For British cruisers especially it’s hard to imagine a better port of call. Lisbon is a relatively short hop for anyone cruising from the UK, yet, culturally, it’s about a million miles from blighty! And, before you even set foot on dry land, you’re in for a treat as the cruise along the Tagus is one of the finest approaches you can imagine. Indeed, as you go gliding past the Belem Tower and under the magnificent Ponte 25 de Abril bridge you know that you’ve arrived at somewhere rather special.
This is a great city to stroll around under your own steam, although you might want to ride the splendid vintage trams along some of the hillier stretches, especially if you’re exploring the old Alfama district and admiring the views from Castelo de Sao Jorge and the Bairro Alto.
Closer to the port you can admire Lisbon’s classic ‘Pombaline’ architecture named after the Marques of Pombal who was instrumental in reconstructing the city following a devastating earthquake in 1755. This wholesale rebuild of the city lends it a rather lovely uniformity that’s reminiscent of St Petersburg, although the weather in these latitudes is rather better than it tends to be in what was Peter the Great’s Window on the West! Take time to admire the Parliament and the Prime Minister’s House and stroll the famous Avenue Liberdade.
For Foodies, Lisbon Is Love At First Bite
There’s nothing quite like sea air and sightseeing to work up an appetite and, fortunately, Lisbon can sustain the hungry cruiser like few other ports of call. If it’s a snack or a sweet treat that you’re after then you have to try the famous Pastéis de Nata, an egg custard in crispy pastry dusted with cinnamon that is simply, delicious. You’ll find these little cakes baked in pastelarias all over the city, sometimes subtly different in their execution but always a real Portuguese treat.
If you’re on the go and in need of something substantial and savoury, then a Bifana always hits the spot. This simple sandwich of marinaded pork keeps Lisbon’s workers fuelled and, if you prefer, there’s even a beef version known as Prego. If you want to make an occasion of your meal then you really ought to try Bacalhau part of Portuguese cuisines DNA and served today much as it would have been in the time of Vasco da Gama, although your experience of the famous dried cod is sure to be rather more comfortable that the Portuguese explorers would have faced on their epic voyages.
If you’re sitting down to eat in a Portuguese restaurant do try the Sopa do Dia especially if it’s Caldo Verde, made from the simplest ingredients and that rare thing; a healthy dish that tastes almost decadent! Similarly healthy and just as typical are Sardinhas that, naturally, have their own festival on the Feast of St. Anthony. Fresh, grilled sardines are, of course, wonderful but you’ll find the locals hold great store by the tinned variety too. So much so, that they even have upscale restaurants dedicated to this much loved Portuguese product. If you want to see just how far the humble tinned fish dish can go, then a table at the ‘Can the Can’ restaurant will give you a flavour of the cutting edge restaurant scene in the city. Naturally, the wine list is rather special too; not because it is outrageously expensive, but because it will take you on a journey through the countries amazing and amazingly different wine-producing regions.
Say Cheese Or, Rather, Queijo
Although, to many, France remains the European cheese superpower, these days we’re much more familiar with cheeses from Italy and Spain and even Holland too. But, Portugal? Somehow British cheese boards have yet to have had the pleasure.
Luckily, foodies cruising to Lisbon, will have the chance to discover Portuguese cheese for themselves. And, if you try just one creamy Queijo, then the exquisite sheep’s cheese known as Azeitão will keep you coming back for another spoonful.
Lager And Liqueurs In Lisbon
With so much to see and so much good food to sample, you’ll obviously need something to slake a thirst or wash down your meals. Leaving Portuguese wine to one side for a moment, then the local thirst-quencher of choice would be Sagres. Made using traditional brewing techniques and devoid of additives, this pale lager is an excellent choice whether you’re washing down sardines or cooling off after a walk to the Alfama district.
For the more adventurous, Ginjinha, made with sour Ginja or Morello cherries, is the locals’ favourite. Despite the sour cherries Ginjinha has a tart, yet sweet taste and, like the Pastéis de Nata has a hint of cinnamon as well as sugar to help the medicine go down!
There’s Much More To Portuguese Wine Than Port
By all means try (or buy) some port whilst you’re in Lisbon, especially the white port that we see rather less of in the UK – it’s a surprisingly good aperitif – but, as you’re eating and drinking in Lisbon itself, try to make the most of what’s on your doorstep. The Lisboa region produces excellent wine, whilst the fabulous fortified wine from Peninsula de Setubal will make you think twice about weighing yourself down with too much port. The Alentejo region is a little further from the capital but is worth a trip for the variety and quality of its wine, as well as the fact that you’ll see where nearly half the world’s cork comes from. If the sweet wine of Setubal appeals, why not take a wine tour to the Arrabida winery?
One of the beauties of Portuguese wine is that, unlike much of the world’s production, it is far less homogenised that many a bottle you’ll find in your supermarket. Bear in mind also that Portugal came late to the EU and has therefore had many, many years to develop its wine in relative isolation. This has created an authenticity and an honesty to its wine that really ought to demand a higher premium than it does. Don’t spread it around, but Portuguese wine is still a bit of a bargain. Cheers - or ‘Tim-Tim’ as they say in these parts!
Isn’t It High Time You Fell In Love With Lisbon?
Whether you’re a consummate wine connoisseur, a curious quaffer or a foodie with a love of travel, you should visit Lisbon just as soon as you can. It’s simply a great city with fabulous food and an irrepressible vibe. So, why not make plans to cruise to Lisbon in the summer? The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll find yourself in a quaint adega with a glass of chilled vinho verde in your hand listening to a local fado singer tugging at your heart strings!