Portugal had never been top of my “must visit” list but our summer holiday was a short, last-minute affair and flights to Lisbon were the cheapest we could find.
As it turned out, the price was right and so was the destination. Lisbon surpassed all my expectations. It’s a beautuful city by the River Tagus on the Atlantic coast and there’s lots to see and do.
As we were only staying for two days before heading off to the nearby seaside towns of Estoril and Cascais, we decided that foot slogging round the sites with two teens in tow wasn’t an option. It was sweltering and there are many steep hills in Lisbon.
So we travelled in style in an eco tuk-tuk, a battery powered, three-wheel vehicle for four that can squeeze up and down the tiny, historic streets, www.ecotkuktours.com. It was exceptionally good value at 70 Euros for half a day and we had our own guide who ended our tour in the Chiado area, where we found the fantastic Flower Power cafe on Largo do Calhariz.
Not only does it serve great food for vegetarians, hard to find in Portugal unless you want pasta and pizza, but the interior design is fantastic.
There were tables and chairs, dishes of food and a hob set on the wall, held up with what must be super strong glue or very long screws!
I especially loved the old fridge, also wall-mounted, which acted as a display cabinet.
This little cafe was definitely a highlight of the trip as was the Hotel Epic Sana, which was a last-minute bargain on Booking.com. It’s a five-star, contemporary hotel a 20-minute walk from the heart of the city. The service is wonderful and it has a spa with an indoor pool and a rooftop outdoor pool. www.lisboa.epic.sanahotels.com/en/
For our three days on the coast, a half-hour taxi or train ride away, we stayed at the Dolce Vita Guesthouse in Estoril, www.dolcevitaestoril.com. It’s a gem run by the lovely Fernando and the shared pool here was always quiet with lots of loungers, unlike those at local hotels.
Memorable moments by the coast include walking along the promenade to Cascais while gazing at the wild, Atlantic sea and visiting the Paula Rego Museum.
Her pictures are challenging, some are disturbing and I love them, even though I wouldn’t want one on the sitting room wall! Fernando hates her work but loves the museum building, designed by architect Eduardo Souto de Moura.
For a small place Cascais packs a big punch, unlike Estoril which is pretty quiet apart from the casino (famous for inspiring Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale). Minutes from the hustle and bustle of the shops and the beach, there are lots of museums, all with free entry, including the Counts of Castro Guimarães Palace (below) and a lovely park.
We also enjoyed mooching around the quiet streets away from the centre of town. There are some fantastic examples of traditional Portugese houses, complete with Moorish-inspired tiled exteriors. The cafes are more authentic (and cheaper). The one below seems to have been inspired by Yorkshire’s Le Tour.
A trip to the nearby mountain village of Sintra is a must but at the height of summer it is absolutely packed, to the point where it is quite oppressive. My favourite bits of this tourist trap were the fairytale Pena Palace, a bus ride away from the centre, and the ceramics on sale at one of the many pottery shops.