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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Paolo Scheffer of Lisbon Explorer Private Tours Provides One of the Best Tours We Have Ever Experienced

Lisbon Explorer Private Tours provides experiences for the Culturally Curious! Perfect for travelers, foodies and art lovers who want more than a mass tourism experience.  We are proud to award Paolo Scheffer the 2019 HEAT Award!  The HEAT award is given to those individuals or companies that demonstrate excellence in Healthy Excursions And Travel!


Using vibrant and knowledgeable scholars to share insider places for food, history and culture in Portugal Lisbon Explorer Private Tours gave one of the best tours we have ever experienced.





1. Booking


We were part of a small group tour arranged by a friend of ours.  Booking was done through the Lisbon Explorer website via email.  Our group specifically requested Paolo, who they had used before and fortunately he was available!  Communication was prompt and thorough.  About a 15% deposit was required prior to the tour with the balance and entry fees required in cash on the day of the tour.  This is a fair deposit amount and overall - though we won't repeat the charge here because fees can vary based on number of persons and type of tour - the fee was very reasonable.  Find a link at the end of this post to see our tour and start an inquiry to book!

The deposit could be made via PayPal which is one of our preferences.

RxTIP:  We prefer to use a credit card with PayPal payments and not link a bank account to our PayPal for added purchase protection and security.

2. Communication


Communication was prompt, easy to understand in English and thorough.  Descriptions of our meeting place and options for transfer to the location with a map from the cruise terminal were sent to us before the tour.  Lisbon Explorer even included a photo of the meeting place with an arrow indicating where our guide would meet us!



3. Meeting


Lisbon Explorer gave the option of a van transport for all of us to the meeting place for 45 euros total each way from and to the cruise terminal.  It was easy to walk back to the ship after the tour but this would be a good option for getting to the meeting place which was all uphill.  If you are fit, walking is an option - just allow about an hour.  We opted for taxis which was not as easy at the cruise terminal as it may seem.  There was no taxi stand, only taxis wishing to sell tours. So we had to flag down taxis and the drive there was slow in traffic.  The meeting place was Quiosque Principe Real and we were about 20 minutes late, but not to worry, our guide waited!


4. Guide



To set the stage...we were met by our planned guide, Paolo Scheffer, historian, master storyteller and descendant of 15th century Portuguese Crypto Jews. Crypto Jews, as the name suggests, were Spanish and Portuguese converts to Catholicism who continued to practice Judaism in secret. Skillfully weaving details about his own story into an overview of post-Inquisition Jewish life, Scheffer walked us through streets where much of that history took place.

Paolo Scheffer is the only authorized Jewish guide in Portugal. Paolo is a lively historian who brought his passion for Portuguese Judaic studies to our tour.  If you have any interest in Jewish history and particularly, Lisbon's Jewish past, Paolo Scheffer's tour is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Paolo was born in Portugal and is an academic historian with an encyclopedic knowledge of the country and the people who shaped it. But he is more than just a historian and guide. Paolo is a teacher and researcher who has combed the archives and shares his knowledge with a rare degree of enthusiasm. As if this was not enough, you should know he is also an activist who has advocated for Portugal's historic Jewish population who can no longer speak for themselves. He has rescued ancient Jewish artifacts that would almost certainly have been lost and seen to it that they are appropriately preserved in museums.

5. Tour


Portugal itself has a very complicated history and the Jewish people have long played an integral part! In May of 2012 a sensational discovery by Archaeologists of Jena University revealed Hebrew inscriptions on stone which point to the Jewish people residing in Portugal as early as 390 C.E and other findings have suggested maybe even earlier times!  Paolo was the perfect person to piece together this convoluted story...



While walking through the quaint side streets of Lisbon with Paolo we saw the hidden elements in the architecture, explaining the influence of great Jewish sages who altered the course of the Age of Discovery.  This period saw the rising influence of astronomer, mathematician and rabbi Abraham Zacuto, an advisor to Christopher Columbus. Zacuto plotted Columbus’s route to the New World in 1492, the same year that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled him and his fellow Jewish citizens from Spain. Taking refuge in Lisbon, Zacuto was made Royal Astronomer by Portugal’s King John II.  There, his astronomical tables, together with the astrolabe, a navigational instrument Zacuto refined and perfected, helped make Portugal the age’s preeminent world power.





Yes, the Jews of Portugal throughout history held social and political ranks with the favor of kings, and conciliatory relations between Muslims and Christians alike. However, these periods were equally marked by inquisitions, forced baptisms and brutal massacres which have been overlooked in many historical references.

Crypto Jews, as the name suggests, were Spanish and Portuguese Jewish (Sephardic) converts to Catholicism who continued to practice Judaism in secret and many over time lost the meaning and understanding of their "unusual" traditions. For example, standing before a stall at an outdoor market, Scheffer introduced us to the alheira, a type of Portuguese sausage made with chicken rather than the more common pork variety. Its origin dates back to when New Christians (as they were called by their contemporaries) would hang these sausages outside their doors to dispel any suspicion that they were anything but good pork-eating Christians.



At the Carmo Ruins we see artifacts of Jewish Heritage on display.  For example, the precariousness of Jews in medieval Portugal is reflected in this bas-relief carved into a tomb bearing the remains of King Fernando I. The carving depicts his Jewish physician chained to a heavy object in a secured palace room.




We stood in above and in front of the site of the Inquisitors Palace (the palace was replaced in 1842 by the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, built to a Neoclassical design by Italian architect Fortunato Lodi) and learned little known facts about the Portuguese Inquisition and the Marquis of Pombal, who is sometimes credited with ending the Inquisition, simultaneously destroying Jewish heritage and saving lives.




Standing in Lisbon’s popular Rossio Square, Scheffer pointed out the Café Nicola, a favoured spot with Nazi generals. Sitting in a cafe on the opposite side of the square, Jewish refugees watched them warily. Thousands of Jewish refugees escaped Nazi persecution, among them famous names like Marc Chagall, Peggy Guggenheim and many others who contributed to the arts, sciences and politics of the world stage.


Ironically, the same period as the Age of Discovery also witnessed the massacre of thousands of Jews. This was not the Holocaust with which we are all familiar, but nearly 500 years earlier! Standing at the threshold of the Saint Domingos Church, our tour culminated in Scheffer describing a four-day orgy of violence that happened there in 1506 when a frenzied mob of worshippers and foreign sailors tortured, murdered and burned between 1,000 and 4,000 New Christians.





Unfortunately as is evident by these two photos above, vandalism and antisemitism are still serious concerns in this region and around the world.  We are lucky to have activists and scholars like Paolo who clean and repair important monuments like this and educate us so that hopefully, history will not be repeated. 


Major highlights on our walking tour included:

• Príncipe Real: Upscale residential district with boutiques garden, and cafes.
• Baixa-Pombalina Downtown: Jewish Quarters Grande and Pequeno.
• Rossio Square: Tribunal of the Inquisition.
• Carmo Ruins: The roofless church of the great earthquake.
• São Dominigo's Square: Memorial to the massacres of 1506.
• Elevador de Santa Justa: A Neo-Gothic tower of merchant transport.
• Bairro Alto: Home to great Jewish sages.
• Sao Pedro de Alcantara: Scenic views from the west side Lisbon.
• Chiado and Rua Garrett: Merchant district with historic retail shops.


Here are some great books recommended by Paolo for more on this subject - fiction and non-fiction! Please click the links below to learn more and support these authors and this great cause! Thank you so much!




6. What makes Lisbon Explorer Private Tours Unique


We didn't appreciate the uniqueness of our experience until we were about 30 minutes into our tour and began to see the special qualities of our guide, Paolo.  His academic background and passion for his subject was just one unique feature.  Afterward we explored more about what makes this company unique and here are a few things that we found:

We are a network of carefully selected scholars, professors, researchers, authors and licensed guides specializing in the study of art history, archeology, architecture, literature and other subjects. Many of the scholars who lead our original tours hold MA, or Ph.D. degrees, and are known for their vibrant and enthusiastic presentations, bringing each location into historic and relevant detail with personality. Our guides provide accurate information, dispelling legends and myths recited by countless guides, and answering questions with a depth of knowledge that only comes from scholars with academic qualifications. We are able to customize private tours to meet the specific interests of our guests, and today we are recognized by travel writers, travel agents, and online travel sites for having some of “Portugal’s Top Rated Tour Guides”.

The mission of any company is important and Lisbon Explorer Private Tours has the following mission:

For us, each guest is a fellow traveler and a friend, not a tourist. We share a common philosophy about reinventing travel through intelligent tours that support the principles of Sustainable Travel International, Slow Food, and Slow Travel. We encourage our guests to become responsible stewards of heritage through authentic, experiential tours. Our shared sensibilities for a deeper appreciation of Portugal emphasizes that travelers are an integral part of preserving the culture of each place they visit. We believe in treating each guest with integrity and respect for the time and expense they have spent to join us.


7.  Fitness


Most of you know our mission to promote a healthy and meaningful travel experience.  Lisbon Explorer Private Tours embodies this mission by providing the meaningful subject matter while walking in a beautiful and historic city.

We recommend walking so you can try local specialties guilt-free like Pastéis de nata, which are custard tarts filled with sweet egg cream and covered in flaky pastry dough that fit in the palm of your hand.




Why walking tours in Lisbon?

Portuguese are among Europe’s biggest walkers! A Eurobarometer survey published by the European Commission in December 2014 revealed that Portugal is among the countries where making journeys by foot is most common, with 23 percent of respondents saying they make their daily routine trips that way. To really know Lisbon one must go into those small maze-like streets of the city’s old quarters, where automobiles are limited and real life unfolds in pedestrian friendly streets and squares. Join us for an intimate walk on quiet narrow streets, where Fado music and songbirds can be heard from open windows, mixing with the sounds of clanking of old trolley cars (electricos) and church bells. Where the aromas of grilled meats (churrasco), oven baked pastries (pastéis), and orange blossoms drift past friends in conversation at cafes, (tertulias). Lisbon is a city with small squares that breathe with cool Atlantic breezes best enjoyed from scenic overlooks (miradouros), where a backdrop of pastel colored houses comes alive with laundry rustling on lines at sunset. These are some of the subtleties in Lisbon that many visitors miss while rushing around in traffic filled streets, instead of experiencing the city on foot with their senses and the help of a local expert.  

Bottom Line:


With professional, passionate and personable 5-star service that goes beyond ordinary tours, we are proud to award Paolo Scheffer of Lisbon Explore Private Tours the 2019 HEAT Award! The HEAT award is given to those individuals or companies that demonstrate excellence in Healthy Excursions And Travel!  Paolo Scheffer is a historian, master storyteller and descendant of 15th century Portuguese Crypto Jews. Crypto Jews, as the name suggests, were Spanish and Portuguese converts to Catholicism who continued to practice Judaism in secret. Skillfully weaving details about his own story into an overview of post-Inquisition Jewish life, Scheffer walked us through streets where much of that history took place. Paolo is a lively historian who brought his passion for Portuguese Judaic studies to our tour.  If you have any interest in history, the history of Portugal, Jewish history or particularly, Lisbon's Jewish past, Paolo Scheffer's tour is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Here is a link to the tour we took where you can book at Lisbon Explorer!

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