Tarts and Liquors:
a long weekend in Lisbon
Sundown scooter rides along the port's cobbled promenades, scaling the endless steps of old Alfama with fresh banana sorbet in hand, and €14 jugs of Sangria on the seafront - Portugal's colourful capital makes the ideal September escape.
We landed on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-September, Lally in her boho plane pants, me in an old alpaca jumper and patchwork culottes, and stepped out into Lisbon's 33-degree autumn sun. A sticky, 20-minute bus ride saw us to the edge of Alfama, Lisbon's old town, with its unintelligible web of tiled streets and around 60,000 steps, up which we took turns lugging our shared suitcase. We were advised that this was the best place to stay in the Portuguese capital - its one of few areas that hasn't been too affected by the glare of tourism (yet) and maintains its Visigothic charm and small-town bonhomie. But beware, you may be kept awake by Fado-infused merrymaking if you aren't participating in it: Alfama is a hotspot for the celebrated Portuguese folk music, which can be heard permeating the narrow streets late into the night.
During the day
Budding historians, beach bums, foodies, seaside shoppers and saunterers - there is something in Lisbon for each and every one. Lal and I are a mix of all of the above. Our languid, hot days began with extended brunches on charmingly uneven sidewalks before tramping up and down bumpy laneways to gelaterias, snappable viewpoints and markets of all kinds. Feira da Ladra was my favourite: a vibrant flea market, stretching endlessly down a sun-beaten street of bourgeois eateries, with stalls selling everything from handmade shell jewellery to vintage cameras and wholesale banana-print underpants. I bought two ceramic Dalmatians for €2 and some silver and gold-plated earrings, hand-made on the spot by a talented, salt-of-the-earth craftsman who couldn't speak English and, tragically, didn't have a website. Overall, a successful shopping trip, if you don't count the questionable Juice of the Day from Tazza de Giro. Pithy and tasteless, but healthy, perhaps, and cheap enough, at €3 ("But €3 to be nauseated is €3 wasted", I hear you say, and you are right).
The avocado on rye with toasted seeds and the juice of about 50 limes, though, was a delicious and refreshing mid-morning treat.
When it comes to food, vegans can have a tricky time in Lisbon, if you don't know where to look. Salted cod, creamy pastéis de nata and colourful tins of sardines abound, and vegan-friendly snack spots are few and far between. Thanks to friends' recommendations, which rolled in by the dozen, and a little research, we found stylish cafes Nicolau and Basilio, both offering delicious and extensive brunch and lunch menus. And cheap, too. Don't do as we did and think that just because a portion of buckwheat and berry pancakes cost €5, it'd be small - it wasn't. All too often we over-ordered and found ourselves unable to finish our ridiculous spreads - which seemed particularly offensive at no-waste, sustainable bar and restaurant Juicy, with their towering beet burgers and bottomless Buddha bowls. My dish was like Mary Poppin's handbag.
Beaches around Lisbon itself are scarce, but a short train ride away is the quaint and colourful fishing village of Cascais. Here you'll find a choice of sandy strands, with and without volleyball courts, bewitching headland walks and secret coves favoured by locals and young lovers looking for somewhere to steal a few sunset kisses out of view. If you want my advice, buy a few local watermelon ciders at one of the town's minimarts before heading to Praia de Santa Marta for sundown. Once darkness has fallen, hit Bubbles and Bites (interesting name, stunning food and even better interiors) for a vegetarian feast, where you'll be welcomed warmly by owners Deborah and Fred.
Ceramic rescue dog
During the night
Lisbon's sleepy streets come alive at dusk, with cocktail quaffers and midnight merrymakers taking to the laneways of Bairro Alto from Happy Hour to the early hours. Not usually one for somewhere described predominantly as "trendy and urban", I adored the rooftop Park Bar, situated atop a 6-floor carpark and boasting panoramic views of the hotch-potch cityscape. Make it there for golden hour and you're laughing - it'll still be quiet as the party really starts around 11 pm, and you can breathe in the balmy air, ginger mojito in hand, without too much jostling for seats and selfie spots. Different house DJs play from around 5pm late into the night, but if you find yourself, like us, hankering for a slap-up, post-mojito meal, Lisbon's first organic pizzeria, In Bocca al Lupo, is a 15-minute stroll away. Top tip: the vegan 4 Stagione is a cashew and artichoke dream.
As for dessert, you can hardly walk 10 metres down any street without passing a bakery specialising in the traditional Portuguese custard tarts known as pastéis de nata. The velvety, expertly-caramelised, milky taste (or scent, if you're strictly dairy-free) encapsulates the city - and is certainly a little more appealing than Lisbon's other great love - tinned pilchard.