Lisbon, a weekend break in the Portuguese capital
From Belem to the boutiques
For the capital of a country whose emblem is the proud yet humble rooster, it’s a very glamorous destination.
Our Monica Bellucci-smitten driver drops us off at the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa after a 15 minute journey from the airport.
By this time, he’s also revealed that Madonna has a home in the capital, and John Malkovich part owns a restaurant, Bico da Sapata, here.
I’d imagine that, if they didn’t already own Lisbon mansions, these celebs might be staying somewhere like this.
Our 285-room five star hotel, built in 1933, is situated on the Avenida da Liberdade – a leafy promenade lined with designer shops and restaurants.
You get an instant hit of excitement when entering, since the atrium is so spectacularly theatrical. It’s a social space, lined with balconies, and there’s a branch of high-end boutique, Loewe, plus a Lobby Bar at one end, where they serve a light menu.
However, the focal point is a long table laden with giant floral displays – lilies, pussy willow and, very aptly on our visit, lucky white heather.
Their basement Anantara Spa offers therapies, including their prana-promoting signature massage, which takes place in one of their apartment sized treatment rooms. There’s also an outdoor swimming pool, surrounded by loungers and palms. It was winter on our visit though, and an ice-cold plunge didn’t take our fancy.
Our bedroom was very pared-back and chic, in its neutral tones, with a fancy marble bathroom, where we primped for dinner.
The rooftop Sky Bar was closed on our visit (it’s shut from October to March), and their new Art Deco inspired Seen Lisboa eatery was booked up,
We had hoped to go watch some fado singers, but, as they generally come with a meal, and the hotel’s other restaurant, Cervejaria Liberdade, looked so tempting, we ended up missing their mournful tunes and guitar strumming.
Oh well, by staying put, we got to try practically everything that our taxi driver had recommended – octopus, the soft white cheese that is queijo de Azeitão, cod and black pork. It was utter heaven, no sad song needed.
The only thing we didn’t eat was a pastel de nata, since they’re really more of a breakfast or tea time thing.
All the tourists queue up for the supposedly best in town at Pasteis de Belem – a tram ride away, in an area where you can cross the rickety wooden bridge to Belem Tower, walk the cloisters of Jeronimos Monastery, see the Museu Nacional dos Coches (yes, a museum of coaches), and discover the architecturally incredible MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) on the banks of the Tagus river.
We did all of that, but after a lengthy wait to get into the tower, we were too impatient to hang around for custard tarts.
Thus, we skipped the chaotic block-long Pasteis de Belem throng, and ended up at a corner cafe called Versailles, where we shared three very good ones. I guess we’ll never know how they compare, though ours looked triple the size, so that’s one point in the quieter cafe’s favour.
They gave us enough of a sugar boost to make it to Baixa, where you’ll find the Elevador de Santa Justa, among other attractions, and Chiado, for boutiques that include the marvellous A Vida Portuguesa. It sells authentic products, like gorgeously packaged lotions and potions, stationery, toys, food and, most importantly for me, ceramics. I left with a sardine, a white caterpillar on a leaf dish, and their signature swallow by artist Bordalo Pinheiro.
I carried my swag up the steep hill to our final destination – the ruins of Sao Jorge Castle.
It was early evening when we reached the citadel walls. There were peacocks roosting way up in the trees, and the colourful city with its tiled streets and red roofs looked beautiful.
I hope Monica Bellucci appreciates this view as much as the taxi drivers of Lisboa appreciate her.
Rooms start from £161 at the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade (Avenida da Liberdade, 185 1269-050, Lisboa). For more information, call (+351) 21 319 89 00 or see www.tivolihotels.com
For more information on Lisbon, see www.visitlisboa.com. Their Lisboa Card starts from E19 for 24 hours and includes free admission to some 29 museums, monuments and places of interest, plus discounts on many more.