Custard tarts, seven hills and Jewish history in Lisbon
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Custard tarts, seven hills and Jewish history in Lisbon

The compact city has much to offer for a short break

Louisa Walters is Features Editor at the Jewish News and specialises in food and travel writing

Lisbon has many hilly streets
Lisbon has many hilly streets

Lisbon. It’s not all about the custard tarts, but they are certainly a reason to go. Most surprising is the fact that the best ones (in my opinion) are not in the town of Belem, from where they originated, but at Manteigaria in the Time Out Food Market, which is itself a must-visit for foodies, drinkers and lovers of life.

We stayed at The One Palacio da Anunciada, just steps away from the high-end shops – should that be your thing, and the cultural district – should that be it as well, and a few more steps (albeit uphill ones) from everything else, for this is small yet hilly city. The hotel is housed in a 16th century palace, with 83 light, spacious bedrooms with blond wood furniture and blue plates prettying up white walls.

Bedroom at The One Palacio da Anunciada

Our bedroom overlooked the central courtyard where breakfast is served – a la carte, which makes a refreshing and very civilised change from hotel buffets, which always mean I eat too much and have no room for lunch. And when you’reclocking up 20,000 steps a day on a city break, lunch is a must. My favourite here is A Cevicheria for Peruvian ceviche and Pisco sours, although the queue can be so long you kind of need to head there straight after breakfast.

Ceviche at A Cevicheria

For dinner we ate at Prado, a large, light-filled former factory in the Baixa district where the focus is on fresh, organic food, the service is friendly (much needed as the menu can need a little decoding) and the people-watching is on point with cool arty types. For something equally fab but a little more mainstream, JNQUOI Avenida is very much a see-and-be-seen kind of place with glam statement décor, a super lively bar downstairs, superb service and great food. Worth getting dressed up for.

JNcQUOI Avenida

Portuguese law in the 19th century forbade non-Catholic religious temples from facing the street so the Shaare Tikva synagogue is easily missed. It is worth a visit, though, as the guides are extremely knowledgeable about the history of Jews in Portugal. In 1497 the king ordered Jews either to convert to Christianity or to leave the country and all the synagogues of Lisbon were given to Christian religious orders. It wasn’t until 18 May 1904 that a new synagogue was inaugurated – the first to be built in Portugal since the late 15th century. In 1506 there was a massacre of Jews in the city and in 2006 a memorial was erected in Rossio Square.

On a three-hour walking tour with a guide from ToursByLocals we learnt about the earthquake of 1755 that destroyed much of the city, and visited the oldest undamaged area that stills stands today, where we saw the site of a former synagogue. We learned that Lisbon is a city of seven hills (although I’m sure I walked up at least 700) and that the worn-shiny-over-the-years cobbles that line the pavements are extremely slippery when wet (even when dry they are impossible to walk on wearing anything other than trainers!).

There are trams to negotiate those hills and one of these takes you up to Principe Real, the area for boutique shopping and Jardim de Sao Pedro de Alcantara for a jaw-dropping view of the city. The Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico) is a must and so is the pretty town of Sintra, home to beautiful places, houses painted in pretty colours and winding streets with cute shops. We visited the National Coach Museum in Belem to see wagons on wheels dating back to the early 17th century, and we popped in to the famous Pastéis de Belém café – purely for research, of course.

National Coach Museum

 

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