Archive for October, 2008

It’s Halloween: Visiting Lisbon’s Cemeteries

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Cemiterio dos Prazeres, Lisbon

Because today is Halloween, here’s something a little spooky — a visit to Lisbon’s cemeteries, the most famous of which being “the Cemetery of Pleasures.” Yes, that’s what its name translates to in English, but there’s a justified reason for that as GoLisbon has already told you here. Those who ride the unofficial tourist tram 28 until the end of its journey end up by its entrance gate, but there’s no way of knowing how many tourists actually venture through it.

Those who do, find a rather monumental city of the dead. In Portugal the dearly departed are honored with more than just a simple gravestone — their tombs are often so ornate, that they look like miniature temples or palaces. They’re meant to hold entire families inside, and the richer the decoration, the wealthier the family was in life. Why should you visit “the cemetery of pleasures”? You should if you like exploring cultural rituals or traditions different from your own. And in this case, you’ll also get a great view of 25 de Abril Bridge while you’re at it — Lisbon’s dead got some prime real estate!

About a 15 minute walk back through where you came from, following the tracks of the trams, will lead you to the Basilica of Estrela and the park in front of it. Behind that park, behind a tall wall, is another cemetery. That’s the English Cemetery, created in 1729 for the then-sizeable English community in Lisbon, or more precisely, those of the Protestant faith. It was also eventually shared with the Dutch community, and a separate section was created for the Jewish residents.

The most famous name buried here is Henry Fielding, author of the novel Tom Jones. He had travelled to Lisbon to improve his health, but died soon after. You can visit his grave by knocking loudly at the entrance in order to be let inside this cemetery that isn’t exactly a pleasure to see, but that can be quite a cultural experience for those who are not freaked out by being alone with the dead.
Happy Halloween from Lisbon!

What does Sarah Palin have to do with Portugal?

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Sarah Palin What does Sarah Palin have to do with Portugal? The answer is nothing. But she does share her hometown Wasilla, Alaska with the up-and-coming indie-rock band “Portugal. The Man.” And what does that band have to do with Portugal, you ask? The answer is nothing.

The band says when it came time to name themselves, they wanted to represent a group of people, and the name of a country sounded ideal. None of them are Portuguese, and they give no reason why they chose Portugal except for “it just sounded best.”

But “Portugal. The Man” has come across the Republican vice-presidential candidate who just may (gods, heavens, universe forbid!) end up becoming the leader of the free world as president of the United States — band member Zach had to deal with her when a skate park was built in Wasilla and their friends know her children.

Whoda thought that such a small town like Wasilla would end up having so many of its children on the international stage? And while “Portugal. The Man” may be only the second most famous name to come out of Alaska, they hope to surpass their controversial former mayor/now-governor/hopefully-never-vice-president in popularity. They’ve toured Europe and are now taking their music around the United States. Curious? Their latest album “Censored Colors” is on sale together with their previous releases. Their official website has more information about them:

Is the World’s Best Chocolate Cake in Lisbon?

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo, Lisbon There’s a pastry shop in Lisbon that sells such a special chocolate cake, that it’s pretentious enough to declare itself the best in the world. As to make it official, the name of the shop is “O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo” (“The World’s Best Chocolate Cake”).

Yes, it’s good, it’s sweet, it’s chocolaty, it’s yummy, it’s addictive — but best in the world? The audacity of the name sure does work in peaking anyone’s curiosity to go there to try it. If you’re a chocaholic, you’ll probably want to do just that when you’re in Lisbon. It’s located away from the beaten tourist path, but it’s easy to reach if you step off tram 28 at its final stop in the neighborhood of Campo de Ourique/Prazeres. Place an “X” on your map by Rua Coelho da Rocha, and it’s easy to find. The supposed best chocolate cake in the world is found on number 99.

The cake’s creators’ path to world domination is just beginning, now that someone asked to take its recipe and name outside Portugal. A new shop has opened across the Atlantic in São Paulo’s Rua Oscar Freire, the Brazilian mega-metropolis’ version of 5th Avenue, and two other shops are about to open in the same city.

In true São Paulo fashion, the South American shops are much bigger than their European counterparts.  In the Portuguese capital the shop is tiny with only a couple of tables where you can sit and allow your tastebuds to judge its supposed superlative quality. Could it really be the world’s best?

O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo, Lisbon

Sleeping with the World’s Celebrities in Lisbon

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Lapa Palace Hotel, Lisbon just added another major hotel to its already unbeateable list of accommodation offers. No other Lisbon or Portugal website offers more places to stay (hotels, hostels, apartments, and pousadas), and all that was missing in the luxury category was Lapa Palace. This is one of the best hotels in Lisbon, and with a priviledged location. Once the private home of a noble family, it now welcomes the rich, the famous, and others who aspire for the same. Despite that, prices remain only a fraction of what you’d pay for such a caliber of service elsewhere in Europe.

If for some reason you are not able to book a room at Lapa Palace, there are other hotels in Lisbon where you should not be surprised to run into a familiar face in the elevator or breakfast room:

Located at the top of Edward VII Park and overlooking the center of the city down to the Tagus, this has been the Lisbon home of famous names such as Bruce Springsteen. Rooms are decorated according to the four elements, and the restaurant offers traditional Portuguese cuisine.

GoLisbon’s latest addition has welcomed Sting, Cher, Tina Turner, and a number of heads of state and members of royalty. The garden is a piece of heaven in the city, and the wellness center (which includes a sauna, massages, and beauty treatments) provides further relaxation before dinner at its Cipriani Restaurant, which is also open to non-guests and is one of Lisbon’s most refined places for an Italian or Mediterranean meal.

Madonna is this hotel’s most famous guest, although Diana Krall is another well-known name that has enjoyed its luxury and even offered a private performance during her stay. It’s a 19th century palace that is now part of “The Leading Hotels of the World”, surrounded by lovely gardens and with a swimming pool and spa to guarantee a refreshing stay in Lisbon.

Located in a business district, this hotel accommodates mostly business travellers, and there are several special rooms for conferences. But that doesn’t mean that leisure travelers won’t feel welcomed, as former guests Bill Clinton, Claudia Schiffer, or Hillary Swank will tell you. Its restaurant Il Gattopardo is recognized as having one of the best Italian menus in the city, and from the presidential suite there’s a view over practically all of Lisbon.

For all other Lisbon hotels, click here.

Portugal is Now One of the World’s Most Visited Countries

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Obidos, PortugalPortugal is now the world’s 14th most popular tourist destination and by 2020 it expects to be in the top 10. While that’s good news for the country’s economy, it may sound like bad news for you as a tourist. But before you imagine your Portugal visit to be rubbing shoulders with crowds of old folks rushing out of tour buses, be assured that most of the country is actually still tourist free. Despite the increased number of visitors, Portugal remains an undiscovered country because most tourists don’t leave their resorts in Algarve or the luxury hotels of Madeira. Even Lisbon is really only overrun with tourists in August and Easter weekend when most of Spain seems to have crossed the border.

Most of Portugal’s tourists are also mostly coming from only a handful of countries, mainly from Spain, UK, Germany, and France. The main reasons to visit the country as reported by tourists is the geographical proximity and culture, good weather, and low prices. That means you just may have many of the country’s most charming towns all for yourself, especially if you go off the beaten path.

While Sintra, Obidos, and Evora are top choices after Algarve and Lisbon, you should not overlook the north, especially Portugal’s second city, Porto (or Oporto in English). From there it is easy to reach some of the most elegantly-preserved old cities in the country such as Braga, Guimarães, and Viana do Castelo, or visit the World Heritage Douro Valley.

As you must have already seen, GoLisbon is not just a guide to the Portuguese capital, but also a complete guide to Portugal, and you should visit the Portugal section for information about all that the country has waiting for you — still without the crowds.

Lisbon is Europe’s Best Weekend City Break Destination

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Weather forecast for Lisbon and other European capitals

You’ve probably already read that Lisbon is Europe’s sunniest capital (and this weekend’s weather forecast sure does prove that, as illustrated above). But even during those darker, rainy weekends, Lisbon is the best choice in Europe for a quick city break. Not only do most of the low-cost airlines connect the Portuguese capital to most other major European cities, but as it was revealed earlier this year, Lisbon has the cheapest average hotel rates in Western Europe and its hostels rank among the best reviewed by guests. Also, where else can you see Picasso, Warhol, Bosch, or Rembrandt for free?

Until the end of this year the Berardo Museum’s acclaimed modern art collection is free to see every day of the week, while every Sunday morning (until 2PM), most of Lisbon’s museums (including the Gulbenkian and the Ancient Art Museum) offer free entrance to their permanent exhibitions.

If you’re also looking to party, you won’t find a bigger bar hop than in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto neighborhood, where every Friday and Saturday night there is a street party with all kinds of tribes going from bar to bar and standing outside their doors with a caipirinha or a beer in hand. From there most move on to a riverside club, until the sun rises and it’s time for brunch at one of more recent cafes in the city, be it Deli Delux, Pois Café, Kaffeehaus, or Royale Café (see our cafes page for more details about them).

We don’t recommend it for these autumn and winter months, but from about late April until October you can always sleep for the rest of the day at the beach before returning to your hotel to shower, pack, and head back to the airport.

Really, do you know of any other European capital that offers free culture, such affordable accommodation, a contagiously vibrant nightlife, has a better climate, such a beautiful riverside setting, vast sandy beaches so close by, and such a variety of attractions to be enjoyed over one weekend?

Your 15 Million Dollar Home in Lisbon

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Partial view of the garden of Palacio São Vicente, Lisbon

It was reported this summer that the most expensive house ever sold is found in France’s Côte d’Azur and that it was bought by a Russian millionaire. The price was 500 million euros (close to 650 million US dollars), and the mansion is isolated by 20 acres of trees.

For those who prefer urban settings and have some extra millions in their pocket, there is a much better bargain in Lisbon! A private 17th century palace in the historical Alfama neighborhood is selling for just 12 million euros (around 15 million dollars).

It has an austere or discreet façade and stands right next to São Vicente Monastery (from where you get a partial view of the gardens as pictured above). It has been the setting of parties and meetings for high society over the centuries, and was fully renovated in 2000.

I have been inside and the ornate ceiling frescos, tiled walls, and lavish furnishings can feel a little intimidating, although I could easily picture turning the library into my office and that modern indoor pool does look tempting. Still, 700 square meters of museum-looking space is not my ideal living environment and I predict the building will end up being sold to serve as an embassy or to be rented for special events.

But if that sounds like your dream home, remember that the price is 12 million euros, take it or leave it. Offers of 9 and 10 million euros have been made, but for the current owners that price is just not right.

Lisbon in New York

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Alfama, New YorkThere have been fewer posts on this blog in the past couple of weeks because I haven’t been in Lisbon. I returned to New York for a few days, but still found the Portuguese capital in several places around the Big Apple.  If you’re in that American metropolis before you cross the Atlantic to Lisbon, there are a few places to get you acquainted with Portuguese flavors and history before your trip.

Get a taste of Alfama in Greenwich Village at the appropriately named Alfama Restaurant. You’ll admire a tile panel on a wall depicting the Santa Luzia Viewpoint and the Alfama rooftops as you wait for your refined version of a traditional Portuguese dish.  If weather permits, you may also choose to sit outside, a great spot to enjoy a good Portuguese wine as you dine.  Sample the bacalhau (cod), the chouriço (sausage), the seafood, and everything else that you just may find in a real Alfama restaurant.

Earlier in the day, try some Portuguese pão (bread) at Pão! It’s a cosy, simple place on Spring St. (walking distance from all the main action in SoHo), Pão!, New York where you can order a caldo verde (perhaps the most famous of all Portuguese soups), an octopus salad, or the obligatory bacalhau dish.  There’s Portuguese wine too, and just like at “Alfama,” outdoor sitting.

Pão! is more casual while Alfama aspires towards finer dining. If you choose only one, go for Alfama. I didn’t dine at either during this last visit to New York, but I did try them when I was still living there.  If I was to introduce anyone to the flavors of Lisbon in New York, Alfama would be my choice.

Elsewhere, as you walk down Central Park West you’ll find a synagogue founded by the first Jewish settlers in North America. They were Portuguese and Spanish Jews who fled the Inquisition. Today it’s known as the “Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue” and it will be an introduction to that dark period in the history of Lisbon, when the Inquisition took place in Rossio Square.

Almost across the street you’ll find the Strawberry Fields in Central Park. That’s home to the tribute to John Lennon, made with stones creating a reproduction of an old mosaic from Pompeii, Italy but that as you’ll confirm, uses the same technique and style of Portuguese calçada, the traditional pavements you’ll step on everywhere in Lisbon.

Another connection between Lisbon and New York is the borough of Queens, named for Portugal’s Catherine of Bragança, as GoLisbon Blog told you about here.  Then there’s the fact that Lisbon is the closest European capital to Manhattan, further making you want to hop on a plane to see the real Lisbon for yourself.


Portuguese and Spanish Synagogue, New York

Lisbon Selected Top City for 2009

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Admiring Lisbon

Last year it was the New York Times that named Lisbon a top destination for 2008. This year it was Lonely Planet to select Lisbon as one of the top 10 destinations for 2009 on its “Best in Travel” list.

It was announced yesterday that Lisbon, the “seductive” Iberian city, was selected for having “scored points” in the last few years, turning itself into a sophisticated destination, a gourmet paradise, where antiquity and charm meet a young population always willing to party.

The ”Santos Populares” feast every June is highlighted as the experience not to be missed in the Portuguese capital, now a destination for those who love culture and fun.

The other emerging top tourist cities for 2009 include Glasgow, Antwerp, Shanghai, and Zurich.

A Lisbon River Cruise

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008


If you’ll be in Lisbon until the end of this month, take the opportunity to see the city from the river.
Operating from April 1st to October 31st, a sightseeing cruise lets you admire Lisbon’s skyline and riverfront monuments from the Tagus just as the city’s famous explorers saw them in the 15th century. Sure most of the views have changed since that time, but many of the towers and rooftops you’ll look at are those that Vasco da Gama and others saw as they departed for their voyages.

Cruise past Belem Tower (itself rising from the river), under Lisbon’s Golden Gate Bridge twin, through the central waterfront with the triumphal arch in Comercio Square, all the way to Parque das Nações, where the city’s modern architecture brings you back to the 21st century.

The boat departs from a terminal by Comercio Square at 3PM, and the entire trip takes about three hours. A multilingual guide explains the sights which you may then explore closer when you’re back on land.
For additional information or to book your tour, click here.