Once the center of a mighty empire, the Portuguese capital was nearly wiped out in the 18th century, only to rise again and establish itself as one of Europe's most beguiling cities, rich in beauty, grace and melancholy
Author Chris Wright Photography Pedro Guimaraes
DAY THREE | Having slept in, you grab a late breakfast at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant before embarking on a 15-minute cab ride to LX Factory, a sprawl of galleries, cafés and shops set amid the machinery of a former industrial complex and populated with a variety of countercultural types. The same developers recently restored another property nearby, an old bordello called Pensão Amor, which you duly explore on your way back into town. It has even more artsy shops and galleries, and a fashionably shabby bar at its center.
Next, it’s a short tram ride along the river to Terreiro do Paço, a bistro with mismatched tablecloths, vaulted brick ceilings and a menu of gourmet comfort food. You go with a crispy anchovy pizza followed by cod with chickpeas and greens. The food is simple and satisfying, and you munch it while studying the café’s collection of paraphernalia celebrating the bygone empire.
Back outside, you wander Praça do Comercio, a huge square girded on three sides by palatial mustard-hued buildings, with an imposing statue of King José I in its center. More imposing still is the triumphal Rua Augusta Arch at the square’s northern end, a colossal edifice endowed with so much detail it makes your head spin. Your reverie is soon interrupted, however, by Miguel, an employee of Motohealth, a company that provides guided tours aboard Segways. After a brief scoot around the square, you zip off in the direction of the Alfama neighborhood, where you explore the nooks and crannies of Castelo de São Jorge.
The tour ends at Casa do Alentejo, a small building near Rossio Square that comprises a library, a restaurant and a cultural center. You navigate a maze of mismatched rooms—this one rustic, this one baroque—before ending up in a sunny, lavishly detailed Islamic courtyard. “I come here,” Miguel says, “and I change.”
Dinner tonight is in Bairro Alto, at 100 Maneiras Bistro. To get there, you head a half-block from your hotel to the Elevador da Gloria, a rickety yellow carriage that grinds and wheezes and spits you out without ceremony. It’s wonderful. Wonderful, too, is 100 Maneiras. The décor is playful and sophisticated, and the food follows suit. After you sit down, courses appear with alarming frequency, delivered by a waitress with a wry smile: codfish croquette, game pie with truffle sauce, battered frog legs, fried sweetbreads, mushroom risotto, suckling pig. You eat the lot.
Your final stop is the nearby Pavilhão Chinês, a bar that doubles as a museum of bric-a-brac. You enter and work your way back through a series of rooms packed with tin soldiers, toy animals, religious statues, hats and trumpets. As you wander around staring at the stuff, it occurs to you that clutter is normal in Lisbon. From the offbeat ephemera on display at its cafés to the relics cluttering its cathedrals, the impulse to hoard is everywhere. You ask the woman next to you about this. Are Lisboans unusually nostalgic? “Well,” she replies, “we are unusually sensitive to the idea of loss.” You like that.
CHRIS WRIGHT is a writer living in London who is still trying to get that fado melody out of his head.