when I was 16 and my baby brother was 3.

On June 2, we made sure to ambitiously visit the Arc de Triomphe https://www.paris-arc-de-triomphe.fr/en/ on foot and see the city from the top, followed by a long stroll down the Champs-Elysees. Dad, you never cease to amaze me! 

Mom and dad then flew back to New York while I indulged one last time in the Ritz Club pool and spa before my night flight to London. Easy Jet, all I can say is, you are anything but Easy. Next time I’m most definitely taking the Eurostar https://www.eurostar.com/us-en to get to London, and will use Orly airport instead of Charles de Gaulle to get anywhere else.

So anyway, I landed into Gatwick airport later that night and met up with meet Sophie, Rob and their brilliant 7-year old daughter, Sky. They too flew in on EasyJet. And no, they didn’t think it was Easy either. But alas, we all made it safely and got to be together and then I had the supreme luxury and comfort of falling immediately into their gorgeous little life for a few days.

 

We filled our time with climbing over fences and around fields of cows, jumping into poppy fields, perching in Sky’s hand-made-by-her-dad tree fort, and reveling in beer festivals. We celebrated the Queen’s platinum jubilee— 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II on the throne. The enormity of the reigning sovereign sunk in as we cheered with foamy pints of beer under plenty of British flags and bunting. A lively band played late into the night, and we danced around in crisp night air on the lawn of a proper British pub. We ate Union Jack cookies for breakfast and drank coffee beside a cozy fireplace in The Lamb Inn https://www.cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk/the-lamb-inn/

I raced around all those old stone buildings and thatched roofs of Burford in cool light rain on my last day there to secure macaroons and traditional Battenberg cake for my kids. As if bringing sugary baked goods could even attempt to suffice as a way of sharing this amazing experience and feelings I’ve just had. 

On the British Airways flight back I scarfed down the Shepard’s pie and drank way too much tea. I wanted to hold onto the British flavor and fullness that I always feel when I’m on that side of the pond. I think it’s the love that I am trying to bring home with me. The love of a dear friend who I was lucky enough to meet when we lived as expats in Saigon, Vietnam nearly 30 years ago. And who, I thank God, I can still call a best friend. Visiting her family and her life always lifts me up so much further than I ever think it could. 

So, I’ll end with this: never hesitate to open your heart and your home. The payback lasts a lifetime. And hold on tight to friendships—where ever and however they happen—and never let go.

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