Fall in love with Lisbon

By | Category: Travel destinations

Everyone loves a long weekend away and Lisbon – with its heady mix of cultural offerings, culinary feasts and lively nightlife -stands out as special says Kaye Holland

To say that Portugal’s capital city has been through a lot is akin to calling champagne a fizzy drink: a gross understatement. Lisbon endured an earthquake and tsunami in 1755, a huge fire in 1988, followed by the Great Recession which led to mass unemployment. Yet despite Lisbon’s turbulent history, it remains one of Europe’s loveliest cities.

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Portugal’s  capital sits atop seven steep hills – it’s a bit of a slog to get to the top but trust JAT when we say that you won’t regret the effort for a second (unless you forget your smartphone), as stunning vistas of Lisbon’s postcard perfect pink and yellow tiled walls come as standard.

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Seeing the sights from the back of a bus doesn’t cut it in Lisbon. Instead hop aboard one of the old fashioned trams: number 28 will take you to the colourful Feira da Ladra flea market (open Tuesdays and Saturdays) at Campo de Santa Clara. Alternatively, head west on number 15 to Belem for a culture fix. Arguably the jewel in Lisbon’s crown, this old worldly neighbourhood is packed full of maritime history (this is where the Spanish Armada assembled in 1588) and museums. Even if museums aren’t your thing, do make time to check out the Museum of Art and Technology (MAAT), whose striking construction was designed by Stirling Prize-winning British architect Amanda Levete.

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Covered in glazed tiles inspired by the country’s passion for colourful ceramics, this low curved building that compromises a former power station plus a brand new ultramodern building only opened on 5 October 2016 but has already built up a reputation as the city’s new landmark.

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That being said, Belem is perhaps best known for its freshly baked pastels de nata (custard tarts) and the place to try these sweet, sugary, treats is Pasteis de Belem  – this iconic pastry shop has been making them, right before patrons’ eyes, since 1837. Push past the tourists and secure a table in the shady courtyard – the perfect place to enjoy a top notch coffee and pastel de nata (buttery pastry flakes punctuated with vanilla and cinnamon), in peace while the temperatures are still balmy.

For more of Portugal’s famous cozinha portugesa, make for Mercado da Riberia (Avenida 24 de Julho) – a buzzy market which has the air of a permanent festival – and get stuck into sardines (the unofficial symbol of Lisbon) and Sao Jorge cheese, washed down with excellent local wines that are sold by the glass.

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Speaking of sardines, if you’re in town during June (aka sardine season), be sure to frequent at least one sardine street party. Lisbonites go to town at these street food parties, setting up stalls serving grilled sardines, as well as wine, sangria, potatoes and chorizo. If you need proof as to the popularity of the parties, check out the stats: an incredible 193,048 kilos of sardines were sold between June 6-17 this year alone!

Other foodie treats to try – make no mistake Lisbon is a gourmet’s dream destination – include codfish and chorizo fritters. Not sure which addresses to hit? Sign up for The Lisbon Eats Culinary Backstreets Essentials food tour and allow the savvy guides take you to a parade of their favourite places. It’s a great way to solve your delicious dilemma, while simultaneously discovering up and coming areas of Lisbon that might not yet have made it into your guidebook.

Worried about your waistline? Don’t be! Simply burn off the calories you’re consuming by climbing up-to  Sao Jorge Castle, a majestic Moorish castle  occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic centre of Lisbon and the Tagus River.

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However if you want to take life at a more chilled pace (we wouldn’t blame you), sign up to an electric bike tour with Bikes and Company whose mission is to ensure you scale Lisbon’s seven hills with ease…

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Back in baixa (downtown), browse the old style cafes, boutiques and theatres in Chiado, a rejuvenated neighbourhood that’s currently the hottest corner of Portugal’s capital with glitzy new bars and boutiques opening every week. Trust JAT when we say that you really can’t beat an afternoon getting lost in Chiado, taking in the sights, smells and shops.

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Looking for a great day trip? Seek out Sintra – the fairytale town that inspired Lord Byron. But whenever you venture, the sound of Fado – Portugal’s famously melancholy folk music – pervades the air evoking a sense of saudade (something Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo described as “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy”). Little wonder then, that Lisbon has attracted adventurers and explorers since time immemorial… 

This adventurer’s Lisbon base was Ana Rita’s apartment – high quality yet homely accommodation mixed with local vibes. Case in point?Before I even admitted that I didn’t know where to start, Ana Rita had drawn up her top tips on a tourist map.

As I sunk into my comfortable bed at my super friendly host’s for the final time, I had the feeling that everything was right with the world – even though everything is clearly very wrong.

Lisbon’s magic clearly worked on me. I like Lisbon. I like it a lot.

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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