Whenever I say Portugal, I think of great merchant ships with colonial flags and darring conquistadors taking the pride of their Empire over the seas. Even if you won”t encounter that in modern Lisbon, you might find, beyond the white colonial houses with red rooftops, memories of that drive to conquer the deep blue seas. Standing on one of Lisbon s numerous hills, it would be almost impossible not to wonder what rests beyond all that deceiving water.
The history of colonial Lisbon starts in Bairro Alto, the old neighbourhood where the buildings, of which some date from the 16
th century, are either low with two storeys, square, assymetric with small windows or long and narrow with three floors and window balconies. Portuguese houses as well as churches and palaces have a 5 century tradition of using azulejos, a form of painted, tin glazed ceramic tilework to cover both interior and exterior walls, which has spread to the Phillipines also. Another old neighbourhood in Lisbon, Alfama, will offer you an unique traditional experience, a music genre that was born after 1830 in Portugal, Fado, characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, infused by a sentiment of loss, resignation and fatefullness. If you go for dinner at of the many restaurants in the neighbourhood, choose one where fado is being performed, as it is an interesting experience, even though you might find it a litttle cheesy.
In the morning, you will need to put some exercise in order to visit the Sao Jorge Castle, since it is situated on the top of a hill. The castle used to be a Moorish fortification in the 10th century, and it was expanded to become the Royal Palace who hosted in 1498 the reception for the navigator and national hero Vasco da Gamma, when he returned home after discovering a maritime route to India.
To the west of the town, you will find an amazing piece of Manuelin architecture, dating from early 16 th century. Torre de Belem, a fortified tower built on the shore of river Tagus, is part of a larger UNESCO heritage site, that includes also the Jerominos Monastery.
And if you are in Belem, don t avoid the large gathering of people in front of an obviously popular shop, because you must have a taste of a traditional Portuguese dessert, pasteis de belem, an egg tart pastry. Also, if you go for lunch, don t forget to order arroz de mariscos, a local specialty made of rice and fresh seefood.
Moving even farther from Lisbon, but not more than 30 km or so, there s the Western most point of Europe, symbolically called Cabo da Roca (end of the rock), an amazing complex of rocks falling into the restless Atlantic Ocean.
On your way back to Lisbon, take the time to see some amazing places, such as the National Palace of Pena, that will remind you of a fairytale castle, with colorful gingerbread walls, and will leave you breathless with the splendid view to the valley of Sintra. The palace, which has a proud standing on top of a hill above the city of Sintra, has an intentional mixture of architectural styles, from Neo Gothic to Neo Manueline, Islamic and Neo Renaissance.On the same mountain top as the Palace of Pena, there are also the ruins of an old Moorish castle, guarding the region since a thousand years ago.
Don’t let your adventure in Portugal end before having a walk in Estoril, the popular summer resort, better known for the Formula 1 race that takes place every year. There, depending on the season, you can go for a swim in the ocean, taste some of the delicacies on an outdoor terrace and be back in beautiful Lisbon in no time.