Paradise on the Atlantic

I’m inclined to like Lisbon from the moment I land at its sprawling Humberto Delgado airport, where a relaxed immigration officer insouciantly waves me through without so much as a look at my passport, and Danylo, my student Uber driver, spends half an hour driving around the airport patiently trying to locate me without a word of complaint.

The Uber fare from the airport to my hotel is 9 euros, tip included. Yes, you read that right — around 10 bucks. Low prices, further enhanced by a strong dollar, are yet another reason to love Portugal’s capital city, built on seven vertiginous hills, tumbling from the heights of Santo André all the way down to the river Tagus and Atlantic shore, where it faces Washington, D.C. directly across the Pond, nothing but water in between.

At the newly opened One Palácio da Anunciada, already the most luxurious address in town, I’m greeted by a doorman with a broad smile. Along with the excellent concierge team, Mauro is a font of local knowledge and — in addition to his doorman duties — helps me make the most of my three short days in the city. Occupying a converted 16th-century palace right in the heart of Lisbon, the palace — stunningly brought back to life after a three-year restoration — was once the home of the counts of Ericeira, and later of the marquises of Rio Maior. It boasts a magnificent original stone staircase along with marble floors, frescoes and ornate carved and painted ceilings, and its 83 rooms and 13 suites are the last word in comfort, brimming with natural light. There are plugs and outlets just where you want and need them, large and well-supplied minibars, upscale Natura Bissé products in the oversized bathrooms and Nespresso machines loaded and at the ready.

True, the original library of more than 17,000 books has not survived, but a new and growing library, with books arranged on circular stands in the area between the lobby and Boémio, the hotel’s all-day cocktail lounge, is going to serve as an hommage.

On the second floor is the fancy-pants restaurant, Condes da Ericeira, with its white walls, exquisite molded ceilings and marble-topped tables, where you feast on wonderful Atlantic fish or shellfish and local, grass-fed lamb. Still finding its feet at the time of my visit, I have a feeling this restaurant is going to be terrific, once the staff lighten up a touch and lose those rather corporate name badges. Breakfast, though, by contrast, is already a relaxed affair, the buffet as bountiful as the quality is superb. I loved the exotic fruits, like pineapple and guava, many of which come from Madeira (see related story on Page 92), and kiwi and sweet melon from the Algarve in the south — along with golden-yoked organic eggs cooked to order. 

In The One’s magnificent garden, with its 100-year-old dragon tree, you can eat, drink, read a book, soak up the sun, do all of these things or none of them. The garden leads to the small Despacio spa, complete with hydrotherapy pool, where spa director Jorge Atunes — one of whose claims to fame, he tells me, is that he massaged the late President George H.W. and wife Barbara — pummeled me until I begged for mercy, but boy oh boy did I feel great the following day.

And The One’s location, just off Avenida da Liberdade is perfect. Leaving the hotel, it’s right for Gucci, Fendi and Miu Miu (I’ll pass), or left for Alfama (the old town), Barrio Alto (for restaurants and nightlife) and the oceanfront.

The famous 28 yellow tram leaves from Praça Martim Moniz, a short walk downhill from the hotel, and runs all the way to Prazeres, taking in a great swath of the city’s sights en route. The crowds notwithstanding, there’s no better way to familiarize yourself with Lisbon. The yellow boat, which you catch at Terreiro do Paço, not far from where the vast cruise ships dock, will take you out on the wide Tagus, under the spectacular 25 de Abril Bridge — one of the longest suspension bridges in the world — and all the way to Belem. 

Ah, Belem, the historic district to the west of the capital, with its superbly Instagrammable Tower and Monastery of San Jerónimos, which houses Vasco de Gama’s tomb, and where the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, just off the waterfront, makes the best custard tarts in the world.

Look, let’s be clear. Lisbon isn’t having “a moment.” It had a moment but the moment turned into an onslaught. The summer crowds in Venice seem little more than a trickle by comparison. But still, Lisbon is beckoning and I urge you to answer the call. Hotels have been opening apace — none lovelier than The One, I have to tell you — and the food scene is in overdrive. And talk about a feast for the eyes: Lisbon’s colors run the gamut, from pale pastel — houses and palaces washed with centuries of salt and ocean spray — to gaudy pinks, purples and oranges.

Have I mentioned the shops? They are random and idiosyncratic. I see a seed shop, established in the 19th century, elegantly sandwiched between a Skechers store and a shop selling tinned sardines. On the other side of Rossio Square, a deliciously old-fashioned hat shop — get your Panamas, Borsalinos and Italian straw hats here — exists in seeming harmony beside a branch of McDonald’s. (Yes, even in paradise, nothing’s perfect). 

But on the Rua Barros Queirós, near the 28 tram stop, I find a bric-a-brac shop I fall in love with. In the window, a Talking Heads album, a china figurine of the Virgin Mary, a dog-eared copy of “Hamlet” (in Portuguese) and a ravishing azulejo tile. It could be a poster for Lisbon itself, because with its ethnic mix, its flamboyant street art, its respect for the old and its embrace of the new, this city is nothing if not diverse. Despite the fact we are on the Atlantic, a Mediterranean feel pervades Lisbon, where migrants from Eastern Europe abound, and yet at its heart Lisbon marches to the beat of an African drum. 

Sightseeing and shopping are no cakewalk. Back at The One, above the spa, on another terrace, this one French-inspired, is the pool, shaded by cypresses, its Balinese beds divided by box hedges. A late afternoon swim and a cocktail in the garden below will revive you and prepare you for the long Lisbon night ahead. Because if this city buzzes by day, it positively jumps at night. There are literally hundreds of bars to choose from in the Barrio Alto, with Brazilian samba, plaintive fado, Portuguese hip-hop and alternative jazz to listen to all over town; and the city’s LGBTQ scene, for a city of this size, must be hard to rival. 

“Come back soon,” smiles Mauro, as he collects my bag on the morning of my departure. And that’s exactly what I plan to do. Because I can never get my fill of beautiful architecture, fresh sardines flung on a white hot grill, good inexpensive wine and sunny, sunny people. Plus, I’ve been thinking about that natty Borsalino at the hat shop. Will it still be there? Does it comes in white… or even pale blue?

For more on The One Hotel Palácio da Anunciada, visit hotelstheone.com.

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