lisbon

It’s hard not to be charmed by Lisbon. Sprinkled over seven hills on the bank of the River Tagus, the city is one of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful. It vibrates to the echoes of history while at the same time thrusting into the future with infectious optimism.

The hills, trams, thriving gay scene and bridge designed by the same architect earn comparisons with San Francisco, yet Lisbon’s soul is uniquely Portuguese. A stroll will take you from medieval ramparts through cobbled alleyways lined with family-run restaurants and drinking dens and past crumbling buildings adorned with street art three storeys high. You’ll find the Praça do Comércio, the size of five football pitches, ringed with monumental architecture. Finally, you’ll reach the riverside clubs where revellers dance all night, energised by the prospect of a prosperous future.

Portugal’s battered economy is bouncing back from the Eurozone crisis and Lisbon is leading the way: renovating rundown areas, supporting local businesses and attracting entrepreneurship. It’s a forward-looking mentality that is allowing creativity to flourish.

Doubtless Lisbon’s contemporary culture is inspired by Portugal’s colonial past, with Angolan, Brazilian, Goan and Mozambican influences meshing in this cosmopolitan capital. Whether you want to eat kulyachem tonak (Goan crab curry), rave all night to kudoro (high-speed Angolan dance music) or sip ginjinha (cherry liqueur) from a hole-in-the-wall bar, all senses will be satisfied.

Exploration is a pleasure as the sun shines more often than not here on the edge of Europe (a Lisboeta would say the centre), illuminating vistas from rooftop bars and miradouros (public viewpoints), encouraging dining, drinking and dancing outside and warmly nudging you to peek around just one more corner.

What you find in Lisbon may reveal the sense of the Portuguese word “saudade”. There is no direct translation but its essence is of a bittersweet longing, like that of a woman who marries a man who goes to sea. Whatever you’re yearning for, Lisbon is a good place to come and find it – or, have so much fun that you’ll forget you ever wanted it.

TO STAY

AlmaLusa Baixa/Chiado

Discreetly nestled in the corner of the regal Praça do Município, the listed building that houses AlmaLusa Baixa/Chiado is a slice of understated and authentic elegance. Stone floors, creaky staircases and low beams form the structure of this 18th-century hideaway, with each of it’s 28 rooms decked out with painted tiles, local linens, soaps and handmade textiles. Open your shutters to views of the Targus River overlooking over the majestic square, and before hopping on the tram, have breakfast on the cobbled terrace below at Delfina’s.

Memmo Alfama

Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood and one of the few to survive the calamitous 1755 earthquake. This 19th-century factory has been reimagined as a stylish but relaxed four-star hotel with roof terrace, wine bar, infinity pool and “one more drink” views.

LX Boutique

Modern, artsy, chic and popular among a fashionable 20-30-something crowd. Each floor is themed by a feature of the city, rooms are light and airy with the front-facing ones enjoying glorious views of the river. The restaurant serves great sushi.

Casa Oliver

For the ultimate no-fuss but frills stay, look no further than this super guesthouse, set in a neoclassical townhouse with walls that seem a metre thick and incredible views of the botanical gardens. By midnight, staff have left the premises so there’s no late-night room service or concierge; instead, there’s complete tranquility and a homely feel. Wake up to birdsong from the gardens, throw open the shutters of your well-equipped (vintage radio, flat screen tv, extra king bed, marble shower room) suite, and head down to a simple continental breakfast with great coffee and the friendliest, most helpful owners.

As Janelas Verdes

Once home to 18th-century realist writer José Maria de Eça de Queiroz – one of the nation’s greats – this mini palace has a rooftop library in his name and 29 beautiful rooms decorated classically to reflect its rich history: think sumptuous fabrics, elaborate adornments, wooden furnishings and stern oil paintings. From the roof you can see the Tagus, the stretch of wide, leafy streets below and the Ancient Art Museum next door.

Memmo Alfama

Casa Oliver

As Janelas Verdes

LX Boutique

AlmaLusa Baixa/Chiado

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