The Smooth Guide | O Luxuoso Fim de Semana em Lisboa


Date: Oct 3, 2015; Section: How To Spend It; Page: 79





Portugal’s capital  has largely  eschewed the  trappings of globalisation, but that’s not to say  contemporary attractions, from directional wine bars to edgy  art tours, aren’t flourishing,  says Mary Lussiana

In Lisbon’s kasbah-like Alfama district, a work by Portuguese contemporary artist Sandra Baía  is propped against a 15th-century wall. A crumpled Portuguese flag on which national proverbs have been painted, it’s entitled  Portugal: País frágil em obras, or Portugal: Fragile nation under  construction. It is waiting to be hung inside  Santiago de Alfama, the capital’s newest boutique hotel, whose doors  swung  open  in July. The political message on the painting, completed in 2012,  is aimed  at the sceptics who questioned Portugal’s ability to

survive in the global downturn. But it resonates on the streets, where the construction of new hotels, restaurants, shops and galleries and an explosion of urban  art are colouring  every corner  of the city, each one rendering it that much  less vulnerable.


This outpouring of creativity is Lisbon’s response to the recession, aimed  at rehabilitating national  pride by promoting  all things  Portuguese – from cultural heritage to wines and  natural  landscapes


– in a collective recognition that tourism is one of the best  ways to bolster  the economy. Dovetailing perfectly with it is the fact that, whereas so many  European capitals have fallen prey to globalisation, Lisbon still encapsulates the essence of Portugal in concentrated form.


But even  as it remains a distillation of that essence, the city is becoming more  accessible – and  more  open. Take  its grande dame, the Ritz Four Seasons, an iconic landmark erected by the dictator  Salazar in 1959  to put the capital  on the luxury-travel map.  The hotel inaugurated an ultra-exclusive, four-hour urban  art tour this year, whereby a guide from the Underdogs Gallery – launched in 2013  by Lisbon’s most famous street artist Vhils and Pauline Foessel – led guests on a meandering itinerary of the city’s best  public art.


It’s an experiential concept that’s gaining  traction  here, according to Patrícia Pires  de Lima, wife of the

minister of economy and  an art consultant who hosts a prominent annual art fair. Art dealer Caroline Pagès, who runs  tours  for individuals or small groups, agrees. At her gallery in the buzzy  Campo de Ourique neighbourhood she  has  several works by artists considered the country’s finest, among them  Pedro Cabrita  Reis and  Miguel Palma. Another new arrival, the Barbado Gallery, aims  to bring photography of a level not previously seen to Lisbon art aficionados: a Martin Parr  solo show of beach photos – the photographer’s first in Portugal – debuted in September and is currently running  until mid-November.


While Campo de Ourique is an increasingly desirable boho-art neighbourhood, the real talk of the town, in Lisbon and  beyond, is Príncipe Real. Always considered elegant, the area had faded  somewhat over the years, but Paulo Duarte, operations manager of Memmo Hotels,  was convinced enough to choose it for the brand’s second Lisbon outpost, after the roaring  success of Memmo  Alfama. But while Memmo  Alfama’s tag word is authenticity, the Príncipe Real is aiming to be the best boutique hotel in the capital,  bar none. The talented architect Samuel Torres, who blended the old with the new so brilliantly at Memmo Alfama, will have the freedom of a new build for the 41 rooms  and  suites, which will open  in June next year.


By then,  there  might well be quite a few more  serious retail attractions lining the streets around it, which are presently crowned by Embaixada, a 19th-century domed palace whose soaring stuccoed ceilings now house a variety of almost uniquely Portuguese products, ranging from clothes to homewares to affordable jewellery. (The fine jewels are  across town at David Rosas on Avenida da Liberdade, where  Rosas’ architect daughter Luísa recently  launched her own striking collection.) A little further along the street is another small multi-retail store called Real;  local stylesetters come  here  for Moskkito, a line designed in Portugal and  made by artisans in

Kenya and  India using local products. The leather sandals with beaded straps and  black kaftans with front panels of vivid cloth from the Banjara nomad tribe are bestsellers.


But the queues you will see on the street in Príncipe Real  are mostly about  the culinary delights of tiny A Cevicheria, which has been the place to go in Lisbon since it opened in January. The brief, straightforward menu revolves around different ceviches and  ends with a memorable melt-in-the-mouth dulce de leche tart. Decor  is limited to a giant model  octopus hanging from the ceiling above the chef’s counter, and windows  open  to the street allow the crowd to get drinks while they wait (the no-reservations policy seems not to have dampened local, and  increasingly international, enthusiasm for it in the slightest).


Over in neighbouring Chiado, you need to reserve a table at Belcanto at least two months in advance since Michelin awarded its chef, José Avillez, his second star  earlier this year. The first Portuguese to have  earned two stars (the other  two in-country Michelinstarred chefs, working in the Algarve, are Austrian),  Avillez and  his

cuisine are  delightful. Drawing inspiration from 20th-century Portuguese poet  Fernando Pessoa and  weaving the





character of all four corners of Portugal into dishes such as Dip in the Sea (sea bass with seaweed and bivalves) or The Garden of the Goose that Laid the Golden  Eggs  (a glittering concoction of sous-vide egg, fried leeks, mushrooms, and a cheese sauce topped with delicate gold leaf), Belcanto is not to be missed. Nor is Avillez’s latest, the very lively Mini Bar, where he plays with a captive audience offering tapas that are  often far from what they seem: bite into the Ferrero Rocher and  in lieu of chocolate you’ll find a centre of foie gras and cocoa butter  studded with hazelnuts.


By The Wine, meanwhile, is the one  not to miss in Bairro Alto, long one of Lisbon’s bastions of chic. Opened in January in a vaulted space whose ceilings are  lined with bottles, By The Wine pairs varietals from José Maria da Fonseca with boards of sausages and  cheese, or plates of oysters and  carpaccio. It is a strikingly new concept here, but one that is echoed as you stroll down to the river Tagus, and the recently  renovated Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon’s main food market. This treasure trove of culinary possibilities means you can wander from stalls like Confraria, which offers sushi, to one proffering old-world chicken  dishes reimagined by local gourmet chef Miguel Laffan. Above the food, on the first floor, gallery and  concert spaces are  opening up, with Underdogs Gallery’s flagship shop  selling limited-edition prints and  monograms by the artists it represents. And for a Portuguese tradition given a new twist, Manteigaria is a must:  behind  an art-nouveau façade in Bairro Alto, a tiny production line – visible through  a wall of glass – turns out pastéis de nata, the much-loved custard tarts. Fresh, warm batches are  announced by the ringing of a bell on the street.


Pastéis de nata are  a fixture of every  Lisbon breakfast table,  not least those in the city’s fine hotels. They’re particularly  wonderful  at the Pousada de Lisboa  hotel, which opened in June and  where breakfast is served in an inner courtyard with ancient triptychs  on the walls and  open  to blue skies above. Here,  museum art on loan

almost  rivals the views for magnificence. Situated within part of the arcade that lines the Praça do Comércio, the bedrooms overlook the imposing  square facing the Tagus and  where so much  history has been made –

including the assassination of the penultimate monarch on these very stones.


Praça do Comércio square was created by town planner Marquês de Pombal, who was responsible for Lisbon’s emergence from the ashes of a devastating earthquake in 1755,  and whose grand  Pombaline architecture is perfectly exemplified on Avenida da Liberdade, the city’s wide and very splendid boulevard. Here, the understated, gorgeous boutique Hotel Valverde opened late last year.  Celebrating all things Portuguese,

from Delta coffee tothe Braz Gil cup in which it is traditionally served, its 25 elegant rooms are  a huge  addition to

Lisbon life.


So too is Santiago de Alfama, home  to the provocatively named Baia canvas. Neighbouring the church  where Christopher Columbus married  his Portuguese wife, this luxury inn was six years in the making. The 19 rooms and suites are huge, with the highest looking out over the characteristic red roofs of Alfama to the Tagus. On the ground  floor is Café Audrey, complete with beautifully tiled floor and an entrance from the street; and a restaurant, A Fábrica de Santiago, which offers modern Portuguese dishes. The hotel’s Jaguar Mark VII, nicknamed Grace, waits outside to ferry guests downtown, passing through  a Lisbon that is still being rebuilt in more  than  one sense – but gaining ground  with every day.