Arriving in Lisbon is like taking a breath of fresh air. Immediately you feel that the city is vibrant, buzzing with energy and the locals are welcoming, eager to accommodate your every whim or fancy. With its eclectic architecture and colourful houses, one by one coming alive again, some after years of neglect, Lisbon is a wonderful exciting city open for all seasons. The travelling is effortless with Tap Air Portugal flying directly from London Heathrow, Gatwick and other airports at very competitive rates. A spontaneous trip away is therefore on the cards anytime of the year without giving it a second thought.
Portugal’s hilly, coastal capital not only provides an architecturally and culturally interesting urban space to explore but with a string of Atlantic beaches nearby offers ample opportunity for more sporty recreational outdoor activities; no wonder it has become such a popular destination for those wanting to discover something unique and charming.
On arrival, we sense an atmosphere of stoic stability and calmness inside the iconic building, enhanced with stunning pieces of visual art. Located in the heart of Lisbon, you may argue this historic hotel wears the cultural heart and soul of Portugal on its sleeve. Inside, Art Deco sensibilities mingle with an updated Louis XVI style, and a collection of important contemporary local artwork fills the halls. Outside, views of the city’s rolling hills and brightly tiled exteriors spread out before you. After spending the day exploring the city sights, many just steps from the hotel, we make ourselves presentable for dinner on the terrace of our acclaimed Varanda Restaurant to watch the pink hues of sunset emerge from the horizon as we enjoying refreshing cocktails from the Ritz bar.
Apparently this is a place to see and be seen, the restaurant renowned for its lavish brunch, a premier view of Eduardo VII Park and a diverse menu that highlights local specialties and ingredients. We are told chef Pascal Meynard is a bit of a thrill-seeker. Of dual French and Canadian citizenship, he grew up surfing and kayaking in the beautiful Basque region of France and returns there every summer to experiment with the latest water-based activities. Chef Pascal’s adventurous spirit has taken him to work in far-flung places such as Tasmania, the remote wilderness of Canada and the Michelin-starred restaurants of Paris. Here he is in his element, the turbot snake with noisette butter, girolles and ginger lingers in the memory.
Our room does not disappoint either, with stunning views of the city’s rolling hills and a chic and opulent interior making you feel as if you are indeed on top of the world. Here the eclectic décor is also in perfect balance with French interior designer Henri Samuel creating the hotel's unique sense of place by mixing a refined 18th-century French style with Art Deco geometry, and filling the walls with commissioned pieces from notable local artists.
After a hearty breakfast on the terrace we are told that the most authentic way to discover the city’s many hills and history is on a vintage moto-sidecar tour which the hotel kindly arranges for us. You can also have a choice of vintage cars and in this instance, as it was a rainy day, we opted for a red ‘deux chevaux’ straight out of a French 1970’s movie which only adds to the enjoyment of a romantic city tour. This way we discover the turns and twists of the city as well as heading slightly out towards one of the many beaches nearby where you can surf the dream coast and navigate the waters of Guincho beach with striking cliffs and the beautiful Portuguese coast.
Before departing we decide to enhance our short visit by visiting the hotel Spa enjoying the signature treatment The Seven Hills of Lisbon. Perfect to get some relief for hill-weary legs and bodies this uplifting sensory immersion honours the fruits and fragrances of Lisbon using organic regional ingredients. Refreshed and rested we finally take a while to admire the eclectic mix of sculptures, paintings and tapestries that make the hotel a veritable museum of mid-20th–century Portuguese art and one of the largest privately own collections in the country. Our last glance is for an imposing piece gracing the lobby’s lounge, Almada Negreiros’ Centaur trilogy of Portalegre tapestries, inspired by the constellation Centaurs. These notable works by the artist – who referred to himself as a futurist artist – are in some way fitting, a strong statement of the gracious hospitality of the hotel, as Pholus, the somewhat uncharacteristically wise and cordial centaur, adorns the walls but only the brave seafarers of Portugal would have seen on the southern sky.