Travel review: Heritage Avenida Liberdade hotel in Lisbon
by Helen Renshaw
Pounding the streets of this hilly city works up an appetite for more than delicious custard tarts
Do the good citizens of Lisbon have the best glutes in Europe? They should do. Their gorgeous city of steep hills is both a total joy and a lower body work-out. We rack up over 20,000 steps a day exploring, but do we go home with butts like Beyoncé? We do not. It’s the food, you see. Lisbon is not just crammed with history, it’s also home to food so irresistible we have to stop every 30 minutes to sample it. We had arrived late and travel-battered, at our delightful home for the first three nights, As Janelas Verdes hotel. Barely two minutes after setting foot in the door, we bump into a fellow guest who raves: ‘Best hotel in Lisbon! You’re gonna love it!’ Ten minutes later, we’ve already started to agree. The hotel is a 15-minute stroll from the centre and converted from an 18th-century townhouse. It’s one of five boutique properties in the Lisbon Heritage Hotels Collection. Each has a character all its own, and this one feels like an eclectic family home, with antiques and quirky touches in every corner. We head for the open-all-hours honesty bar in the library. Candles twinkle in the grate, wood panelling lines the walls, and an antique telescope aims towards the Tagus River. We make ourselves a negroni, sink into leather armchairs, and feel the trials of the journey melt away.
The next morning, we don our trainers and head out to Mercado da Ribeira’s Time Out Market, where one side of the hall is a traditional market and the other is a year-round food festival, with stalls hosted by the city’s top chefs selling versions of their signature dishes. Tourists and locals alike select small plates, or petiscos (we chose garlicky pica-pau steak, and octopus burgers), then tuck in at communal tables amid a happy hubbub. Northwards, we wander ancient Bairro Alto and stop to enjoy a cold Sagres beer and salty plate of crispy cod fritters at one of many tapas bars, before pausing at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, a fabulous viewpoint with panoramic views across the rooftops to St George’s Castle.
In the once-scruffy-now-trendy district of Intendente, we find the heart of multicultural Lisbon and restaurants from Vietnam, Mozambique, Peru and Nepal. At a neighbourhood food market, Mercado de Arroios, the morning rush is over but the cafes hum with vibrant community life. We choose Mezze, a Syrian café staffed by refugees, and enjoy smoky kabseh, tangy tabbouleh and Syrian bread, washed downwith homemade minty lemonade. Back at As Janelas Verdes, we catch the last of the afternoon sun on the terrace before heading out for a truly memorable night. No visit to Lisbon is complete without seeing fado – music that expresses longing, passion and life – and Mariada Mouraria, a tiny restaurant tucked down the narrowest of alleys, is the place to do it. Here, there are just six tables, flowered table cloths and walls the colour of egg yolk, and the small, traditional menu includes chickpeas flavoured with coriander and plump prawns drenched in garlicky butter. But it’s the music that makes the memories: it’s intimate, moving and unforgettable.
We share a sunny al fresco breakfast of pastéis de nata, the famous Portuguese custard tarts, the next day before making our way to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, a treasure trove of ancient and modern art. We especially enjoy an exhibition of exquisite glass objects by René Lalique. We’ve worked up quite the appetite, so make a beeline west to O Frade, a small restaurant with a big reputation. The young chefs create traditional Portuguese dishes with a contemporary twist, and we try lots of petiscos, each one a mini work of art. Our favourites are juicy razor clams cooked with garlic, and zesty octopus with bell pepper and pork, washed down with a fragrant Vinhas Velhas from Alentejo.
On our fourth morning, we wave a fond farewell to As Janelas Verdes and move to Heritage Avenida Liberdade, another in the Lisbon Heritage Hotels Collection. The grand 18th-century building is bang in the centre of town and has been given a luxurious contemporary makeover. Our sumptuous room features heavy drapes, a giant bed, luxurious bathroom fittings and windows overlooking the tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade. It’s Liberty Day, a Portuguese national holiday, and cheerful crowds gather round hole-in-the-wall kiosks for a snack or snifter of ginja – a traditional sour cherry liqueur. But we’re seeking out bifanas– Lisbon’s answer to the bacon sarnie. Casa das Bifanas in Praça da Figueira is reassuringly packedwith locals and the bifanas – pork, marinaded with garlic, white wine and sweet paprika, seeping tasty juices into the bread – are outrageously tasty.
On our final morning, we’ve booked a workshop designing azulejos, the colourful tiles Lisbon is famous for. Lisboa Social Press (lisboasocialpress.com) is run by British artist Tom Maryniak, and inside the white washed ancient arched rooms we spend three fun and absorbing hours making our very own azulejos lino prints and take home a souvenir that’s completely unique. It’s time for our final dinner at one of Portuguese superstar chef Nuno Mendes’ favourite haunts. Fidalgo is an old-school, family-run wine bar in Bairro Alto, and we try his favourite dish – white beans and octopus drizzled with chilli and rum oil. It’s silky, subtle, and delicious accompanied by an oaky Tapadade Coelheiros from Alentejo. We’re leg weary and sink into the majestic comfort of our hotel bed knowing we won’t leave Lisbon with butts like Beyoncé but arguing that the spectacular food is worth it.
How to book
B&B at the Heritage Avenida Liberdade hotel starts from €151 (£134) per room per night and As Janelas Verdes from €125 (£110) per room per night. This includes complimentary entry to four museums. Visit lisbonheritagehotels.com.