Lisbon is indeed Europe’s big melting pot. From the water facing Praca do Comercio — one of the largest squares in Europe that has historically welcomed people from around the world — to natural disasters that led to major rebuilding exercises, Portugal’s capital city is a brilliant mishmash of styles and influences, that on paper would not seem to work, but in life, they do.
DESIGN FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Pombaline and Manueline architecture styles are the most prevalent in the city, mixing seamlessly with Baroque design codes.
One of the most emblematic monuments of the Manueline architecture is a short tram ride away from the city centre. Portugal’s glorious past comes to life at Belem, with its tower that reminds one of the Age of Discovery, when the country sailed to the New World. Close by, the Jeronimos Monastery is a must-see Unesco heritage building. No visit to Belem is complete without queuing at the Pasteis de Belem, a legendary hole-in-the-wall bakery that since 1937 has followed an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos for the most luscious of Pastel de Nata (custard tart).
Convento do Carmo is a fine example of Lisbon’s love for Gothic architecture. The building was heavily damaged by the 1755 earthquake and the monks could not afford the cost for its reconstruction. The roof was never repaired, but what stands now is a powerful, resilient symbol of humanity.
As if surviving the 1755 earthquake was not enough, Igreja de Sao Domingos, (dating from 1241) was engulfed in a fire in 1959 that completely destroyed its interior. Although the original medieval structure has disappeared, the church, whose humble facade conceals a building of vast scale and glory, shows a rich combination of different styles, mainly Baroque and Mannerist influences.
One of Lisbon’s most remarkable buildings started as a church. Construction for what is now the National Pantheon began in 1681. The design was the work of Joao Antunes, royal architect and one of the most important baroque architects of Portugal. Overall, work finished in 1966.
Lisbon’s Old Town has managed to preserve its romantic charm over the years. Whilst the view from the Castelo de Sao Jorge is phenomenal, nothing quite matches the vistas from Miradouro Largo das Portas do Sol, a square on the way down from the castle. Think open air cafes, fado bands and the views of the city’s most historic buildings.
WHERE TO STAY
Two new openings masterfully reflect the charm, diversity and audacity of Lisbon’s design ethos.
- The Vintage Lisbon
If there is one hotel no design lover can miss, it is the Vintage Lisbon. With decor inspired by mid-century design, the Vintage Hotel is a beautifully composed sanctuary in the heart of Portugal’s capital city. Designed by creative consultant Samantha Lawrie of Foster & Bloom, the property redefines the term ‘vintage’ through the lens of ‘Inspire, Relax and Play’. Three colour schemes — green, blue and terracotta — bring together the philosophy with the key elements of the city.
This fresh approach allowed the hotel to stay true to its namesake by adopting designs from a generation of architects and industrial designers, from the midcentury period right up to present day. A combination of specially-sourced vintage furniture pieces and unique bespoke reproductions or commissions locate the hotel’s aesthetic firmly in the present, while showcasing the midcentury period’s finest design.
As a result, works by Lappalainen and Anna Westerlund rub shoulders with those by Rivka Baake, Wilfrid Kreutz and Portuguese artist Margarita Fleming. Bespoke mural by Omey Projects set off furniture by Kai Kristiansen, Erik Buch, Poul Cadovius, Johannes Andersen and Arne Vodder, to name a few.
Venturing underground, the Vintage Spa offers a vast menu of wellness treatments including signature treatments such as the Vintage Ritual, the personalised facial, or a timely Jet Lag massage. Staffed by the best therapists in town, the spa’s spectacular decor and welcoming colour palette is designed to nurture both body and mind.
- Bairro Alto Hotel
Lisbon’s first five-star boutique hotel has reinvented itself to offer the high standards of service that it came to be coveted for, but on a scale and experience that meets the expectations of today’s discerning traveller.
Part of a grand block of buildings, it is located on the border between two historic neighbourhoods — select and elegant Chiado, and alternative and bohemian Bairro Alto — that have marked the hotel’s identity. It is based on the harmony between the classical and the contemporary, the past and the present, with a constant touch of irreverence that has informed the mood of the property since it first opened in 2005.
The overall facelift if the work of a dynamic trio. The architecture, which maintains the original lines but anchored in the 21st century, has the signature style of the architect Souto de Moura. The interior design was the work of Atelier Bastir and thestudio.
Since it opened and over the years, the hotel has placed great emphasis on art with the acquisition of pieces by various Portuguese artists. Guests will discover several references from the original hotel, such as the emblematic sculptures by Rui Chafes, in the lobby, or the photographs by Rui Calcada Bastos. There are also works by renowned names as Juliao Sarmento, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Pedro Calapez, Joao Louro and photographs by Jose Pedro Cortes.
Whilst each of the 87 rooms are exemplary in design and mood, the crown jewel of the property is undeniably the Bhar restaurant and terrace. Provocative in style, the Bohemian manifesto comes to life via a stylised depiction of impudence and the avant-garde, a carefree spirit and non-conformism. Celebrated Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes’ dishes offer the perfect culinary context to this outlet that embodies the essence of the steep cobbled streets of the neighbourhood.
EAT WITH YOUR EYES
Lisbon is dotted with tapas bars, fado establishments that now serve exceptional cuisine and Michelin star outlets. If you are celebrating a special occasion or want to show off your design cred, head to one of these new gems.
A 600-year-old printing factory has found new life under the watch of the acclaimed Spanish chef Eneko Atxa as he layers the industrial DNA of the setting and its storied gastronomic history with his own vision on food and the good life. Situated on Rue Maria Luisa Holstein in Lisbon’s riverside neighbourhood of Alcantara, the building feel into a state of disregard, when in 2013, the celebrated Alcantara Cafe shut its doors.
Atxa has envisioned the cavernous space as two restaurants, Basque and Eneko Lisboa. Reimagined as informal tapas eatery, one half offers dishes perfect for sharing: Squid in Japanese tempura, lightly smoked grilled mussels, Roast salt cod in biscainho sauce for example set the tone for Basque. On the other side, Eneko Lisboa is the more intimate fine dining sibling that, in addition to seasonal delicacies, serves tasting menus too.
Heavy velvet drapes and large, antique mirrors compliment the historic venue’s iron beams, high ceilings and steel columns.
Set in a former factory that was once overgrown with plants, the Lisbon restaurant designed by Portuguese group Arkstudio, in collaboration with Marta Fonseca serves up a farm-to-table menu of local and seasonal produce in a tranquil setting the belies the bustling neighbourhood that surrounds it. Chef Antonio Galapito often explores the same indigent in multiple ways, with each dish enthralling guests with a multilayered experience of familiar produce. The 6 metre high ceilings — complete with metal trusses and lush foliage tip their hat to the venue’s history. A Scandi meets Portuguese vibe comes to life with materials such as marble, glass, wood and brass set off wooden furniture and cool colour tones.
A DAY TRIP YOU CAN’T MISS
When in Lisbon, one place worth getting on a train for is Sintra. Take a train from the Rossio train station to the fairy tale town. A picturesque destination that lies in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains, it is dotted with palaces, and ancient manor houses just waiting to be explored. Pink and yellow are unusual choices for a palace but the colourful Palacio Nacional da Pena catches the eye from afar. Other places to visit include the Quinta da Regaleira, a Gothic style grand house and estate, and the National Palace museum that is simply unmissable thanks to its two chimneys that have become part of the iconic landscape in Sintra.