From Bond villain hotels to the inescapable stench sardines, Anastasia Bernhardt scours Lisbon from miradour to miradour.
The city is older than Rome. Lisboans celebrated the opening of Vasco da Gama bridge (the longest in Europe) by feeding 15,000 people on the world’s largest dining table, and while the seafront Alfama district would be an old fisherman’s haunt in any other city, it was actually an aristocratic spa retreat in its day. Intrigued? Then bump Lisbon up to the top of your must-fly list…
Between Airbnb, traditional stalwarts like Palácio Belmonte in the historical zone and small but stylish (not to mention well priced) new kids like LX Boutique Hotel on the Tagus river, there’s something in the city centre for all tastes and budgets. But how about distancing yourself from the all-night festa in leafy-green Cascais? Just a 30-minute ride into the city centre, here you can dip in and out of city life and get some beach time too.
Golf resorts don’t have much by way of street cred, and while The Oitavos has a seriously swish course designed by Arthur Hills, the hotel itself is less checked trousers, more lair of Bond villain – meant in the best possible way – with its floor-to-ceiling sheets of glass, angular, spacious rooms with clean lines and all the gadgetry you could wish for… including those funky Japanese washlet loos. And that’s without mentioning the panoramic friezes of the Atlantic, which can be lapped up in the nude if you choose, thanks to the blacked out windows.
If you prefer to stay in town, check in the the AlmaLusa Baixa / Chiado, which is tucked in the corner of Praça do Município. With just 28 perfectly-designed rooms, this chic and friendly hotel located in a grand, former army building, seamlessly blends traditional Portuguese features with contemporary style and craftmenship. Look out from your room onto the creamy façade of the City Hall as you watch the iconic passing trams trundle past. Ideal for couples, groups of friends or families, the hotel is currently running a four-night family offer until 31 March 2019. Book it: Family package starts at 320EUR per night for a 4 night stay with breakfast included in a Triple Room (sleeps 2 adults, 1 child), plus 1 dinner for the family in the hotel’s stylish, independent Delfina restaurant plus family-friendly excursions. almalusahotels.com
Piri-piri chicken, sardines and custard tarts – the holy trinity. But there’s so much more to Portuguese cooking than these three (green wine, bacalhau and local cheese are also all essential), so don’t leave without trying a pastel de nata from Chique de Belém (Rua da Junqueira, 524), which are fabrico próprio (made in house) and ideally located for fighting hanger pangs after a stroll in Belém gardens on the seafront. Forget what Nando’s has taught you about piri-piri and get your hands grubby with their national dish. For an authentic experience, eat with your fingers while watching Sporting Lisbon on the tele at Bonjardim (Travessa de Santo Antão 11). Fish fans visit in June for the Lisbon Sardine Festival – you won’t get the salty tang out of your nostrils for weeks.
Want something more fancypants? It has got to be Joachim Koerper’s Eleven. Expect candles, foams, chefy swirls; the full shebang. Or there’s Portugal’s answer to Heston Blumenthal – José Avillez – who has opened Mini Bar, an affordable tapas joint with small plates under €5.
Lisbon is a city best appreciated from on high. If you’re the sort of person who thinks a city should be explored by wandering aimlessly, make it your mission to scale Lisbon’s many miradours, with an espresso – or a shot of ginjinha (cherry liqueur) – at the top. Tick off Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol (best for photographers and views of Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district), Miradouro De São Pedro De Alcântara (the turret has been transformed into a magical garden oasis), Miradouro De Santa Catarina (best for sunset) and Miradouro Da Nossa Senhora de Monte (the highest and a popular smooch point). Skip Belém Tower, Jerónimos Monatsery and the Oceanarium – they are all tourist traps – get your culture fix at Mude Museum, a dramatically stark exhibition hall that will sate you design hunger.
You should also make space in your itinerary for surfing, as Emma Whitehair explains… ‘Portugal is Europe’s number one destination for surfing, and Cascais (which is just 20 minutes outside Lisbon) is where it all started. Home to some of the world’s top surfers and known for its major competitions, Cascais has waves that suit everyone. And, as the sea only varies in temperature by a few degrees from summer to winter, it’s surf season all year round.
‘Surf’s Up Portugal, which is recognised by the Portuguese Federation of Surf and Tourism of Portugal, teaches surfing and bodyboarding to all levels. From personalised 1-2-1 classes to large groups, and those (like me) trying surfing for the first time, or those wanting to hone their art, sessions are both theoretical and practical. An hour and half class, which includes a dry run on a carver (kind of like a skateboard), warm up, surf etiquette, theory and technique – is more than enough if it’s your first time. Mainly because surfing is so physically tiring, in a good way. And although it’s a little harder than they make it look, apparently everyone manages to stand up and glide on their first session with Surf’s Up Portugal. Even yours truly.’ surfsupportugal.com
Holidays are not a time for shopping – we’d rather be sunbasking with a glass of port. That’s where Mercado de Campo de Ourique comes into play. Think Borough Market in its heyday. Take home cured meat/cheese/anything that will survive hand luggage. If you’ve got room for something fragile, try the Lisbon Shop at Terreiro do Paço for playful sardine dishes. If you’re most at home in Hackney, you’ll love Bairro Alto. The same story over, it used to be the seedy part of town, now, it’s filled with vintage shops and trendy bars.
Live like a Local: Music is big business here. While the three-day beach spectacular NOS Alive is the most famous, it is full on. Opt instead for newcomer Lisb/On in the tranquil Jardim Sonoro. It’s easy-going and a steal at €60 for three days, plus you don’t camp – The Oitavos runs a regular, free shuttle service back to your bed.
Whatever you do: Get on a tram. They’re busted up, covered in crass graffiti and it’s a wonder that they manage to make it up the steep and narrow inclines the city is famous for… but we love them and they will save your legs.
Book it: The Oitavos.
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