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Everywhere we love in Lisbon
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Out on a limb both geographically and financially (and politically, up until 30 years ago), Portugal has always been considered the European outsider. But that image is now changing. Both Expo ’98 and the Euro 2004 football championships have helped boost the country’s interna- tional profile beyond that of a last-minute bucket holiday destination. The epicentre of this cultural transformation is Lisbon.At one time unjustly overlooked, this small but fiercely dynamic city has rightfully earned a place in the European capital super-league. Attracted by the prospect of relatively uncharted territory, city break travellers are now flocking for a taste of Rio in the Med.
It’s hard to believe that up until 1974 Portugal was governed by a quasi-fascist dictatorship (Europe’s last, in fact). But in the past 30 years a rapidly growing liberal and consumer society has evolved, and Lisbon has not looked back. This change is most evident on the cobbled streets of Bairro Alto, where a plethora of historically illegal drinking dens now forms the nucleus for much of the city’s vibrant nightlife. Locals and tourists of all shapes, sizes and walks of life gather every Friday and Saturday night for what could quite conceivably be Europe’s biggest bar crawl. With a reputation to rival that of São Paulo, Lisboetas love to party.
The Portuguese are famed for their love of eating and no self-respecting Lisboeta would even consider hitting the town without first sitting down to dinner. Eating forms a pivotal part of the social scene and you’ll find more restaurants per square mile than street lamps. Consequently the demand for quality (and quantity) is high. Be warned: it won’t be just your suitcases that get tagged for excess baggage.
The city itself is small enough to explore in a weekend, although it’s easy to get lost in the narrow, cobbled backstreets. Perhaps the best way to find your bearings is to climb one of the city’s seven hills and take in the breathtaking views. Areas are concentrated and boast their own defined character; discover the charm of Lisbon’s oldest bairro, the Alfama, where old women nonchalantly watch the world pass by from their window boxes; or the cultural district of Belém, where many of the city’s museums and historic buildings are located. The Castelo de São Jorge serves as a good vantage-point for some of the most beautiful sunsets in Europe, with a mystical light to rival that of Venice.
Lisbon is a city of contradictions, where wealth and poverty live as comfortable neighbours, and modernity meets with unwavering tradition – making it both a charming and intriguing place to explore. Behind the crumbling stonework, a new spirit is evolving. Once a leading world power, Lisbon now looks likely to resume some of its for- mer glory. As the locals would put it – this city will touch you.
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