Enjoy a slower pace of life in the Portuguese capital, where you’ll find a warm welcome, the freshest of foods and great-value wines, says André Ribeirinho...
As a young child living on the outskirts of Portugal’s capital, my first memories of Lisbon are of ferry and tram rides, weekend shopping sprees, the occasional museum visit and the famous pastel de nata egg custard tarts. It’s probably a similar list of highlights that most tourists remember when they think of their city breaks here. But there’s much, much more to Lisbon than that.
It was only when I went to university that I started discovering the daily rituals of the city. I’d enjoy my morning galão, a caffè latte served in a tall glass, and two slices of ‘chocolate salami’ – a chocolate, biscuit and Port log. As a student, I would frequently drop into one of the city’s many pastelarias, or cafés, to share a prego no pão. This typical Portuguese lunch is a steak with garlic ‘nailed’ into it with a mallet, fried and served in a bun. And of course there were more pastel de nata, now paired with strong bicas (espressos).
After leaving Lisbon for a time, I later returned to live with my then-girlfriend, now-wife. We indulged in some of the simple pleasures of the city: crossing the river in a ferry for no other reason than to watch the sunset from the other side; an early morning stroll along the riverside gardens of the Parque das Nações district; or people-watching on the bustling streets of the Chiado, Baixa and Alfama neighbourhoods.
About five or six years ago, Lisbon’s wine and food scene had a rebirth. Many places closed and even more new ones opened. Today the capital is filled with renovated food markets, quirky and modern restaurants, and cosy wine bars. Splash out on a seafood feast at the iconic Ramiro or a quick bite at Mercado da Ribeira. Enjoy a flavourful dinner at fresh-from-themarket etiscos (tapas) restaurant Taberna da Rua das Flores, or a late-night glass of Port at Garrafeira Alfaia.
For the ultimate experience – and certainly if you’re into old wines – head to either of the local wine shops, GN Cellar or Garrafeira Campo de Ourique, and buy yourself a treasure from the 1960s or 1970s. And you don’t have to take it home with you either. While the concept of Bring Your Own (BYO) is not widespread, asking nicely at any of the restaurants mentioned here – and being prepared to pay for the glassware and service – will get you very far.
Weather permitting (which, in Lisbon, is most of the year), you can visit three wine regions just a short drive from the city. Head north to Lisboa, which used to be called Estremadura, and stop at the sea-influenced vineyards of AdegaMãe or Quinta de Sant’Ana. Drive south to Setúbal to taste the historic fortified Moscatels from José Maria da Fonseca’s 100-year-old cellars. Or travel east for a great fine-dining experience in the Alentejo region at the 700-year-old oenotourism estate of Herdade do Esporão. On the way back to Lisbon, make a stop at chef Miguel Laffan’s L’and restaurant for a unique gastronomic take on Portuguese cuisine at this luxury vineyard resort. Lisbon’s authenticity is addictive. As Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet, once wrote: at first you might find it strange, but then you can’t get enough of it.
André Ribeirinho is a food and wine entrepreneur who founded online wine platform Adegga.com