This month, freelance photographer, writer and founder of travel inspiration website Mr Vagabond, Gabriel Tamez explores a more tranquil side of life in the Portuguese capital.
I travel extensively for work and sometimes find it exhausting. So it’s always with the seatbelt chime signalling the descent into Lisbon that I’m window-glued for a familiar view of clay red roofs cascading into the sparkling blue of the Tejo river. It never fails to wash me with relief. In this corner of the world that became my home base four years ago, light refracts through the city fabric in unusual ways. Air, water, and salt are wonderfully inseparable here – they coalesce into an Atlantic masterpiece streaked with Portuguese sunlight.
Now, if you’re a first-timer to Lisbon, by all means jump into the old trams rumbling through the alleys of Alfama. You’ll want to stroll down the airy boulevards of the Chiado district and bar-hop through shadow-coated Bairro Alto. There’s always a daytrip into Belém or Sintra, and Cabo da Roca for boasting rights: ‘Of course, I’ve stood on the westernmost point of continental Europe, haven’t you?’
But if I may persuade you, decelerate for a moment. You might then catch the whisperings of a far older Lisbon, harking back to a time of literary intellectuals and daring maritime explorers. For those willing to listen beyond today’s chaotic rumble of the city, there’s a prismatic underside that has less to do with trendy guidebook destinations and more to do with a charming perspective on life.
Rather than bolting off at the crack of dawn for a full day’s itinerary, wake up later and sit for a while at coffee houses such as Hello, Kristof. Expand your mind by discussing tasting notes with the baristas, trade music culture with them, and thumb through the independent journals gracing the wall. On sultry summer afternoons when the air is thickened by the sun’s heat, retreat beneath the jungle-esque canopies of Jardim da Estrela with your friends. The occasional breeze infused with sea salt is soft on the skin.
Or plant yourself along the esplanade to sip coffee while looking out on the cooling sea. Speaking of water, the ceramicist-sailor duo behind Margarida Fabrica keeps an atelier at the popular LX Factory – an industrial complex repurposed into creative studios. Margarida Melo Fernandes, the ceramicist, and André Melo, a real-life Portuguese sailor, are worth meeting if only to trade travel stories. But to peruse their collection of delicate handcrafted tableware with dashes of cobalt, is to touch a condensed reflection of Lisbon’s ocean-kissed heritage.
However, the city is not without an injection of contemporary culture. Take for example Lisbon’s newest luxury concept shop JNcQUOI – the enfants terribles of the lifestyle world where wining, dining, and menswear is temptingly housed into one light-drenched gallery. You won’t regret booking a table for a lingering lunch date with their in-house dinosaur skeleton.
And when it comes to hospitality, none hold to the philosophy of ‘slow living’ more than Casa C’Alma, a five-room boutique guest house on the leafy Praça das Flores. A blend of rustic Portuguese and Scandinavian design, the bright rooms invite you to pause in tranquil silence, allowing your Lisbon experience to sink in after a day out, and to pen words into a travel journal.
Gabriel Tamez writes and photographs as Mr. Vagabond (http://www.mr-vagabond.com). He also works on social media and journalism projects for brands including Mercedes-Benz, Lufthansa, and GQ Portugal.