My Lisbon Guest post today is by Fiona Hilliard of ArgusCarHire. Fiona usually writes about car hire Faro, but after a recent visit to Lisbon and its coastline, she was eager to share her experiences of Portugal’s west coast.
The essence of Lisbon in Alfama
Santa Justa Elevator: check
Bairro Alto: check
Castelo Sao Jorge: chee-eck
You can’t say you’ve truly experienced the essence of the Portuguese capital until you’ve made at least one trip to Alfama.
“Alfama is a higgledy-piggledy neighbourhood where sunshine yellow trams squeeze through pin-thin streets and twittering songbirds flutter between top floor balconies…”
When describing Alfama it’s impossible not to sound like you’re referencing a scene dreamt up by Walt Disney. Yes it’s slushy, but it’s also true, so in it goes. Indeed every street you pass is a pastel-coloured blockbuster waiting to happen.
28 is the magic number. Sharpen your elbows at the Chiado and scramble aboard this vintage tourist tram – if you’re lucky you might just nab a window seat. As the streetcar sets off on its uphill route, ordinary details like cobblestones, chipped wall tiles and swirly streetlamps became weirdly fascinating – and very photogenic, but once you reach Alfama, the whole city of Lisbon opens up like a pop-up book.
There’s the dazzling River Tagus, a ready-mixed backdrop for the artists sketching the brilliant white churches, terracotta rooftops and gently swaying palm trees. Tempting as it is to do nothing but sit and watch the paintings take shape, a sense of incurable curiosity prevails, propelling you up mountainous steps and winding streets, on and on past secret Fado bars and snoozing cats, flapping paper chains and festive lanterns. Make sure you have plenty of memory in your camera because you‘ll be compelled to photograph everything in sight. As light fades, let the magnetic blue of the Tagus tow you back downhill.
Evening in Lisbon is signalled by the smoky smell of sardines grilling. First popularised by the city’s patron saint, St Anthony, sardines have been celebrated as Lisbon’s favourite dish ever since the 13th century. After eating your fill of oily fish, enjoy a little R and R and prepare yourself for a night on the tiles.
Night falls in Lisbon
Lisbon is as famous for its lively nightlife as it is for its seven hills. From the trendy ‘dive’ bars of Bairro Alto to the celebrity owned hangouts that line the waterfront, sleep should be the last thing on your mind when you find yourself in the Portuguese capital after-dark. One of the city’s most unusual venues is an all-night circus school called Chapito. Situated high in the hills of Alfama, Chapito attracts a kaleidoscopic whirl of actors, artists and guitar-strumming bohemians. Any sense of surrealism is dispelled by the stunning views of the cityscape that stretch from Alfama’s warren of tightly knit rooftops to the winking lights of the 25 de Abril Bridge and the Docas waterfront.
Just beyond Lisbon
Dance ‘til dawn parties not your cup of tea? Don’t worry – it’s not all ‘go’ in Lisbon.
More tranquil pursuits can be found in the towns and villages of the Lisbon coastline. First stop on the coast road is the historic town of Belém. The architectural wonders of Belém Tower and Jeronimós Monastery make it a worthwhile day-trip, but no journey to Belém should be considered complete without sampling a locally baked custard tart. These crisp, papery pastries are purported to be the best in Lisbon – try for yourself before leaving town. They should at least see you through the 25-minute car journey to Sintra.
Once described by the poet Byron as “Glorious Eden”, Sintra is home to no less than three wonderfully romantic palaces and has been classified as a World Heritage site since 1995. The most westerly point in Europe is not far from here – neither are the pristine golf courses of Estoril.
After a leisurely round in Estoril, proceed down the A5 motorway to the seaside town of Cascais. Along with Estoril and Oerias, Cascais forms what is known as the Portuguese Riviera.
A handsome town hall with painted shutters, black and white cobbled thoroughfares and a colourful beachside market all contribute to a sense of old-fashioned colonial decadence. Throughout the summer months, the main square is filled with al-fresco diners and open-air music performances. There are various cultural attractions on offer too, including Museu do Mar (Museum of the Sea) where you can learn all about the area’s sea faring explorers and their heritage. Though, with surroundings so beautiful, it’s hard to see why anyone ever wanted to leave.
Having just returned from Lisbon I can agree with everything Fiona suggests – get lost in those narrow streets and make sure you take your most comfortable shoes for those steep hills and cobbled streets! Sadly, we didn’t have time to explore all of things just outside Lisbon, but all the more reason to return another time. If you need a car to get around Portugal’s coast, the check out Fiona’s website at Argoscarhire