trip report: lisbon
Look! Another New York couple who went to Portugal this year!
After seeing everyone else's pictures of pastéis de nata (Portuguese egg tarts), I decided I could wait no longer to eat my through this very buzzy European capital. Luckily for us Americans, Portugal is a relatively quick flight from the East Coast and it's extremely cheap compared to places like Paris and London. We decided to go over Memorial Day this year, but extended the trip a few days, giving us a solid five days, four nights on the ground.
As some of you know, I am a self-aware hotel snob, so I initially balked when a few people recommended Martinhal Chiado as the best hotel for families. A family hotel?! In my mind, that meant towel animals, furniture that had been shredded by generations of toddlers, and a cheesiness factor of 100. None of those things appear here (although I do kind of love a good towel elephant). This hotel was a GODSEND. I have been raving about this place from the moment we got home. If Martinhal opened a location in New York, I would just move in.
The reason why it's so phenomenal is because they've thought of everything that could make traveling with children easier. Each room (which is really an apartment), has a full kitchen (stocked with childproof plates, a bottle warmer, a high chair, and even a welcome basket of snacks and milk), a bathroom with a potty seat and step stool, a separate bedroom for the kids (praise the god of your choosing), and child-size flip flops and bathrobes. That would have been incredible enough, but it's only half the reason why this place is magical.
There is drop-off daycare included in your room rate.
Let that sink in! The hotel's first floor is equipped with three separate play areas, two of which parents are welcome to use with their kids, and one that is reserved for their all-day kids' program (that runs from 9AM until 10PM!). They will feed them meals, put them down for a nap, and they even host mini-discos or movie nights. And while we obviously didn't leave Avvie there all day, she actually asked to go at breakfast time, which meant Mike and I had time for a leisurely meal without yogurt being flung across the room. It was a true win-win. We also took advantage of their babysitting services for one night's dinner, which I also highly recommend. Our sitter was prompt, sweet, and Avvie took to her right away.
Basically, if you're traveling with children, I would plan a trip around this hotel. Months later, Avvie is STILL talking about how much she loved the child-size potties in the lobby.
99% of our vacations are planned around food and Lisbon was certainly no different. Since we only had four nights on the ground (two in Lisbon and two in Sintra), I wanted to maximize our pastry intake as much as possible. As soon as we dropped our bags off at the hotel, we walked five minutes to the Time Out Market Lisboa (part of the Mercado da Ribeira). It's similar to Chelsea Market in that it's definitely a major tourist attraction, but still has incredible food. Many of the country's top chefs have stands here, so it's a wonderful way to get to sample many different dishes all at the same meal. And since there's really everything here, from sandwiches to crudo, I'd say your best bet is to take a lap or two around the hall, see what looks good coming out of the kitchen, and just grab whatever strikes your fancy. Lisbon is rightfully famous for their seafood, though, so don't skimp on that. And definitely save room for a pastel at Manteigaria. They're some of the best in the city. [Their competitor for the title is Pasteis de Belem]
That night, we headed to our one fancy meal sans baby at Belcanto, a fine-dining spot run by Jose Avillez, who is one of the more famous chefs in Portugal. We opted for the longer tasting menu, because, duh. Awesome experience from start to finish, and the seafood there is especially rad.
Our second day in Lisbon was almost entirely occupied by a food tour from Culinary Backstreets. We had used the same company while we were in Istanbul and had such a fantastic experience that we knew we wanted to check it out here as well. We opted for the Culinary Crossroads tour, which not only samples Portuguese food, but looks at Portuguese influence on other cuisines, like Goan. There were also a lot more egg tarts, natch. The Portuguese certainly know their way around a pastry; it seems like every neighborhood has its own special bread or tart. I left no stone unturned, guys. Look at this pao de deus!
The other restaurant that everyone who's been to Lisbon will tell you to try is Ramiro. Yes, the wait is long (they do take reservations at off-hours, though), but good god is it worth it. Just look at these prawns. The menu is fairly simple and seafood-heavy. Just ask your waiter to recommend his favorites and you'll be set.
The sleeper hit of Lisbon for me was O Zé da Mouraria, located in the tiny Moorish district near Alfama. They do one daily special, which is a HUGE platter of food. Don't even ask what it is, just nod yes. Ours was steak with garlic.
Lisbon is a very beautiful city, with architecture that's very different than what you'll see in other European capitals. The greatest concentration of historical sites is probably in Belem, which is a neighborhood on the eastern side of the city on the water.
Alfama is one of the only neighborhoods in Lisbon that wasn't razed during the 1755 earthquake, so the architecture here (especially the Cathedral and Castelo de Sao Jorge) is definitely worth a visit. The miradouros, or viewpoints here, are especially gorgeous.
I loved Chiado, where we stayed, for its great mix of buzzy restaurants and interesting shops. We also enjoyed a long stroll through the neighboring districts of Principe Real and Bairro Alto, which both felt a bit like Soho without the mobs of tourists. Uber here is plentiful and cheap, so it's very easy to get around. Lisbon, of course, is also known for its trams, which are another excellent way to sightsee. But mostly, being New Yorkers, we walked. We brought Avvie's Yoyo stroller with us, which performed well even on the steep hills (of which there are many!) and cobblestones.
One final note: the children's clothing here is GORGEOUS. I did a bit of shopping at whatever random stores we popped into, but my favorite spot we found was d.o.t. inside the embaixada gallery. Just beautiful, very traditional pieces for both girls and boys.
Have you been to Lisbon? What were your fave spots? Which egg tart reigns supreme?