CREATIVE HUBS: LISBON
If you haven’t been to Lisbon – or if you don’t at least know someone who has – then quite frankly, where have you been? Portugal’s capital is well and truly on the up, having risen out of the ashes of the crippling financial crisis which hit in 2008. Today the place is home to a constellation of design studios, art galleries and on-trend cafés. There’s no shortage of people declaring it ‘the New Berlin’.
Like Berlin in the noughties, Portugal’s entrepreneurial spirit is tied up with the conditions of crisis (of which low rent prices and lots of large, empty warehouses are just two examples). Many young locals looked abroad for employment, but others viewed the scarcity of jobs at home as an opportunity to start their own business. At the same time, struggling artists from less affordable cities moved to Lisbon, which added to the sense of cross-culture that has made the place so popular with tourists today. (Figures for the first half of 2017 show visitor numbers are up 12.4 per cent on last year.)
They’re coming for Lisbon’s blend of old and new – for the new energy that courses through the city’s historic buildings and steep, narrow roads. LX Factory is a good example of urban regeneration done well. Built on the skeleton of a former industrial site, the creative complex was founded in the same year that crisis hit Europe. Almost a decade later, it remains a thriving hub of studios and design shops, and doubles up as an events space hosting live music, fashion shows and art exhibitions throughout the year. Further along the banks of the Tagus River, Todos is a co-working space which was opened in 2013 to house a team of diverse creatives all all under one roof.
More recently, though, the upscale neighbourhood of Principe Real has been given a new lease of life. Here, crumbling nineteenth century mansions and former palaces are giving way to upscale eateries and lively bars, as well as the area’s first five-star hotel, which opened just this year. Named Memo Príncipe Real, the hotel’s theme is both regal and modern – yes there are chandeliers, but they’re done by design firm Santa y Cole. It’s a good example of the kind of thoughtful artistic spirit that’s coursing through Lisbon and connecting the city’s past with its present.
WHERE TO STAY
Memmo Príncipe Real
A regal portrait sets a glamorous tone at the entrance of this five-star hotel. The bar and restaurant – which take inspiration from the eclectic flavours of Portugal’s former colonies – are worth a visit even if you can’t afford to spend the night.
Bairro Alto Hotel
This canary-yellow property is located on the edges of the nocturnal Bairro Alto district. It’s close to the action, yet far enough away to serve as a form of sanctuary. We recommend taking refuge on the romantic rooftop terrace at sunset.
Mi casa en Lisboa
This is a guesthouse and artist residence which aims to immerse visitors to Lisbon in the fabric of local life. The design is flawless – we love the merino wool blankets, hand-blown lamps and pencil sketches that adorn the walls.
WHAT TO SEE
In 1846, a fabrics company opened up on the edge of the Tagus. In 2008 the building was renovated and transformed into a creative island for design studios and shops. Chances are that you’ve already spotted the Ler Devagar bookshop on Instagram…
Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT)
Having opened last October on the waterfront, MAAT is one of Lisbon’s newest landmarks. It showcases collections of art, architecture, technology and science, and received a footfall of 150,000 people in its first month alone.
Comporta is a sleepy swathe of coast located just over an hour’s drive from Lisbon. The place is popular with off-duty creatives including Christian Louboutin, who has been known to dine at the beachside restaurant, Sal. Be sure to make the gorgeous Sublime Comporta hotel your base.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Taberna da rua das flores
Go early (or very late) to this tiny tasca restaurant – you can’t book, so tables fill up fast. The sharing plates of crab buns, mackerel tartare and goats cheese are more than worth the risk of odd eating hours. Oh, and there’s an amazing wine list to boot.
There’s nothing pretty about the setting of this car park bar – at least not until the sun goes down and turns Lisbon’s red-roofed skyline soft pink. Be warned: the music is loud, and the gin and tonics are enormous.
Pasteis de Belém
Visiting Portugal without tasting a pastel de nata (custard tart) is pretty much criminal activity. Pasteis de Belém has been in the business since 1837, following a closely-guarded recipe known only to a few master confectioners. Be a good friend and bring a box home.