24 Hours in Lisbon: Chris Sullivan Dives In

The Wonderland Club in Lisbon is the coolest venue

Chris Sullivan traces himself step by step as he spends 24 hours in Lisbon , hitting the beach, seeing the sights, eating the freshest fish, DJ ing a club and exploring a proper old fashioned flea market. 

Arriving late morning, I checked into the Hotel Convento do Salvador. Formally an old convent, with its spacious terrace and restaurant, the property is marvellously well located at the top of Alfama- the city’s oldest and most typically Portuguese neighbourhood.

Indeed, if you took away the modern motor cars,  Alfama, with it’s cobbles, labyrinthine streets, tiny houses and vintage tramcars, could easily, be the set of  a 1920s movie – the difference being it’s real- while its cracking little bars, restaurant and live Fado (the national folk music of Portugal) venues cater to residents and tourists alike.

Estoril - You're never far from a great beach in Lisbon. 24 hours in lisbon
Estoril – You’re never far from a great beach in Lisbon.

But my plan for the day was to hit one of the many beaches close to the city so decided to take the train from Cais do Sodre. A good 20 minute walk through the city way I  meandered through Alfama and met with DJ/promoter Ian Witchell (whose club Wonderland I was to DJ at that night) and we took tea on the terrace of the quite amazing 19th Century Neo Moorish/Brazilian art deco influenced, Palacete Chafariz Del Rei.

Now a hotel, the Palacete was once the home of a Portuguese aristocrata and features wonderful stained glass windows and original fixtures along with a splendid view over the Tagus River.

Subsequently, we strolled down the hill past the Fado museum and the Conserveira de Lisboa (a shop that sells only canned fish), through the city, stopped at the magnificent Praça do Comércio, walked past the popular Time Out Mercado (a big food court), and arrived at Cais do Sodre.

From here we took the coastal train (Cascais Line) to Estoril where Ian Fleming stayed and set his first Bond story, On his Majesty’s Secret Service.

Basically, a long white sandy beach separated from the town by a wall, Estoril a 40 minutes train journey that costs just a few euros. Luckily, even though it was late October,  the temperature was 27 degrees (80 degrees Fahrenheit). Nevertheless, the Atlantic Ocean that lapped the Estoril shore was far from warm – bloody freezing, in fact – but, once you take the plunge you feel like a new man (or woman depending on your persuasion).

Suitably refreshed, we walked up the beach to Cascais which, once a little fishing village, is now rather up market, and sat down at O Pescadore – established in 1964 as a place for fishermen to eat – and now the best eatery in town.

Eating fish in Lisbon Portugal is a great joy and something to do during you 24 hours in Lisbon.
Lisbon is a fish lover’s paradise

We settled on the seafood Cataplana which is named after the typical Portuguese copper pan in which they cook this soup/stew and usually includes clams, fish, mussels, shrimp stewed in garlic, piri piri flakes, onions, red pepper, cilantro, wine and rice. Frankly,  it’s astonishing. After lunch it was more swimming and lounging on the sand before we adjourned to the beach side bar/restaurant, Escotilha.

Next up was a trip over the river to meet jewellery designer Jo Jo Cavaleiro at a restaurant called, Tricanita, over the river in Cacilha, Almada that lies in the shadow of the, The Christ the King statue that dominates the city.

Fortunately , the trip comprised only the  coastal train followed by a ten-minute journey on the ferry that harbours near the station.

Amazingly, just over an hour after languishing on the beach we were sitting down to their Mariscada – an inspired seafood medley comprising the freshest king prawns, clams and crab – that was enough to feed five.

We washed it down with their house red from Setubal (much lighter than the Northern Douro wines) and finished with a quite outrageous chocolate mousse doused with local brandy. Total cost- €40.00.

It was now knocking on 10pm which is early in Lisbon so, we made our way back to Alfama, changed out of our sandy clothes, had a few drinks in the highly recommended bar/restaurant Real Sociedade on rua dos remédios with it’s owner, Alfama legend, Joao de Jesus, then took a cab to the famed Chinese Pavilion at the top of Barro Alto.

The site of a former Oriental  grocery store it’s remained unchanged since it was built in 1901. However, in 1986 current owner, Luis Pinto Coelho, filled its shelves and cabinets with his collection of arcane artifacts, including of action men, Disney figures and unattractive Victorian dolls, and then turned it into a bar. Run like an Englishman’s gentleman’s club – no music and aged waiters in red waistcoats and bow ties – it is perhaps the oddest bar interior I have ever come across.

Walking south towards the river and the venue, Titanic Sur Mer, that housed, Wonderland this evening, we passed through Barro Alto (the party area) that, in full swing had umpteen partygoers of all nationalities spilling out onto the street from bars such as Park with its open air terrace, the wacky little live jazz bar Paginas Tantas and former bakery, Maria Caxuxa.

Of course none of these might compare to Titanic Sur Mer – an old maritime warehouse, that backs onto the river next to the aforementioned Cais do Sodre rail station. With it’s long bar, stage and terrace that backs on to the river, it is a perfect venue. The crowd tonight, is amazingly stylish — locals filling the floor and dancing to our 60s soul, rhythm & blues, funk , surf and Latin tunes right till the end at 6am.

The next day, even though absolutely shattered, I still made my way to the flea market that occurs every Tuesday and Saturday behind the magnificent Santa Engracia Church, or the National Pantheon.

Known locally as the Feira da Ladra (often thought to mean “Thieve’s Market” but derives from “ladro,” a bug found in antiques) it’s said to have been in place since the 12th Century and still thrives today today, while its traders sell everything from 19th century taps to  antique toys, video games and nylon underwear made in China the previous Tuesday.

I walked away with a rather special Parker 51 1960’s fountain pen that, popular with pen collectors, might cost £75 online in UK but cost me €20.00 here.

Of course, Lisbon is still inexpensive, but the drop in the pound’s value to the Euro, has caused it to be less so. That said, compared with most other European cities,  it is still highly affordable and a nice weekend is still within reach if booked well in advance.

Return flights can be as little as £50. My hotel was £81 euros for 2 including an above average breakfast while an average meal for two in a restaurant featuring great fish is about €30 including wine.

But, perhaps, the main thing about Lisbon is the people who are, to the last, warm and hospitable and more than accommodating. I will be back soon. ML

24 Hours in Lisbon

Wonderland club celebrates its 10 year anniversary with a party at Titanic Sur la Mer Address on Nov 26, 2016, Cais Sodré 3154, 1200-109 

Chris stayed at The Hotel Convento do Salvador, B, Rua do Salvador 2, 1100-465 Lisboa. Double rooms are approx. £80 a night.