Lisbon is one of those places I can never get enough of. Its natural beauty, climate, people, wonderful art, chill and friendly atmosphere, and delicious pastries always make my trips unforgettable.
I’ll start by telling you about natas. You know those tiny egg custard tarts that have been appearing in your favourite cafes for the last few years? They’re called natas and they’re Portuguese. I went to Lisbon to find its best natas and its most fascinating art. The art I’ll tell you about in my next blog post, but let’s start with the pastries!
Lisbon is an old city, almost ten thousand years old, according to archaeologists. In terms of what you can see as you walk around, there are some Roman ruins in the very old Alfama district, close to the São Jorge Castle and the Pastelaria Santo António, where you can get superb natas.
I forgot to tell you that you have to earn your natas. The city is situated on top of a lot of hills and to get around you have to climb, climb, climb. There are elevators (elevadores) available for the old and infirm but really if you are going to eat the natas you’ll want to climb to get them. Pastelaria Santo António is on the top of a hill, and the natas are worth it.
The city is made up of different districts, each with their own character. The old downtown is centred around the pedestrian Rua Augusta with its impressive arch, leading from Rossio square, where the Metro station is, to the Placa Comercio and the river front. You can easily spend a day just going from Rossio to Comercio, popping into the side streets and the independent shops, checking out the view from the the ornate Elevadore Santa Justa, and snacking on natas, or having a meal at any of the street cafes. I can recommend the bacalhao – creamed codfish – with a glass of vinho verde (Portuguese white wine) Café Vitoria, on Rua Vitoria just off the rua Augusta.
But there is more to see than the charms of Rossio and Augusta. The Chiado area is fascinating, and although it too is a higgledy-piggledy neighbourhood of little streets and quaint buildings, it feels very different to Alfama and downtown, more edgy and social. It is full of cafes, bars and clubs; while it boasts some of Lisbon’s trendiest clubs, it is also a good place to find traditional fado music, which is more my kind of thing. Last time I visited I enjoyed a marvellous night at Petisqueira Dos Sentidos.
But my favourite place in Chiado is the Café a Brasiliera on the historic Rua Garrett. The Portuguese connection to Brazil is still very strong, with many Brazilians living and studying in Lisbon. But this literary café is a perfectly preserved gem of nineteeth century Lisbon, from its mirrors and its white-clad waiters to its traditional menu of excellent coffee, sandwiches and – you guessed it – absolutely superb natas. I whiled away more than a few hours in here, scribbling my thoughts, reading magazines and just dreaming a little.
The final stop of my natas tour of Lisbon is a short tram ride out of the centre to the riverside district of Belém. Now, natas are made and eaten all over Portugal and have become a popular snack worldwide. But in Belém they make their own version and these are sold only in the Pastéis de Belém. It is a secret and jealously guarded recipe. The Pastéis de Belém is a beautiful café, gorgeously decorated, airy and elegant but – like everywhere in Lisbon – not expensive. After you’ve had your fill of the Belém natas, you can walk them off by strolling along the Tagus river.
There is lot to see and do in Lisbon, and the natas will fuel your way up and down all the hills!
Restaurants mentioned here:
Café Vitoria, R. da Vitória 52, 1100-571 Lisboa
Petisqueira Dos Sentidos, Tv. da Espera 46, 1200-169 Lisboa
Pastelaria Santo António R. Milagre de Santo António N.10, 1100-351 Lisboa
Café a Brasiliera R. Garrett 122, 1200-273 Lisboa