Slightly crispy on the outside with a semi-sweet creamy inside, it’s no wonder pastéis de nata are Lisbon’s favorite pastries. Although cafés across the city boast their natas as the best, a truly unique experience will be found at Pastéis de Belém. What makes theirs so different? This lovely shop sells the original recipe, a secret that has only been shared with a very small, close-knit group of people. Located next door to the Jerónimos Monastery where the first tarts were baked, the combination café-bakery-shop is undoubtedly the most famous in Lisbon, as indicated by the long lines trailing out its door regardless of the season or day of the week. We interviewed the café’s manager, Miguel Clarinha, for an exclusive inside scoop.
One of the mysteries surrounding the famous Pastéis de Belém tarts concerns the age of the recipe; developed by monks who lived in the Jerónimos Monastery centuries ago, it may be 200 or more years old. One thing, however, is certain—the recipe is one of Lisbon’s best-kept secrets and despite other cafés coming rather close, they can still only dream about recreating the original sweet classic. There are many variations of pastéis de nata but only one Pastéis de Belém.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Where did your secret recipe originate from and how old is it?
[The recipe] originated in the Monastery beside us (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) and it is at least 180 years old, probably over 200.
Has the recipe been adapted over time or do you still use the original?
It remains unchanged…original.
Looking at these tarts, it’s easy to appreciate the work that goes into the baking process. From the flaky crust to the richly thick creamy inside and the golden top, pastéis require more steps than your typical pour-and-bake recipe.
How long does it take to make the perfect pastel?
The pastry and custard take about two to three hours and then they need to rest for a few more. The other steps of production, cutting and molding the dough, filling with the custard, and the ovens take about 40 minutes.
Do you have a top tip?
[The] recipe is secret. All we can say is that this is the only place in the world where Pastéis de Belém are made and sold.
Perhaps the world will never discover the secret, and that’s okay. Droves of tourists and locals still enjoy these pastries while visiting Belém. New visitors shouldn’t be disheartened by the lines outside the café’s door, as the to-go counter moves fairly quickly and the lines flow easily. Waiting for a table in the café, however, may be another story, especially during July and August when vacation season is at its peak. For the full Pastéis de Belém experience without the crowds, visit during a weekday in the winter.
How many pastéis do you make and sell per day?
We make and sell about 20,000 pastéis per day.
Do you sell your pastéis to any other cafés or retailers?
What constitutes the perfect pastel?
Crunchy and slightly salty dough with a soft and not too sweet custard.
Portugal has no shortage of cafés specializing in pastéis de nata in addition to other sweets, but travelers shouldn’t pass by Belém without sinking their teeth into the original recipe. Be sure to sprinkle cinnamon and a little powdered sugar on top of your treat before digging in.
Here are some more photos of the pastéis creation process and the delicious final product:
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.