As Lisbon’s fishermen haul in their daily catch courtesy of the Atlantic’s cold currents, the aroma of salted cod and sardines is never far away, a celebration of its seafaring heritage and seafood predeliction. Wandering along the lively Rua Augusta, charming cafes spill into the pedestrian strip where quantities of fried salted cod or Bacalhau are consumed topped with a pungent garlic oil sauce. Through the cooking haze, we pass through the monumental Augusta Street Arch that guards the entry to Lisbon’s waterfront and head for Cafe Pasteis de Belem.
Cafe Pasteis has been producing caramelised custard tarts since 1837 and stepping around waiters ferrying shoulder-high trays of the famous Portuguese tarts, their only problem is keeping up with demand. Latest figures indicate 14,000 a day and counting.
There’s a vibrant atmosphere in the café’s maze of blue and white tiled rooms where locals add a generous sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar to the mouth-watering pastries.
On the terrace at St George Castle perched on one of Lisbon’s many hillsides, we join the lunchtime crowd sitting under the gnarled limbs of ancient trees on the battlements.
Over a dish of goat cheese terrine with confit of cherry tomato, caramelized apple and a glass of local wine, we imagine the jubilation that would have been in the air when in 1499, the great maritime explorer Vasco da Gama was welcomed back from India on this very spot.
Moving on to the Baixa district, the Elevador de Gloria, a two-way funicular (cable car), grinds its way up the narrow lane off Avenue de la Liberdade to San Pedro Alcantara. This is the fascinating Bairro Alto district, literally High Quarter, a 16th century maze where young fashionistas choose old graffiti-stamped laneways to launch their retail dreams.
Once a working-class area, it’s becoming an enticing blend of boutiques, bistros and bars. There’s kitchen eating at Cantinho Do Bem Estar, cocktails at chic watering hole Soft, full-skirted 1950s sun dresses for sale at Bad Luck as well as Sul where Lisbon’s trend-setters meet for innovative Portuguese cuisine before clubbing till dawn along Rua da Atalaia in groovy little bars, decked out with designer fittings and party people.
At Camoes Square, we enjoy a coffee at A Brasileira, an Art Deco café where we sit alongside a bronze statue of noted early 20th century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, a Brasileira regular back in the day. The throng at the bar sips espresso with port chasers and young Lisboans stride confidently by in tight jeans and boots, their uniform du jour. Shoe shiners polish their craft along the sidewalk, men line-up outside old-school barber shops and there’s the smoky aroma of roasting chestnuts as they burst out of their skins on roadside carts.
These days, adventurers explore the waterfront area from Santo Amaro Docks to Santos in search of the latest hot spots. The Portuguese like to eat late and restaurants don’t fire-up until around 10pm. This is a town that knows how to par-tay so don’t be surprised if bars are quiet at midnight. Nightlife hours are elastic and stretch until the early hours of the morning. As well as the popular restaurants that line the boardwalk, the alternative set stop by the Op Art Café while sophisticates head for Buddha Lx before hitting the main nightclub area at 24 de Julho Avenue in Santos
The truly discerning head further along the waterfront’s Avenida Infante Dom Henrique lured by the glam factor at Bica do Sapato restaurant and its less expensive cafe. One of Lisbon’s hippest waterfront stretches, this is where chic Lisboans get their larder luxuries while brunching at Deli Delux and groove into the night at Lux nightclub.
Please look above at In The Picture and get a pictorial flavour of this month’s edition.