A view of the city (L) and The Jeronimos Monastery
Cruising at 39,000ft while sipping on a complimentary gin and tonic, it was hard not to feel smug about my forthcoming adventure in the Portuguese capital.
Having been promised a city of both culinary and cultural delights by almost everyone I’d spoken to, I had every reason to be excited.
But, as I slouched in my chair and daydreamed about the seafood odyssey that lay ahead, I heard a monophonic “bong” accompanied by the dreaded words.
“The captain’s popped the seatbelt sign on, could you return to your seats just as we pass through some light turbulence?” a calming voice asked politely over the tannoy.
Zooming around the steep, narrow streets of Lisbon’s picturesque “Old Town” to the east of the city centre
Thirty minutes later – and with an aggressively-recarbonated G&T threatening to erupt from my stomach – we mercifully escaped the swirling chaos in the skies and touched down at Humberto Delgado Airport.
A taxi from the airport into downtown Lisbon ordinarily takes less than 25 minutes, making arrival into the city centre a brief, pleasant anomaly among many of Europe’s big cities.
After a short conversation spent feeling grossly inferior to our charming bilingual ex-ultra marathon runner-turned-cab driver, we rolled into the stylish lobby of the newly-reopened AVANI Avenida Liberdade hotel to check-in.
Nestled along the city’s most luxurious shopping broadway, the AVANI Avenida Liberdade sits just off the picturesque main street, seconds walk from grand retailers plying big-name designer labels with quaint continental sidewalk cafes punctuating the sidewalk.
The hotel recently underwent a massive £1.3m refurbishment – and it feels that way. The decor is stylish and contemporary with quirky details scattered intriguingly throughout, a perfect compliment to the city outside.
Every room comes equipped with hi-speed wi-fi and satellite TV, ensuring you may stay abreast of every fresh political calamity back home in Blighty, while a well-stocked mini-bar is on hand if things really go south.
Enjoying a well-deserved break from my undersized flat in central London, I found the size of the bathrooms – which would no doubt have been converted into a split-level maisonette in my native Hackney – particularly satisfying.
Freshened up and rejuvenated after unpacking, we headed to the the Olivier Restaurant – the hotel’s in-house eatery – for a feast to remember. Recently relaunched with a delightfully ambitious menu, Olivier’s offers diners “contemporary, ingredient-focused food with a strong Portuguese accent”.
Armed with a herculean appetite, we sampled a delightful array of dishes from the menu – including a particularly spectacular octopus carpaccio – before retiring for the evening with bellies full.
The Tower of Belem, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
For a man stood 6ft 6ins tall, it’s not often I get to feel lost inside a bed. But spread-eagled across the entirety of the vast mattress, I slept like a baby and awoke refreshed and raring to go.
Eager to immerse ourselves in our surroundings, we took a whistle-stop tour of the town in a tuk-tuk.
Zooming around the steep, narrow streets of Lisbon’s picturesque “Old Town” to the east of the city centre, our friendly guide steered us to Jardim Augusto Gil – a quiet garden terrace offering a jaw-dropping vista of the city below.
I furiously snapped away, mindful of the potential to harvest a few Instagram likes from my envious pals back home, before we hopped in the tuk-tuk and slalomed back down ready for lunch at the Cervejaria Liberdade.
And what a lunch it was. I’d been briefed on the beauty of Portuguese seafood before I arrived but after tucking in to a treasure trove of the ocean’s finest wares I felt positively enlighten.
Street scene in the traditional Alfama, the old quarter of Lisbon
After mouthfuls of oysters washed down with luxuriously creamy dressed crab, I spotted a plate of purple, alien-like marine life lurking on the other side of the table.
“Goose barnacles,” our host informed me upon spotting my puzzled look. Offering a quick tutorial on how to eat the strange crustacean, I was let loose upon my own portion, managing to cause absolute chaos along the way.
The creature’s short, finger-like body contains a juicy, salty hunk of meat protected by a thick layer of leathery skin. In order to feast on its wares, you have to work for it, grabbing the ivory-like arrow tip before piercing and peeling away its inedible exterior.
Inexperienced consumers of the exotic snack – like myself – often make the mistake of squeezing the body of the clam while peeling, and the results are spectacular.
Deep in conversation with a friend as I vigorously worked away on the barnacle, I absent-mindedly pinched its neck, squirting a powerful jet of water against the window.
Humiliated by a dead clam, I took a vengeful bite and ruled the contest a draw.
Lisbon, along with Berlin, proudly boasts to be home to some of Europe’s most forward-thinking street artists.
On almost every street corner, covering many of the buildings around town – and even subtly built into the pavements lining Lisbon’s streets, art soaks through the heart of the city.
Having gotten a flavour for the city the previous day, Pedro, a local street art guide, invited us for a tour delving into the history of its thriving creative scene. The most interesting stop on the tour took us to Quinta Do Mocho, a neighbourhood located around 30 minutes outside the city centre.
Populated almost exclusively by first and second generation migrants arriving from historic Portuguese colonies like Cape Verde and Angola, Quinto Do Mocho is a grid of uniform blocks offering social housing to some of the city’s most deprived residents.
The Monument to the Discoveries
The neighbourhood was once amputated from the city’s main public transport links, making it difficult for many to find jobs and income an in already-struggling economy. But in recent times, investments of both time and resources have steadily attempted to rejuvenate the impoverished area.
One such project allowed street artists from all over the world to claim a wall on one of the housing blocks with which to decorate. The spectacular results make for an intriguing, if a little morally-conflicting, adventure around the neighbourhood.
Groups of tourists, ourselves included, roam the streets marvelling at the breathtaking murals plastered over nearly every building. Inside, gloomy residents stare back out, apparently with little to gain from the tours briefly dropping in to marvel at their art.
It is far from perfect, Pedro admitted, but only some years earlier, Quinto had been regarded off-limits to tourists visiting the city.
Driving back into town, we headed for the LX Factory – a trendy mishmash of cafes, bars, shops, art venues – and even a yoga studio.
View from the Tagus River of Lisbon
Once a manufacturing district strip on a nondescript piece of land underneath the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge in the Alcantara district, the space has been reclaimed by Lisbon’s creative trailblazers.
Here too, street art punctuates the industrial landscape. Famed urban sculpture artist Bordalo II is just one of the many names to have contributed to the area’s trendy catalogue of creations. His eye-catching bee installation – creating using recycled scrap metal – clings proudly to the outside of the district’s bustling hostel.
That afternoon, we trundled back up into the picturesque heights of Lisbon’s east downtown headed for Pharmacia. Connected to the city’s Museum of Pharmacy next door, the stylish restaurant offers patrons a unique dining experience inside a medicinal-themed main room.
A favourite with locals and tourists alike, reservations are essential for anyone hoping to immerse themselves in the weirdness. For those fortunate enough to visit, a delightful sharing menu awaits.
After gorging on a gluttonous diet consisting almost exclusively of fish, meat and pastries for the past two days, the delicate dishes proved a welcome break for both mouths and bellies to enjoy.
Equestrian statue of King Jose I with the arch in background at the Praca do Comercio
The goat cheese salad paired with mango slushie proved a particular hit before we polished off some delightfully rich and chocolatey desserts stole the show, leaving a table of smiling faces and empty plates.
With our time in Lisbon winding down, I took off in search of the famed Time Out market eager to check out the bustling food metropolis for myself.
Touted as a must-see for tourists visiting the city, the stylish dining hall offers a taste from many of Lisbon’s most iconic restaurants and bakeries, all handily assembled under the same roof.
During the daytime, the grand complex is packed out with diners feasting on fresh seafood and smoked meats – but during the early evening, the market’s wineries and bars offer a different, more raucous experience.
Having made the mandatory stop off to stock up on garish and unsightly fridge magnets, it was time to depart. But, battling flashbacks to our turbulent arrival while sat on the plane to leave, I knew I’d be back – just for one more goose barnacle.
Nightly rates at AVANI Avenida Liberdade Lisbon Hotel start from €138/£116 for a double room based on a B&B basis. http://www.minorhotels.com/en/avani/lisbon
Published at Wed, 11 Oct 2017 14:01:00 +0000