Your don’t-miss guide to Lisbon
Planning a trip to Portugal’s charismatic capital and not sure where to start? Deputy editor Martin Jacobs visited Lisbon to check in at – and check out – the city’s newest design hotels, and reports back on where to stay, eat, shop and visit.
If you’ve not been to Portugal recently, I’ve little doubt you know someone far closer than six degrees of separation who has. One of Europe’s more affordable Mediterranean countries, Portugal remains a holiday destination of choice for many South Africans. We sing its praises across dinner tables and share our must-buy lists with friends. And rightly so. From its cities to its coastline, the country offers a rich combination of history, culture, architecture, unspoilt nature, and cuisine to rival its neighbours. An influx of global tourists in recent years has seen its gritty capital, Lisbon, undergo a notable design upswing. Thankfully, this extends to design hotels. What follows are four of my favourites in the city (most little more than a year old) at which I had the pleasure of staying this past European summer.
HOTEL DAS AMOREIRAS
Best for Inner-city country escapes
Neighbourhood Praça das Amoreiras
Enter Hotel das Amoreiras from the street and your olfactory senses are seduced by a heady mix of leather, cashmere wood, and chestnut. The scent is rustic and arboreal. Its source? A Gabriel by Trudon candle at the reception desk, although one might easily imagine it’s coming from the verdant park outside. For Jardim das Amoreiras, the garden square with fountains, pathways, and shaded benches onto which the hotel faces, is entirely integral to one’s experience of the hotel. It was from the park that owner Pedro Oliveira (raised in the neighbourhood) and his wife Alicia drew inspiration when conceptualising the hotel. Jardim das Amoreiras is surely one of Lisbon’s quaintest public gardens and best kept secrets (from tourists that is, for the park and its charming café are populated with locals). Its origins are in the late 18th century, following the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, when the Marquis of Pombal was tasked with rebuilding the city. This was where he based Lisbon’s silk makers, around a garden in which were planted more than 330 mulberry trees (amoreira means mulberry in Portuguese).
Spending time at Hotel das Amoreiras is the closest one will come within the urban sprawl of Lisbon to feeling like you’ve escaped to the countryside. Boutique in every sense of the word, its 17 bedrooms and two attic suites are rich on rustic charm, at no expense to contemporary luxury or amenities. The hotel’s interiors reference traditional English decorating – so much so that the reception area houses a collection of Oliveira’s decorating books, including monographs on David Hicks, India Hicks and Ralph Lauren, and books on several historic gardens. The interior colour palette celebrates arboreal tones, from deep greens to burnished mustards. Finishes are plush and tactile, and include grass cloth and velvet, wood and leather, tinted mirror, polished brass and veined marble. “We personally took care of every single detail, designing and selecting pieces exclusively for the hotel,” explains Oliveira. “I wanted to create a small but grand hotel in what I consider to be one of Lisbon’s most exclusive garden squares.”
With a career in banking that saw him living in London, Madrid and Geneva before returning to Lisbon, and a passion for grand hotels of the past, Oliveira recognises that contemporary luxury is multifaceted, and includes details as varied as the weight of a vintage fork in one’s hand, Penhaligon toiletries in a bathroom, the precision of a neatly dressed bed, and the subtle importance of breakfast comprising ingredients sourced from local, family-owned producers. All of this you’ll find at Hotel das Amoreiras, an experience that is both understated and indulgent, and one I can’t recommend enough.
What to do nearby: Look no further than the gardens themselves for a morning’s worth of cultural experiences. On the opposite side of the park, check out the centuries-old chapel of Our Lady of Monserrate tucked into one of the arches of Lisbon’s ancient aqueduct. Follow the aqueduct to its closest end and, in a corner of the park, you’ll find the Mãe D’Aguá das Amoreiras Reservoir, complete with rooftop views across the city. Also on the square is the Fundação Arpad Szenes Vieira da Silva (www.fasvs.pt), home to artworks by the eponymous artists.
Best for See-and-be-seen drinking and dining
My first experience of The Ivens, Lisbon’s first Autograph Collection hotel, is a doorman dressed in an old-school safari suit. Coming from Africa, the epicentre of safari, it catches me off guard, as does the maximalist experience that staying at The Ivens is (the hotel’s rather staid exterior gives nothing away of what’s to come). From interiors to stationery, The Ivens draws inspiration from short-lived Portuguese explorer Roberto Ivens, who ventured through Angola and Mozambique in the late 1800s, one of Portugal’s golden ages of discovery. This makes for lobby and mezzanine-reception spaces that you’ll want to linger in – dark wood panelling, palm-frond carpets, historic photographs, exotic murals, the golden glow of subdued lighting, and an impressive wall of art, design, and adventure books.
Exploration and adventure as themes continue in the 87 bedrooms, designed by Cristina Matos, in subtler ways (maximalism here giving way to calmer, more neutral decorating, conducive to a good night’s sleep). Mine is a quiet corner room with indulgently high ceilings, window seats, a Marshall Bluetooth speaker, Acqua di Parma toiletries (the sort that beg to be nicked) and quite possibly the largest hotel bed I’ve ever slept in. Insofar as hotel rooms go, it’s downright pampering. While views from the windows are urban and contained, the hotel’s central location makes walking to a number of landmarks – like the nearby Praça do Comércio – a breeze.
But what’s most impressive about The Ivens are its bar and eateries. The closed swing doors that lead from the lobby into Gastro Bar and Crudo Bar (and down a few steps into Rocco restaurant) must be seriously sound-proofed because there’s zero aural indication in the hotel itself of the hip herd – heads bopping to DJ tunes while stretching like giraffes to take each other in – of the city’s it-crowd populating the maximalist watering hole. From tattoos to trainers, haircuts to handbags, everyone is on trend. The lobby’s maximalist aesthetic extends to these spaces making not just people watching, but also taking in the array of patterns, colours and artworks, a feast for the eyes. Told by the staff that the restaurant’s unisex toilets are not to be missed, I venture underground to discover a riot of mosaic, wallpaper, marble and metallics that even professionally taken photographs struggle to successfully capture. This is a space that has to be seen to be believed, and must surely qualify as Portugal’s sexiest and most decorated toilets.
Where to shop nearby: The neighbourhood is stylish, and includes must-visit A Vida Portuguesa (www.avidaportuguesa.com), a local-brands concept store one street away, and Castro (www.castropasteisdenata.com) a pastéis de nata eatery giving the famous Pastéis de Belém a run for its money. Stroll to the nearby Cais do Sodré train station, travel a few stops to the waterside Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) (www.maat.pt) housed in two architecturally unusual buildings – one old, one new – and once you’ve explored its exhibits, hit up its gift shop for some beautifully branded stationery and homeware.
Best for City views, the Glória Funicular, and Mirador de São Pedro de Alcântara
Neighbourhood: Bairro Alto
Here’s a valuable tip for anyone considering using Lisbon’s Glória Ascensor (funicular) as a means of transporting suitcases: don’t. I found this out the hard way. Hoping to ride Glória Ascensor up the hill into trendy Bairro Alto upon my arrival in Lisbon, a stern-faced driver shook his head and pointed to a sign forbidding suitcases aboard. Unfamiliar with the city, but knowing I was mere metres downhill from The Lumiares, I became the cursing soul huffing, puffing and heaving my suitcase uphill while watching funicular-riding tourists enjoy its leisurely convenience. Note to Lisbon’s transport authority – consider making an exception for The Lumiares guests, for the former 18th century palace that’s home to the hotel is directly opposite the funicular’s apex. And it’s this, along with the establishment’s immediate proximity to Mirador de São Pedro de Alcântara, one of the city’s more landscaped viewing points, that makes a stay at The Lumiares so convenient.
If I were to condense the five-star property into two selling points, I’d opt for its views and locally crafted design. One of 47 apartment-style rooms, mine (a one-bedroom complete with kitchen, dining and living spaces) has views not only of round-the-clock tourists marvelling at the funicular below and of the adjacent mirador, but equally sweeping views across to the Alfama hill and landmark Castelo de São Jorge. Better still, from Lumi, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant (winner of Europe’s Best Rooftop Restaurant 2021 by the World Culinary Awards) the vistas are just short of 360, taking in a gorgeous outlook of the Tagus River. Breakfasts are taken here and the experience – warm Mediterranean sun on one’s skin, views across the city’s terracotta-coloured rooftops, appetising local cuisine – is one worth savouring.
Cast your eye over The Lumiares’s interiors and what you’ll find is equally local. The decor was inspired by Bairro Alto’s bohemian character, and nods to the topographical patterns and grids of the neighbourhood as well as its abundant use of warm ochres, sky blues and soft pinks. This translates into graphic pattern play, vibrant colour, and furniture custom-designed by local artisans for the hotel. Rooms include hand-woven wool tapestries and rugs by Ferreira de Sá, and tactile bed throws by Burel Factory. The result – spaces that feel personalised and homely. This attention to a customised guest experience extends to the hotel’s map (beautifully designed by Ileana Rovetta), available for guests and crammed with staff recommendations of Lisbon must-sees. A stay at The Lumiares is an immersion into the sights, sounds and character of its neighbourhood, with much to check out nearby (don’t miss the ornate and gilded Igreja de São Roque steps away).
Where to eat nearby: Easily walkable from the hotel, the year-old Gunpowder (gunpowderrestaurants.pt) is Kolkata-born Harneet Baweja’s first Gunpowder outside of London and lives up to its name. In contrast to the understated interiors, this Indian eatery’s flavours are explosive. Goan cuisine combines with fresh seafood across a menu that’s designed for sharing. I loved the CPC Prawn Toast and the Mustard Malai Broccoli. For those wanting a Gunpowder classic, the Tandoori Chicken (served with coleslaw) is the menu’s cornerstone and the most-ordered dish. About a ten-minute walk downhill from The Lumiares is Sala de Corte (www.saladecorte.pt), recently voted 34th in the World’s Best Steaks, as well as Best Steak Restaurant in Portugal. As South Africans, we know our way around a good quality steak, so it was a memorable experience dining here, where all steaks are Iberian, dry-aged for a minimum of 30 days (the Chuletón, which I enjoyed, for 90) and cooked in a josper grill. An open kitchen means that from most spaces within the restaurant one gets to watch the action unfold. The service is as it should be – faultless – and it was pleasing to observe diners arriving as late as 11pm (although few places trump Spain when it comes to late-night dining!).
Best for Generously-proportioned decorated spaces
There are as many reasons to remain in one’s room at Sublime Lisboa as there are to venture out into the city. And the team behind the brand, most known for its original escape – Sublime Comporta – know this. They’ve thoughtfully provided guests with the opportunity to personalise their Do Not Disturb and Please Make Up The Room signs. I’m tempted to remain in because ‘I am reading Fernando Pessoa’, but my room may be ready for service because ‘I went out for a tram ride to St George’s Castle’. Guests are given the opportunity to circle any of 22 thoughtful reasons for staying in or heading out; one of many examples of the stylish, but fun, attention to detail at Sublime Lisboa. There’s one reason for not being disturbed that requires adding to the list: ‘I am appreciating the beauty of my room.’
All fifteen rooms of this truly boutique hotel, situated in a double storey townhouse a street or two from the city’s iconic Parque Eduardo VII, are different. The building, just over a century old, has an interesting past; in the 1940s it was home to the Japanese Club and welcomed diplomats, military and intelligence agents from Tokyo gathering in Portugal because of its neutrality during World War II. Two decades later, and the likes of international jetsetters including Diane Von Fürstenberg, Audrey Hepburn and Gina Lollobrigida frequented O Candelabro, a popular restaurant then housed on the premises.
Sublime Lisboa prides itself on generous proportions (spacious roof terraces, high ceilings, oversized windows) and its wonderful and entirely contemporary design. The latter owes much to an array of graphic patterned wallpapers by Jupiter 10 (the homeware extension of designers Bruno Basso and Christopher Brooke’s digital-inspired fashion). Chosen for their Feng Shui properties, accent colours from these wallpapers have been used on panelled walls and wainscoting, and for elaborate headboards, sofas and soft finishes. Conceptualised by interior designer Rita Andringa, the hotel’s aesthetic is at once sophisticated and whimsical, and features polished European design (like lamps from Artemide) alongside artisanal pieces (think rattan lampshades), a clever use of organic shapes, and collections of tongue-in-cheek art.
From its warm palette and comfortable sofas to its impressive collection of design books and magazines, I found the hotel’s lounge the perfect space to indulge my senses. From there, head to Daverro, Sublime Lisboa’s equally stylish Italian restaurant that draws both décor and culinary inspiration from classics like Harry’s Bar. With influences like the Cipriani, you can rest assured you’re in excellent hands at this luxurious hotel.
The museum to visit nearby: Another of Sublime Lisboa’s joys is its proximity to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (www.gulbenkian.pt), and no stay at the hotel would be complete without a visit. Cross Parque Eduardo VII on foot (an entirely pleasant experience) and explore not only the museum’s expansive gardens but also its many rooms. These are home to the private collection (artworks from antiquity to the 20th century) amassed by Armenian businessman Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955) and constitute one of the largest private art collections worldwide. A personal highlight – a collection of exceptionally intricate jewellery and glass works by the collector’s close friend, René Lalique.