Archive for November, 2008

Lisbon’s Enchanting Botanical Garden’s 130th Anniversary

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Lisbon's Botanical GardenLisbon’s Botanical Garden is 130 years old today. Actually it its 150 years old, since it was originally planned in 1858 and the first trees planted in 1873. Its opening to the public however, was only on November 11, 1878.

With beaches so close by, people in Lisbon spend little time in the city’s parks and gardens when compared to other Europeans. That’s too bad for them because the city does hide some wonderful green oases, and the botanical garden is just one of them. It is found right in the center of the city, although a reason why it doesn’t get many visitors may be that most people don’t know where it is. Although its entrance is in the Principe Real neighborhood right outside Bairro Alto, it’s easy to overlook its gate surrounded by buildings facing a busy street. But once inside, they’ll step into what is Lisbon’s most enchanting garden.

Unlike the city’s Tropical Garden, or even the greenhouse of Edward VII Park, this botanical garden shows some clear signs of neglect. Somehow, though, that gives it a rather special atmosphere, as of an enchanted forest in a fairytale. Trees branch out and twist is all sorts of directions as if straight out of “The Lord of the Rings,” shading a wonderful collection of subtropical vegetation from all over the world.

To commemorate the 130th anniversary, a number of sculptures will be placed around the garden and there will be workshops to discuss biodiversity and conservation of plants. There are plans to bring new life to the garden, so while you may not be in Lisbon for the 130th anniversary, there could be something special going on during your visit as well. But if not, you can always simply enjoy what you could likely see as your own personal little garden of Eden in Lisbon.

The 80’s Go On for 20 Years in Lisbon

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Incognito Club, LisbonLisbon is known as the city of saudade, that untranslatable feeling of melancholy and nostalgia. If for some reason during your stay in the city you long for the days when New Order or Depeche Mode were the biggest hits on your cassette player, there’s a place for you — Incognito.

At that now almost legendary club just outside Bairro Alto, that colorful decade is not over. It’s a decade that so far has lasted for 20 years and is still going strong. Incognito is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, but while its décor has changed, the soundtrack remains those good-old synthpop hits mixed with similar but more recent sounds.

But don’t expect a tacky retro place decorated with pictures of 80s icons on the walls. The music may be a flashback to the past, but everything else is very much 2008. A recent addition of a screen showing alternative videos, and the walls flooded in red light add to its singular atmosphere, much loved by those who show up every week for their dose of New Wave/Electronica/Indie/AlternativePop.

You’ll understand how it got its name when you finally find it. It’s located on a mostly residential street and there’s no sign outside. Just ring the bell and get ready to enjoy a night going up and down the stairs between the bar and the usually-packed dancefloor. Remember everyone’s there for the music, which is why you’ll sense they’re all enjoying their night singing along in their mind, and you will too.

As you recall the lyrics you grew up with, you’ll also understand how this place has lasted for so long and how the 80s just may be the longest decade ever.


Portugal is Hot

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Beach in Portugal

Conde Nast Traveler magazine just published its “100 Best in the World” list in its November issue, ranking the hottest destinations according to its readers. Portugal seems to be a new favorite, ranking high in several categories.

In the European Resorts list, Penha Longa in Sintra was considered the best one in the continent, while #3 is also found in Portugal — Evora’s Convento do Espinheiro Hotel and Spa. In the top 20 are also the Albatroz Hotel in Cascais (#14), and Quinta do Lago in Algarve (#15).

In its hotel rankings, the publication also devides the lists by continents, and Europe into “Northern Europe” and “Southern Europe.” Lisbon’s Bairro Alto Hotel was considered the 9th best Southern European hotel in a list dominated by Italian and French hotels.

In the best European island category (topped by Mykonos and followed by Capri), Madeira ranked 6th, ahead of Sardinia and Crete.

These results are just the latest confirmation that Portugal is quietly seducing visitors through excellence and becoming a hot European destination. For complete information about all of the country’s cities and sights, see GoLisbon’s extensive Portugal guide.

It Was Inevitable: Starbucks Invades Lisbon

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Starbucks invades LisbonIt had to happen. Lisbon resisted the Starbucks invasion for so long, but it was just inevitable. Today it seems that a city without Starbucks is a city without an essential part of its urban furniture. But Lisbon thinks it is different and with what is recognized as the best coffee in the world served in classic and historic cafes, who needs Starbucks? It was always thought that no one would trade a bica for the Americanized “coffee on the go.” After all, going for coffee in Lisbon is staying for a few minutes and enjoying the café atmosphere, and savoring that tiny cup of good old, strong, black bica.

Of course having grown up with Starbucks, the American in me did find it strange when I saw Starbucks in Amman, Jordan and wondered if it worked in a place like that, why not in Lisbon? It works in Spain, France, and in so many other European countries, so it is a bittersweet welcome to Starbucks for me in Lisbon. The first one in Portugal opened a few weeks ago in a shopping mall just outside the city, and the second one will open in the Belem district soon. That will be the very first one in Lisbon, and will also offer some authentic Portuguese pastries such as the pastel de nata and pastel de feijão. But who will want to go there when Antiga Confeitaria de Belem is just around the corner serving the mouth-watering pasteis de Belem? For many tourists Starbucks will be a welcomed sight (and I have to admit, it is for me when I travel around the world), but hopefully tourists will still take some time to go into Lisbon’s beautiful cafes. I’ll save my caramel frappuccino cravings for my visits to America, and will instead try to go to Café Versailles or Antiga Confeitaria de Belem or Cafe Benard during my everyday life in Lisbon for coffee and pastries.

“O Barrigas”: Charm and Time-Tested Cuisine in Bairro Alto

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Practically all of the restaurants that have opened in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto in the last couple of years offer international or fusion cuisines. For authentic Portuguese food, you have to look for the older, more established restaurants. Many of them maintain their recipe for success, while others have looked to reinvent themselves amid the new competition. One that has stood the test of time is “O Barrigas.” It is one of the longest-running Portuguese restaurants in the neighborhood, and remains quite popular, especially on weekends.

That’s when I visited it, a Saturday when all of the tables were taken by both locals and tourists. Still, I managed to get a table in its small space, and waited to experience it for the first time.  While the proliferation of new cuisines in the neighborhood keeps the gastronomic choices in the city exciting with their often surprising and unusual menus, sometimes all you want is a good old traditional Portuguese meal, and that’s what I had at “O Barrigas.”

A list of Portuguese wines is written in chalk on a blackboard, while the bottles are displayed on another wall. I ordered the house wine, from the western region of the country. On the walls without the wine displays are a number of black and white photos of what look like family memories, while the background music is all Portuguese (this time it was a “Madredeus” compilation).

Three different dishes were brought to my table, all of them of bacalhau (cod). For those familiar with Portuguese cuisine, the menu only lists traditional dishes you already heard of and probably already had somewhere else. This restaurant does not make its own creations, but does what has already been invented quite well. Everyone at the table was pleased with their choices.

The only disappointment came at dessert time, when the only choices were fruit and four traditional desserts, including the always popular chocolate mousse and flan. That’s what we all went for.

“O Barrigas” is one of those options that always feel like a good choice when you’re wondering where to go for dinner. You won’t have any surprises (negative or positive), yet you’ll find yourself at one of the cosiest restaurant spaces in Bairro Alto. That atmosphere is its strongest point, together with its friendly service, the unpretentious menu mixed with a more personal and refined decor. It’s also reasonably-priced, another reason why it’s recommended for a good Portuguese meal in Bairro Alto to both the Lisbon resident or the curious tourist.

Address: Travessa da Queimada, 21 (Bairro Alto)
Phone: (+351) 21 347 1220

Visiting James Bond’s Birthplace in Lisbon

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Estoril, James Bond's birthplace on the Lisbon coast

The latest James Bond film just premiered last week, making this the perfect time to visit his birthplace in Lisbon. You may not know it, but James Bond is really Portuguese. That character came to life when its creator, author Ian Fleming, was enjoying the sun in the Lisbon Coast, or more specifically in Estoril.

When Fleming stepped into the casino of Estoril and saw himself surrounded by spies from all over Europe, together with European nobility and aristocrats, he was inspired to write Casino Royale. At that time the Lisbon Coast was the resort for those looking to escape the tragedies of World War II, as neutral Portugal provided the peace and the sun they were looking for. That’s when the then quiet seaside villages of Cascais and Estoril boomed with tourism and became the cosmopolitan playgrounds they still are today.

The casino is still there and still has its title as Europe’s largest. Across the street is the beach of Tamariz, overlooked by a castle that belongs to the royal family of Monaco. Walk west along the boardwalk and you’ll arrive in Cascais, where other fine aristocratic mansions now coexist with hotels welcoming those wanting to experience a little sand and the sea, to go together with all of the cultural attractions in Lisbon only a short train ride away.
While these autumn and winter months are not exactly inviting for a stroll through the beach, Cascais and Estoril are refreshing destinations at any time of the year.

Lisbon’s Lapa Palace Named One of Europe’s Top 50 Hotels

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Lapa Palace Hotel, Lisbon

Just when GoLisbon added it to its list of hotels, it was announced this week that Lapa Palace was ranked among the top 50 hotels in Europe by Forbes Traveler.  That publication also placed it in the “Forbes 400” list, meaning it’s also one of the best 400 hotels in the world.

The beautiful conversion from a private noble residence into a hotel in 1992 has since then attracted a long list of affluent and even famous guests through the years.  As GoLisbon Blog already told you here, this is one of the favorite celebrity hotels in Lisbon.  Not only does it provide a luxurious stay amidst a beautiful botanical garden, but it also gives an authentic taste of Portuguese culture in its décor, using original tapestries, azulejos, and a marble stucco façade.

The only non-Portuguese feel in the hotel is at the restaurant, where the menu is mostly Italian with a few Portuguese flavors thrown in. But you’ll fully return to Lisbon when you go back to your room, as many of them have private balconies overlooking the city and the river.

At the end of your stay, celebrate your surely-memorable time in Lisbon with a dip in the pool (indoor or outdoor), or go for a stroll in the garden before checking out the services of the spa. No matter what you choose to do at this hotel, you’ll no doubt understand Forbes‘ distinction and leave wanting to return.