Here’s a city that many people seem to either ignore for some reason or know very little about. It reminds me of Dublin 15 years ago, when it was overshadowed by the likes of London, Paris or Rome. And just like Dublin, what’s charming about Lisbon is hard to pin down. Maybe it’s a combination of historical views, pleasantly warm temperatures in winter, cobble stone streets, low prices, mouthwatering cuisine and wines, easy public transportation and friendly, unpretentious people that makes this city a capital that lives in its own world. Whatever it is, it’s a city that stays long in your memory.
As the capital of Portugal and one of the oldest cities in Europe since its conquest from the Moors in 1147, Lisbon has over 20 centuries of history. Just walk around the Alfama, to the old quarters of Castelo and Mouraria, on the western and northern slopes of the hill that is crowned by St. George’s Castle and you’ll be steeped in history. Walk down the medieval streets of the Barrio Alto and you’ll hear the haunting sound of fado (traditional music) being played and sung at night.
Wherever you end up strolling be sure to check out the following two locations.
Barrio Alto Hotel
If there’s one hotel in Lisbon you have to stay in, it’s the Barrio Alto. Located in one of Lisbon’s most vibrant areas, this 1845 building in the Praà§a Luise de Camoes offers 55 rooms, a restaurant serving delicious modern Portuguese cuisine and a terrace boasting stunning views of the city. Don’t miss the sixth-floor terraced bar where you can sink into sofas with a glass of champagne and gaze down over terracotta rooftops and the panoramic views of the mighty Tejo passing.
Want something a little more bustling? Drop into their funky bar where the local stylish Lisboetas gather before they hit the clubs later on. While rooms are ample sized, each one has its own touch of individuality–there’s a bird painted in every room, high ceilings, rich colored fabrics, half paneled walls and beautiful bathrooms all explain why this charming hotel has won the hearts of many since its opening in 2005.
But what’s really special about the Barrio isn’t just the modern yet classical décor or the fact that it was a favorite haunt for many writers and artists, it’s simply the friendly staff. In their smart designer uniforms, they greet everyone with a smile and proudly talk about their intriguing city and what to see each day.
Best of all, once you step out into the square, you have the shopping district of Chiado to your left, the old buzzy Barrio in front of you and historical views of the stunning city in every direction.
(Barrio Alto Hotel, Praca Luis de Camoes 2, Lisbon 1200-243, Portugal, www.bairroaltohotel.com)
The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz
If the Barrio Alto offers a modern-old world charm, then the Four Seasons Ritz, considered the city’s premium hotel, is characterized by the nobility and charm of old historic Portugal. Atop one of Lisbon’s seven hills, this 10-floor Ritz (built in the 1950’s) opens to breath-taking views of Eduardo VII Park, St. George’s Castle, the Old Town and the Tagus River.
There’s a fairytale quality to the bedroom suites that delights with beautiful mahogany beds and plush furniture. These lavish rooms include terraces that open onto the Edward VII Park. New Yorkers will fall in the love with the spacious marble bathrooms, double basins and the tub-shower combination that makes it almost impossible to leave. But perhaps the best feature of the hotel is the chic spa that provides a heavenly oasis for worldly business travelers and tired tourists alike.
Designed to soothe and calm the senses, this Zen designed sanctuary in marble and rich oak, is made up of Asian art and sleek furnishings, Italian poolside loungers and ergonomically designed, oversized beds that put it in a class of its own. You could spend a full day discovering the facilities in all their glory. Using exclusive E’spa products, the Spa offers out of this world facials and body treatments that will renew, refresh and re-energize you.
For total relaxation, you must treat yourself to the holistic aromatherapy total body care treatment with hot stones that soothes away any tension and starts a rebalancing process. Also try the skin brushing and gentle exfoliation, followed by an aromatherapy body massage – very rejuvenating. Need to detoxify? Get the aromatherapy facial to purify and balance the skin. And why not get a scalp massage to ease away tensions as you eliminate toxins? To get the full experience, be sure to book your treatment in advance. The Spa at the Ritz is unsurprisingly always busy.
And if you just want to work up an appetite, take a dip in the regal 18-metre (59-foot) indoor lap pool. You’ll be surrounded by captivating views over the hotel gardens and Eduardo VII Park.
(The Four Seasons Ritz Hotel, 88 Rua Rodrigo Da Fonseca, Lisbon http://www.fourseasons.com/lisbon/)