With every year, come the questions ‘What’s the hottest destination this year?’, ‘Where should we be going?’. Of course, it depends who you ask and to some extent, it’s always going to have an element of personal preference in the answer.
At Chic Retreats we like to keep an eye on new boutique hotel openings and hotel fashions and for the foreseeable future, the trend is towards short breaks, not only in popular cities like Paris, Rome and London but also Lisbon, Porto and lesser-known foodie destinations.
Portugal is emerging as a dynamic centre for art, culture and food. There’s a thriving microbrewery scene, and chefs are creating culinary buzz from Lisbon to the pristine beaches of the Algarve (seven new restaurants received Michelin stars in 2017). Of course, it’s also very affordable, an easy destination to get to from the UK and has a great year-round climate.
The capital, Lisbon, owes its historical prominence to its natural harbour, one of the most beautiful in the world. European city of culture in 1994 and home to Expo ’98 Lisbon underwent a massive renovation project with huge improvements to its transport and infrastructure. Legend has it that Lisbon, like Rome, is built on seven hills, each one with its own story to tell.
Lisbon, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, is a city of colourful balconies and vistas. Famous for its custard tarts, trams and cobbled streets and the city has been put firmly back on the map with a flurry of new restaurant and hotel openings in the last couple of years. Portugal is home to 23 Michelin awarded restaurants in total, five of which can be found in Lisbon.
Awarded its first Michelin star in 2016 Alma, in Chiado, is perhaps one of the more recent restaurants to gain its star. Serving informal dishes in an elegant atmosphere, Chef Henrique Sá Pessoa gives you the choice of five menus reflecting his own travels around the world. Just down the road still in Chiado is Belcanto, the only restaurant in Lisbon to have been awarded 2 Michelin stars. Focusing on Portuguese cuisine José Avillez’s creates dishes that are served to only ten tables. For memorable, extremely modern dishes head to the flamboyant chef Alexandre Silva restaurant which he opened at the end of 2015; his seasonal Portuguese cuisine has already earned him a Michelin star and his flair won him Portugal’s first televised chef competition.
A visit to Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of the best custard tarts (Pastéis de nata) in the world. Don’t be put off by the crowds, there is a reason Antiga Confeitaria de Belem is so popular! Go early in the morning and steer towards one of the rooms at the back (each room has its own set of waiters) – and order at least 3 along with a bica (similar to espresso). This is a typical way to start the day in Lisbon and one of the best.
If you’re a self-confessed foodie then you should include a trip to the Mercado da Ribeira, the food court of Lisbon’s market hall. Taken over by Time Out in 2014 this renovated and bustling market is now home to more than 35 permanent stalls including some from the city’s most famous delicatessens, wine merchants and restaurants.
Of course, there’s plenty more to Lisbon than food. There’s a zoo within the city and some magical botanical gardens to visit. Campo Pequeno is the Lisbon’s bullring, which draws visitors of all ages from near and far to watch the Portuguese style of bullfighting. If culture is your thing then you won’t be disappointed, the collection of museums include displays of folk art, antique painted tiles, sacred monuments and decorative pieces. One of the more unusual is Azulejo Museum which can be found in the Convent of Madre de Deus and which features a fabulous collection of regional painted tiles. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Torre de Belém is Lisbon’s most famous moment and should be included in every visit to the city.
As for where to stay, there are plenty of hotels to entice locals and tourists and every budget. One of the trendiest areas to emerge in recent years is Intendente. Full of buzzing cafes, bars and restaurants it’s now home to 1908 Lisboa Hotel, a Chic Retreat with restaurant and bar, which has a constantly changing art gallery.
2017 saw the opening of AVANI Avenida Liberdade Lisbon Hotel, a contemporary oasis in the heart of the city. As well as the state-of-the-art gym, it is close to many of Lisbon’s top attractions and has scenic views across the city.
For something small, but beautiful, the 42 room Memmo Alfama fits the bill. More LA than Lisbon this hideaway in Lisbon’s oldest district is the perfect choice for the jet-set weekender with its red rooftop plunge pool and bar.
High up on one of the seven hills sits Palacio Belmonte, one of Christian Louboutin’s favourite luxury hotels in the world and if budget is no object then this is the place for you. Discreet, luxurious and simply stunning, there is no other place like it in Lisbon. The oldest building of its kind in the city is home to just 11 suites and a striking black slate pool. Tucked inside the ramparts of the Castelo de São Jorge, behind plum-red portals in a narrow cobbled passage, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re entering another world. This Chic Retreat is one of Lisbon’s best-kept boutique hotel secrets…ssshhh, we won’t tell anyone if you don’t.