MY ROUGH GUIDE; Where constipacao is not what you think
Sunday 01 February 1998
The Castelo de Sao Jorge is one place I always try to visit in Lisbon. This was the original site of the Moorish city, now an evocative shell commanding exhilarating views over the city's terracotta roof tiles and elegant squares.
If money were no object, Hotel de Lapa would be my first choice. The former mansion commands sweeping views over the Tagus from Lisbon's smartest suburb. For a bargain, however, I usually head for the Residencial Nova Silva which has clean, humble rooms with the best river views you could hope for.
It is always a thrill being hauled up Lisbon's slopes on one of the ingenious funicular railways. The Elevador da Bica is my favourite, starting in an archway above the domed Ribeiro market, before grinding up a precipitous residential street where windows flap with washing and doorways overflow with pot plants, children and the sound of caged birds.
There is surprisingly little difference in the quality of food between an expensive or inexpensive restaurant in Lisbon. But for character, Bota Alta ("High Boot") is hard to beat. Once you have wedged yourself into your chair, make sure you don't spoil your appetite with the starters of olives and cream cheese and leave room for the vast helpings of meat and fish.
The famous Cafe Brasileira in the Chiado district is the perfect place to hole up on a wet winter day, when half the Atlantic seems to be deposited on the city and half the population seems to pop in for a coffee, or to buy a newspaper from the tiny news stand in the corner. On a sunny day, Martinho da Arcada wins my vote, thanks to its outdoor tables overlooking the riverside Praca do Comercio.
In Lisbon's Golden Age, the great Portuguese navigators set off to discover much of the new world from the riverside suburb of Belem, so it was fitting that's Belem's football stadium proved to be a personal favourite discovery. If the quality of Belenenses' soccer rarely matches the standard of rivals Sporting or Benfica, the view from the stadium over Belem's historic skyline and across the Tagus river beyond is reason enough to visit.
Best night out
Lisbon has established itself as a hot spot for nightlife, and the current "in" place is the Santa Amaro dock, which retains just enough of its industrial past to save the converted warehouse bars and restaurants from being pure chic. While some areas go in and out of fashion, the Ritz Club remains reassuringly the same, a cavernous former brothel where you can chat in wicker chairs in side rooms or enjoy the Cape Verdean band, who turn the main hall into a pulsating mass of rhythmic dancing.
Portuguese is a horribly sticky language to tune in to and even its written form can be irksome. Signs for constipacao and a tosse are actually offering relief for colds and coughs, while a bica is not a plastic cup but an espresso coffee. It will help to remember that the central Baixa is pronounced Bye-sha, "please" is faz favor (pronounced fash fa-vorr), while to thank someone, women say obrigada and men say obrigado.
Expo 98 is expected to be the biggest thing to happen to the city since the 1974 revolution. But it will have to be quite something to beat the annual Festa de Santo Antnio, the city's saint's day: the giant street party is always eventful.
There are daily flights to Lisbon from London. Low season fares, including airport tax, start at pounds 130.40 from Gatwick (AB Airlines, tel: 0345 464748), pounds 136 from Heathrow (TAP Air Portugal, tel: 0171 828 0262) or pounds 192.80 from Heathrow or Gatwick (British Airways, tel: 0345 222111).
Where to stay
Hotel de Lapa (tel: 00 351 395 0005) has double rooms from Es35,000 (pounds 120) until the end of February, when its cheapest doubles go up to Es40,000. Residencial Nova Silva (tel:00 351 342 4371) has double rooms from Es5,000. The price includes breakfast.
Bota Alta is at Travessa da Queimada 37 in the Bairro Alto. A three-course meal with wine will cost around Es3,000 a head. Expo 98 runs from 22 May- 30 September. Day tickets for the hi-tech site cost Es5,000. The Festa da Santo Antnio is on 13 June.
Matthew Hancock wrote'The Mini Rough Guide to Lisbon'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.
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