I have written before on the top day trips you must make from Lisbon, once you have exhausted the many delights of the Portuguese capital. But after my recent return visit I wanted to write some more about experiencing Lisbon itself. Now that it has had more opportunity to sink into my soul.
This time I had the chance to see Lisbon from a different viewpoint – from the deck of a ship. The Leao Holandes is a double-masted Dutch schooner that has 100 years of mixed travelling experience before being restored and brought here to hopefully finish out her days taking people on pleasure cruises on the Tagus.
I came across this poem – set in concrete – one day while wandering in Lisbon, by Sophia de Mello Breyner (one of Portugal’s most important 20th century poets and a long-time resident of Lisbon):
I say: “Lisbon”
When I arrive from the south and cross the river.
And the city opens up as if born from its name
It opens and rises in its nocturnal vastness
In its long shimmering of blue and of river
In its rugged body of hills.
Lisbon with its name of being and nonbeing.
With its meanders of astonishment, insomnia and shacks.
And its secret theatre sparkle.
Its masklike smile of intrigue and complicity.
While the wide sea stretches westward.
Lisbon swaying like a sailing ship.
Lisbon cruelly built next to its own absence.
This poem brings home how important the River Tagus is to the life of Lisbon and to the impression received by visitors. From the dome of Santa Engracia (now Portugal’s national pantheon where important people are buried) to the to the aristocratic summer residences of Cascais, the Lisbon riverside panorama is awe-inspiring.
The imposing bulk of the convent of Sao Vicent da Fora dominates the hillside past Santa Engracia. Then comes views of the beautiful Castelo de São Jorge and a peek into the southern part of the historic Bairro Alto and Alfama districts.
Soon we were sailing under the soaring 25th of April Bridge, and I craned my neck at the enormous Christ the King statue – inspired by the Christo Corcorvado in Rio de Janeiro of course. This one was built in the 1950s in gratitude for Portugal having been spared the effects of the Second World War.
From the water you get a great view of the Praca do Comercio, still commonly known as Terreiro do Paco because it was the once the location of the of the Pacos da Ribeira (Royal Ribeira Palace) before it was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755.
The Tagus was of strategic value to both the Spanish and Portuguese empires, guarding the approach to Lisbon. The waterfront reflects this, with the Monument of the Discoveries (commemorating Portugal’s ‘discovery’ of the Americas) and the Belem Tower. Nearby is the Oceanário (Lisbon’s aquarium). Tucked away behind these is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Jerónimos Monastery in Belem.
Then it is on up the river past the elegant seaside neighbourhoods until we reached the trendy holiday resort of Cascais. This gorgeous town of sun-bleached stone with chic shops and cafes has been fashionable since the Portuguese aristocracy built their holiday villas over 100 years ago, transforming the former fishing village forever.
The history of Cascais, and Lisbon, is as transformative as the wide, shimmering river Tagus herself.
By Natasha von Geldern
Thanks to the Hotel Quinta da Marinha Resort for hosting me on my visit to Lisbon and Cascais. The Quinta da Marinha Resort is a member of Great Hotels of the World Luxury Collection and a peaceful and perfect base for exploring this part of Portugal. For more information or to book, please visit the website or call UK: 020 7380 3658 US: +1888 222 8859 Int: +1 972 894 1182.
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