We’ll gladly leave the typical 4-week-once-a-year-getaway at peak holiday times to the many families with kids that usually are required to travel at times when school is out for summer; instead we have decided this year to throw in quick trips to neighbored countries or close by ones anyway.
After our rainy Salzburg trip we’ve been checking the weather forecast frantically – not that it would have made much of a difference – but it sure looks like the weather god wanted to make up and provided us with perfectly blue sky on our little journey to one of the most beautiful and quaint cities in Europe: Lisbon.
The benefit of having been to a foreign city before is that you don’t feel compelled to do everything and beyond, rushing from place to place. This time we simply focused on a reasonable list of options, making sure to give us some leeway in case we wanted to squeeze in some of our previous favs. And we did!
Even though many guides recommend to avoid certain areas of the city at late hours, we always felt absolutely safe. No sweat whatsoever and our quest for finding the new spots took us pretty much criss-cross the city. With the many steep streets (somewhat similar to SF) my feet were begging for breaks every so often and towards the end of our stay we made more and more use of public transportation – which except for the bus situation in Cacilhas - is very easy to figure out and use.
A must-do is tram 28 (catch it at Martim Moniz), which will take its passengers on a scenic ride from the city center at sea level up through the narrow maze of streets towards St. George Castle. A really pretty and interesting tour we ended up doing more then once…
A word on Taxi drivers. Some of them obviously have some sort of death wish – flying through the narrowest and most run-down city streets defying all laws of physics. On the other hand looking at the many dinged-up cars, maybe they can’t walk on water. Check for seat belts before you get in, just for peace of mind. In any regard, besides the metro and the wonderful vintage street cars (day passes are little $!) cabs are not very expensive and can get you in off peak hours quickly from here to there.
Hotel-wise I’m almost inclined to say look no further and although I’m very positive there are more wonderful hotels in the center that I haven’t seen, look no further! The Tejo is the place to stay, very stylish and located right next to the Rossio. This combo is hard to beat. Making our travel arrangements on short notice required us to also stay at the Tivoli Lisboa, a perhaps slightly antiquated but charming hotel with more of a business-oriented appearance of the likes of Sheraton. Ask for a room on the top levels with balcony, as they provide a great view over downtown. A nice add-on is the heated pool in the cozy backyard, well protected from the busy streets and city noise. Walking distance to the Rossio is less than 10 minutes.
Shop ’till you drop. No kidding, Lisbon offers great shopping opportunities whether it be one of the many small mom and pop shops around the corner or the biggest mall on the Iberian peninsula (Centro Comercial Colombo at Avenida Colegio Militar, Metro: Colegio Militar/Luz) with over 400 different shops.
Food (especially Port and Bacalhau, dried & salted cod) is omnipresent and the countless Pastelarias (with great creations besides the famous Pasteis de Nata) easily manage to keep your sugar level on a constant high. Not necessarily the worst thing for sweet teeth like us! Coffee is generally very good, right at the counter you can have your little cup for about 50c, on the patio they tend to ask for a bit more. For port wine tasting, Lisboa Solar (Rua de S. Pedro de Alcântara) is always a good option.
Prices can vary quite drastically, so it’s advisable to always double check with a second store, especially when shopping for ceramics. A disappointing visit to the local flea market Feira da Ladra was quickly forgotten when I discovered a tiny stall with my favorite blue and white ornamented handcrafted bowls and plates. Negotiations weren’t easy – the old man and I didn’t share a common language – but in the end I left happily and heavily loaded… PS: If your other half is a golfer, there more than enough beautiful and scenic courses nearby to keep him a very happy hitter while you’re on the road spending some money!!
On the culinary front we’ve been to places that we found to be excellent on past occasions as well as new spots. While we’ve not been let down by our favorites, some of the new experiences unfortunately couldn’t quite hold the candle to our past finds.
Stravaganza, an Italian place located in the Bairro Alto (famous for its nightlife), was a lucky find. On our way to Olivier we accidentally passed by it and were instantly attracted by its lime green visual appeal. Small (read: quaint), yet spacious enough to not have to sit on your neighbors lap and equipped with a well designed interior. The menu covers the usual suspects you would expect from an Italian restaurant. We liked the food, we liked our waitress better – very attentive and simply the cutest thing.
Right after Versailles, Brasileira would be our no. 2 choice for best coffee house. We shared a table with two very friendly and helpful locals who helped us to decide on our next (food) destinations in the city. Although their English was impeccable, I wouldn’t go as far as pretending that everyone in the city speaks English. Anyhow, even at times it got a bit more complicated, we never encountered a situation we couldn’t manage – body language always works like a charm.
Speaking of language, while our distinguished waiter at Versailles (we always run into the same guy, he must be working there for decades now) is fully capable of speaking English he seems to get a kick out of our poor attempts to order and pay in Portuguese (and we play along, try to anyway) and would gracefully save us guessing confirming in English. Located north of the city center and thus slightly off the tourist tracks, this is our favorite cafe of all and only few tourists seem to find their way to it. With a breath taking array of savory (for instance torrada, hot buttered toast, slightly salty) and sweet treats – all at little prices – it will leave nothing to wish for. Our usual breakfast consisted of coffee, the best freshly squeezed o-juice, torrada or tosta mista and something sweet for less than 12 EUR – for both of us!
Pastéis de Nata as these sweet cream tarts are generally referred to are sold throughout Portugal’s pastry shops (Pastelarias) or cafés. The real McCoy -Pastéis de Belém- you’ll get at the aptly named Cafe Pastéis de Belém (Rua de Belém, no° 84 a 92). A tad greasy but crisp on the outside, filled with delicious and still warm custard in the inside, sold with an extra mini package of cinnamon, it’s no surprise that these are considered the real deal.
Going further west (by train that is) you will find Estoril (also known for its F1 racing circuit) next to Cascais, both lovely and lively resort towns with great beaches right at the beautiful coastline.
On our march to discover the devilish Boca do Inferno, we accidentally bumped into Rosa Maria, which we actually had put on our list, but then decided to skip. Thinking of Inferno, we thought “ah what the hell” and gave it a try. The restaurant (Rosa Maria) is part of a hotel (farol design hotel) and restaurant combination. From the outside hardly believable, the interior is very well designed, including the bar, restaurant & individual rooms facing the ocean as well as the country side.
They’re booked out way in advance, so make sure to make your travel arrangements in time. The main restaurant we couldn’t try, it was closed in the afternoon (what?!?), so we sat down near the bar simply to find out that they ran out of two dishes – well, of course the ones that we wanted – leaving us with little choice but to go with a good ol’ CHEESE SANDWICH.
Back in the city we finally paid Olivier a visit, now with proper reservations. One black-wainscoted room with only 10 or so tables (40 guests max) and an old fashioned ring door knocker were an auspicious start. The entire and non-negotiable menu included 9 starters (5 cold, 4 warm), a sorbet and a main course. The starters were true taste bud pleasers and alone worth the money, the main course, on the contrary, inedible. The fish Oliver had gotten and the beef I opted for were totally void of taste and on top tough as shoe leather – it’s a miracle how one and the same cook can be responsible for the wonderful starters we had already enjoyed and this disaster. Only a chain saw or lightsaber could have possibly helped here – Reading Oliver’s look, I swear he thought “Use the force…“. And we saw other guests’ main courses going back to the kitchen almost untouched… With the dessert picking up the initial culinary level, we should have simply skipped the main course!
Perhaps less exclusive, but definitely delicious Portuguese food we found at Casa do Alentejo (Rua das Porta de Sto. Antão, 58, Baixa). Great location, and despite being close if not on the beaten path, we didn’t see a single tourist. A great recommendation from our brief acquaintances at Brasileira.
No photos at LA CAFFÉ (Av. Liberdade, 129). This stylish cafe/restaurant is pretty stringent about prohibiting the taking of pictures of basically anything on their premises, which we respected (baring our teeth). Quite unfortunate, because their interior design and likely because of it, is very well done. Perhaps a bit on the “cold” end but with an extravagant touch. Service is rather stiff, but fast. Food is prepared well, with the occasional advanced dish slightly off the 100 percent mark. 98 percent is still pretty darn good though.
Now if you have any recommendations on Lisbon, feel free to add them in the comment section, as this wasn’t our last trip to this charming city. Definitely not! ;)
And what’s next? Not sure, ‘still undecided on our next destination…