Living it up in Lisbon, Portugal

You can enjoy the high life in Lisbon without needing a trust fund

by Karen Rubin

The spectacular view from the Sheraton Lisboa, the tallest building in Lisbon © 2011 Karen Rubin/

One of the most wonderful surprises about visiting Lisbon, one of the great European capitals with an incredibly rich cultural life, is the value for money you get: you can enjoy the rich life without needing a trust fund.

You can actually sit in the most charming cafe in the historic downtown, near the Praca do Comercio and have a coffee for about $1.50, compared to about $4 in Vienna or Paris. Entrees in the nicest restaurants are comparable in price to a moderate priced restaurant in New York City, and you can have the most splendid bottle of Portuguese wine – wine you can’t get anywhere but in Portugal – for an amount equivalent to a modest bottle of wine in a New York restaurant.

The beautiful view from the aptly named Panorama Restaurant atop the Sheraton Lisboa © 2011 Karen Rubin/

The high life begins at the international airport, traveling Business Class on TAP. TAP, the national carrier of Portugal, only has two classes, and Business Class is first class. You get to use the first-class lounge at the airport (Newark International from the New York area, and new four times/weekly service from Miami International).

The high life continues at 35,000 feet, where you feel you are in a flying hotel, rather than an airplane.

Sheraton Lisboa's Panorama Restaurant offers a spectacular view of the city at night© 2011 Karen Rubin/

The large lounge-style seat has any number of positions, opening to a full bed. You have your personal entertainment system with remote control. You dine on linen, with silverware and china, lavishly served – ordering from a menu, and before arrival, you are served breakfast. The meals were actually quite good.

Three Portuguese wines served by TAP have been singled out by “Wines on the wing 2011”. These include “Casa de Santar Reserva 2007”, D.O.C. Dão, which won the distinction of the best red wine served in International Business Class, “Luís Pato 2010” which won third place in the ranking for the best sparkling wines in International Business Class and white wine served in the same class was also successful with Paulo Laureano Reserve 2010 Branco, D.O.C. Alentejo being considered the fourth best wine.

This was one of the only times I ever wished the flight was longer than the six-plus hours (

Lisbon’s airport is just 10 minutes from downtown, and so our car whisks to the Sheraton Lisboa.

At Panorama Restaurant atop Sheraton Lisboa, Chef Leonel Pereira's inspired creations include "Sea Breeze", consisting of huge red prawns from the Algarve © 2011 Karen Rubin/

Originally built in 1972, the Sheraton Lisboa has a 1970s-vintage modern exterior; the interior was completely refurbished in 2007 (the hotel was closed for six months), and has a beautiful modern interior design.

Our rooms are on the Concierge floor, allowing us to utilize the 24th floor lounge, where a magnificent breakfast buffet is served (smoked salmon, beluga caviar, eggs, sausage, fresh fruit. There is also free WiFi in the lounge (otherwise, a fee to access WiFi from the rooms); snacks and drinks are available throughout the day (open 7 am to 11 pm).

The 369-room, five-star hotel, has 10 executive suites and just one President’s suite which has a baby grand piano and an entire board room, full kitchen, a dressing room, the bathroom alone is 155 sq meters and has its own TV in bath (300E); the President of China has stayed there. The ballroom accommodates 680 people.

In the course of the renovation, a fabulous spa was added, with eight treatment rooms, a sauna, Jacuzzi, and vitality pool. The fitness center, available to guests 24/7, is part of Sheraton Fitness by Core Performance that keeps track of guests’ training regimen so every time you visit a Sheraton, you can continue the workout. There is also a very beautiful outdoor pool, which is available to spa clients.

The five-star Sheraton Lisboa dominates Lisbon's skyline. © 2011 Karen Rubin/

The Sheraton is the tallest building in Lisbon – no other building can be built that high because of the proximity to the airport (though if a plan to build a new international airport is successful, that will probably end the height restriction). As a result, the Sheraton commands the most magnificent view of the city.

The view of the city from the towers’ rooms, and from the concierge lounge is just spectacular. Just looking out to the city, we get our first orientation: the magnificent red bridge that looks amazingly like San Francisco’s Golden Gate, the beautiful Tagus River, we can even see the rooftops of the buildings of the Bairro Alto district.

My room (2104) is magnificent – again, with the most magnificent view. The card-key activates the power (a conservation measure)

After a couple of hours rest, I get oriented to the city from the concierge, and I’m on my way to discover. I find that the Sheraton is superbly located to put you right where you want to be – a stroll down boulevard to the Plaza de Liberdade, and then down the Avenue de Liberdade toward the river, to the old city.

Sheraton’s Panorama Restaurant

You arrive at York House, a historic boutique hotel in Lisbon, by climbing the stone steps under an arbor, to a courtyard © 2011 Karen Rubin/

That evening, I discover that one of the jewels of Lisbon is right at the hotel: the Panorama Restaurant, which has been named Best Fine Dining restaurant in Lisbon, 2010 by two local magazines, and nominated for second best in all of Portugal and why it is where local people come to dine for special occasions:

The ambiance of the restaurant is unmatched, with its commanding view of the city that changes as the sun sets and night falls.

The menu offers nouvelle reinventions of traditional Portuguese fare with spectacular results.

The charming courtyard at York House, a boutique hotel that was originally a convent dating from 1606 © 2011 Karen Rubin/

The cuisine is so spectacular, so creative, it becomes the focus of attention as if it were a major theatrical event commanding standing ovations, even as we have a serious conversation about how Lisbon has changed since the 1974 revolution which deposed the 40-year dictatorship of Salazar.

Chef Leonel Pereira’s Inspired creations include “Sea Breeze”, consisting of huge red prawns from the Algarve coastline (they live at 10,000 feet deep), solid xarèm of white corn, seaweed, tobiko roe and sea urchin; foie gras is simmered in red wine with eight spices, and served with meringue topped with bronze, mango coulis, and small spheres of LBV Port wine; tuna tartar and cucumber wrapped in white radish, coastal shrimp marinated in citrus. A selection called “High Tide” consists of sardine and mackerel fillets nestled on a tomato gazpacho, watermelon, prosciutto di Parma, crumbled crisped cornbread, and olive oil powder. Another appetizer, “Alentejo Meadows” is a lamb tenderloin carpaccio with just a hint of peppermint.

The main courses are also spectacular: a sliced duck magret on cassava purèe, julienne of spring vegetables, with ginger sesame jus

But Panorama’s signature dish is extraordinary: a boneless rack of suckling pig exquisitely prepared with flavors of “Bairrada” on nectarine concasser, sautèed crayfish, potato au gratin with black pepper jus. It is prepared to perfection: cooked for 20 hours at a low flame then seared in the oven so that it is impossibly tender inside and crispy outside.

For dessert: white chocolate parfait with cocoa bread, “false pennyroyal caviar: and crystallized citrus; a coffee biscuit with tiramisu flavors, marinated strawberries, white chocolate tile and peach coulis; an almond bombom with black cherry aromas, and rose petal ice cream.

Jose Tomez de Mello Breyner shows the 17th century tombs beneath York House, a historic boutique hotel in Lisbon © 2011 Karen Rubin/

This is a memorable dining experience that you savor. (Panorama, tel. +351 21 3120000).

Sheraton Lisboa, Rua Latino Coelho, 1 * 1069-025 Lisboa * Portugal * Tel.(351)(21) 3120000, Fax: (351)(21) 3547164, in United States, 800-325-3535,

Pap’acorda Restaurant

For our next evening in Lisbon, we go to the colorful Bairro Alto district which has the biggest cluster of fine restaurants and nightlife.

Our destination is the Pap’acorda Restaurant, one of the most popular (you have to book a reservation three or four days in advance).

Jose Tomez de Mello Breyner shows off the wine cellar at York House © 2011 Karen Rubin/

We enjoy Clams bulhao pato-style, with garlic, coriander and olive oil; a beans tempura (that was a Portuguese innovation to Japan, along with the word, “arrigato,” which comes from the Portuguese, obrigado); and an octopus appetizer.

Acorda, with dried cod and fresh coriander, is a peasant dish. In Portugal, there are about 300 different recipes for cod, and the best restaurants have redefined their own. Pap’Acorda has made it a signature offering.

We have become adept at reading the back labels on the bottles of wine, which tell marvelous stories, and make you appreciate that in most cases, the only way to experience these fine Portuguese wines is by coming here – they are not exported. It makes an adventure out of wine tasting.

Tonight’s wine is a 2009 Syrah from Cortes de Cima, which we learn comes from a family property in south Portugal, sustainable, viniculture program, fully ripe and selected grape Syrah; toast and vanilla notes and oak complexity. Firm tannins, eight months in oak barrel, 14% alcohol. In fact, one of the treats of exploring Portugal is discovering amazing wines which are not exported.

The main course of lamb is absolutely delectable, tender and light.

One of the sensational dishes served at York House: black spaghetti with prawns, clams and piquillo pepper © 2011 Karen Rubin/

The dessert is a rich chocolate mousse which the waiter brings in a large bowl that he whips with flourish before plopping huge dollops onto the dish (Pap’Acorda, Rua da Atalaia 57. Encarnação, Bairro Alto. 1200-037 Lisbon, Tel.: 213464811).

Pap’acorda owners Jose Miranda and Fernando Fernandes, along with actor John Malkovitch, also own Bica do Sapato (Point of the Shoe, a to being the source of the water), restaurant that the partners own with John Malkovitch, an expensive, megatrendy dockside sushi bar, restaurant, and bistro (Bica do Sapato , Avenida Infante D. Henrique, Armazèm B, Santa Apolonia, Lisbon, Portugal 1900 ,Tel: 351 21 881 0320,

By the time we leave the restaurant, the district is just bustling with people enjoying the nightlife.

Pavilhão Chines

The minimalist interior design of Pap'Acorda, one of Lisbon's most popular restaurants, in the Bairro Alto district. Advance reservations required.

Our next stop is Pavilhão Chines – the Chinese Pavilion – famous for cocktails, offering the most delightful and intriguing ambiance (Hercule Poirot would be thrilled). This is a most unique and special place. The historic building began as a local grocery. In its present incarnation, it is a veritable Smithsonian of collections, of curiosities and kitsch from all over the world, everything from chamber pots to toy soldiers and model planes, that make for endless amusement looking around. The rooms have stunning wood paneling and antique fixtures (even in the bathroom), and cozy, living-room style chairs. There is a warren of rooms – one of which has pool tables.

The “menu” of drinks is actually as big and thick as a novel, 76 pages, with exquisite drawings and images from every era going back to the 1920s. It is so exquisite, the restaurant only puts one down per table and sells them for 20 euro (about $30).

You can get a Vanderbilt (cognac, sherry, bitters, 7.5E), a Grasshopper, an Old Fashioned, a Lady Di (Pavilhão Chines, open from 18:00 – 02:00, Rua Dom Pedro V89-91, Bairro Alto. Tel: 213 424 72.)

York House

I adore places with a sense of connection to the history and heritage of a place and there is no better place to have the best of a luxurious stay and fine dining, and yet find yourself nestled in hundreds of years of history.

You walk up stone steps under an arbor, the sun coming through the branches, and step into a boutique hotel and restaurant that seems to harbor the stories of Lisbon going back centuries

The structure that is the York House was originally built in 1606, part of the ancient Convent of the Discalced Carmelites. In 1759, when the Marquis of Pombal dissolved the religious orders, the Convent was shut down and its church closed. For the next 120 years, it was used for many purposes. Finally, in 1879 it was sold by public auction to the Irish Society of the Evangelical Church; a part was kept as the pastor’s residence and another part, situated around a cloister that had been practically abandoned, was hired out to artisans.

The next year, two English ladies rented a large part of the wing in which the pastor resided. they converted it into an inn that they called York House. After 20 years, these two ladies sold the inn to two other English ladies, who sold it 10 years later to two French ladies, named Chinon. After 21 years, they sold it to a French couple named Goldstein.

When the Goldstein’s bought the inn, it was third-rate, housing six patrons with no running water, no heating, plain light bulbs that hung from the ceiling, linoleum floors, a primitive kitchen.

The Goldsteins set to work and began to transform the 26 rooms. Running water and electric cables inside the walls were installed in 1940.

A waiter puts the finishing whipping touch on the rich chocolate dessert for which Pap'Acorda restaurant is renowned © 2011 Karen Rubin/

By 1965, York House had 46 rooms of which 36 had private bathrooms; a two-floor dining room and three lounges.

Today, the York House is an exquisite boutique hotel that offers an wonderfully personalized service and provides guests a wide range of services: 32 rooms, each one different and distinctive (refurbished in 2003); a breakfast room, a bar with terrace, fine dining restaurant, “A Confraria”, a business center, 24-hour front desk, Wireless Internet access, room service, laundry service, concierge service (newspapers, mail, stamps, baby sitting, car rental, tours and advise on what to see and do in Lisbon and surroundings) and three meeting rooms.

It is marvelous fun and fascinating to explore: there are two tombs dating from 1670 in the Old Chapel, with a vaulted brick ceiling, used as a meeting or banquet room that seats up to 60, and a wine cellar. We find what looks like a trap door in the tile floor in the lobby-level bathroom

The York House has one of best chefs in Portugal, and we enjoy a delectable lunch in the courtyard: white almond soup with poached quail egg (scrumptuous); sauteed scallops in leek fondant, caramelized pear and raspberry sauce; black spaghetti with prawns, clams and piquillo pepper; sauted foie gras with asparagus and cheddar; codfish fillet in puff pastry served with its broth; free range chicken stew; grilled octopus served with mashed potatoes and chouriço, grilled asparagus; lamb cutlets in a Mediterranean crust, wild mushrooms rice and tomato sauce. I enjoy a filet of sole with an sinfully delectable sauce (22E) and for dessert, cream caramel convent style.

The wines – Alvarinho Reguengo de Milgao 2010 (like a Pinot Grigio)- all from Portugal, are consistently superb.

The colorful Bairro Alto district is Lisbon's hotspot at night © 2011 Karen Rubin/

Room rates range from about 120-250 E. York House, Rua das Janelas Verdes, 32, 1200 – 691 Lisboa – Portugal, tel. 213 962 435, ,,

Aura Lounge Cafe Restaurant

For our last evening, we enjoy the Aura Lounge Cafe Restaurant, only recently opened (March 2011) in the Praca do Comercio, this grand square reminiscent of San Marcos in Venice, the way it fronts the water and is sided by 18th century buildings.

The Aura Restaurant just opened, in March 2011 It is classy, traditional, with a retro kind of feel, offering superb service.

The meal starts with freshly baked traditional bread, Mafra, served with salmon and olive pates.

Pavilhão Chines - the Chinese Pavilion - famous for cocktails, offers the most delightful and intriguing ambiance © 2011 Karen Rubin/

We enjoy appetizers of grilled octopus; salmon carpaccio served with capers and oil; a parmesan basket with fresh spinach, crispy bacon and yogurt sauce.

There are some really unusual and distinctive selections: like a stingray wing (chewier than I would have expected); Bachechois (the cheek of a pig), which is traditional for the south of Portugal (16.5 Euro); Iberian black pig.

The Portuguese cuisine is prepared by Chef Matias Duarte and gourmet stylist Fabrice Marescaux. The menu is inspired by favorite dishes of the Portuguese people.

The wine tonight is Damaseno 2008 Setubal, from a wine estate near Lisbon that has been in the same family for 150 years, a blend of Cabernet sauvignon and syrah grapes. Every meal is an adventure discovering these wines.

Swing music plays in the background.

Preparing drinks at Aura Lounge Cafe, a new restaurant on the famous Praca do Comercio © 2011 Karen Rubin/

A lot of Portuguese restaurants in Lisbon are closed on Sundays, so it is notable that Aura is open 7 days a week from 7:30 am to 2 am.

Aura Kiybe Cafe, Praca do Comercio, Terreiro do Paco, 1100-038 Lisboa, 213 469 447,,

Fado, the Blues of Portugal

No visit to Lisbon is complete with experiencing Fado, the soulful music of Portugal.

Clube de Fado is one of the most famous in Lisbon, owned by a well known Portuguese guitar player.

You can enjoy a coffee at an outdoor cafe in Lisbon's colorful squares for a fraction of the cost of other European capital cities © 2011 Karen Rubin/

The restaurant is in the heart of the Alfama, close to the Se de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral). You can enjoy a traditional meal while immersed in the atmosphere of Fado.

The room has solid walls, arches, columns, that set the tone for the soulful music.

“No one really knows the origin of Fado music; there is no document that describes the origin. Carmo Botelho of Tourismo de Lisboa, tells us. “Some believe it has a connection to slaves. The first famous Fado singer was a prostitute named Esevera, who popularized the look of a white chemise and red skirt (there is painting of her in the Fado museum).

Fado was song from the streets, she says.

It is traced back to the 1820s, and is characterized by mournful tones and lyrics.

Through the archway to the Praca do Comercio, Lisbon's biggest square © 2011 Karen Rubin/

During the 20th C, Fado passed from streets to noble houses, accompanied with piano. Then back again to the streets

Amalia Rodrigues became the most important Fado singers of the 20th century; she began the tradition of wearing a black dress with shawl and spawned a new generation of Fado singers.

“You cannot learn Fado; you have to feel it in your soul.”

In Portugal, there are just two towns which have Fado. One is Coimbra (a university town) where Fado is only sung by men and male students, and takes the form of love serenades.

Aura Lounge Cafe one of the trendy, stylish places in Lisbon, opened in March 2011 at the Praca do Comercio, the city's biggest square which is being revitalized © 2011 Karen Rubin/

In Lisbon, both men and women sing Fado, but mainly women.

The songs here are related to Lisbon. “It belongs to our personality, our soul. The words reconnect with Fado in Lisbon. It can be happy or sad, but tell stories of women in love by the Tagus river, women who sell flowers, bullfighting, someone who lives in the Alfama. The songs represent Lisbon like a woman and the river like man.

“You can have same song by two different Fadoistas – depending on notes sing and voice, faster or slower. The poems (lyrics) can rhyme; there are four phrases or five and always a refrain. The structure of Fado is similar.”

Singers today sing about new Lisbon. “Most don’t like the new Fado, they like the traditional.”

Sting ray wing is on the menu at Aura Lounge Cafe Restaurant © 2011 Karen Rubin/

During the dictatorship, until 1974, the most popular Fado singers were pro-regime and the regime controlled the words. But there was also an underground Fado; after the 1974 revolution, Communists tried to replace Fado.

Fado fell out of fashion until the 1980s, but in the late 1980s, was recovered with a new generation of Fado singers Amalia was the most prominent, and sang in New York City, Paris; 1980-1993 were her best years (she died in 1999, the Edith Piaf of Portugal).

Clube de Fado, Rua S Joao da Praca, 94, 1100-521 Lisboa, 218852 704,

Tourism Portugal has an outstanding website that is easy to use and most helpful:

A must in Lisbon is to hear Fado, the soulful music that is uniquely Portuguese. the Clube de Fado is one of the most famous venues © 2011 Karen Rubin/

See also:
Lisbon: Portugal’s Capital City Offers a Very Special European Experience
Portugal’s Belem District in Lisbon Stands as Monument to Age of Discovery
In Porto, the City of Wine, Become Immersed in the Art, Science and Business of Wine
Rediscover Porto, Portugal’s Powerhouse City in the Age of Discovery
Stomp and Sing in Douro Wine Region of Portugal

Friday, 07 October, 2011

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including, Huffington Post and and blogs at "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at 'Like' us at

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