Lisbon, Portugal: the good, bad and ugly sides to one of Europe’s hottest, hippest cities

3 September 2019 - South China Morning Post

Portugal won an impressive 39 prizes at the 2019 World Travel Awards. Lisbon led the way in the European category, winning Best Cruise Port, Leading Business Hotel and Leading City Tourist Board. But perhaps the most impressive feat of all was being named Europe’s Leading City Break Destination for the third year running. That’s some achievement when you consider the competition.

The Portuguese capital sits on seven hills, which is handy if you’re trying to get your bearings. Miradouro means “viewpoint” and there are lots of landscaped lookouts around the city, usually with a cafe or restaurant, chairs and tables positioned to take advantage of the lofty location.

The postcard photographer’s favourite, Miradouro das Portas do Sol, overlooks the terracotta rooftops of Alfama, the ancient Moorish quarter, which tumbles down to the Tagus river. And far above, the honey-hued ramparts of Castelo Sao Jorge provide views that extend into the heat-hazed hinterland.

After a pastry and coffee pick-me-up, hop on a tram. Part public transport, part fairground ride and part national treasure, the clanking canary-yellow electricos snake their way up and down the steep, narrow streets. The number 28 carries passengers past many of Lisbon’s best-known sights as well as plenty of fascinating nooks and crannies that don’t rate a mention in any guidebook. The trams lurch within centimetres of parked cars, pedestrians and laundry billowing on balconies. Lean out of the window to get a better view and you might never lean back in again.

Lisbon’s clean, unpolluted air and benign climate encourage people to live life outdoors for most of the year, and the City of Light is pleasantly affordable compared with other western European capitals. You can order a coffee for €1 (HK$9) and enjoy a creamy pastel de nata for even less. The Pastéis de Belém bakery draws a steady stream of sweet-toothed sightseers eager to sample its signature egg tarts, which have been made on the premises since 1837. Don’t bother asking for the recipe – only three of the owners and three chefs are in on the secret.

Another tram runs to Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s magnificent maritime gateway, where royalty and heads of state were welcomed for business and banquets.

Talking of culinary blowouts, alfresco restaurants in the area serve up fresh seafood dishes such as camarao com alho (garlic prawns) polvo à lagareiro (octopus and potatoes in herbed olive oil) and salmão grelhado (grilled salmon), washed down with a glass or two of refreshingly crisp vinho verde.

Source: South China Morning Post

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