Portugal conjures up images of fresh seafood, custard tarts and long stretches of sandy beaches dotted with secluded coves. Yet our first trip to the Iberian Peninsula brings us to the capital city of Lisbon known for its authenticity and mix of old customs and ancient history. A city that is remarkably safe, easy to navigate and where the temperature rarely drops below 15°C makes for the ideal European city break.
The city is not only aesthetically beautiful but benefits from the majority of tourist attractions and points of interest being concentrated in a relatively compact area within the heart of the city. Follow the route of the yellow no. 28 tram into the heart of the historic Alfama district, wedged between the Sao Jorge Castle and the Tejo river you’ll discover the cities oldest neighbourhood. Characterized by winding passageways that lead unsigned local Tasca’s, centuries-old churches and Roman ruins. Alfama is the kind of place that is best explored on foot but be prepared to get lost in the labyrinthine streets, but fear not, it’s all part of the fun.
Beneath Alfama is lies the Avenida Liberdade, the place to see and be seen in Lisbon and home to the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade. A five-star property boasting a timeless elegance that has been offering a unique style of Portuguese hospitality for over eighty years. Located in the city centre the 1.5km thoroughfare is recognized as being one of the most expensive shopping boulevards in Europe where the likes of Luis Vuitton and Gucci are just moments walk from the hotel. Continue a little further and you’ll find the Estação de Rossio train Station, the touristic Elevador de Santa Justa and several excellent restaurants such as José Avillez’ Belcanto, which currently holds the no. 42 position on the world’s 50 best restaurants ranking.
A recent €15 million refurbishment project has been undertaken to bring modern touches to the iconic property and ensure the utmost levels of comfort are maintained for guests checking-in to the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade. Passing through the glass sliding doors we are immediately enveloped by a sense of calm that offers a complete juxtaposition from the busy avenue outside. The reception area is engulfed in fresh floral blooms and an abundance of soft furnishings which have been lovingly spaced throughout the large glass atrium. Turquoise curtains dangle seductively from the upper levels, while gold embellishment surrounds a small bar which is reflected in the elevators. Transporting guests into the upper reaches of the property where a collection of 285 rooms and suites awaits.
Rooms offer either courtyard or skyline views but there is no preferred choice. Beautifully appointed, all room categories feature a classic design to enhance the feeling of urban luxury and are spacious and elegantly furnished with large comfortable double beds, a terrace or patio and a living area to relax and put your feet up after a day or exploration or shopping until you quite literally drop. Rooms and suites feature all of the expected modern comforts – flat-screen televisions, mini bar, electronic safe. It’s evident that a lot of thought has gone into the modernisation of the property and simple touches such as the inclusion of Bulgari and Hermès amenities in the suites help to elevate the Tivoli experience and cement the reputation of the landmark property.
Outside of the room there’s plenty to explore with an outdoor swimming pool situated in a tropical garden at the rear of the property. This oasis of calm offers a small circular pool surrounded by vegetation and plenty of sun-loungers. Making for the ideal summer spot to soak up the sun.
On the hotels, lower level guests will find a state-of-the-art fitness centre and the Anantara Spa, a first for the Portuguese capital and a serene environment that encourages introspection and a focus on wellbeing. Six treatment rooms act as a temporary haven and combine the far-eastern therapies for which the Anantara brand is renowned, with indigenous Portuguese rituals. If your stay only allows for one treatment we’d suggest soothing those aching muscles with Anantara Signature Massage, using natural oils, combined with purpose-designed movements, to stimulate circulation and promote deep relaxation, while restoring the flow of energy along the meridian lines.
Living up to a reputation as one of the cities most popular meeting places, Tivoli Avenida Liberdade offers several exciting dining options. The classical Cervejaria Liberdade is the hotels’ all-day-dining option and while breakfast offers up a live egg station, charcuterie and a plethora of Pastel de nata, it’s the al la carte service of Portuguese coastal seafood specialities that piqued our interest. Traditionally cervejarias are small bars that also sells food items and here the idea has been upscaled and expanded into a fine dining setting where plates of cured ham compete with a resplendent Arraiolos Sheeps Milk Cheese that is buttery in flavour and accompanied by a sweet pumpkin jam. Cervejaria Liberdade is also the place to try the traditional pica pau, a dish of rich and flavorful chopped beef loin served with home-made French fries and the pots of aromatic seafood rice piled high with crawfish lobster, clams and mussels
For a livelier experience head to the Sky Bar for sundowners overlooking Lisbon’s terracotta rooftops. Much like the lobby downstairs it’s a popular meeting place with an energetic DJ and some of the best mixed-drinks you’re likely to find in the capital. For a city of rooftops and spread over seven hillsides, it would seem that Lisbon has only recently caught onto the trend of rooftop bars that’s so prevalent throughout other world capitals. Sky Bar was in fact Lisbon’s first. As the historical buildings appear to hug the sun as it slinks behind the waters of the River Tagos, it’s time to move indoors and experience Scene.
Chefpreneur Olivier da Costa’s second Scene restaurant (following a successful opening in Sao Paulo, Brazil) is anchored around an art-deco inspired dining room featuring plenty of foliage and a tree raising from the central bar area. It’s an exciting space to frequent and a sense of frivolity overcomes the restaurant which serves up an exciting menu that fuses the best of Brazil and Portugal into an eclectic selection of dishes that also supports a Japanese sushi bar. There’s a freshness to the Alaskan King crab tacos that is hard to replicate, while the octopus carpaccio is alive with flavours thanks to a vibrant lemon vinaigrette, yet it’s the lesser-known Brazilian dishes that have us enraptured. From the simply moreish deep-fried tapioca with cured cheese through to a show-stopping dessert of dulce de leche soufflé with guava ice cream, that would have had us licking the bowl were it not for the high-end clientele perched on the tables in our vicinity.
Lisbon provides visitors with the ideal city break and a haven for foodies (don’t miss the Time Out Lisboa Market) but venture thirty minutes west of the capital and the experience is entirely different. We split our trip and found ourselves in the sleepy mountain town of Sintra for the latter half of our Portuguese adventures.
Forested mountainsides, elaborate villas and castles precariously perched on mountain tops are all part and parcel of a visit to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sintra. The home of royalty, Sintra adopts a slower pace and feels more more restrained than Lisbon and late afternoons (following the departure of tour buses and day-trippers) is the ideal time for culture vultures to strap on their walking boots and explore.
Steeped in history our base during our all too short stay was an actual Palace! The Tivoli Palacio de Seteais is a rare find of a hotel having been built in the 18th century in a neoclassical style by the then Dutch Consul in Portugal. During the 19th century, several distinguished Portuguese families lived in the Palace including the fifth Marquis of Marialva, who built the triumphal arch linking the two wings. Then in 1953 the Palace was converted into a hotel.
With just 30 rooms the experience of staying in a palace is one of refined luxury that features exemplary levels of service and rooms that have been tastefully modernized while still retaining their characteristic features and period furniture. Timber-framed windows, deep bathtubs, rich tapestries and a collection of artworks provide the rooms with a sense of timelessness that exemplifies the properties natural charm. Our superior room overlooking orchards of lemon trees evokes z sense of venturing back in time with its creaky wooden floorboards, heavyset curtains and a wooden bed that all add to the charm of feeling like a pampered prince/princess.
Notable guests to the property include Kylie Minogue, Jonny Depp, Brad Pitt, Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Agatha Christie. It’s easy to see why such high profile guests would select to stay here, for the intimate nature of the palace ensures anonymity and complete privacy for guests. We spent many hours exploring the ballrooms and expansive grounds, home to hedge mazes, herb gardens and a beautiful outdoor swimming pool, cut into the mountainside and offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Similar to Lisbon, the Anantara Spa Tivoli Palácio de Seteais is the place to unwind and features only two treatment rooms for an exclusive clientele. When guests enter the spa, it is given over in its entirety and therefore closed to any other customers – something we’ve not experienced before. In keeping with the historical palace, the spa is situated inside a circular pigeon-house that has been converted into a quaint and intimate spa where treatments are more specialised and many of the products are made from natural ingredients hand-picked from the hotel grounds. Whether its beauty regimes or holistic rituals the efficient spa team are on hand to advise on treatments – from organic green coffee wraps, aqua-therapy and slimming algae regimes, through to crystal healing.
With only one dining option on site, the Seteais Restaurant is regarded as one of Sintra’s very best and treats diners to a royal experience complete with pressed white table clothes, dainty cutlery, gold crockery and a menu of Portuguese favourites that have been reinterpreted and elevated to match the palatial dining room. Suckling pig, roasted duck magret, braised codfish and octopus are all prevalent on the menu and bookings are essential.
Outside of the palace (and realistically you’ll never want to leave), there is plenty to see and do, especially for those with an interest in history. The colourful Pena Palace perched high in the Sintra Mountains is not to be missed. The romanticist castle dates back to the Middle Ages is one of Portugals most visited monuments. Close by are the Medieval Castle of the Moors and the striking mansion of The Palacio de Monserrate but if you only have time for one monument we’d suggest the atmospheric Quinta da Regaleira. Easily accessible and close to the town centre the residence is built in a gothic style and features enchanting gardens and the atmospheric imitation well, an 88-foot-deep passage that spirals downwards into a number of interconnected underground passageways.
Lisbon and Sintra are ideal for a combined three or four-day visit to Portugal and are more than likely to leave visitors yearning to return. Providing guests with unrestrained luxury, high levels of service, excellent food and beverage and discretion revolving their guests, Tivoli hotels also offer several luxury properties along the Portuguese Algarve as well as in hotels further afield in Brazil andQatar. Tivoli is undeniably a brand with a unique sense of style that embodies the warmth of Portuguese hospitality and clearly has its eyes firmly set on expansion.
Out & About UAE were guests of Tivoli Hotels and all views are our own.