2 – 6 November 2019
We could have gone straight to Lisbon but a detour beckoned despite the grey and drizzly weather. On the map we could see a westerly point called Cabo Espichel and decided to visit it because, well, because it was there. When we got there, having crossed a rather bleak landscape we bumped onto the huge car park where there were a handful of cars and, oddly, another British motorhome!
The cape has had a lighthouse since 1430, the current one dating from 1790, and can be seen 35 miles out into the Atlantic. Nearby we were surprised to see a huge religious-looking building which a sign told us was the Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo (Our Lady of the Cape) – a large church framed by long arcaded buildings for the pilgrims who flocked there following a vision of “Our Lady”. But religion aside the Cape is a wild, beautiful place and the sun broke out for a short time to show it to us at its best.
We entered Lisbon via the Ponte de 25 Abril suspension bridge with a huge concrete statue of Christ towering over us and we could see the city sprawling over a series of hills as we crossed the Rio Tejo.
Our campsite was outside the centre on a wooded hillside next to a motorway, some tenements and a big modern retail park. It was raining again when we pitched up and found we had no TV and no Wifi. But we weren’t here for that. On Kate’s birthday we hopped an Uber for the 20 minute ride into the centre of Lisbon and our hotel, brilliantly located in the middle of the Baixa (lower town). We dropped our bags and wandered out to explore.
Lisbon has some lovely architecture. The broad, tree-lined Avenida de Liberdade. The Rossio, Lisbon’s the main square since medieval times with baroque statues and mosaic-cobbled pavements where the Inquisition burned heretics, governments conducted public hangings, and bull-fights were held but today just bustles with tourists. The ironwork Elevador de Santa Justa built by a disciple of Eiffel to carry people up to the Bairro Alto. Chiado with its fashionable shops where being back in a busy, noisy city finally got to us and we ducked into a quiet courtyard away from the crowds for lunch, shelter from the rain and time to adjust.
Lisbon was flattened in a huge earthquake in 1755 and reconstructed by the Marques de Pombal, minister to playboy king Dom Jose I, hence the grid-layout of the Baixa and the large number of tall, grand buildings. Crowning glory must be the huge Praca de Comercio with the river at its foot and the dominating Arco da Rua Augusta opposite, gateway to the city after reconstruction. Either side grand, arcaded buildings house expensive-looking shops and restaurants.
The Birthday Meal was at a seafood restaurant in the hillside area of Bairro Alto amidst cobbled pedestrian alleys. It was packed and people were being turned away so we were glad we had booked, The lovely ambience lured us into a seafood feast of lobster, prawns, crabmeat and clams.
A lovely evening and we even managed a nightcap in an atmospheric small bar on our way back,
Next day the sun came out for a whole morning and we made the most of it, heading uphill into the maze of narrow alleys of Lisbon’s oldest quarter, the Alfama.
And at the top, the Castelo de São Jorge with its Moorish ramparts & towers and spectacular views.
The walls encircle the ruins of the castle and former royal palace, an archaeological excavation site with finds going back to the Iron Age as well as a small exhibition of finds from the site ranging from pottery to clay pipes and azujelos tiles to gravestones.
After an enjoyable exploration we headed down towards the seafront in search of lunch. Old-fashioned trams trundled past us and TukTuks touted for business as we headed to the Mercado da Ribeira.
Lisbon’s main and most historic market today hosts the Time Out Market, a food-hall of food-halls. All 5 of Lisbon’s Michelin-starred chefs have premises here where signature dishes are served, and plenty of other restaurants and food specialists are represented in the stalls that line the edges. The centre hold a couple of bars and rows of tables for diners to eat whichever delights they have selected.
We started with oysters then Crispy Suckling Pig in a bun by a Michelin- 2 star chef – Danny declared it delicious – and Octopus Rice with Prawns & Clams. Dessert was unavoidable – Pudim do Abade based on a traditional recipe that was runner up in a ‘7 Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy’ competition.
Once we adjusted to the hustle and bustle we enjoyed Lisbon – its elegant buildings and squares, characterful alleyways and trams, markets and good food. Being in the hotel for a couple of nights was a real treat as well, but we have definitely developed a limited tolerance for the crowds and noise of cities – must be getting old!
Time for a change of pace….