Experience Lisbon – the historic gateway to the Americas – from the comfort of a stylish city hotel
Often on a city break, one can become so absorbed with taking in all the sights that a visit can become a maelstrom of activity. An over-zealous commitment to see everything in a limited amount of time can convert a potentially relaxing long weekend into a tiring blur.
Yet Lisbon somehow obliges visitors to slow down, to take a breath and just live the moment. Said to be western Europe’s oldest city, this ancient capital exudes a calm and tranquillity that’s unlike almost any other metropolis.
Built over seven hills, Lisbon offers spectacular vistas that allow one to soak up the atmosphere and see the capital without having to lift a foot. There are almost a dozen “miradouros” or viewpoints, each offering a privileged perspective of this colourful city.
Probably one of Lisbon’s finest views is that of the Alfama neighbourhood. A mass of 18th and 19th century ochre roof tiles, church towers, domes and historic buildings, this atmospheric district spills down the hill to the banks of the River Tagus. Where once the world’s great explorers set sail to discover the world, now one can catch sight of gleaming white luxury cruise ships.
The best place to enjoy this vista, in an ambience of style and sophistication, is from the designer terrace wine bar and pool of the chic Memmo Alfama Hotel.
Found down a skinny street, a few minutes’ walk from Lisbon’s cathedral and the city’s castle of São Jorge, this boutique property is the place to stay.
The contemporary hotel, with 42 guest rooms, brings boutique service and style to Lisbon’s old Alfama quarter, whilst maintaining the essence of a Portuguese house. Converted from historic buildings, the hotel has maintained the original 19th century facades, as well as interesting internal architectural features such as huge stone domes that were once bread ovens. One is now the hotel’s small library, filled with books about Portugal and its capital.
The Memmo Alfama terrace is one of Lisbon’s special places and is certainly one of the highlights of the hotel. The wine bar is an architectural cube with floor to ceiling glass concertina windows that fold open to unite the space with the sun-drenched terrace. A striking red-tiled infinity lap pool is to one side, whilst the adjacent timber deck is furnished with sofas and designer chairs.
A selection of Portuguese wines and tasting plates is offered on the terrace, whilst downstairs is the informal dining area. Muted tones and simple, Nordic style design make the spaces calm and welcoming. A subtle music soundtrack of Portugal and Brazil offers an additional chilled and mellow dimension.
The guest rooms and suites are compact, but generous with design features and luxury touches. Light wooden floors with rugs complement the white walls and muted earth tones of the curtains and furnishings. The bathrooms are of polished concrete, echoing the “tadelakt” plaster of Lisbon’s Moorish past.
In the room entrance is a linen bag, labelled your “mailbox”. This is a mailbag with a few surprises, including city guide and up-to-date listings from the concierge as well as the hotel’s own insider tips on what to see and do. The welcome amenity includes a small bottle of tawny port and some bite-size egg custard tarts, those delicious “pasteis de nata” that become a lasting memory of any visit to Lisbon. The mini bar is stocked with Portuguese wines and snacks if one still has the munchies, but the city is at one’s feet, and there are plenty of tempting bars and restaurants within walking distance.
After a lively night out – one of cocktails, great dining and maybe even some Fado – the guest room beds are perfect for dreaming. Super-comfortable mattresses topped with luxury Egyptian linens, and dressed with oversized continental style pillows.
Yet the most compelling part of the room is probably that view – the rooftops down to the River Tagus, the place where those famous Iberian explorers set off to discover the world.
by Andrew Forbes
Memmo Alfama Hotel, Lisbon: www.memmoalfama.com