City break: Why Lisbon and nearby Sintra should be on your client's wish list
Portugal | March 22, 2018
Lisbon is one of the sunniest cities in Europe and Sintra is a cultural gem - there's much to explore
With new TAP flights connecting London City and Lisbon, Aspire editor Hollie-Rae Brader jumped aboard and headed to the Portuguese capital and nearby cultural gem Sintra
First of all, it claims to be the sunniest city in Europe. Second of all...do you need a second of all?
With almost year-round sunshine (an average of 290 days a year), Portugal is a firm favourite among Brits.
But while, traditionally, the focus has been on Lisbon’s affordability, the city’s luxury offering – its hotels and beautifully refined food scene - has been growing quietly in the background, waiting for the right time to pounce on high-end travellers. That time is now.
There were already luxury staples such as the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon and Palacio Belmonte, believed to be one of French designer Christian Louboutin’s favourite properties. And the introduction of Avani and the rebirth of Tivoli in the city with the recent renovations at Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa take things up a notch. There’s certainly plenty to draw in those searching for the finer things in life, or in this case the finer things in Lisbon.
Of course, while luxury seekers are looking for a certain je ne sais quoi, they also appreciate value for money – so the affordability of even the city’s luxury offering is just another tick in the box for the Portuguese capital.
Tivoli Avenida Liberdade, part of the Minor Hotel Group (which also operates Anantara and Avani), is in the centre of the city, on a tree-lined road full of designer shops and cafes. Having recently undergone a £13.3 million refurbishment, my home for my visit is super trendy and elegant, with locals and tourists alike clamouring to visit its rooftop venue Sky Bar.
The cool nature of this property is reinforced on check-in as I’m informed that the Portuguese GQ Man of the Year awards after-party is being held at the hotel during my stay.
In the revamp, all 285 rooms were expanded and a lighter decor used. Changes to the lobby have resulted in the space being lighter and more vibrant, with a bright blue and grey colour scheme.
Suggest clients head to the hotel’s newly-introduced fish restaurant Cervejaria Liberdade, located just off the main lobby space, where the decor is divine and the food is too.
The new culinary venue is another string to this extremely foodie city’s bow. Visits to Tavares and Michelin-starred venue Eleven will certainly whet your appetite and fill your belly.
You simply can’t leave the city without trying its famed sweet and perfectly crisp custard tarts. Head to Pasteis de Belem to sample them, but beware, this place is so popular it isn’t unusual to see queues stretching down the street. I promise, it’s worth the wait!
Another local delicacy is tipple ginja – you’ll find countless hole-in-the-wall bars serving this sweet but strong sour cherry-based treat.
After a tipple or two, head to the bohemian neighbourhood of Bairro Alto in a century-old wooden tram. The windy cobbled streets are full of tiny petiscos (tapas) bars and restaurants.
On the other side of town, in the city’s oldest neighbourhood of Alfama, you’ll find Castelo Sao Jorge. It’s well worth a visit, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the only place for a sunset view. There’s plenty of options because, like Rome, Lisbon was built across seven (very steep!) hills – meaning the views and vistas are endless.
The history of Lisbon shouts loud and proud through its architecture – including the famous castle. But it’s the streets of the city, or more specifically the tilework (a Portuguese tradition), that tell the tale. The intricately patterned cobblestone and tiled streets were laid after a major earthquake destroyed parts of Lisbon in 1755. Each pattern is unique and usually features a symbol, slightly out of place with the rest of the design, acting as a signature for the artist who created it. I couldn’t help but look down while ambling along the Avenida Liberdade.
When you can draw your eyes back up to the architecture, head to Elevador Santa Justa, a rather bizarre 148ft lift turned viewing platform, and Torre de Belém, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the country’s most-famous monuments.
While in Lisbon it would be remiss to not venture farther afield to explore more of Portugal’s beauty.
For more culture head to Sintra. Just a short 30-minute drive from Lisbon lies this mountain hamlet and Unesco World Heritage Site – it’s a hidden gem that is quickly rising in popularity among British holidaymakers. It’s here that over the centuries Portugal’s royal family and throngs of wealthy locals would traverse to escape the heat and humidity of the city. Due to these royal connections, the area now boosts a plethora of palaces and mansions, many of which have been converted into the grandest of grand hotels.
My palace of choice was the 30-suite Tivoli Palácio De Seteais. Built back in 1787 for the Dutch consul in Portugal, the property is steeped in history, having been visited by royalty.
The hotel is pure grandeur in every sense, and this is truly highlighted by the ‘Dining Delight’ experience. Lucky enough to be travelling with my husband, the two of us headed to dinner completely unaware of the special night ahead – dining in the hotel’s Jean-Baptiste Pillement room, so called because the painter is responsible for the murals that cover all walls in the room. We even had our own personal waiter dressed in period costume – definitely an experience to remember.
Visits to the nearby Moorish Castle, visible from my hotel room, and Pena Palace are a must, but for me the palace of Monserrate supersedes them both. And with all that sunshine in which to enjoy its stunning gardens, you don’t even need to pack an umbrella.
I’m not meant to have favourites, but London City is my favourite. Just don’t tell the others I said that.
The fact that you can be through security in minutes and either be chowing down on a nice meal in the terminal, or in a cab half-way home, makes this the dream airport.
TAP Air Portugal launched its service between City and Lisbon in October last year, with a twice-daily flight on weekdays and a daily flight at weekends.
TAP has also introduced a new route to Porto from London City, adding to the service already operating from Gatwick. The new route, which launches on March 25, will operate six flights a week.
Both routes lead in at £71 one way.