The beautiful Loire Valley, with its romantic chateaus, the flowing river and the picturesque countryside.
I did not know quite what to expect in Lisbon… Sunshine, pasteis da Nata (the famous custard tart) and a vibe which says “nothing ever really happens in Lisbon” got me into an excited and happy place as I explored the ” Heart of Lisbon”.
The city is built on hills so anywhere you look is a maze of narrow and quirky streets with beautiful orange tiled houses and patterned tiles.
I started at Rossio square which is the meeting place for everyone and everything in Lisbon – tourists, locals, revolutions, protests, celebrations, colourful Tuk Tuks offering sightseeing tours.
It is a beautiful square to hang out in – a statue of King Pedro IV and lovely mosaic floors inspired by a tsunami from 1755.
Sitting in one of the coffee shops surrounding the square and watching life go by slowly was my introduction to Lisbon.
Looking up from Rossio I saw the distinctive top of Carmo convent on one corner and on the other a beautiful building which was the station for Sintra bound trains… Everywhere you turn there is a piece of beauty or history. Next stop was Sao Domingos or the church of St Dominic one of the most interesting churches in Lisbon. It was Sunday and the church was packed with Lisboners at Mass. A Star of David memorial outside the church stands as a reminder to the killings outside the church many centuries back.
It was time to try a shot of Ginjinha – classic liqueur made from Ginja (sour cherry) berries at the oldest and the most well known Ginjinha shop just off Rossio square.
Walking through a narrow and steep road running off the square brought me to Carmo convent which is a carmelite convent from the 14th century without a roof – it was destroyed in the earthquake. The convent was originally inhabited by the Carmelite order and more recently was the stage for the Carnation revolution of 1974 and is today the home of the Republican guards.
Walking down from the Carmo convent hill brought me to the Chiado – Baixa district – chic, classy and home to Lisbon s shopping, cafes and university. Looking down at the streets of R.do Carmo and R. Garrett from the top of the Santa Justa (a 30 m tall decorative iron elevator that is part of the city ‘s transport system – yes really!) is a view not to be missed.
Garrett road is also home to A Brasiliera which is one of the oldest and the first cafes set up to sell coffee imported from Brazil. Sitting on the promenade sipping a coffee from A Brasiliera listening to a street band belting out Portuguese music … It is the good life!
It was time to get on to one of Lisbon s colourful trams (No 28 has the best route for views) passing through narrow lanes and get to the square “Sol e portos”or “Doors to the Sun ” in Alfama which is the oldest and most atmospheric district in Lisbon.
From the square there is a great view of the Castle Sao Jorge on one side and the coast line on the other with a big cruise ship docked at the port this morning.
Fado music, narrow streets getting ready for the festivals in June and great restaurants – Alfama is a place you can spend a whole day in.
It was time for some wine, cheese and the famous Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts) before heading to the Praca de Comercio “the Commerce square” on the river Tagus.
Bairro Alto is Lisbon s hilly bohemian quarter and at night the vibrant go to place for food, drink and some music. Getting to it is easy – walk from the Praca Comercio or take one of the many trams headed that way. For the more active, a 7 Kms walk along the Tagus river brings you to Belem which is another atmospheric district in Lisbon and home to the Jeronimos monastery – a world Heritage site and resting place of Vasco Da Gama.
Lisbon is alluring – historic, atmospheric, sunny, relaxed and packs into it more than you think. It certainly surprised me…
I have found time to travel to many countries and live in 2 countries (3 if Scotland ever does becomes one!) and 6 cities during my career in finance. I was a diplomat first and started in the Indian Foreign Service with my first posting being Paris – The City of Light. And began my lifelong love of travel and coffee there! An MBA followed and I’ve been in finance since.