In the last thirty plus years I have visited more than twenty-five major cities in Europe and each have their own particular attractions. But I have to confess that of all of them I find Lisbon the most beguiling of cities.
I can’t quite put my finger on what makes it so special but there is a kind of shabby chic to the buildings, the espresso culture, the weather which is hot but tempered by the Atlantic breezes and not least the people who, on numerous occasions stopped to ask if they could help as I struggled with street maps, tried to suss out the ticket machines on the Metro and the ticketing system in the cafe (could you see this EVER happening in London?).
On my three previous visits I have stayed at the Hotel Britania (best hotel in Lisbon) just off Avenida da Liberdade but this time decided on an apartment in the Estrela district of the city, an area I had never been to and was keen to explore. Anyone thinking of staying in this area should be aware that it is very hilly and you need to be reasonably fit to walk “uphill and down dale” but it is worthwhile as you can always take refuge in the lovely setting of the Jardim da Estrela park and sip espresso as you take in the greenery.
Although I have visited the Castelo de Sao Jorge several times no visit to Lisbon is complete without a visit to the castle, especially on Tram 28 which weaves its way up the narrow streets, a note of caution, pickpockets are known to target this tram because it is always packed.
The views from the castle are stunning; gazing across the sun kissed orange rooftops of the city and also towards Belem, taking in the huge bridge across the River Tagus and the outstretched arms of the “Cristo Rei” statue on the opposite bank of the river.
As part of my exploration of the area I visited the imposing “Basilica da Estrela” this vast neoclassical monument is one of Lisbon’s most eye-catching landmarks.
Built in the second half of the 18th century to fulfill a vow by Queen Maria I after she gave birth to a son and heir, it has a huge rococo dome and a façade with twin bell towers decorated with an array of statues of saints and allegorical figures.
The spacious pink and black marble interior contains an elaborate Empire-style tomb of Queen Maria I, and an impressive Christmas manger composed of more than 500 figures. A visit to the dome is essential for the impressive views of the dome itself from the gallery, and then onto the roof for the views across the city of Lisbon, which, are quite exceptional.
A visit to Belem is essential although based on my experience this time do avoid Sundays as you get all the Lisboans heading for the beaches and the tourists sampling all that Belem has to offer, not least the famous cafe Antiga Confeitaria de Belem which has been serving delicious custard tarts in its rooms adorned with tiles since 1841. You can have a few inside or buy a dozen to savor by the riverfront as you admire the monuments, the river, and 25 de Abril Bridge.
Whilst wandering the streets you are never sure what you will find around the next corner, and so this came to be as I turned down one narrow street in the Madragoa area and came upon preparations for some kind of street party / celebration. There were several men preparing to carve a pig which had been roasted overnight and was still on the rotating spit, not an everyday sight in the UK!
On my last full day I had a stroll around the Lapa area (not far from Estrela) where many of the diplomatic Embassies are situated and some very desirable residencies (and luxury hotels). Some of the tiles on the front of buildings are magnificent and reflect the history of ceramic tile making which dates back several centuries.
So, Lisbon is a city of contrasts, from “shabby chic” to “modern luxury”, wonderful food and wine, the best espresso in Europe, weather that is not too hot, extremely friendly people and a kind of laid back atmosphere that says “chill out, there is no rush!”