Lisbon Neighborhood Tour: Madragoa


A varina, or fishmonger, traditionally carries her wares in a basket on her head.

A varina, or fishmonger, traditionally carried her wares in a basket on her head.

When I decided to start this blog, one of the ideas that most excited me was the ability to be able to introduce Papo d’Anjo customers to all the wonderful aspects of Lisbon. This week I’d like to talk about Madragoa, an extremely traditional and quiet neighborhood known for its steep narrow streets and parks filled with older men playing chess.

Madragoa is one of the “Bairros Populares,” or neighborhoods that compete for the honor of best “march” during the Festival of Saint Anthony (Lisbon’s patron saint) every June.  Each neighborhood produces a march with a theme, music, and costumes. They’re much like the samba schools in Rio, although tamer.

During the festival, the streets are decorated with garlands and on almost every corner you can spot a restaurant owner grilling sardines–the traditional food of the festival–outdoors. It’s the warmest time of the year–perfect for staying up all night eating, drinking, and enjoying the long summer days. 

One of the primary landmarks of Madragoa is the Santos Palace, which is now the French Embassy. It’s a gorgeous place to visit, with exquisite hanging gardens that overlook the Tagus River. My husband, Pascal, thinks it’s the most beautiful French Embassy after the Farnese Palace in Rome. 

Madragoa is also home to A Travessa, one of my favorite Lisbon restaurants. Located in a former convent, the restaurant shares the same building with public housing units. The result is a lively mix of formal dining and locals who hang their laundry above the restaurant’s entrance and stroll around the cloister, loudly voicing their opinions.


Inside, diners are treated to cod carpaccio, grilled goat cheese with pumpkin marmalade, and scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms. And those are just the appetizers. A Travessa is known for “secretos,” which are thin slices of pork from free-range Iberian pigs that graze on acorns. Other favorites include partridge in a puff pastry and grilled octopus, tentacles and all. 


A Travessa is a warm and inviting restaurant with world class cuisine.

A Travessa is a warm and inviting restaurant with world-class cuisine.

Another local restaurant, just four blocks away, is Varina da Madragoa–named for the traditional female fishmongers who strolled the neighborhood selling their wares from baskets on their heads. In fact, the neighborhood’s earliest residents were said to be fishermen, who walked down the hill to the Tagus, where their boats where moored on the beach.

1 Response to “Lisbon Neighborhood Tour: Madragoa”

  1. 1 John Durban April 24, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Visited the 2 mentioned restaurants.
    Travessa has Belgian influences in theri cuisine. Clams and traditional beer are comlemented with nouvelle dishes. Despite being very good and traditional is also trendy and luxury. But be prepared to pay extra for that!
    Varina da Madragoa is the real deal! With almost 30 years of history covering the walls with pictures and articles, this is the most authentic example of portuguese cuisine you can have. There you’ll find several codfish dishes as well as very good meat options. In the end, save some room for desserts which are to die for. Smoking room and very decent pricing made my day 🙂

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