As a Lifestyle Manager/VA I often get asked to book a client holiday or a long weekend away. A popular choice seems to be Lisbon (only 2 and a half hours away from Heathrow), of which I am a bit of a fan. Lisbon is my second home town after London, my parents live in the outskirts by the coast and I make it my mission to visit at least twice a year. As soon as I touch down at Lisbon airport I breathe a big sigh of relief with an overwhelming sense that I have arrived home. The smells, the heat are all so wildly different to London.
Lisbon is a grand city built on seven hills with wide avenues filled with decadent, faded buildings as well as tiny cobbled alleyways. Cafes and restaurants abound, the choice is limitless. As the country has evolved there is much more variety, now you can easily find Sushi bars, Chinese restaurants, Indian restaurants with countless trendy highly designed clubs and bars that co exist with the more traditional Fado bars of the Bairro Alto and Alfama. These old areas of Lisbon come alive at about 11pm when people drinking spill out on to the street, loud music blaring, drunken teenagers kissing on street corners away from the prying eyes of the older generation that would disappove. Portugal remains a strict catholic country with a somewhat narrow minded view on certain behaviour.
If you only had one night in Lisbon I would recommend you try the Cervejaria Trindade, an old Monastery converted into a cavernous restaurant serving traditional Portuguese cuisine, rough and ready with not many thrills but utterly delicious and excellent value for money. This would be followed by exploring the bars of the Bairro Alto just round the corner. A couple of nights before our wedding in Southern Portugal we had a fantastic evening with friends doing just that! We kicked off proceedings with a drink at Bairro Alto Hotel's terrace bar with incredible views over Lisbon and the river, if you're not staying here it is well worth the trip as you'll find yourself torn between staying and relishing the view, or going off to explore more tiny, intriguing unnamed bars down a back alley. I used to love discovering a great underground bar with a deceptively small door leading down to the coolest biggest room you'd ever seen, filled with beautiful people and great Caipirinhas! Now with the toddler those days have long gone.
Portuguese cuisine can be described as being more peasant like than sophisticated. It is more akin to Southern Italian food than French with a strong Arabic influence, such as the prevalent use of herbs like coriander and mint. Fish and Seafood are a mainstay of the Portuguese diet especially Bacalhau,.You'll find it on every menu, up and down the country. Don't be afraid give it a go, it's delicious. I'd recommend Bacalhau a Bras or Bacalhau com Natas or even Assado. Other favourites of mine are Bitoque (Beef in a delicious sauce with a fried egg on top served with the double carbs chips and rice with a couple of lettuce leaves just for decoration). The Portuguese are the European King's of the Pudding, there are endless recipes and in any gathering or even a Sunday lunch there will always be a choice of 3. Again here are some of my favourites Babas De Camelo (translates as Camel's Dribble), Arroz Doce (sweet and creamy rice pudding) and Farofias (Floating islands swimming in creme anglaise). Look out for any of these on a menu and get ordering!
Other Bars/Restaurants that are worth making a trip to in Lisbon are Portas Do Sol, Terreiro Do Paco and Casa Do Leao and one of my other Lisbon haunts Pap'Acorda for the dramatic atmosphere and great modern Portuguese food.
A trip to Lisbon is however not complete without paying Pasteis de Belem a visit where you can experience the original Pastel de Nata, which I wrote about here: http://roomtobreatheva.blogspot.com/2011/08/portuguese-custard-tarts.html I also make a big point of going to the Cafe A Brasileira in the Chiado. It dates back to 1905 and was a favourite hang out of Fernando Pessoa (the most famous Portuguese poet) as well as other Bohemian writers and artists. Fantastic shots of expresso (made from pure Brazilian coffee beans) accompanied by a delicious sugary Palmiere send the adrenaline rushing around your body. A great recovery trick for your legs exhausted from climbing all those hills and battling with the awkward cobblestones (A word of warning: Do NOT wear heels in Lisbon). If you're lucky enough to get a table outside on the terrace, it's one of the best places to people watch, you'll be in good company too as the statue of Pessoa resides at the end.
I'll be devoting a few posts to Lisbon in the coming weeks, so let me know if there's anything else you'd like to hear about!