Think Portugal and you’d be forgiven for conjuring up images of sundrenched tourist traps and Judith Chalmers tanning herself but there is so much more to the westernmost country in Europe than you may realize.
Safe in the predictability of Southern Portugal, I was slightly apprehensive about a visit to the Silver Coast, so called due to the Atlantic facing natural coastline but the lure of some of the globe’s most spectacular beaches, a world famous chocolate festival and the cheapest capital city in Europe (hello shopping) managed to persuade me. With my radar always tuned to sniff out value for money, I was also, of course, more than a little curious to see the attraction of the region that property investors were still flocking to in their droves despite the treacherous Portuguese economy.
I began my exploration north of the capital Lisbon, with a stay at the newly developed, Bom Sucesso Design Resort on the edge of the Óbidos Lagoon.
After an eternity of what felt like driving along mountain roads and through dense forests, a glimpse of a Vegas inspired fountain and a mass of architecturally designed buildings blended into the countryside, caught my attention. Add to that an 18 hole champion golf course and all the facilities you would expect from 5 star resorts and I was sold. It all started to make sense.
The nearest town to the ecologically friendly design resort is Óbidos, a medieval hilltop village that is also a World Heritage Site don’t you know, not to mention the location for the annual Chocolate Festival. As it is currently celebrating it’s 10th anniversary this year, it was of course rude not to visit and do some sampling.
On approach it was clear to see that this small town was the main hub of activity in the area with more people than I had seen all day, not to mention a few sightseeing coaches. Picture postcard quaint cobbled streets surrounded by the original walls of the medieval castle was of stark contrast to the sleek lines and modern architecture of the Bom Sucesso resort, but somehow it all rather fitted together. The chocolate helped of course.
Now the Silver Coast is renowned for it’s blue flag beaches, the Atlantic shoreline a draw for surfing enthusiasts worldwide and when you are told that this is some of the most stunning scenery you will ever see, you have no choice but to go and see this for yourself, full of expectation.
The Silver Coast goes on forever. There are literally miles and miles of unspoilt coastline with glistening blue sea and powdery, golden sand. The view will simply take your breath away, rivaling many a famous beach. It’s such a rarity to see landscape so untouched by the human hand in Europe.
If the views took your fancy then you simply cannot leave without trying some of the renowned seafood in the area. Peniche, a glorious small fishing port is the place to go for the freshest catch of the day. The only decision you’ll have to make is Seabass or Seabream?
After falling head over heels for this part of Portugal it was time to travel a little further south for a weekend of City frolics in Lisbon.
I’m ashamed to say Lisbon is probably one of the only major cities in Europe that I haven’t visited and I was more than a little excited to see what it had to offer.
Staying in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World recommendation, The Internacionale Design Hotel, I knew I was in good hands. With a location that couldn’t be any more central if it tried it is the perfect base to mooch around the delights of the Portuguese capital.
Having stayed in many SLH hotels, you have certain expectations about style and service and I have to say that this compact hotel more than exceeded all of mine.
From the chauffeur driven airport pick up complete with a history lesson on Lisbon to the fantastically funky interior design of the hotel itself, everything about the design hotel was highly commendable.
With clever use of space, a neon lit staircase, a suspended art gallery viewable by lift and a choice of different themed rooms this is definitely a hotel for the style conscious traveller.
Out of a choice of Tribe, Zen, Pop and Urban designed rooms; I was staying in Pop on the top floor of the hotel. Fantastic for a Warhol and Lichtenstein lover like myself. White plastic furniture, draped curtains and spherical lamps complimented bubblegum pink walls. The bathroom separated by a frosted glass door (no inhibitions here) a brilliant lime green, decorated with quotes from Andy Warhol clashing against the neon pink toilet roll and branded towels. It should be garish but it wasn’t, it oozed nothing but fun. With giant plasma screens, outstanding views of Lisbon for the girls and PlayStations for the boys, this hotel aims to please.
For the business travellers out there, the attic Heaven room (see what they’ve done there?) caters for all your business needs from Wi-Fi, iPod docks, Lego inspired furniture and artwork that is taken off the wall and transforms into Perspex chairs (of course) there are even secretive massage pods for when all that wheeling and dealing gets a bit too much like hard work. This really is a hotel that has thought of everything. Literally everything, even the cutlery is high design.
Lisbon itself posses a rustic charm that is both its highlight and it’s downfall. Yes, some parts could benefit from a lick of paint but the glorious unpretentiousness of it is somewhat refreshing. It’s seven hills, steeped in history, can be reached by tram for the unfit (or just plain lazy) amongst us and the riverfront dockside of Alcântara is the perfect spot to whittle away an afternoon in the sunshine with a Caipirinha in hand (Lisbon is said to be the second hottest capital city in Europe).
Nightlife varies from the inexpensive but mouth wateringly good restaurants such as the Italian Limoncello to the uber trendy bars and clubs like Silk that are a hangout for the Portuguese jet set.
This stretch of Portugal caters for all tastes and budgets and I can’t help feeling a little disappointed in myself that I had left it this long to visit….
Bom Sucesso www.bomsucesso.net +351 262 965 300
Internatcional Design Hotel www.idesignhotel.com +351 213 240 990
Small Luxury Hotels of The World www.slh.com