Archive for December, 2008

Lisbon’s Best Tea Houses

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Lisbon's best tea housesThis summer we told you where to find Lisbon’s best ice cream, and earlier this month we told you where to go for the city’s best pastries. ‘Tis the season for them, and considering the colder temperatures, nothing washes them down better than a good cup of tea. You’ll probably end up looking for some tea in Lisbon when you remember that this is the city from where the tea tradition spread throughout Europe thanks to Queen Catherine of Bragança. And here’s an interesting fact: the Portuguese word for tea is “chá,” which has its origin in the Chinese word for the drink, resulting from the Portuguese trade and cultural contacts with the East and the colonization of Macao.
So what are the best places in Lisbon to find it? These are the top choices:

CULTURA DO CHÁ – Rua das Salgadeiras 38
Decorated with young artists’ paintings and old fashioned furnishings, this colorful tea house lists dozens of teas from around the world, meant to accompany one of its mouth-watering homemade cakes.

O CHÁ TEA ROOM – Rua Luis Augusto Palmeirim 18
Although tourists have no reason to go to the mostly residential Alvalade neighborhood, you should head in that direction if you love tea. O Chá Tea Room is a temple to tea, with more than 70 international flavors to be enjoyed together with a pastry. The Asian-inspired interior is an excellent place to relax and get warmed up on these colder winter months.

CHÁ DO CARMO – Largo do Carmo 21
You’ll find this cafe/tea house facing the ruins of Carmo Convent. It has a classic and very Lisbon interior, offering over 50 varieties of tea which go great with a freshly-baked scone.

O CHÁ DA LAPA – Rua do Olival 8–10
A stop at this cafe is a must when you visit the Ancient Art Museum. It’s a very charming and romantic neighborhood tea house, found on a small quiet street parallel to the side entrance of the museum. Many see it as the best tea house in the city, and although the limited choices of teas may be disappointing, it has quite an original décor, just what you picture a classic tea house should look like.

A OUTRA FACE DA LUA РRua da Assun̤̣o, 22
This vintage shop in Baixa has an adjoining cafe that only lists just over half a dozen choices of tea, but they all sound quite special. About half of them are said to have aphrodisiac effects, while others are thought to stimulate and revitalize your mind and memory. Test them yourself along with one of the sandwiches or salads available.

LA TEA ROOM – Avenida da Liberdade 177A
The Lanidor shop in Avenida da Liberdade (recognized by a “LA” sign) has a popular café (“LA Caffé”) down the avenue, but that flagship store on number 177 is where you’ll find a sophisticated tea room appropriately called “LA Tea Room.” To match the elegance of the brand, you can sit in the well-designed space and enjoy your 5-o’clock tea with a view to the street.

TIVOLI CAFFÈ – Avenida da Liberdade 182-188
The restaurant of Tivoli Theater in Avenida da Liberdade only serves lunches but also stays open for afternoon tea, offering special snacks between 3 and 6PM. That’s when you can have your tea together with one of the excellent chocolates, as you admire the grand palatial interior.

The Best of GoLisbon Blog in 2008

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Our top 20 posts in the past year:

  1. Lisbon’s Top 10 Underrated Attractions
  2. Lisbon Exceeds Visitors’ Expectations
  3. Queens, Lisbon
  4. Sleeping with the World’s Celebrities in Lisbon
  5. I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Lisbon Ice Cream
  6. Is the World’s Best Chocolate Cake in Lisbon?
  7. Lisbon’s Best Pastries
  8. Visiting James Bond’s Birthplace in Lisbon
  9. Lisbon in New York
  10. Vienna in Lisbon
  11. Luxury in Lisbon
  12. Lisbon for Free
  13. Lesbian, Portugal
  14. A Streetcar Named Electrico
  15. It’s Great to Live in Lisbon
  16. The Perfectly Wrong Souvenirs from Lisbon
  17. Chiado Rises from the Ashes
  18. Europe’s First 6-Star Hotel Opening in Portugal
  19. 7 Portuguese Wonders of the World
  20. Beauty and the Beach

The Year in Review: The Best and Worst of Lisbon in 2008

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Lisbon's Berardo Museum

Vincci Baixa Hotel
The opening of this hotel brought a breath of fresh air to the grid of streets of Lisbon’s downtown. The city’s most interesting hotels are found in the old historical quarters of the city, but those streets of Baixa so close to the river house mostly charmless budget hotels. Vincci Baixa brought modern design and a better 4-star service to the neighborhood, and the good news is that others are scheduled to follow it in the next couple of years.

VIP Grand Lisboa
Finally a good 5-star hotel within walking distance to the Gulbenkian Museum! Lisbon’s culture vulture tourists never miss the Gulbenkian, and in fact I have known a few who’ve visited the Portuguese capital just with that museum in mind. Those wishing to stay at a hotel close to it always had many good options, but they were the standard business hotels with good but not exceptional service to make your Lisbon stay more memorable. VIP Grand also caters to business travelers (it’s located in the heart of uptown’s financial district), but adds 5-star services also sought by leisure travelers such as a spa and a good restaurant.

Lisbon’s most exclusive hotspot opened early in the year and in less than 12 months is already the talk of the town, especially among those curious to check what it’s all about but can’t get on the restrictive guestlist. If you’re staying at an upmarket hotel, you may very well be one of the lucky few. You’ll find an elegant space, a sophisticated ambience, high-priced drinks, and views of every corner of Lisbon.

Lisbon has been conquered by Vienna. Sure there are only two Austrian cafes in the city, but they have become two of the favorites. Pois Café in Alfama was a mandatory stop in the neighborhood when a second Vienna-inspired café opened in the city, but in the Chiado district. It now competes with the hip Deli Delux as Lisbon’s favorite Sunday brunch destination.

Orient Museum
Lisbon finally offers a major attraction that it was lacking. As the European capital that most contributed to the cultural ties between the Far East and the West, Lisbon had to have a space dedicated to showing the best of the Orient, and that happened in 2008. With the opening of the Orient Museum, visitors can now learn about traditional art from all over Asia, and see how Portugal influenced and was influenced by that part of the world.

Blindness in theatres
This was not only an opening in Lisbon. It was an opening around the world, but it had more relevance in Lisbon. Critics didn’t seem to like the Hollywood version of Portugal’s Nobel Prize author Jose Saramago’s novel “Blindness,” but as the first novel that the author allowed to make it to the big screen, it was an event Lisbon looked forward to see. Some were pleased, others were disappointed, but everyone enjoyed seeing Saramago’s work come to life. And this year it was also announced that the writer will have his own foundation housed in the city’s landmark Casa dos Bicos soon.

Fado Museum
The museum dedicated to showcasing Lisbon’s special music went through major renovation works and reopened later in the year. It got rid of attractions it felt it didn’t need, and added new features such as new sample audio tracks. Also of note is its new restaurant, given a surprisingly minimalist and completely contemporary look, further showing that Fado is very much a traditional sound of the past, but also with a very strong present.

Cravo e Canela
It’s one of the best restaurants in Bairro Alto, but remains underrated perhaps because it was closed for a few months. It’s now reopen and remains an excellent choice for those looking for a different gastronomic experience made up of contemporary international dishes with a small dose of exotic flavors. It’s served in a low-lit and very comfortable space, which you’ll only want to leave after a few hours, and to move on to the bar by the entrance.

This got our vote as the best place for late-afternoon/after-work drinks. It’s been a summer hotspot for the last couple of years, and we welcomed it again in 2008. And this year it was even better because it was also transformed into an autumn destination, and although it’s closing on the last day of the year, we look forward to it next summer again.

Rossio Station
Major works were needed to renovate the tunnel that connects Lisbon’s central Rossio Station to the suburbs that lead to Sintra, the country’s most beautiful town. So the station closed in 2004 and only opened this year with a cleaned-up façade and with a new terrace on its left side featuring cafes offering outdoor seating.

Miradouro São Pedro de Alcantara
Only when it was closed for so many months did the people of Lisbon realize how much they love this garden-terrace outside Bairro Alto offering a panoramic view of the city. It was so spotlessly clean when it opened, that some have said it lost a little of its charm, but there’s no denying that it’s much more welcoming, and the new kiosk-café only invites you to go and stay longer even more.

Berardo Museum
This museum could also have very well been the attraction of 2007 as it was the year when it was opened and so talked about, but in 2008 it remained the city’s there’s-no-excuse-to-miss attraction, as it prolonged its free entrance for one more year. Throughout the year it also hosted a couple of major temporary exhibitions, and renovated the permanent one. So it was free, there was always something new, and you got to see Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Magritte, and Bacon under the same roof. No other attraction in the city could beat that, and 550,000 visitors took advantage of that this year.

2008 was a special year for:
Lux: Lisbon’s most famous club turned 10

Downtown Lisbon: Baixa’s Renaissance is 250 years old, and there’s much debate over where it goes from here.

Botanical Garden: It’s charmingly decadent and it was remembered when it turned 130.

Manoel de Oliveira: The world’s oldest film director turned 100 years young.

Incognito: It celebrated two decades this year, but in true Incognito fashion, it did it without much fanfare and to the sound of the 80s.

Party Poopers
Some people are trying to silence Bairro Alto. That neighborhood of multiple personalities; the quiet old lady in the morning, but a partying 20-something at night, likes to stay awake until very late/early. As a result, the people who can’t deal with the noise she makes at night as everyone joins her for drinks outside, have succeeded in making city hall close the bars’ doors earlier, at 2AM. In Lisbon time, that’s when you’re still leaving your house or a restaurant after dinner. Old habits just don’t die like that, and the battle between the below-40 generation and city hall is still not over.

Where’s the Design Museum?
First it was supposed to reopen in 2007 in a mansion to be renovated by the Santa Catarina Viewpoint. Then it was postponed for the end of 2008, and then for early 2009. Another change in plans moved the location to a building downtown, to be reconverted in time for a reopening in late 2010. Lisbon’s Design and Fashion Museum still seems to have an uncertain future, and in the meantime, the city and its visitors are without one of its major cultural attractions.

So this is Christmas?
Could Lisbon’s 2008 Christmas decorations have been in any poorer taste? The ones around Chiado do their job of bringing the season’s spirit to its shoppers, but what was everyone, anyone, someone thinking when they approved the advertisements masked as decorations in Rossio and Comercio Square? The central monument of Rossio was given a kitsch décor by a national charity house (which also oversees the national lottery), while the central space of Comercio Square was taken over by gigantic “lightbulbs” serving as advertisement for a national cell phone company. Sure it’s time for cutbacks in this financial crisis, but it’s better to not have any decorations than to see your emblematic public spaces invaded by shameless advertisements.

Obidos, the Christmas Village North of Lisbon

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Obidos, the Christmas village north of LisbonChristmas is not over in Obidos. That medieval village located about one hour north of Lisbon has been transformed into a Christmas theme park this holiday season called “Obidos Vila Natal” (“Obidos the Christmas Village”).  The castle has been given an extra fairytale look, fake snow has been added (it never snows in this part of Portugal), and there are special holiday-themed shows every night. Throughout the village you will find the theme of the Nutcracker, and kids will also be able to visit Santa Claus’ house. In between, be sure to take a look at over 100 nativity scenes made with different materials in different countries, from Poland to the former Portuguese colony Angola.

These special celebrations take place until January 4th, and will be a fun family destination if you’re in Lisbon for the holidays.

Lisbon’s São Roque Museum of Sacred Art Reopens

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

São Roque Church and MuseumLisbon’s deceivingly rich São Roque Church houses a museum of sacred art that reopened last week after about two years of renovation works. If you’re in Lisbon between now and January 10th, be sure to take advantage of the free entrance, as from then on you will have to pay €2,50 (the church itself will continue to be free).

It now displays more than double of the pieces that it showed the past, for a total of around 350 works of art. The museum was created by the Jesuits in the 17th century, although it was only officially open to the public in 1905. Its collection is particularly strong on precious jewelry, and includes 17th century Flemish tapestry and various religious sculptures and paintings. Another highlight are the relics that are unique in the world, rivalled only by the massive collection in Spain’s El Escorial.

The investment of 2-million euros in the renovation allowed to add a second floor and now includes a gift shop and a cafeteria. You’ll also now be able to see a cloister with bamboos recalling the influence the Orient had on the Jesuits.

Lisbon’s Castle of St. George’s New Museum

Friday, December 19th, 2008

St. George's Castle, LisbonA new attraction in Lisbon’s St. George’s Castle opens today. It’s a permanent exhibition made up of archaeological remains found throughout the years as the castle was renovated and excavated. These were important finds, as they shed a light into the life of the different people who’ve lived in the area, from the Romans to the Moors. The Moorish finds are the strongest highlights of the collection, especially those from the 11th and 12th centuries when the castle was given its current layout.

Before those fortifications there had been other cultures occupying the top of Lisbon’s highest hill, proven by the Iron Age findings which are displayed next to the more “recent” ceramic pieces from the 15th to 18th centuries.

The exhibition is included in the ticket price to enter the castle, and joins the periscope in the Tower of Ulysses as the major cultural attraction on the site. However, the highlight of a visit to Lisbon’s castle is, and will always be, the breathtaking views over the city.

New Year’s Eve in Lisbon

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

New Year's Eve in LisbonCelebrating Midnight in Comercio Square
Thousands of people choose to be in Lisbon’s largest square at midnight, when the new year is welcomed in a festive atmosphere. That’s where you’ll be able to see the city’s fireworks show more closely, with the square and the river being flooded with a variety of colors and lights.

A Michelin-Star Welcome to 2009
198 euros (per person and without drinks) gets you a Michelin-star ending to 2008 and start of 2009. Overlook Lisbon from Eleven, the restaurant standing at the top of Edward VII Park.  If you get the right table, its special menu (at that special price) will also get you views of the fireworks at midnight taking place down by the river. On the menu you’ll have both meat and fish courses and a varied selection of desserts.

Special Dinner by the Tagus
A cheaper but equally worthy alternative to Eleven is moving closer to the river and going for Virgula’s special New Year’s menu. It’s only 95 euros (without wine) and includes a special selection of two fish or meat dishes, ending with a chocolate pyramid for dessert.

Saying Good-Bye and Welcoming 2009
Last August, GoLisbon told you that the lounge-bar-restaurant-club Kubo was the place to be in the summer. Turns out it stayed open for the fall and it will only be closing its doors until the summer of 2009 on New Year’s Day. It made a few changes in its autumn season, and was no longer an open-air space, although it did it with glass, so the Tagus views are still there. The best way to guarantee a spot when midnight arrives is to go for dinner after 7PM and get ready for the New Year’s cheers which start at 10.

Where the Party is Always at
If you’ve been reading GoLisbon (and its blog), you already know that Lux is Lisbon’s party house, and even after a decade since it opened, it still is the club with the most happening New Year’s celebrations. Do note that it’s “New Year’s,” and not “New Years’s Eve,” as it opens its doors when it’s already 2009, at 1 in the morning.

An Alternative New Year’s Party
Lisbon’s Lesboa parties originally had the city’s lesbian community in mind when they first took place, but they’re now special events (taking place every couple of months or so) for every lifestyle and gender. Those looking for a more casual and cheaper (45 euros) alternative to the traditional New Year’s Eve parties, this is the one to choose, with an open bar (champagne will be served at midnight) and city views from its hilltop location (Tapada da Ajuda). DJ Ivan Pica (ranked in a magazine as Spain’s #1 house music DJ) and Miss Jools (from Berlin) will mix the music, and those staying until the morning will have breakfast available (hot chocolate and cake). See the Lesboa website for more.

Lisbon Remembers Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Egas Moniz

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Nobel Prize winner Dr. Egas MonizRecently there’s been a lot of talk about Portugal’s last Nobel Prize winner, José Saramago. A major Hollywood version of his novel “Blindness” was just released in theatres, he just published a new critically acclaimed book that’s already a best-seller, and not too long ago it was announced that Lisbon’s landmark Casa dos Bicos will be the headquarters of a foundation and cultural institution in his name.

But today is the day to remember another Portuguese Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Egas Moniz. He died on December 13th, 1955, six years after winning the prize for medicine due to his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses. Basically what that means is that he was the inventor of the lobotomy neurosurgical procedure, the culmination of a long career that started as a graduate of the prestigious Coimbra University.

His accomplishments are honored with a hospital in Lisbon baptised with his name, and you’ll surely see it on your way to the Belem district on tram 15 when you visit Lisbon.

The 7 Portuguese Wonders of the World

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

7 Portuguese Wonders of the WorldInspired by last year’s international vote for the New 7 Wonders of the World and also the 7 Wonders of Portugal (which were both announced in Lisbon), Portugal is now conducting a vote for the seven Portuguese wonders around the world, officially called “7 Wonders of Portuguese Origin in the World.” A total of 27 nominees have been selected, and now it’s up to you to decide which ones are the seven most outstanding Portuguese constructions around the globe.

As you know, Portuguese explorers ended up in all corners of the planet, building forts, churches, and palaces along the way. Among the 27 nominees are constructions in Ethiopia, Kenya, Bahrain, Iran, and Malaysia, all places where the Portuguese made the first European contacts, but whose associations are usually forgotten.

Then there are the landmarks in Portugal’s most important colonies, from Goa’s iconic basilica in India, to the São Bento Monastery in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, to São Paulo Cathedral in now China’s Macao.

To vote for your favorite check the following website (you’ll have to decipher what it says, as it’s only available in Portuguese):

For the final results, check here on June 10th, 2009 when the seven winners will be announced. That’s a very appropriate date, as it’s the national Portugal Day holiday which also commemorates Luis de Camões, the country’s most celebrated poet who glorified Portugal’s conquests around the globe.
Portuguese communities around the world are also remembered on this date, with many of them throwing major celebrations. A big one is around the Portuguese communities in New Jersey in the United States, with New York’s Empire State Building across the Hudson River lit up in the colors of the Portuguese flag on that day, looking like yet another Portuguese wonder.

For an overview of Portugal’s Age of Discovery, click here.

From The New York Times: 36 Hours in Lisbon

Friday, December 12th, 2008

New York Times - 36 Hours in Lisbon

This upcoming Sunday’s New York Times travel section will feature an article entitled “36 Hours in Lisbon.” Although it will only be in print on Sunday, it’s already available online today.
It suggests an itinerary for a 3-day weekend in the city, highlighting several special places often overlooked by the typical tourist. One of them is the beautiful Tropical Garden that GoLisbon has already listed as one of the city’s top 10 off-the-beaten-path experiences, and the other is São Roque Church, so easy to overlook due to its austere façade.
The newspaper also mentions Lisbon’s most recent attraction, the Orient Museum, and includes a slideshow with photos of the most charming places mentioned in the article.

For that slideshow and to read the entire article, click here.