I first went to Lisbon about 10 years ago. I knew absolutely nothing about the city or indeed Portugal. Just some vague impression about the Algarve. I had absolutely no expectations and it was just an impulsive last minute thought of ‘why not?”
I only chose the hotel because of a review I read about its incredible views from the bar and we booked a room with a terrace. When we arrived at the airport the taxi driver kept on asking are you sure you want to go to this area? Richard and I looked at each other ‘what had we done? Where had we booked? But we subsequently found out the driver was puzzled as this was a residential area not known for its hotels.
Well the Albergaria Senhora Do Monte is certainly different. It is a 2 star hotel run a la Fawlty Tower but but the location and the views are breathtaking. Its high up on the hill in Graca an area close to Alfama with narrow streets. We had a room which was basic clean decent size with a small bathroom but an enormous terrace overlooking the city and views of St George’s castle which is one of the most famous sites in Lisbon.
We loved it. It was August, the weather was warm and sunny and we would wander down the narrow street buy amazing fruits and vegetables cold cuts wine and spend late afternoons and nights on the terrace. We hired a car one day and went to the beach recommended by the hotel. It was horrible with yucky restaurants and packed with people. We subsequently stumbled on another beach which had a very stylish bar and miles of empty beaches.
Another day we just drove outside Lisbon wanting to find another deserted beach but we got hopelessly lost and found a series of breathtaking lakes that we had to ourselves. The waters were warm clear and we were just enamoured. We thought we would be able to re-find them but never have. We are still looking. We have been to other lakes but not those particular ones.
Since that trip we have been going to Lisbon regularly mostly staying at the Torel Palace which we love love , and when we cant get a room we have stayed Palacio Belmonte in Alfama. Lisbon is on the Iberian peninsula surrounded by the Atlantic and Tagus river which makes it a stunningly visual city with the hills and waters. What I didn’t know was that Lisbon is also the oldest city in Western Europe predating Rome Paris and London!
Lisbon as a city has gone through some enormous changes since we have been going. Its become the place to be for investments with prices tripling in few years. There is a lot of updating of the old palaces and buildings and you can see the hive of activity in this hilly city. I absolutely hate walking as I am so lazy but Lisbon just begs to be walked in. Alfama with its narrow streets and Fado clubs and restaurants is pretty pretty. Barrio Alto and Chiado chic with lots going on.
I love the majesty of Baixa which was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1775. Each area has it charm and identity . The Portuguese are just so laid back and I love the rhythm of pace there and everyone is just so friendly. We often get up have breakfast walk around taking a tram in the more hilly places or funicular. Its very easy to get about. Slowly over the years’ we have come to know the city fairly well but we are always surprised at how much we still don’t know. There is always another square another restaurant another area.
The old dock area has gone through massive redevelopment and we went last time and dined by the sea where there are lots of bars and eating places. This simply was not there when we first went. Belem is also a fascinating area. Its were the Portages would set off on their voyages. Vasco De Gama began his trip to India from there!
I guess my favourite part if I had to choose would be the old historic city. It is very pretty with narrow meandering streets. We love Alfama which is were the most of the ‘authentic’ tourist Fado clubs are. Fado is type of melodic love song and its very alluring. There are lots of Fado clubs some better than others. We love Clube de Fado and Sr Vino because wonderful music and good food.
Lisbon also has a really vibrant art scene and lots of small fashion designers. It’s a city that you fall in love with slowly. It grows on you and I have to confess I am totally addicted to it.