Among the European city break high-fliers, Lisbon coasts along — somewhat surprisingly — under the radar. Yet it’s as ornate as Rome, as ancient (almost) as Athens and as exuberant as Seville. The city is metaphorically — as well as literally — on the fringes of the continent while Mediterranean hotspots like Barcelona take all the glory.
For those in the know, the cosy capital is a spectacle of regal masonry — blinding white, and canvassed by a deep blue sky.
You can touch and feel the history everywhere — from the Medieval Castelo de São Jorge, overlooking the city like an omnipotent night-watchman, to the ancient cobbled streets of the Bairro Alto, where, it’s rumoured, residents are still in the habit of emptying the contents of their bedpans over rowdy revellers below.
Lisboetas — who call themselves alfacinhas (little lettuces) — have soaked up the flavours of every culture that has washed up on their Atlantic shore: an Arabic sweet tooth, a British gusto for port, Spanish pizazz in the kitchen and a sultry love of hedonism garnered from colonial Brazil.
More than just sex and samba, the colonies lavished the city with layers of pomp and bling, making it one of the most decadent imperial capitals in Europe. Up until the earthquake of 1755, that is, which heralded its demise into the relative obscurity in which it now finds itself.
Not that alfacinhas care. They seem to like living in the shadow of their A-list Latin neighbours — content for their home to remain one of Europe’s lesser-visited capitals. Yet it has culture, architecture, weather, food fresh from the ocean… and beaches.
Fortified by the bracing Atlantic air, the people of Lisbon seem content with the simple things in life. While the rest of Europe huffs and puffs about economic ruin, the city plods along — as oblivious to the outside world as the world is to Lisbon.