Archive for February, 2009

Lisbon in London

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Lisbon in London

London’s Piccadilly Street that leads to one of the city’s most famous squares (Piccadilly Circus) used to be called Portugal Street. Although it has changed its name, there is still another Portugal Street in Westminster today. There is no particular reason why that street was given that name, except maybe for the fact that Portugal and England signed the world’s oldest alliance between two countries (for more about it, see Wikipedia’s article: Anglo-Portuguese Alliance). Among many other historical events, that alliance led to the marriage of Portugal’s Catherine of Bragança to King Charles II, with her becoming the Queen of England and introducing her adopted country to the 5 o’clock tea.

Today London is home to a sizable Portuguese population, mostly originally from the island of Madeira (also known as the birthplace of that famous FIFA World Player of the Year playing in Manchester, Cristiano Ronaldo). Naturally, the cosmopolitan capital also offers a number of Portuguese restaurants, including the famous Nando’s fast food/spicy chicken restaurant. It was actually born in South Africa, started by a Portuguese immigrant named Fernando Duarte. There are now branches all over the world, but more famously in London where there are over 50 of them, and that’s as close as you’ll get to Lisbon’s Bonjardim – O Rei dos Frangos while in the English capital.

Although codfish and seafood is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Portugal’s cuisine, the country is also known for its grilled chicken with “piri-piri” sauce, made with a spicy chilli Portugal brought back from its colonies. The best place to try it in Lisbon is at that Bonjardim Restaurant, or you could get a sample of it hot off the grill at one of London’s “Nando’s.” It’s not the same thing, but close enough.

If you know anything about Portuguese food, you probably have also heard about Lisbon’s music. Listening to Fado at a restaurant is one of Lisbon’s top tourist experiences, but you can get that in London too. Head to O Fado, a Portuguese restaurant in Knightsbridge that got a 4-star review in Time Out London Eating & Drinking Guide 2009. It’s the oldest Portuguese restaurant in the city, where low lighting sets the stage for some Fado singing.

But arguably the best Portuguese restaurant in London is Portal. It’s an elegantly-designed space that also adds some French flavors in the cuisine, although the menu lists many of the Portuguese classics such as Leitão à Bairrada (suckling pig). Going just for a cocktail at the bar is also possible, where you can choose the very Portuguese “White Port Cocktail” or a “Ginginha Velvet.”
For traditional Portuguese pastries at any time of the day, head to Lisboa Patisserie. Portugal’s famous custard tarts are good there too, but to try the real thing you have to go to Antiga Confeitaria de Belem in Lisbon.

See also:
Lisbon in New York
Lisbon in Paris
Lisbon in San Francisco

Lisbon – Your Perfect Valentine’s Day City Break

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Lisbon for Valentine's Day

Venice, Paris, and more recently, Prague are the favorite romantic getaways in Europe. While that’s perfectly understandable, couples looking for a special trip this Valentine’s Day should also consider Lisbon. They’ll find that walking around the city’s old quarters, and especially in the town of Sintra nearby, will be just as romantic as those other classic European destinations, but with the advantage that it’s so much cheaper.

Start with looking for the perfect accommodation for two. Consider As Janelas Verdes, a former residence of one of Portugal’s most famous writers, now a quaint hotel with a vine-covered patio garden.
Almost across the street is York House, once a convent but today a boutique hotel mixing antiques with contemporary furnishings and a relaxing courtyard.
By one of the city’s most peaceful and beautiful neighborhoods is Solar do Castelo, sharing the walls of Lisbon’s landmark castle. It’s a beautifully furnished 18th century mansion that includes a tiled terrace for moonlit conversations.

Even better is staying in Sintra at Hotel Lawrence’s. That’s the oldest hotel in the Iberian Peninsula and where British poet Lord Byron stayed during his famous visit that led him to conclude that Sintra was a “glorious Eden” and “the most delightful” town in Europe.

Sintra is also where actor Brad Pitt and former wife Jennifer Aniston spent a large part of their honeymoon, and although the fate of that couple isn’t exactly desirable, you know that a place chosen by Hollywood royalty should be perfect for you too.

When it comes to dining out, Lisbon’s A Travessa is a top choice for a romantic dinner. It’s set in a former convent, and you can try the Belgian-Portuguese specialties around the 17th century cloisters.
For a candle-lit dinner in Bairro Alto consider Cravo e Canela, serving international fusion dishes in an intimate space.

As for sightseeing during the day, go on a horse and carriage ride in Sintra admiring its fairytale architecture, or choose a carriage in Lisbon’s Belem district instead, a recent attraction by the city’s most important monuments. If that’s not enough, feel yourself carried away at the Coaches Museum, presenting the world’s largest collection of extraordinary vehicles once used by European nobility. Elsewhere in the city, a charming ride on the old trams will take you around Lisbon’s most picturesque corners.

Lisbon’s Most Wanted: Stolen Portuguese Tiles

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Portuguese tiles, LisbonAlthough decorative ceramic tiles were not invented in Portugal, nowhere else in the world will you find a bigger variety or more uses for them, and especially in Lisbon. Known as “azulejos,” they are usually in white and blue (reflecting a Chinese porcelain influence in Portugal due to the Age of Discovery trade), and are seen in countless façades in the Portuguese capital, from simple residential houses to mansions and churches.

Because they are now centuries-old (those found on the walls of Lisbon mostly date from the 18th and 19th centuries), they are valuable historic pieces, and for that reason are being stolen to be sold internationally. You’ll find tile panels with missing pieces all over the city, with others broken after failed attempts to remove them. A recent television report stated that between 2002 and 2006 a total of 10,000 tiles were stolen from Lisbon, but those are only the ones that were reported to police.

A website has been created in an attempt to locate and place them back in their original homes (SOS Azulejo). Unfortunately that will be a difficult task, as they usually end up in the private residences of wealthy customers around Europe and the world. According to the Portuguese authorities, some have been found for sale on eBay, selling for hundreds and even thousands of dollars (one of them was selling for 50,000 euros). Those were recuperated, but many seem to have been lost forever.

If you’re interested in acquiring Portuguese tiles, know that you can get replicas of authentic works of art from many factories in Lisbon. If you buy them from an unofficial source, you’re committing a crime and further providing an incentive for the continued destruction of cultural heritage. A reputable factory to buy them legally from is Fabrica Santanna. It’s been producing those handmade creations since the 18th century, and sells copies of old designs.
For more information on the art of the decorative tile, see GoLisbon’s Azulejos page.