I’ve never met anyone who was excited for their holiday to Lisbon, Portugal and by excited, I mean really excited. Arms flapping around like a pterodactyl, eyes so wide that tooth picks could fit in the lids and high pitched ramblings of words that should make up a sentence, but don’t make any sense at all. Those types of reactions are motivated by trips like African safaris to Kenya, expeditions to Antarctica, or sailing the Greek Islands, but never for the lesser known “other half” of the Iberian Peninsula.
Portugal seems too simple in its offerings, a third runner up to places like London, Paris, Barcelona and Rome. And why should anyone get excited about the minimalistic Mediterranean style of cooking? Where fresh grilled fish rules, seasoned only by olive oil and sea salt. Where flaky custard pastries paired with energizing espressos are never hard to find. Where miradouros and rooftop bars make ideal backdrops to have cocktails and sunset with; and where national attractions are priced lower than anywhere else in Western Europe!
Oh crap, I can feel my eyes beginning to “bug out” and my arms starting to flail.
The first 24 HRS
VISIT – The Elevador de Santa Justa 7am-11pm; Sundays and holidays: 9am-11pm Adults 5€. For your first aerial view of Lisbon there is a free way and a fee way to take advantage of. The fee way includes a round trip lift from the bottom steps of Rua de Aurea (also known as Rua do Ouro) and R. de Santa Justa with access to the unobstructed second platform. The free way, enter on Rua do Carmo to gain access the first balcony level only. A bit more walking is involved but it is free for those willing to put in the extra effort, miss the top platform and the short elevator ride.
VISIT – Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Praça do Império. This UNESCO World Heritage Site and final resting spot for explorer Vasco da Gama deserves time and attention. One could lose hours wandering through the cloisters and the Igreja Sta. Maria Belem, strain necks and eyes investigating the Capela, and simply lose time by day dreaming of what it would have been like to live during its prime.
EAT – no visit to the Belem district is complete without a treat from the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. For other parts of the world this sweet treat is mostly known as Portuguese custard tarts but in Belem, they are “Pasteis de Belem” – where it all began in 1837. The history of the “pasties” is a story of an entrepreneur, an out of work employee from the Jeronimos Monastery looking for a means to make a living. A 175 years later this “candy shop” of sorts is rumoured to produce tens of thousands of custard tarts per day and in to the 20’s of thousands during the weekends. Getting a seat in the “salas” (hall rooms) of the restaurant is like a mad game of musical chairs where people stalk and hover only to pounce at the sign of a bill-fold. Purchase your tarts to go and enjoy them utside in the non chaotic confines of the cafe. The park in front of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos close to the confeitaria is a great alternative space.
DRINK – Noobai Cafe is the ideal way to begin the evening after a day of exploring. Arrive well before sunset and maybe you will score a seat on the terrace just in time to see the lights of Lisbon begin their dance. The drink menu includes but is not limited to wine, sangrias, caipirinhas, champagne and port.
EAT – Restaurant 100 Maneiras Bairro Alto R. Teixeira 35 1200-459 Lisboa, Portugal Telefone: 21 099 04 75 With only 30 seats reservations are required for this nouveau art experiment of Portuguese cuisine. Even attempting to describe the experience would be useless as the restaurant boasts ten courses, a pre fixed price and no menu.
The next 24 HRS
VISIT – Castelo de São Jorge. Adults 7€ Built during the Moorish period, start your day with an exploration of this 11th century castle. Climbs the stairs to the ramparts of the walls or ascend one of the eleven towers of the Castle of St. George. The unparallel views of Lisbon are the draw for most tourists.
EAT – Wine Bar do Castelo Rua Bartolomeu de Gusmão, Open Monday – Sunday 2:00 pm – 10:00 pm.
After two months of intense renovations the Wine Bar do Castelo opened in May 2009 just steps away from the main entrance of the Castle of St. George. With over 150 wines served by the glass this Lonely Planet recommendation is the perfect “post op” castle tour spot. Surrender all control and give in to the recommendations of your server. Chances are high that it is one of the owners guiding you through your ultimate wine, cheese and charcuterie experience.
DRINK – Bairro Alto Hotel Praca Luis de Camoes . Find your best dress and head to the roof top of this boutique hotel. The BA Terrace is another idealist venue to begin your second evening in Lisbon with cocktails and sunset. Space is limited – demand is high – patience required.
LOCAL – There is no better way to end a visit in Lisbon then to be emotionally charge by the lyrics of Fado (a Portuguese genre of music). While many tourists head in to the Alfama district for their Fado some locals will lead you to Sr. Vinho, a Fado restaurant well off the beaten path where the food and music are of equal calibre. It is common to pay an entrance fee at restaurants in the Alfama with Fadistas (singers of Fado) to discourage squatters but the food suffers as a result.
Start a conversation about Lisbon Portugal. Is it worth getting excited about?