Lisbon ranks as one of the most charming and easy-going cities of Europe.
This pastel port is set amid seven steep hills, against the backdrop of the cool blue of the Tagus River.
Lisbon retains medieval vestiges, with narrow winding streets and ancient cathedrals, but it also has wide plazas, trendy districts with typically Portuguese architecture known as Manueline and sights well worth exploring.
Portuguese, particularly Lisboners, are friendly and helpful. While many speak English or French do not expect everyone to understand you.
Lisbon is a relatively small city best explored on foot, in order to peer into small stores, featuring impressive arrays of souvenirs, copperware, artwork, and port wines.
If you want to listen to soulful Portuguese lyrical tradition and music, called fado, all you have to do is walk the narrow streets of Old Lisbon and sit down in one of the many bars. Order a glass of wine and soon you will be immersed in Portuguese tradition.
Lisbon, located along the Tagus River is an old city dating back to 800 A. D. and possibly earlier. Moors, North African Arabs, who occupied Spain for centuries were here too, and built the largest castle (St Jorge) in Europe, atop one of the seven hills. It is impressive and well-worth visiting to enjoy vistas of the city and harbour. Portuguese navigators of the 16 – 19th centuries sailed out of Lisbon to discover and conquer many regions. They sailed as far as Japan and dominated Macau, Goa, Mozambique and Angola and Brazil and a few other countries. Lisbon’s port today houses a small but fine museum of days bygone. If you like museums, you must visit the Gulbenkian Museum donated by the multimillionaire Armenian petroleum intermediary who found refuge here during World War II. The museum was custom-designed for the artefacts accumulated over the years. All are in pristine condition and absolutely fascinating to study.
The Church of the Mother of God, although small, is one of the most beautiful in Europe, and is a must-see. Permeated by the glow of a golden age long past, Lisbon is a cultural melting pot where Brazilian, African, and Asian influences vie for attention with those of native Portuguese.
Today, the city is very much a work in progress, as construction and rehabilitation projects often financed by the EU make for noisy and chaotic traffic conditions.
The seminal event in Lisbon’s history occurred in 1755, when a huge earthquake and subsequent tidal wave destroyed much of the city. The core was eventually reconstructed, and today the Rococo district known as Baixa forms the nucleus. Its modern street grid stands in contrast to the steep warrens that lie just to the east, in the quarter called Alfama. This was the old Moorish Casbah, until the catholic armies reconquered it in the 12th century. Bario Alto houses the best nightclubs, cafes and restaurants.
No visit to Lisbon would be complete without exploring the Tore de Belem, a Renaissance stone tower that stands guard over the harbour, or seeing the imposing Mostrerio dos Jeronimas and its huge cathedral, the final resting place of Vasco de Gama, the discoverer of India.
While in Lisbon, all tourists should make a side trip to Estoril, a 20-minute train ride, to see how spies from both alliance armies and European high society dawdled the months of World War II.
The Casino and hotels are worth visiting to study past splendours.
Wine lovers interested in sweet Muscat wines can visit Setubal nearby and those who really like to know how cork is harvested will have an opportunity to see workers peel off barks from trees. (Portugal is the world’s biggest cork producer). The country offers a reasonably well-developed tourism infrastructure at reasonable prices.
If you go: British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa offer daily flights from Toronto via their European hubs to Lisbon.
Canadian charter airlines operate weekly non-stop flights from Toronto
Hotels: Alfo Lisboa, Hotel Eduardo VII, Four Seasons, Hoteis Heritage Lisboa, Hotel Real Parque, Lapa Palace are recommended.
Restaurants: Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho, (www. chafarizdovinho.com)
El Nariz do Ninho Tinto, Pap Acorda