SEE AND DO
Visit Padrao dos Descobrimentos
From the 15th to the 20th century, Lisbon ruled over Brazil, Goa, Angola Mozambique, Cape Verde and East Timor. The Portuguese empire was the world’s first global empire. Its navigators threw open the earth for not just Portugal, but the Spaniards, the English and the French. The glory of their halcyon days is set in stone on the banks of the Tagus river. The Padrao dos Descobrimentos (padraodosdescobrimentos.pt), or Monument to the Discoveries, features sculptures of Vasco da Gama, Henry the Navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, Bartolomeu Dias and Pedro Cabral, along with famous painters, mathematicians, kings and queens and cartographers. The monument is shaped like the prow of a caravel, and a mappa mundi on the floor of the square in front of the memorial portrays the voyages and conquests of the Portuguese.
Walk around Alfama
Alfama is a village within a city. There, you will find narrow streets, whitewashed homes with wrought iron balconies and tiled walls, tiny churches, little squares and Moorish architecture. The neighbourhood, one of Lisbon’s oldest, gets its name from the alhama, or springs, and is host to trendy restaurants and cafes. The ideal way to do Alfama is to walk through it and get back by tram.
Listen to fado
Before you go for a fado performance, visit the Fado Museum, near Alfama. The museum sets, via audio-visual capsules, Portugal’s greatest and most popular musical expression in a historical, cultural and social context.
Fado, born in the 19th century, in Lisbon, is sung by a solo performer, usually a female, to the accompaniment of the twelve-stringed Portuguese guitar. Did it develop during the time the Moors ruled Portugal, or was it inspired by the music in one of Portugal’s many colonies? Nobody really knows. Fado clubs or restaurants abound in Alfama and the Bairro Alto district. And, regardless of how unfamiliar you are with the language, listening to a fadista sing, as the lights in the clubs dim, about the lows in life, the sea and love and longing, is a poignant experience.
EAT AND DRINK
Enjoy cod, wine and more
The Portuguese love cod, or bacalhau. Apparently, and this is surely a hyperbole, there are over 1,000 recipes for bacalhau in Portugal. The Portuguese eat cod salted, dried, drizzled with a sauce made from olive oil, oregano and garlic, and in many other preparations. Other specialities include clams cooked with garlic and coriander and lamprey eel with rice. A good place to try out traditional Portuguese food is in the restaurant at The Beautique H. Figueira (Praca da Figueira, thebeautiquehotels.com). Another impressive restaurant is the Casa do Leao, at the Castelo de Sao Jorge ( firstname.lastname@example.org), which affords excellent views of Lisbon. Try the chicken supreme with a game sausage crust, or alheira sausage. The alheira sausage is a culinary subterfuge. During the Inquisition, Jews, who were forced to convert to Christianity, invented the alheira, which looked and smelt like a pork sausage, to blend in with their neighbours. (Judaism forbids the consumption of pork.)
At tea time, head to the Pasteis de Belem (pasteisdebelem.pt), one of Lisbon’s oldest patisseries, which is famed for its crispy, flaky custard tarts that are drizzled with cinnamon. The custard tarts were first made by monks of the Jeronimos Monastery, who were among the many casualties of the Liberal Revolution in 1820. The monks’ ancient ‘secret recipe’ was passed on to a few confectioners in Belem, and a legend was born. Today, the patisserie sells over 15,00 custard tarts daily, and the recipe is still top secret.
Portugal doesn’t just make excellent port and Madeira, it also produces some other fine wines. There are many excellent vinhoverde, or ‘green wines’, that are meant to be drunk when they are still young. Wine is grown in Douro, Dao and Alentejo. We especially liked the Quinta Do Vallado, a dry red (quintadovallado.com).
Pick up some tiles
Portuguese ceramic tiles or azulejos adorn walls of homes, restaurants, railway stations and fountains in Libson. Though it was Egypt that first introduced glazed tiles to the world, the Portuguese perfected the art. Alfama, especially, abounds in several interesting and exquisite tile panels. Head to AzulejosSant’ana (Rua do Alecrim, 95, Chiado ), which has been in the business for the past 300 years, to pick up some interesting souvenirs.
Feed your shoe fetish
Portugal has a thriving leather industry, and its artisans and factories make shoes for many of the world’s top shoe brands. Those with a shoe fetish, though, ought to ignore the big names and, instead, visit the Sapataria do Carmo (sapatariadocarmo.com), a tiny shop that makes and sources handmade shoes from artisans in Portugal. Located in Largo do Carmo, a square peppered with jacaranda trees, Sapataria do Carmo has an anachronistic charm. Founded by the Paulo da Cruz family – and recently acquired by four young entrepreneurs – it has velvet sofas and gilded mirrors, and its walls are studded with shoeboxes from the 1950s that are still in use. It deals in fine, elegant shoes for both men and women. If you don’t find a readymade pair you like, you can pick one from the catalogue and have a handmade pair sent to India.