I have just returned from a short but sweet first trip to a city that has experienced a renaissance in recent years.
Lisbon – Portugal’s capital city boasts a year round Mediterranean climate [it was a cat in the sun stretching 20 degrees this past weekend] old world European charm with cobbled streets and traditional shops plucked from the pages of Dickens, wooden trams and iron funiculars that still lurch and rumble their way amongst the city’s seven steep hills and a burgeoning hipster culture of bohemian bars and trendy eateries.
The reason for the getaway was to celebrate the upcoming wedding of my oldest friend. The celebration comprised of a tiny but perfectly formed party of three girlfriends together since the age of eleven, and though having been on group holidays every year for the past few decades – this was the first time we found ourselves as a trio.
With under three days to pack as much as we could in, Lisbon was good to us – providing ample and inspiring cobbled streets and architecture to gaze upon, quaint squares with dreamy trickling fountains to meander through and the hot lazy sun on our backs as we did what we do best which is laugh and bicker and talk nonsense to our hearts content.
We flew from London Stanstead to the heart of Lisbon in under three hours. Staying in Bairro Alto the city’s main party district, we set up camp in a cute and quiet Airbnb studio 15 minutes from the airport with our very own terrace and stunning views of the city.
Day 1 The first day we took in the the lay of the land from our beautiful rooftop terrace, and indulged in our favourite thing to do on the first day of holiday, a lunch of fresh delicacies and wine from the local market. I feel this tradition always gives us the opportunity to quickly asses the neighbourhood whilst giving you time to wind down at home from an early morning flight.
We had a quick nap and then woke for an evening of bar crawling. We kicked off the night in a place I had read abut in my Wallpaper Guide ‘Park’ a converted car park rooftop with 180 degree view over the city.
The bar has an exciting clandestine feel accessed through the lift of a still working car park and that ‘is this it? no it can’t be.’ feeling that all the best finds have. The bar itself has a bohemian luxe aesthetic filled with wooden crate-like furniture and small potted trees to create the feeling of a garden. We sat in the enclosed but still panoramic indoor area – had giant glasses of wine and gin and tonics [they are generous with drinks in Lisbon] and ate their delicious gourmet burgers out of camping style tin bowls.
The rest of the night was spent popping into bars we liked the look of and frankly all of them were good, with friendly bar staff, good large drinks, DJ’s playing eclectic jazz and to our pleasant surprise a fun-loving older crowd in their 50-60’s dancing and having a great time – a rarity in London bars.
Day 2 This mainly consisted of a morning of long walks in the sun to walk off our hangover. We had scheduled in a brunch at one of Lisbon’s beautiful and oldest patisseries Pastelaria Padaria Sao Roque which provided much needed sustenance with it’s strong coffee and Pastel de Natas – or egg custard tarts. These custard tarts proceeded to be constant fuel for the rest of the trip!
Next we walked and walked – took in the view at the ‘miradouros’ [view points], explored some great home-ware stores, sat and soaked up the sun in historic squares like the locals. We ate the most delicious lunch at Terra a vegetarian restaurant housed in an 18h century building and drank Sangria in the hush of their terrace garden.
We listened to bands playing in squares and bought a book from a travelling book store. Lisbon seems to have lots of these great surprise experiences dotted about that are vintage in aesthetic yet contemporary and fun and never seem to be trying too hard.
One of the most distinctive things about the city was its stunning tile work on the buildings known as azulejos which provided us with hours of inspiration and conversation.
The tiles decorate everything from walls of churches and monasteries, to palaces, ordinary houses, park seats, fountains, shops, and railway stations, often portraying scenes from the history of the country, showing its landmarks, or simply serve as street signs, nameplates, or house numbers.
A Vida Portuguesa was a store that was on my list from my Wallpaper Guide too – well worth a visit, it sells the most fabulous artisanal Portuguese products, from kitchenware to soaps, candles, books and wooden kids toys.
That night we spent the evening in Lisbon’s trendy dockside area which houses venues fashioned out of the shells of former 19th-century warehouses.
Kais was a much talked about restaurant during my research and serves modern Portuguese cuisine. A cavernous restaurant originally a warehouse for Lisbon’s beautiful trams – the interior combines gothic grandeur and industrial elements – the size and design is jaw-dropping.
Short but ever so sweet – Lisbon left us with a taste for more. We will be back with more to explore and most importantly with a good pair of walking shoes!