One of Lisbon’s hallmarks are the “eléctricos,” the yellow trams that have helped residents negotiate the city’s narrow streets and steep hills since 1901. A very popular way to see Lisbon is to board tram number 28.
Next, the 28 goes downtown. You can stroll in Rossio and sit in the esplanade of Café Nicola, enjoying the views and drinking another cup of coffee. Then, walk to Terreiro do Paço through Rua do Ouro (goldsmith street) or Rua da Prata (silversmith street). In Terreiro do Paço you can contemplate the Tagus river and have yet another coffee at Martinho da Arcada, another Fernando Pessoa favorite. Now that you are fully caffeinated, board the 28 to go uphill to Alfama, the only neighborhood that survived the 1755 earthquake. You can walk to St. Jorge’s castle and enjoy the sunset views. Then, back to Chiado, where you can have a great dinner at Cantinho do Avilez, followed by some ice cream at Santini. As the day ends, you’ll realize that the tram 28 is much more fun than the Orient Express.
In the 1940s, it was impossible to find an hotel room in Lisbon. Aristocrats, businessmen, smugglers, and spies of all stripes filled the luxury hotels. They also crowded the gambling tables in Casino Estoril, the place where Ian Fleming, a young British intelligence officer, found the inspiration for the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. Most of the hotels popular in the 1940s have been renovated beyond recognition. One exception is the beautiful Hotel Britania, which was recently restored to its original elegance and understated glamour. Built in 1944, it was designed by architect Cassiano Branco in an art deco style. Located on a quiet street, it is the kind of place where Ingrid Bergman could have mended her broken heart, and where martinis are served shaken, not stirred.
Renée-Paule Danthine is a Swiss painter who, in her miniature series, celebrates the allure of old-fashioned mail. We have all but forgotten the pleasure of handwriting a letter, hiding it in an envelope and affixing the stamp, trusting the precious package to a mysterious delivery system that, somehow, almost always worked. Danthine reminds us of all that we lost by using post-office stamps as the point of departure for her work. Her travels to Portugal inspired several paintings in this series. Each of her wonderful watercolors is a lesson on how to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Click hereto see more of Renée-Paule Danthine’s work.
The Berlenga is one of the crown jewels of the Atlantic Ocean. It is surrounded by small, diamond-shaped islands, adorned by emerald waters, and decorated with sparkling crystal caves. It is a place loved by birds of all stripes. Not just sparrows, crows, pidgeons, seagulls, woodcocks, and turtledoves, but also rare birds with unpronounceable Latin names, like ruticcilia tithys and puffinus kuhlii.
The island is close enough to be visible from the coast, but far enough to be shrouded in mystery. Fishermen attribute to it all sorts of mystical powers. “Expect good weather if there’s fog on the island and rain if it’s clear,” they say. But ask a fisherman whether the Berlenga inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds, and he will shrug his shoulders. The island does not need another legend. It is a place where, throughout the centuries, treasures were buried, pirates conspired, and lives were lost in harrowing shipwrecks.
In the Summer, there is a regular ferry between Peniche and the Berlenga. You can visit the 17th century fort (shown in the photo), bathe on white sand beaches with crystalline water, and chart a boat to go around the island. It is a grand adventure.
You can catch amazing sea bass in Berlenga’s waters, but you have to know where to cast your line. Ask a fisherman for the best place to fish for sea bass, and he will quickly change the subject, perhaps by asking you: “Did you know that the Berlenga inspired Hitchcock’s famous movie, The Birds?”
Click here for the schedule of boats from Peniche to Berlengas. Boats depart from the port of Peniche.
Nicola is one of the most famous cafés in Lisbon. It first opened its doors in the late 18th century, when an Italian immigrant opened a “botequim” (the old word for café) in Rossio. This establishment quickly became popular in literary and political circles. Here, you could listen to the latest government gossip, conspire against the prince regent, or hear Bocage, a bohemian poet, improvise brilliant verses. All this fun came to an end with the Napoleonic invasions—French officers adopted the Nicola as their gathering spot. So, when the French retreated in 1808, Nicola threw a grand independence party. In 1929, Nicola moved to its current location, featuring the art deco style that you can see today.
At Nicola you can do it all, improvise poetry, start an insurrection, celebrate independence, and have a great cup of coffee.
Even though Douro is the world’s oldest demarcated wine region, it is not know for its table wines. Douro winemakers produced port wine in part because of climatic conditions. The weather can be very hot during the harvest season, raising wine fermentation temperatures and killing the yeast that converts sugar into alcohol. When Fernando Nicolau de Almeida produced the first Barca Velha, in 1952, he famously carted blocks of ice at great expense to control the fermentation temperature.
The combination of modern wine-making technology and the Douro’s unique grapes is heralding a new era for the region. One example of this new beginning is Chryseia, a wonderfully elegant table wine made with grapes traditionally reserved for the great vintage Ports. It is produced by Bruno Prats, the famous wine maker from Bordeaux, and the Symington family, renowned for their port wines.
Chryseia means golden in Greek. The name is a reference to the Douro region (Douro means “made of gold” in Portuguese). But it is also a sign that, when two great wine names get together, they’ll settle for nothing less than brilliant.
In 1949 an Italian called Attilio Santini opened a gelato store in Estoril, an idyllic beach resort near Lisbon. There was a tradition of gelato making in his family; his great grandfather had a gelato store in Vienna. Santini’s approach was simple: make the gelato fresh every day using only the very best cream and fruit. Word of mouth quickly made Santini famous in the 1950s. It helped that many of Europe’s dethroned kings and queens lived in Estoril and became loyal customers. One of these customers, Juanito, is now better known as King Juan Carlos of Spain.
There was a feeling of elegance, of relaxed optimism about the 1950s that you can see in the lines of the Fiat cinquecento or hear in Miles Davis’ recording of ‘Round Midnight. It is this sweet feeling that you can still taste today in a Santini gelato.
Santini has currently three locations, one in Lisbon, near Chiado (Rua do Carmo, 9) and two others in beach resorts near Lisbon (S. João do Estoril, Rua Nova da Estação, 5, and Cascais, Av. Valbom, 28F). There can be long lines in the Summer. The wait is an opportunity to consider which of the more than 50 varieties we are going to try. We don’t want to rush into this decision! Click here for Santini’s website.