I’ll probably mention this throughout my coverage of Portugal, mostly because I find it so strange, but until a few weeks ago I had never visited this small but fascinating country. I suppose by itself that’s not such a bizarre anecdote, but given my own intense and life-long love of Europe and the frequency with which I find myself there, I find it odd. Regardless, I finally managed to visit when I took a river cruise with Viking Cruises along the Douro River. Since it was my first time, I decided to arrive in Lisbon a few days early to adjust to the time difference as well as to begin my Portuguese wanderings in earnest. The way I tackled this new city was somewhat of a departure for me, so today I want to share the approach I took, what I experienced and why ultimately I walked away in love with Lisbon.
Normally when I travel I plan every detail to the last minute and, not surprisingly, that almost always killed whatever potential for fun was involved. I approached this trip from a different point of view. Maybe it’s the influence of that yoga practice I recently started or the fact that 2019 wore me down mentally and physically, but I had no desire to race around Lisbon. I bought a simple guidebook and did about 10 minutes of online research, but that’s it. No binders, no color-coded tabs – nothing that even hinted I was involved with the trip. The results were also not so surprising, I enjoyed every second of my time in the city. Slowing down doesn’t mean I didn’t do and see a lot, I did, it just meant that I went into the experience with a different outlook which, in turn, improved everything else. I felt no desire to do it all, since I knew it wasn’t possible. Instead every day I picked a different part of town, took the metro over and just enjoyed it. Again, this is how most normal people travel but for me it was a revelation.
The first day I took the metro, which is easy to use and inexpensive, to the historic heart of the city to wander, visit famous sites and start my introduction to Lisbon. This included a tram to and from the city’s famous castle, a spot that offers incredible views across Lisbon. But it also meant doing things that were a little kitsch, like visiting the Time Out Food Market which, although amazing, caters to tourists and foreigners. I didn’t really care about that though. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t trying to be Anthony Bourdain as I delved into the city. I liked the Time Out Food Market because it features great cooks and menus from around the city, all conveniently gathered in one spot. I easily sampled many classic Portuguese dishes, but I also returned later on to get a pizza. No guilt was attached, I was on vacation and enjoying every second of it.
A final positive attribute to slowing down was the ability to be spontaneous. No longer tethered to a schedule or timetable, I was able to do what I wanted when I wanted to do it, and even switch things up at the last minute. That’s how I found myself somewhat unexpectedly spending the day in nearby Sintra. A very popular day trip for visitors to Lisbon, when I was doing my initial research I didn’t think I had time to go. But then once I arrived, and after everyone – everyone – I met in Lisbon told me that it wasn’t to be missed, I decided to hop on a train and venture out. A very easy 45-minute trip outside of Lisbon, in spite of some wet weather it was a wonderful day out of the city and a fun new place to explore. Travel should be about those spontaneous moments, ones that for many years have sadly eluded me.
Relaxing in Style
This slow style of travel was facilitated by where I stayed during my pre-cruise adventures in Lisbon – the Corinthia. One of the luxury mainstays in Lisbon, even though the Corinthia has a long history in the city, the entire hotel felt fresh and new. It was also the ideal spot for me to relax and just enjoy myself. I arrived into Lisbon in the mid-afternoon, and since it was early December I only had a couple hours of daylight left. Coupled with extreme exhaustion from jet lag and a long trip, I made the very unusual decision for me not to do anything touristy that day. Instead, I devoted what remained of that first afternoon in Lisbon to relaxing and self-care, all facilitated by the Corinthia.
The hotel features 518 guestrooms and suites, 76 of which are Executive Club rooms on the top floors. Settling into my spacious Junior Suite, I very quickly made good use of the Executive Club Sky Lounge not only for the one of a kind views, but for the many amenities offered there, most notably fantastic food and a generous supply of drinks. My room itself was very much a haven throughout those first days in Lisbon. Very well appointed with every amenity one would expect from a great luxury hotel, it was honestly one of the most comfortable rooms I’ve enjoyed in a very long time. What ultimately helped me relax the most though was totally unexpected – the Spa at Corinthia Lisbon. One of the largest in Europe, this incredible spa is not at all what I expected to find. This massive 3,500 square meter facility has everything anyone needs to decompress properly, from just about every treatment imaginable to a relaxing Aqua Therapy Facility the likes of which I’ve never seen before. When coupled with the room and fantastic hospitality, the Corinthia Lisbon not only helped me relax, but set me up for success as I slowly explored Lisbon.
All of this leads to one thing, a more mindful way of traveling. Several months ago I did one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself – I started attending a yoga studio on a very regular basis. I’d never tried it before, but it always interested me and I was excited to try something new. What I honestly didn’t expect was what it has done for me mentally in addition to the physical benefits. My brain has always raced a million miles a minute and I have always, always, found it difficult to de-stress and relax. In fact, I had just resigned myself to a life of always being on edge. That’s not healthy and it’s my yoga practice that has since put me on a path towards a certain level of both mental and physical peace. This necessarily translates to all aspects of my life, including travel. Racing around a new city just doesn’t make sense to me anymore and it certainly doesn’t sound fun. Instead, I looked to friends and others and was inspired by their travel style; namely, enjoying themselves. It sounds weird, but for far too long I’ve approached travel as a job and not always as something I love passionately. You can imagine the results; I had begun to fall out of love with travel. Lisbon was a chance for me to see and do exactly what I wanted and when I wanted to do it, which has in turn had amazing effects on my state of mind. I enjoyed my time in Portugal more so than any other long trip in recent memory and it reawakened that basic, innate love affair that I have always had with travel. I’ll explore these themes in a longer post, but I wanted to share it here to demonstrate how much it transformed my experience in Lisbon.
When I first started writing this post I thought I’d include 4-5 places to visit, a few things to eat and so on. I’ll probably do that at some point, but I first wanted to share the process through which I enjoyed and ultimately fell in love with Lisbon. Anyone can look up museums in a guidebook, but understanding the practice of travel is a much more nuanced concept and much more important than visiting the major attractions in a new city.