Calling on Lisboa
FUN FACT 1: Lisbon never was nor is a part of Spain, as some imagine it to be (update your Geography, people). It is the thriving capital of Portugal and the oldest city in Western Europe.
FUN FACT 2: Portugal really does offer the complete package. From action-packed Lisbon, one can drive to Porto and retreat into serene Wine County or head the other direction to The Algarve where the sun-soaked beaches encourage a smoky-golden tan.
FUN FACT 3: Blessed with nine good months of the year from March to November and home to the warmest winters in Europe, Lisbon makes for a perfect holiday destination even when other cities are being blown away by a killing windchill factor.
Having had my resort break at The Martinhal hotel in Sagres, Algarve, I am keenly drove into Lisbon with my guide, Luis de Sousa, who owns and runs my now favourite trip planning agency in Portugal – www.mrtravel.pt. What I experienced in the coming days is enough to whet the appetite of any avid globe-trotter!
For all those who want the ultimate in luxury and pampering, it doesn’t get more indulgent than the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz, Lisbon. Located conveniently close to the high fashion street Avenida da Liberdade and a Mecca by itself when it comes to food, art and comfort, The Four Seasons is your best bet, hands down. The rooms are generously large and yet cosy at the same time; their selection of complimentary wines start the stay on a great note; breakfast is a ritual enjoyed in velveteen confines or a majestic terrace and the artworks on display are museum-tour worthy. The best thing about the hotel though is its marketing director, Henri Poudensan. An hour spent with him is the best way to fish out Lisbon’s best stops and his helpful tips go a long way in making your sojourn into the city a daily success.
Prefer to be in the buzzy hub of local stores, live music performances and quick fix eateries? Bairro Alto Hotel it is then. Smallish and quaint and the great news is there’s always a bar near at hand – one of the best being in the hotel itself.
Myriad by Sana Hotel’s futuristic looking façade is enough of an invitation to sample its interiors and its proximity to the waterfront and some seriously cool nightclubs only adds to its charm.
THE NIGHT IS YOUNG, LET’S HIT THE BARS
The BA Terrace Bar at Bairro Hotel literally comes out tops. Offering mesmerising views of the city, it’s easy to forget how tiny and cramped this area really is – make it in time for sunset drinks, it’s hypnotic. Park Bar’s lineage stems from being an actual car park and the casual outdoors feel of the space along with the foot-tapping jazz music makes it a must-do for locals and tourists alike. I kind of fell in love with The Pink Steet; originally a seedy red light district, it was painted candy pink to lend a jovial, young touch and the sprouting of trendy bars across both sides has only helped the cause. Pensao Amor is especially fun – done up in a mix of eclectic styles ranging from vintage to goth to baroque, it’s an eye-catching delight. Lux, Silk and Ministerium Club are amongst the city’s all-nighter hotspots; a big nod to Lisbon’s vivid party scene.
If you want a taste of heaven, head to Michelin star Belcanto. The almost shy, surprising humble and incredibly dishy chef José Avillez is happy to greet you at the door and his menu is guaranteed to blow your mind away. I’m salivating as I describe this menu I sampled. A port wine and tonic water iced bubble to set the ball rolling. A trio of olive amuse bouche – black olive tempura, the Explosive Olive that bursts into delicious song as you bite into it and an olive martini – not just a martini but a mini martini packaged within an olive. The slow cooked egg dictates opulence with its gold foil topping while the potato crisps come wrapped in their translucent and very edible bag. My selection of main course came with its very own miniature Jackson Pollock print, to depict how the fish has been styled and presented to replicate the painting. Superlative is an understatement.
Eleven is yet another Michelin star must-visit. Don’t leave without devouring the sea bass laden with almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and a last supper worthy helping of fragrant, buttered Basmati rice. There’s a whole menu reserved for black truffle addicts and if you’re not one, this meal will convert you.
Darwin is an easy lunch option by the waterside while Guilty packs in a punch post the witching hour when burgers and some house music is all you need to hit the spot. The Praça do Comércio is a great square to halt for a bite as well – try Museu de Cerveja (Museum of Beer) for a well-spent afternoon. And one absolutely cannot miss a few trials at Santini, the ice cream shop that you will want to take home. For a more refined sweet experience, Poison D’ Amor offers elegant pastries and a pretty courtyard for high-tea nibbles.
SOME CULTURE PERHAPS?
Lisbon’s locals are enthusiastic water babies, resulting in some of the best aquatic sports and rides on offer. Water X specialises in creating special yacht picnics, boat races for big groups and even a scenic airport transfer to the city by sea.
St. George’s Castle doesn’t impress much as a structure but the spellbinding city view it affords more than makes up as do the obese geriatric peacocks with thick white feathered necks, resembling decadent mink collars. A tuk tuk ride back into town is a must-do! The city’s two world heritage sites, The Tower of Belem and The Jeronimos Monastery will make it to any itinerary but my personal favourite is The Monument to the Discoveries – an exceptional sculpted ode to the forefathers of Portugal (best seen by boat). Alfama is the oldest and most traditional neighbourhood in the city; a living, breathing vintage set in a sense. Stop at one of the cafes on any street to savour the mild and sweet Ginjinha liqueur and pick up a Fado music disc to experience authentic Portuguese song.
Cascais is a coastal town about 20 minutes from the main city; its quaint houses and accessibility to meandering beach stretches makes it popular with residents and holiday-home seekers alike. A stop here for lunch or a browse through the Wednesday street market is mandatory. Driving on, one can try to relive the adventurous zeal of great discoverers as they set off to new lands from Cabo da Roca, the western-most point in Europe. A great spot for photo-ops and a special souvenir – your personal certificate stating that you made it to the edge as well!
The Sintra township has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site and its cobbled lanes, age-old stores and cafes, technicolour toy-story like castles and traditional sweet shops selling typical Portuguese pastries make the experience here seem like a step back into ancient times. A few hours here is the very minimum one would need to explore places like the Pena Palace, Lawrence’s Hotel (where Lord Byron was known to visit), Dom Lopo (for a tea-time break) and Casa Branca (for quality linens).
THERAPY FOR THE SOUL (A.K.A SHOPPING UNLIMITED)
For the very best in Portuguese knick-knacks, there can be no better selection than at A Vida Portuguesa with their handmade soaps in quirky packaging, petite wall ceramics and locally sourced chocolate. Luvaria Ulisses is worth the hunt; this minuscule store is often finally found based on a long queue waiting to get in, one customer at a time. The lady in charge is an authority on gloves; stand quiet and submit your hands to her as she measures and fits you with smooth-as-cream leather. Vista Alegre literally boggles the mind with its extensive porcelain range – pricey and totally worth it. I snagged a collectible Christian Lacroix platter designed especially for the store’s limited edition pieces. Leitão & Irmão offers incredible jewellery selections in gold and silver, finely finished and intricately designed. There are many food stores around Lisbon; make sure you select some colourfully wrapped sardine tins as well as superlative olive oils. Walk around the Chiado and Principe Real (21pr Concept Store is an eclectic stop for candles, clothing, baubles etc.) to simply absorb the vibe of the city and for all sport fanatics, do invest in a Nelo Kayak – the largest canoe manufacturer in the world.
Open your heart and mind to this city and let its treasures delight and surprise you. I know I will be going back for more…