I’ve travelled through Lisbon a couple of times, but never stopped to explore. Recently I decided to go for a short weekend away, and having been previously enthused by a Rick Stein’s programme – ‘long weekends’, and being a lover of seafood, pork and wine myself, Lisbon seemed like my type of place.
Where to stay in Lisbon
For accommodation, we used our friends at iescape to recommend a boutique hotel for us. We arrived on a Thursday evening, and checked into Palacio-ramalhete; an 18th Century hotel nestled in the bohemian district of Lapa.
The hotel lived up to expectation. Off a cobbled road, a low-key set of doors opened up into a beautiful house with grand rooms, courtyards and a small pool. The hotel recommended a great restaurant around the corner called the Clube de Journalistas and there we began our weekend feast. Within the atmospheric courtyard, we chose sautéed baby Iberian pork with black eyed peas from the menu, and washed it down with a local Rose in an atmospheric courtyard.
Lisbon through the eyes of a local
We were up early in the morning to meet our guide for the day – Luis from withlocals.com.
We asked Luis to take us on a tram around the city and explain some of its history and neighbourhoods. Travelling off the beaten track with a local is a great way to get a sense of a place. Luis guides you like a pro, even managing to keep 3 teenagers engaged for 4 hours, which is an achievement in itself.
Food and drink the Lisbon way
Lisbon has gone through a difficult period financially, but its mood is upbeat and buoyant. There’a real energy, especially around the food and drink culture.
No more was this evident than at the Time Out Food Market where we finished up around lunchtime. Don’t be put off by its name; it really is a great “permanent pop up” venue.
Housed in a restored market hall next to the main fruit and veg market, local cuisine is showcased alongside “rest of the world” inspired kitchens. Diners sit around communal tables, enjoying whatever food they fancy.
After a long lunch and a laze by the pool, we popped out for an simple supper at Le Chat Lisboa. Le Chat has great views and is only a short walk from the hotel.
We had a very ‘non-Portugese’ start to Saturday morning. We rose early and frantically searched for an Irish Pub where we could watch the deciding Lions test match against New Zealand. Needless to say we found one, packed with many pints of Guinness and full Irish breakfasts being consumed. Great atmosphere and a fair few bemused Lisbonites wandering past the open doors wondering what was going on.
The great ‘Pasteis de Belem’
Next stop was a bus ride away and a taste of the best Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon.
Belem’s pasteis really do live up to expectations; fresh, warm with a crispy pastry base. Belem apparently sell around 65,000 of these every day. At just over a Euro each, it’s an amazing business they have there.
After Belem, we headed back to a regeneration project earmarked for demolition before the financial crisis. LX Factory is a series of old buildings turned into a thriving food and retail market. It’s a great place to look around and enjoy a platter of locally cured meats and cheeses.
Unbelievably, we were still up for more food at 5.00pm! So we met up with our local guru Luis for a 4 hour food tour of the small neighbourhood or “Pesticos” (similar to tapas) establishments. First stop was a bowl of Caracoes (small snails) and a small Sagres lager, swiftly followed by a bifana (pork sandwich in soft bread roll).
After a stroll down the hill into one of the main squares, we enjoyed fabulous chicken gizards, flaming homemade chorizo and probably best of all, Bacalhau (salt cod fishcakes). All of this was washed down with copious quantities of delicious Vinho Verde, served in terracotta jugs and cups.
By now, a digestive was required. And what better way to digest than with a glass of a local cherry brandy style drink called Ginjinha. Ginjinha is sweet and easy to drink, but eat the cherry at your peril as it’s extremely sour and not to everyone’s taste.
Up the hill again in the old Moorish part of town, we ate marinated sardines on toast with olives and a pasteis de nata to finish. We washed it down (again) with an excellent Vinho Verde. Luis’ food trip is a great way to get a feel for the food based culture this city revolves around.
A slice of WBC found in Lisbon
Which brings me to the reason for writing this blog. And you thought it was just to make you hungry!
On Sunday morning our friends were leaving early, so we ended up walking into town as the shops were starting to open. About 200 metres from the hotel I spied a lovely pair of WBC’s wicker basket stands stacked tall with shoppers. I walked into the beautifully laid out shop and bumped into its owner Tiago, who gave me the run down on how our products (and there were a lot around the store) had made their way from London to Lisbon and into Mercearia da Mila.
Tiago had worked with London based deli group, Bayley & Sage. Inspired by his time there, he headed to Lisbon to set up his own store.
Three months from opening and things seem to be going well. There’s a great buzz in the store and the surrounding street. He’s in good company with a number of equally interesting retailers and coffee shops in the area.
Mercearia da Mila is named after Tiago’s wife and co-founder, Emily. All of us at WBC wish him every on-going success. Who knows, we may even be partners soon as there seems to be demand for WBC style retail display and merchandising products that are very difficult to source locally. Hopefully for me that means more trips to Lisbon to work out the details. Watch this space!
One final lunch in the centre of town before heading off to the airport in time for Monday morning. Lisbon really is a great place to visit. Yes it’s busy with tourists, but it’s easy to get away and find sensational places to while away the time.
(Not wanting to finish on a negative note but be really careful of pickpockets on the buses and trams. Avoid crowded ones and keep your money well protected. Two of our party had money stolen and we were being very careful. This should in no way put you off visiting Lisbon!!)