Phoenicians, Celts, Romans, Moors, all left their mark on Lisbon. The Portuguese capital is said to be the oldest still-inhabited city in Europe after Athens, and every time a hole is dug, something from a very distant past is revealed. Many of those archaeological finds were unearthed around the Castle of St. George (it was given that name in the 14th century after King JoÃ£o of Portugal married the English princess Philippa of Lancaster), and the site includes a small museum with the most important finds. However, the archaeological site itself has remained closed since the mid-90s until today.
Lisbon is now the only European capital with an archaeological site showing remains from constructions dating back to the Iron Age all the way to the 18th century. This is one of the rare sites on Earth where you can see the presence of so many civilizations, and for those interested in archaeology or the history of Lisbon, it’s a site not to miss when visiting the city and one of its most beloved landmarks.
First it was the new 7 Wonders of the World announced in Lisbon in 2007. Then Portugal was inspired to choose its own seven (man-made) wonders in the country, the 7 Portuguese Wonders of the World, and is currently voting for its seven natural wonders. It’s now arrived at a list of 21 finalists in 7 different categories that range from protected zones to caves which can be voted at www.7maravilhas.sapo.pt. Among the nominees are sites already singled out by UNESCO as World Heritage — the Sintra landscape, the Douro Valley, and Madeira’s Laurissilva forest.
Not on the list are a couple of my personal favorites, the breathtaking scenery of Coa Valley in the north of the country, the mystical Cabo Espichel, and Cabo da Roca which is the Westernmost point in Europe. Still, the ones on the list are all worthy of the distinction.
The winners will be announced in the Azores (itself a natural wonder) on September 11. In the meantime, here are a few illustrated examples of the candidates:
Berlengas Natural Reserve
ArrÃ¡bida Natural Park
Sete Cidades Lake
Mira D’Aire Caves
Lagoa do Fogo (“The Lake of Fire”)
Downtown Lisbon has a new cafÃ©. While most of the ones you see in the neighborhood are the classic Lisbon cafÃ©s for coffee and the traditional local pastries, this one is a contemporary cafÃ© with more than just pastries and drinks. “Quente e Bom” also serves light meals together with the sweet creations by an award-winning team, and has plenty of space outside to place tables when the sun is out. It’s open throughout the week until 8PM and opens at 8AM on weekdays and 9AM on weekends. If you’re staying at one of the apartments in Baixa, this is therefore a great place for breakfast or to grab something to have in the comfort of your Lisbon home.
You’ll find it on number 46 of Rua da VitÃ³ria, just about one block away from the bustling Rua Augusta.
The latest issue of US Airways magazine lists what it considers to be 12 European “gems,” and one of them is Sintra. The romantic town on hills by the Lisbon coast comes illustrated with a photo of its Pena Palace, and is highlighted for its “breathtaking scenery” and “romantic dwellings built for royalty.”
Coincidentally, Sintra also makes the cover of Spain’s March 2010 edition of Conde Nast Traveler magazine. A Spanish model is shown on one of the town’s plant-filled steps with the main cover title reading “Portugal in Spring.” Inside, “Portugal” is essentially Sintra, with 12 beautifully illustrated pages showing the town’s fantasy palaces and gardens in an article titled “A Fairy Tale.” The cover model is seen walking through the gardens of the Quinta da Regalaira and Seteais palaces, and there are also shots of Pena and Monserrate palaces (you can find more about them in our Sintra guide.)
In Sintra the magazine also recommends a stay at the Iberian Peninsula’s oldest hotel, Lawrence’s Hotel, or at Tivoli Palacio de Seteais, and suggests the local pastries at “Piriquita” and going for coffee at “CafÃ© Saudade.”
The magazine is currently on sale in Spain, Portugal, and throughout southern Europe.
The weather forecast for the next few days may not show it, but springtime is just a few days away and with it comes Easter and the spring break holidays. Those looking to travel at this time of the year will either look for the warm waters of the Caribbean and Latin America, or choose a destination in Europe. The best choice in Europe is obviously Lisbon. It’s just a couple of hours away from the other major European cities, and it’s the closest European capital to the United States. It’s also the warmest, and the only one so close to the sea. While it may not exactly be beach weather yet, few other destinations offer such a variety of activities. In Lisbon you experience the atmosphere and culture of an historical European capital, and can combine that with a visit to a fairytale town (Sintra or Obidos), or with a walk by the beach, open-air dining, and all-night partying (bar-hopping or in Europe’s largest casino). And perhaps the best-selling point right now: it’s the best-value capital in Western Europe, with the most reasonably-priced accommodation and restaurants. Take a break to discover Lisbon, and you’ll agree that it’s the best spring break destination. Not to mention the destination for a city break in summer, winter, and autumn…