Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Another 36 Hours in Lisbon

At first, Seth Sherwood’s recent guide to Portugal’s capital city left me feeling as if I’d missed out on something. After all, our family had enjoyed several days and nights there in December—without experiencing many of the author’s designated highlights. In fact, we only managed two: the riverside running path that passes through the grand Praça do Comércio, and the gallery at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga that contains Bosch’s mind-altering Temptations of Saint Anthony.

Upon further reflection, however, I wouldn’t have missed any of the treasures that we bumbled into during our walks around the city. Here’s an abbreviated version of our visit.

Friday / 4:00 p.m.
To get a good view of everything Lisbon has to offer, begin your visit at Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte. A miradouro is the Portuguese version of a scenic viewpoint, and Lisbon’s hills provide several great ones.

Friday / 8:00 p.m.
Our home base was a third-story walkup in the Alfama District, the oldest part of the city. There are many interesting-looking places to eat between the castle and the river, but after strolling up and down a few cobblestoned streets, we chose Bistrô Gato Pardo, at Rua de São Vicente 10. It’s an intimate and comfortable space, and each plate manages that rare achievement of disarming simplicity: beautiful to contemplate, wonderful to taste. We felt perfectly content to linger through a long dinner, two bottles of wine, dessert and coffee. Ask Mario and Werner to tell a few stories about the Sardine Festival (when the restaurant closes in the interests of self-preservation).

Saturday / 12:00 noon
After a morning run or walk, make your way to Portugalia’s cervejaria, a brewery turned beer hall at Rua São Caetano 4. Although the menu offers a number of the usual suspects, we recommend the house specialty: Bacalhau Bras (the half portion was enough for two of us). Its robust flavor of salt cod, potatoes, and olives is accompanied equally well by a glass of Bohemia or Imperial Branca.

Saturday / 2:00 p.m.
Confronted with a daunting list of worthwhile museums, we chose the one that seemed most emblematic of Lisbon itself: the tile museum. The Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Rua da Madre de Deus 4, is housed in a former convent whose sixteenth-century buildings provide a suitably meandering home for a wide-ranging collection. Although some taxi drivers may insist that the word azulejo comes from the Portuguese for “blue,” it more likely derives from the Arabic al zuleycha, which means “small polished stone.”

Saturday / 8:00 p.m.
Mini Bar Teatro, Rua António Maria Cardoso 58, is one of chef José Avillez’s five restaurants in Lisbon. We found the place on Friday, when it was already fully booked for dinner, and literally begged for a reservation for the following night. The food is inventive and showy, with foie gras masquerading as a Ferrero Rocher and a brilliant green sphere that transforms itself into a caiparinha in your mouth. The theater theme also extends to the traditionally liquid cocktails, which have names like Godot and Hairspray. After a few of these we laughed so hard that one of our party fell from a chair.

Sunday / 10:00 a.m.
By now you’ve probably tried at least a few of Lisbon’s many distinctive pastries, including the egg tarts known as pastéis de nata or, if you go directly to the source, pastéis de Belém. One of the city’s better versions is served at Versailles, an atmospheric café at Avenida Republica 15A. Although you’ll see locals happily standing and eating at the long counter, it’s worth waiting for a seat under the elegantly high ceiling.

Sunday / 1:00 p.m.
If you can’t leave Lisbon without at least a few souvenirs, then stop at A Arte da Terra, Rua Augusto Rosa 40. The shop is housed in the former stables of the city’s cathedral, just downhill from the Roman ruins, and the cobbled floor beneath your feet has been trod by both humans and horses for what has no doubt been donkeys of years. Individual displays of fine handicrafts are arranged in the stone mangers, and the retro tins of Portuguese sardines seem even more appealing when viewed beneath a centuries-old vault of brick.