Frank Bruni has fallen unashamedly in love with Lisbon:
Frank Bruni, How I Fell For Lisbon
I COULD argue that this is a particularly good moment to visit Lisbon, and for a few paragraphs I will, though the truth of the matter is that I don’t think Lisbon needs any recommendation beyond the blessed fact of it. It warranted attention and favor years ago and will warrant them years hence.
As for now, well, there’s a clear economic rationale. Times aren’t flush, and Lisbon presents a noticeable price break from London, Paris, even Rome. It’s faded imperial glory on the cheap: Western Europe marked down 20 to 30 percent. And Portugal’s economic woes — it’s currently in a fiscally austere league with Greece, Spain and Ireland — have in some sense unleashed a creative spirit among its people, who are taking chances, improvising and, as it happens, trying to boost tourism. Outside money is one answer to inside need.
I sensed this energy during my last two visits, when I repeatedly met or heard about former architects, bankers or lawyers who had started small, idiosyncratic enterprises, and I repeatedly stumbled upon new, clever projects. I stayed in one of them: the Lisbonaire, a hotel masquerading as an apartment complex, or maybe it’s the other way around, where each spacious studio or one-bedroom unit has been decorated in a deliberately cheeky fashion by a different Portuguese designer or artist, with all the minimalist furniture made in Portugal. Each unit also has a fully equipped kitchen stocked with glassware, plates, utensils, pots and pans. All of this plus reliable wireless, a communal lounge in the basement and an ideal location sets you back as little as 65 euros (about $81 at $1.26 to the euro) a night.
Over the last few years Lisbon has experienced a boom in stylish hotels, including the lilac-colored Internacional Design Hotel on Rossio Square, the city’s majestic nucleus, and the Altis Belém, right on the water in the quieter, palm-lined neighborhood of Belém, where bikers and runners use paths along the river. It has also become a more exciting place to eat, with two of its most acclaimed chefs opening intensely pleasurable restaurants. You can find a table without making a reservation as far in advance as you often have to in cities that draw a greater number of gastronomic pilgrims. Lisbon lets you in.
Lisbon is one of the most welcoming cities. It is my favorite other place, although Montreal is now a distant and rising contender. I have no other great love, except for the generalized places like ‘the beach’ or ‘exotic locales’. Lisbon is one of the few places I could happily reside, and find a home.
I spent two summers there, studying Portuguese language and culture at the University of Lisbon. It is a special place because of the mix of my memories from the ’70s and the resurgence of the economy — now a bit dented and tarnished perhaps, but nothing like the post-fascist era. When I first visited in ‘78, the revolution to topple Salazar was a recent memory, and Portugal wasn’t a member of the EU.
I’ve been back four or five times in the intervening 30 years, and Lisbon has become more cosmopolitan, but the people have remained gracious and charmed by my formerly fluent stammerings in Portuguese, a language that few even try to learn. The food and wine are truly world class, now, unlike the late ’70s, which followed a long period of economic isolation, thanks to the fascists.
I often recall a wonderful dinner in the Baixa with Andre Ribeirinho and Bruno Pedro, a few years ago, where I had my first bottle of Esporão. I can’t wait to return.
I have a back-burner plan to spend a year in Lisbon, and write a Peter Maire style ‘Return To Lisbon’ travelogue, with food and recipes, memories, a journal of the difficulties and joys of finding a place to live there, and sections devoted to travels to other parts of Portugal — Oporto, the Algarve, the Açores, the Serra da Estrela — all intermingled with historical and cultural snippets about the country’s people and culture. Perhaps next year? Or the following?
Here’s a small fragments that will certainly be in the book: I Am Fey.
Next trip, for certain: the Lisbonaire!
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