Last year I bookended my trip to the Azores with nights in Lisbon. Whilst this gave me an introduction to the city, I didn’t have time to explore and to start to get to really know the city, or its surrounding area. This year I decided to spend a week in the area visiting the sights, sampling the food, and generally having a good time. On my first day I landed at late in the afternoon so, after checking in to my hotel in Belém, I set out to explore the neighbourhood. Walking down the waterfront I came across a restaurant called Café In which was definitely more than just a café – the Moët and mango cheesecake was particularly impressive!
The next morning I had an early start as I had a guided run around Lisbon City centre. As well as going to the usual tourist hot-spots Pedro, my guide, showed me his favourite restaurant for grilled sardines, Pateo 13 in Alfama.
After returning to the hotel for breakfast I headed straight to Pastéis da Belém for a traditional Portuguese custard tart and then on to the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre (Portuguese School of Equestrian Art). Here you can wander around the stables and the training/warm-up paddock before crossing the road to the main arena where more elaborate training takes place.
Just down the road from the equestrian centre is O Frade, a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant where you can sit at the counter and watch your food be expertly prepared right in front of you whilst sipping on a glass of their vinho da Talha that they still make in traditional earthenware amphorae.
After lunch I was collect from my hotel for a tuk-tuk tour of Lisbon. Whilst this covered some of the same ground as my running tour, it meant I could also have a good look round and take in more of the city and her sights.
In the evening I took the bus into the city centre – a Lisboa Card is a convenient way to get around as it gives you unlimited public transport and also free entry to over 30 museums. I went to the Time Out market where you have a huge choice of stalls to eat from, including some which are run by award winning chefs such as Henrique Sá Pessoa from the two Michelin-starred Alma restaurant, in Chiado. After visiting a couple of the stalls and having a couple of cocktails at one of the bars in the Time Out food hall, I headed up to Barrio Alto and stumbled across a local band in a bar and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the live music.
The next morning, nursing a slight hangover, I had an easy day mooching around Belém, revisiting some of the spots from the tuk-tuk tour before making use of my Lisboa Card to hop on a bus and jump off at a random stop that looked like an interesting area. After a short walk I found a Quimera Brewpub, and craft beer and NY Deli style pub inside a historical tunnel dating from 1740.
The following morning I had another early start for a guided run, this time around the forest of Monsanto. The views from the deserted Panorâmico de Monsanto are stunning. This abandoned restaurant was reopened and repurposed as a viewing platform from where you have a 360 degree view over the city.
After breakfast I headed to one of Lisbon’s news attractions, Quake – Lisbon Earthquake Centre. Here you take an immersive trip back in time to 1755 and get to learn about, and experience, the earthquake and subsequent fire and tsumami that has shaped much of Lisbon since the disaster. The programme lasts about 90 minutes, and along with the earthquake simulators you can learn about the science of earthquakes and about the reconstruction of Lisbon and the figures involved – evidence of which is all around you as you walk through the city centre, so it’s well worth checking out so you can appreciate the change in buildings and the streets as you move through the city.
After visiting Quake I headed into the city in search of good food! In my wandering I passed Tapisco, a Michelin listed restaurant, ran by Henrique Sá Pessoa, where many of the dishes are designed for sharing! After lunch I visited Livraria Bertrand, founded in 1732 it survived the earthquake of 1755, and is recognised as the oldest continuously operating bookshop in the world. They have a selection of English language books, and will stamp your purchases to prove where it was bought.
In the evening I returned to Chiado to eat at the newly opened Gunpowder Lisbon restaurant. With Portugal’s connection to Goa and Mumbai I was keen to see their take on Indian cuisine, and I was not disappointed.
The next day I met my friend Chesca off the plane for the next part of my holiday where we were based outside of the city, in Sintra, and exploring some of the activities (mainly climbing) that the area has to offer. We managed to get a few climbs in on the slabs beneath the Moorish Castle that dominates Sintra before an unseasonal thunderstorm rolled in. So, we headed into the castle to get a hot drink, and explore the castle, and marvel in the views from atop of the ramparts.
The next morning we awoke to more rain so headed into Lisbon to visit a climbing wall for a few hours to give the crag time to dry before returning to Sintra where we ticked off a couple of routes I’d had my eye on before finding another restaurant for a meal in the evening.
For the third day of climbing I’d arranged a trip to the coast to see the cliffs at Cascais for some short, but unexpectedly hard, climbing. We then headed to the main beach at Cascais to a guided paddleboard tour out to sea to the lighthouse before we returned to dry land and an excellent meal on the beachfront.
We had planned to climb in the afternoon but another storm blew in so we sat in another beachfront restaurant, drank Porto Tónico, and played cards. Once the storm passed we headed into Cascais to explore and found the wonderful House of Wonders – a vegetarian restaurant with rooftop area as well as indoor seating, ran by a Nepalese family.
For our last morning we had arranged a guided bouldering session with Ricardo, who literally wrote the book on bouldering in Sintra. It’s a stunning area and would be a great place for a trail run or to go mountain biking. As well as showing us the area, Ricardo was able to give us some technique tips so that we could make it up routes that we initially thought would be beyond our abilities.
Once the climbing was over we headed into Lisbon of our last meal – and I saved the best till last. I had booked a 5-course discovery menu at Arkhe, a vegetarian Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant, and that was voted in the top 10 restaurants in Portugal in 2020.
We turned up bloody, covered in climbing chalk, and Chesca was limping having hurt her ankle, but they didn’t bat an eyelid. They took all our luggage off us, gave us warm towels to wash our hands and face, and as Chesca was trying to rest her injured ankle on a chair a waiter came over with a wine bottle cooler so she could ice her ankle. The customer service was equalled by the quality of the food. Every course was excellent and bursting with flavour. It was a great way to round off a fantastic trip.
Lisbon, and it’s surrounding area, is a great place to come if you like good food, and, even though it is a major European city, you can easily get out of the city to find a bit more adventure (be it climbing, mountain biking, running, or paddleboarding). I certainly can’t wait to go back!
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