Time to Kill In… Lisbon
Portugal, and Lisbon in particular, has always been on my must-visit bucket list. The red-tiled roofs and twisty cobblestone streets I'd seen in photographs, not to mention the promise of haunting Fado music luring me into back alley bars, had me intrigued. It sounded so romantic, with just the right layer of patina. After spending one week there in August, the Portugal I saw experienced definitely lived up to my expectations.
The Heritage Avenieda Liberdade hotel, located on the breezy boulevard Avenieda Liberdade in the Modern City, is centrally located and just a short walk to many of Lisbon’s sights. Rooms are reasonably priced, especially in comparison to accommodations in most other European capitals, and a fair bit more spacious. Staff is helpful and courteous and if you don’t want to pay for breakfast, (14 Euros) grab a coffee and omellette or a baked treat right across the street at one of the local coffee shops.
EAT AND DRINK
Seafood lunch at The Mix Restaurant, Farol Design Hotel, Cascais
Lisbon is chalk full of eateries at a myriad of price points. I suggest avoiding the touristy places: you know the ones, with lack luster pictures of their dishes displayed on placards and maitre d’s pestering all passersby to come in and eat.
For a quick lunch, snack or dinner, head to the Mercado da Ribeira. An old fish market turned into a stylish gourmet food fair, you won’t be able to decide what to sample first. You’ll find seafood, local specialties, healthy snacks, pastries and even Asian dishes. (The Portuguese are very big on sushi.) This is a great place to come if you need to satisfy a number of appetites and cravings.
Nosta de Degustacao is a romantic gem tucked away on quiet street on route to the Castillo. Tiny, with jazz music playing quietly in the background, the food is lovingly prepared by a charming chef who came out to ensure everything was to our liking. One of the best meals of the trip. I’m still dreaming about the fresh fig and cheese salad.
View from Barrio Alto Hotel Bar, Lisbon
For drinks, look upward. After a recommendation from a nattily dressed salesperson in a local shop, we enjoyed a drink at the Barrio Alto Hotel Bar on the 7th floor. Some of the city’s best bars are on located on rooftop decks, making for great views and a welcome escape from the crush of tourists below.
There are a few must try indigenous specialities, Port wine being the first and most obvious choice. In addition, don’t miss the also popular digestif Ginga – a liqueur made from sour cherries. (Not as sweet as it sounds. I quite enjoyed it.) Also, you likely won’t get through Portugal without sampling a pasteis de nata, an egg tart pastry and the country’s most famous treat. They’re on every breakfast table, in every bakery and pre-packed, as per above, ready for your suitcase home.
Perched on a number of steep hills (7 historically, though in modern times that number has grown) Lisbon is very walkable, as long as you’re wearing the right shoes. (Birkenstocks were ubiquitous.) My favourite thing to do there (and in any foreign city) was simply to wander the twisty turny streets to take in the views, the atmosphere and the charm. Ladies forget the heels. The small cobblestones will end you.
In the evening, the city is teeming with revellers. When it comes to live entertainment, Fado is to Lisbon what Country is to Nashville. If you don’t go to listen some of this traditional soulful and angst-filled music, you’re missing out. I recommend reserving a table and having dinner at a Fado club. (You can also go in just for drinks but expect to pay a cover charge.)
EXCURSIONS – SINTRA
40 minutes by train from Lisbon’s Rossio station takes you to Sintra, a storybook village tucked away inland. Regardless of the weather in Lisbon, bring a sweater or jacket. Sintra has its own microclimate and it can be substantially cooler here. You’ll note the fog in the background above. I learned this the hard way and was freezing in my shorts and blouse.
In addition to exploring the town itself, there are a number of castles, mansions and parks to see in Sintra. My favourite is Quinta de Regaleira, the somewhat spooky gothic style mansion built in the early 20th century. I preferred it to the Castillo at the top of the hill which was teeming with tourists. For lunch, try the charming restaurant at the Lawrence’s hotel.
Just a quick train or cab ride west of Lisbon takes you to the coastal town of Cascais, a popular summer and weekend getaway for Lisbon city folk and other well-heeled Europeans. Stay at the Farol Design Hotel, just a short walk outside of the town center, with gorgeous views and superior service. (Just stay clear of room 210. Lovely though the decor and view was, it had a pervasive sewage smell and we had to ask to be moved.)
Farol Design Hotel, Cascais
Cascais is as pretty as it is busy. Dinner reservations are recommended during high season. We stumbled upon what was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had at the Pizzeria Il Sicilano. For dessert, head to Santini Gelato. Established in 1949, this is the most famous gelato shops in Portugal. (There are a number of locations.) I had a dolce de leche type flavour and I cannot express to you how absolutely truly unbelievably amazing it was. And that’s coming from a gelato aficionado.
Portugal is a great place to stock up on leather goods at reasonable prices. I had to restrain myself from coming home with yet another black leather jacket, though I was very tempted. Only 99 Euros!! (Approx. $150)
In addition to stocking up on Port or Ginga, Portugal is also known for its canned fish, particularly sardines. I know, doesn’t sound overly glamourous but check out the cool packaging above. For the best selection, head to Conserveira de Lisboa, a stylish canned goods shop near the waterfront in Lisbon. I picked up a number of cans to give away as gifts. (Anna, I hope you like trout pate??)
A few more photos from this beautiful country!