Ghouls like me aren’t built for the heat. But sometimes even we ghosts make exceptions, and I can honestly say I would make exception after exception for Lisbon.
I must be honest and admit that I didn’t specifically choose Lisbon as a destination. I spotted that one of my favourite bands, Radiohead, were headlining a festival there, and enlisted a friend and fellow fan to join me in Lisbon’s sunny capital for five days of glorious sunshine, music and custard tarts. I didn’t really know what to expect, never having been to Portugal before, but it really is one of my favourite cities in the world so far. So, where can you find hygge if you’re off to Lisbon?
Pasteis de nata
Ah, the Portuguese custard tart. I love the English kind enough, especially with a little grating of fresh nutmeg, but these are unreal. On our last day, we ordered three between the two of us (about half an hour after eating a massive rose-shaped ice cream). Unbelievably rich, but so so SO delicious. This isn’t a cloyingly sweet custard – it’s very fluid and silky, and there’s much less pastry than you’d find on an English tart. You can find these everywhere in Lisbon, usually for €1 each, so if you visit you’ll be eating plenty. Oh – and they’re perfectly acceptable for breakfast. Try one with um bica (Portuguese coffee) in the sunshine for a very hyggeligt start to the day.
The train to the beach
We took a train to Cascais, an easy half hour journey from central Lisbon. This ‘beach line’ takes you through all the popular beaches west of Lisbon, and we went right to the very end, just a few stops away from where our festival was being held. It was a roasting hot day when we went to the beach, so it was nice to take in all the pretty seaside scenery from the air-conditioned train. The beach itself was gorgeous – surprisingly not too busy considering we went on a bright Saturday afternoon, and there’s a beach bar, so we grabbed a beer and a mojito. The sea was bloody freezing, but that was actually very welcome after sitting swaddled in my kimono from the sun overhead.
Take a tuk tuk in Sintra
We became very familiar with Lisbon’s excellent public transport network in our few days in Portugal. We hopped on a train to Sintra, a picturesque town around 40 minutes from Lisbon. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which attracts a lot of visitors looking to soak up the sun in the midst of tree-covered hills, palaces and castles. Some of the most beautiful sites can be found up the giant hill not far from the entrance to Sintra, but it’s a relatively long walk considering the heat. Instead, we took our first ever tuk tuk ride and it was BRILLIANT. The driver stopped off at a few sites of interest so we could take photos, and even took us over to prod a cork tree. I had so many waves of hygge as we weaved around the winding hilly roads with a cool breeze drifting over the pine-scented landscape. We finished up at the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), where we spent a fun couple of hours exploring the medieval walls and turrets.
Go wine tasting
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet but it was REALLY REALLY REALLY HOT. My sunglasses broke and I was probably in a heat-induced strop, so we went to cool off with a spot of wine tasting (and marble floors, mmmm…). You pay to load a card with a few euros, and then choose your samples from the machines. I went for a couple of whites and a rosé, and my friend tried the reds and risked a port (when in Portugal…). It was a great way to spend half an hour out of the heat, and set us up well for the next few hours where we watched Portugal win their semi-finals match in the Euros in the square at the bottom of Praça de Comércio (I had to drink Carlsberg… yes, I feel sorry for me too). And while we’re on the subject of alcohol, just up the road in the little street market, we tried a shot of ginjinha (cherry liqueur) in chocolate cups… surprisingly good! At the other end of the scale, I insisted on buying a bottle of wine for about 95 cents in the supermarket nearest the hotel purely because it was less than a euro. We didn’t have a bottle opener, so my friend used the end of a spoon to carve our way through the cork. Delicious 95 cent corky wine. I don’t recommend.
Food food food
OK, we’ve done pasteis de nata, but there’s so much more to Portuguese food than this. I’d call a lot of the traditional dishes ‘comfort food’, with hearty stews, saltcod fritters and peri-peri chicken on the menu. We went to Restaurante Cabacas, where you get to cook your own steak on a hot stone at the table. I very very rarely eat steak, but it had been recommended to us so we had to go check it out. It was so much fun! They came with chips and a couple of sauces – no idea what they were but I liked them which is what matters. Other food highlights included the bacalhau à brás (saltcod cooked up with onions, chopped potatoes, eggs and olives), my friend’s octopus stew and the massive box of cherries and strawberries we bought from just outside the Castelo de São Jorge which dominates the city. My friend insisted we tried the McDonald’s in case it was different. It wasn’t, but at least we know now.
Have you been to Lisbon? What are your recommendations for my (inevitable) next visit? Anything hygge I must see next time? Let me know!
PS – Obrigado to my pal, who shall remain nameless to minimise that digital footprint, for all the non-Insta photos. Nice aren’t they?