I’m going, to be honest; shamefully it never crossed my mind to go to Lisbon. There was no good reason for leaving it off my list, other than being distracted by more mainstream European tourist destinations I guess. I am, however, so pleased that I found myself there for work last week. Lisbon is a coastal town stretching out over rolling hilltops overlooking the vast Tagus River. One of the oldest cities in the world and home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Lisbon is rich in Portuguese history and culture, with many an interesting tale to tell.
With a very early start, Hannah and I headed to Heathrow to catch our flight to the Portuguese capital. It was a relatively straightforward trip and in a little over 2.5 hours, we arrived in the sunny European city.
Getting from the airport to our hotel was equally as easy. We jumped in an orderly taxi queue and arrived at the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa about 15 minutes later. Though the property is from the Starwood collection, I was expecting a very basic room in a tired looking hotel (I’m guilty as charged for hotel snobbery). Though it wasn’t much to look at from the outside, the property was actually lovely inside with gleaming white marble floors and an abundance of seasonal floral arrangements decorating the lobby. My room was spacious with an intimate bathroom, overlooking the bedroom through a transparent glass window.
We had a busy afternoon of appointments ahead of us in search of the perfect venue for a client dinner reception. Anabela, our local guide met us at our hotel and whisked us off to Parque Eduardo VII, to start our tour of Lisbon. Overlooking the mosaic patterned walkways stretching the length of the picturesque gardens; Anabela gave us a brief overview of the history of the city. Lisbon’s history dates back over 300,000 years. Following its origins as a battlefield for Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, the Romans conquered the city to begin a two two-Century reign in Lisbon in 205 BC. During their reign, Lisbon became one of the most significant cities in the Iberian Peninsula and was renamed, Felicitas Julia.
The 15th-century saw the age of explorative discovery. It was an era during which Portugal enjoyed abundant wealth and prosperity as it colonized numerous Atlantic islands, the shores of Africa, the Americas and Asia. Today, Lisbon is one of the most beautiful capitals of Europe, whilst still maintaining the marks of its early glorious history.
The first venue on our itinerary was Casa Museu Medeiros e Almeida. The elegant museum, open to the public, is home to a decorative art collection acquired by António de Medeiros e Almeida (1995 – 1986), displayed in his former residence.
The impressive collection is displayed over 27 galleries and includes Portuguese and foreign artefacts including furniture, paintings, sculptures and textiles dating from the 2nd through to the 20th century. We were suitably impressed with the venue and it was a real contender for our event.
We then went to check out the Teatro Tália. Nestled beside Lisbon Zoo, the intimate theatre was initially built in 1825 and restored by the 1st Count of Farrobo in 1842. It was however destroyed by fire in 1862. The shell remained untouched until 2012, when Portuguese architects Gonçalo Byrne and Barbas Lopes took on the restoration project, to create a modern multipurpose space that honoured the sites theatrical past, yet paved its artistic future. The architectural approach is a juxtaposition of classic and modern and is now the theatre of choice for the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa. For a unique cultural experience, I would highly recommend checking out one of the orchestral performances at this intriguing venue.
Our next stop was the Palace of the Marquises of Fronteira, perched on top of a hill bordering the Monsanto Forest Park, with panoramic views out over the city of Lisbon. I was immediately taken by the understated beauty of the quaint palace. It was built in 1671 for the 1st Marquis of Fronteira, as a hunting pavilion. A cool gravelled driveway leads to the stately home adorned in Portuguese tiles. During our visit, local artists tirelessly touched up the fading tiles, bringing them back to life with vibrant colours.
Beyond, was the palace garden made up of 5.5 hectares of perfectly manicured hedges and a beautiful stone staircase that leads to a monument of the Kings of Portugal.
To the rear of the palace, the terrace is lined with Portuguese tiles that depict well known mythological figures.
The grand rooms of the palace are decorated in beautiful art capturing Portugal’s military accomplishments, and members of Portuguese nobility. My favourite room was without a doubt, was the library. With its peaceful views out over the charming gardens, its bare wooden floors and its floor to ceiling collection of 16th-century original books, one cannot help but fall in love with the magnificence of this treasure. I am very pleased to report that the palace is open to the public, and you too can experience for yourself the beautiful property that is home to the current Marquis of Fronteira.
With a taste for the rich history of Lisbon, we headed back downtown. Ahead of our last appointment of the day, we strolled through the busy pedestrian streets of the city taking in the delightful boutiques, street performers, artists and yummy ice-cream.
We found our way to the Carmo Ruins and Archaeological Museum. Originally one of the most exquisite Gothic churches in the city, the Roman Catholic Church of Santa Maria do Carmo, stood as an anchor of deliverance until it crumbled in the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Striking on All Saints’ Day, with full attendance at the church, the cries of those trapped in the demolished building could be heard across the city. Subsequent fires and a tsunami followed, almost totally destroying Lisbon. I don’t think I have ever heard such an incredible story of resilience. Carmo Ruins are a must see.
As the sun started to sink low over the city of Lisbon, we headed to Palácio Foz for our final appointment. The interior of the palace is magnificently decorated in opulent Baroque detail.
After a busy day, Hannah and I headed down to the port to put our feet up and take in the stunning view of the sun setting behind the 25 de Abril Bridge.
As the evening set in, we climbed one of the many winding hills back towards the town centre to Cantinho do Avillez for a delicious Portuguese meal. The cute restaurant and service was friendly and informal, creating an atmospheric and relaxed environment. The cuisine, mostly drawing its inspiration from Portuguese gastronomy, also includes influences from Chef José Avillez’s travels. We especially loved the ‘over roasted Nisa Cheese’!
The next morning we rose early to find some traditional Portuguese pottery to take home with us. We stumbled across Cerâmicas na Linha, who sell gorgeous pottery by the kilo. Sardines play an important role in Portuguese culture. In the month of June during the traditional Festa de Santo António, millions of big and tasty sardines are grilled outdoors, filling the old streets of Lisbon with a delicious smoky scent. Decorative ceramic sardines are commonly found in many of the cities gift shops. I also nabbed myself a lovely fish serving dish for only €3!!
We then headed to Café A Brasileira, an extravagant cafe in a Bohemian district of Lisbon that opened in 1905, with an Art Deco interior, for an internationally decedent breakfast of Pastéis de Nata, ham and cheese croissants, and vanilla slice. Oink, oink! Needless to say, they were scrumptious.
One of the best things about my job is playing guinea pig when it comes to choosing menus for events. The last stop on our agenda was a tasting with one of our local catering suppliers. With superb views out over the 25 de Abril Bridge and Tagus River, we sampled a traditional Portuguese menu including wines, consisting of two starters, two mains and two desserts, eventually deciding on the ideal menu for our guests.
After a productive 24-hours on the ground in Lisbon, we had agreed on the perfect venue and menu for our event, and I had fallen in love with the beautiful Gothic city and all of its glamour. I very much look forward to returning to this amazing city next summer to deliver our event.
Until next time, safe travels.
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