“I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.”

Ever heard that expression? I’m sure you have, but have you ever experienced it?

Iberian Adventure: Gone to Heaven with Egg Custard on My Face | ©thepalladiantraveler.comWell, joined at the hip with my “band of merry media” — 29 travel journalists and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to experience a portion of its Iberian Adventure through Portugal and Spain — I’m about to find out, firsthand, the foodie meaning of expiring on the spot and heading for the pearly gates.

Off the luxury motor coach and down onto the decorative mosaic cobble we go, headed for an Insight “signature” moment at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, the iconic sugar cane refinery-turned-pastry shop in this bustling district of Lisbon, where the Holy Grail of Portuguese sweets, Pastéis de Belém — egg custard tarts —  have been baked, sold and consumed on the premises since 1837.

Iberian Adventure: Gone to Heaven with Egg Custard on My Face | ©thepalladiantraveler.comBypassing the lengthy queue — there’s no waiting in line when you travel with Insight — we’re ushered inside for a VIP tour of the facility with Francisco, chief of the wait staff, to see what all the fuss is about.

According to our well-fed expert, the centuries-old recipe for Pastéis de Belém — invented by monks at nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimosis until the doors were bolted shut during the Liberal Revolution of 1820 and the clergy sent packing and forced to sell their prized step-by-step culinary instructions just to survive — is a closely guarded secret known only to an inner circle of three.

Iberian Adventure: Gone to Heaven with Egg Custard on My Face | ©thepalladiantraveler.comThat’s apparent as mum’s the word on the lips of each and every employee I encounter.

COME ON. GIMME A NAME!

The best I can coax out of any staff member during my impromptu interrogations is a shrug and a smile. Okay, be that way.

Reserved seating inside one of the azulejo ceramic tiled rooms awaits, and coffee orders to accompany the goodness we’re about to receive are taken. Uh, let’s see. I’ll have a single-shot baca topped with whipped cream. No, make that a double shot, por favor.

Iberian Adventure: Gone to Heaven with Egg Custard on My Face | ©thepalladiantraveler.comAfter just one bite it’s easy to understand why Pasteis de Belém are adored by Lisboetas.

The pastry’s shell is made from massa folhada, Portugal’s equivalent to France’s puff pastry, consisting of hundreds of crisp, flaky layers, and it’s filled with a rich, luscious egg custard highlighted by the distinctive mottled brown top. 

Of the 10,000 tarts that’ll be baked today, I’m plated several. A dash of cinnamon completes the prep, and quicker than you can say “Vasco da Gama,” they’re devoured and I immediately ascend into Heaven with egg custard on my face.

Iberian Adventure | ©thepalladiantraveler.comFor complete information on Insight’s premium and luxury-escorted itineraries, including the Iberian Adventure and 112 other journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

With a sugar rush just about ready to kick in, my “band of merry media” and I are back out on the decorative cobble racing up the street towards our last stop in Belém: the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the Manueline-style monastery that serves as the final resting place for numerous Portuguese kings and queens, along with the aforementioned Vasco da Gama.

See you inside.

©The Palladian Traveler

Borsalino w/ props SMALL | ©Tom Palladio Images

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Written by The Palladian Traveler

Tom traded his hometown St. Louis Cardinals' baseball cap in the United States for a Borsalino and he now hangs his "capello" in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy. A veteran print and broadcast journalist, with well-worn passports that have got him into and out of 50 countries and counting, Tom fell in love with the "Bel Paese" years ago. As he notes, "I'm inspired by the beauty I find in all things that are very, very old, and reliving history, or at least meandering along cobblestone streets that were laid down over a thousand years ago and just looking up and marveling at what occupies the space still today, really gets my 'Vespa' running." Tom has a good eye behind the lens and is a graphic storyteller, but he'll let you decide as he keeps his camera batteries fully charged and the posts flowing from his creative hideaway in the hills overlooking Ostuni. You can also follow his dispatches along the cobblestone via TravelingBoy.com.

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