Just three hours after leaving behind the cold and damp of Edinburgh, I arrived in Lisbon for a weekend of November sun, music and sticky Portuguese pastries.
Our hotel, WC Beautique on Avenida Almirante Reis, was just a 15 minute drive from the airport. Nestled in a bustling multicultural area fast becoming the Soho of Lisbon, we were just a brisk walk from some of the city’s main tourist attractions, including the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the Sé (Lisbon’s main cathedral), and the medieval Alfama district.
A short distance from our hotel we discovered Barcabela, a small local seafood restaurant where we were able to dine al fresco at 9pm. We ordered a mini-feast of shellfish soup, hot crusty bread and a sizzling plate of gambas swimming in a salty concoction of garlic and olive oil. We washed it all down with a bottle of house white and nibbled on local Nisa cheese. Lisbon is one of the EU’s least expensive capital cities and this simple but delicious meal cost only €38 for two.
Early on Sunday morning we headed up the steep, windy streets of Mouraria where we stumbled across a sleepy little square, Largo dos Trigueiros, and the O Corvo café. We sat down next to the fountain and sipped Meia de leite (Portuguese milky coffee) with a leisurely breakfast of homemade granola with yoghurt and freshly baked croissants as we watched the Lisboetas wake up, throwing open their traditional shuttered windows. Well fuelled for our day of sightseeing, we set off for the Bairro do Castelo, Santa Cruz and Alfama.
The tourists were already queueing in their hundreds for entrance to the Castelo, Lisbon’s most visited site so we traded the spectacular sights it is meant to afford for a one-man music show.
From the window of a nearby squat, we sang along to a rousing rendition of “The Sheikh of Araby” belted out by an accordion playing anarchist. With the tune still ringing in our ears our next stop was, appropriately, the Sé which until 1147 had been the site of an Arab mosque. There’s not much to see inside the Cathedral but the view from the balcony was worth the €5 admission fee.
We ended the morning with a gentle promenade along the waterfront below the atmospheric Alfama area which hosts some of the city’s best known Fado venues. A visit to Lisbon is not complete without experiencing this wonderful, passionate music and we returned later that night for a memorable evening at Clube de Fado where we were entertained by some of Lisbon’s best up and coming Fado singers.
We woke to pouring rain on Monday morning and I was glad I’d packed my Tazi raincoat. However, the inclement weather was the perfect excuse for a shopping expedition. We browsed for hours for bargains, seeking out colourful Portuguese ceramics to take home as souvenirs. We were finally successful in a small shop on Calçada de Santo André and then turned our attention to sardines!
The Comur shop on Rua dos Bacalhoeiros is sardine heaven. With wall to wall tins of brightly packaged fishy treats. A tin embossed with your date of birth and that year’s memorable events will set you back around €7. A fun gift for the Omega 3 addict in your life.
After a hearty seafood lunch and cold beers at Baixamar Mariscos E Petiscos we continued into the Baixa area with its wonderful selection of traditional and modern stores, restaurants and bars. We had already done our 10,000 steps twice over by the time we left the Baixa and as you can’t come to Lisbon without stopping for a Pastel de Nata or two, we decided we deserved a calorific reward.
The Confeitaria Nacional on Praça da Figueira has been serving delicious pastries and coffee since 1829 and there were almost too many sweet things to choose from! We rested our weary feet and tucked into our pastries watching the shoppers scurry around a pretty craft market on the square. The strong Portuguese coffee gave us the energy we needed to walk back up to the hotel via Praça Martim Monix with its skateboarders overlooked by the Castelo on the hill.
On our last evening in Lisbon we attended a performance by Lisa Gerrard and Jules Maxwell at the Centro Cultural de Belém.
Before the show we took the obligatory tourist photos of the Mosteiro dós Jeronimos, a UNESCO world heritage site, which was conveniently located just around the corner from the Centro Cultural.
The show itself was the most fantastic way to round off our trip. Performing an atmospheric live version of their album ‘Burn’ Lisa and Jules gave us and their Portuguese fans a night to remember and had us all clamouring for more.
With no taxis to be found, we hopped on one of Lisbon’s iconic trams which was fortunately going in our direction. We took one last trip around this beautiful city feeling sad to be leaving so soon!