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While I was being pampered in Lisbon's Corinthia Hotel spa, masseuse Christina told me I didn't look old enough to have four grandchildren. I'll take that, anyday, I thought, but, to be fair, the lighting was low and I was lying face down on a treatment bed, towelled up to my shoulders.
Everything about this five-star hotel exudes luxury, as I discovered when my taste of Lisbon began with an indulgent 80-minute Portuguese Journey massage, using ingredients inspired by the Indian Discovery Routes of Vasco da Gama in 1498. This exfoliated, moisturised, invigorated grandma inhaled the fragrance of clove buds and cinnamon before her muscles were relaxed with fragrant oils and she emerged rejuvenated and refreshed. The award-winning spa, which covers an area of 3,500 metres, is an oasis of warmth and calm, with a swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam bath, crushed ice fountains, sensory showers, Jacuzzi, gym and treatment rooms.
The family-friendly Corinthia Hotel Lisbon, which accommodates corporate and leisure guests in 518 rooms, is located a short metro distance or taxi ride from the city centre. Stylish bedrooms are spacious, well-equipped and designed for comfort with huge beds, luxurious bed linen and large TV screens. A daily supply of delicious plates of sweet and savoury canapÈs, fresh juice, fruit and nuts was a welcome treat. With views of the city, historic aqueducts and bridges,The Executive Club Sky Lounge on the 24th floor, offers a top drawer breakfast with anything and everything anyone could want from the buffet or cooked to order.
Staff make you feel special here and, in fact, in every area of the hotel. Portuguese and other European cuisine of the highest standard is served in all the hotel restaurants and the impressive, relaxing public areas, which include a delightful al fresco dining terrace and garden.
Lisbon, Portugal's City of Light, situated by the widest stretch of the Tagus River, benefits from the sunlight reflected on its calm waters. Rich in history and culture, this seafaring city pays homage to the wealth of great explorers who sailed from its harbour - Columbus, Prince Henry (not our Prince Harry) Magellan, Vasco de Gama and many more - with the riverside Discoveries Monument built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the navigator.
Nearby is the majestic Tower of Belem on the banks of the Tagus River, a lighthouse/fortress built in 1500 as another tribute to de Gama, as is the eleven mile long 25th April (or Vasco de Gama) bridge, completed in the 1960s. In 1755, an earthquake, tsunami and fire almost destroyed the city. The statue of King JosÈ, which stands in the PraÁa do ComÈrcio, represents Lisbon's pride, wealth and economic power in Europe and contributes to the diverse attractions in the city today.
Pastel-painted buildings, elegant tiled squares and tree-lined avenues of three and four storey mansions with wrought iron balconies fuse with artisan style outlets, contemporary restaurants, clubs and Art Nouveau cafes. Hand-crafted soaps infused with fine scents have been produced in Claus Portoís beauty and fragrance house for 130 years. Lovingly wrapped by hand in packaging with distinctive artwork, these soaps, along with perfumes, creams, candles, diffusers and colognes are showcased in glass-fronted cabinets. Claus Porto, located Lisbon's vibrant, cultural Chiado district, also houses a collection of archives and artefacts relating to their proud artisan history.
But we spied an undercover side to Lisbon. It was here novelist Ian Fleming was inspired to write Casino Royale, his acclaimed first James Bond novel. And author Graham Greene used his experience on the Lisbon desk for British Intelligence in his books.
Lisbonís trams are an integral part of the public transport network and cover areas where there's no access to the metro. The historic, yellow Remodelado trams rattle and screech through the narrow streets. The modern Siemens Articulado trams are more discreet.
Foodies flock to the buzzing, atmospheric Taberna Bairro do Avillez in Chiado, and no wonder, for renowned chef Jose Avillez utilises his expertise and flair to create a variety of traditional Portuguese dishes, tapas and charcuterie, but presented with a modern twist. In this informal, bustling, central patio-style restaurant with a vaulted ceiling and gallery, huge cured hams hang over the serving pass to the open kitchen. The plates kept coming as we tucked into horse mackerel filled cones, sliced baby octopus, beef croquettes and more. Fish, fish and more fish is on nearly every menu in the city. Sardines, of course, grouper, cod, mackerel, sword fish, shellfish, almost any kind of fish you can name, cooked in every way you can think of.
Located on the beachfront in the delightful resort of Cascais, the Mar do Inferno is famed for its enormous seafood platters of crab, lobster, salmon, mussels and prawns, plus the ocean and sunset views. Booking is advisable here. Our small group chose to share and still couldn't clear the plate.
You can't visit Lisbon without sampling the famous custard tarts, a plain description which doesn't due them justice, at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem. Staff have to sign a contract pledging not to reveal the ancient secret recipe dating back to 1837, and devised by nuns who lived at the premises when it was a convent. Who knows what happens to staff if they break their promise of secrecy. Perhaps there's a dungeon at the Castelo de Sao Jorge which isn't too far away! There's certainly a "Door of Treason" there! Master confectioners make and sell 20,000 of these irresistable vanilla cream-filled filo pastry tartlets in their cafe and over the counter to queues of people, every day, and no wonder.Crunchy, creamy and moreish, it's an unwritten rule you have to eat at least two.
Oh, go on, then.
The Corinthia Hotel Lisbon www.corinthia.com/Lisbon
Claus Porto www.clausporto.com/
Taberna Bairro do Aville www.joseavillez.pt/en/bairro-do-avillez
Maro do Inferno www.mardoinferno.pt
Antiga Confeitaria de Belem www.pasteisdebelem.pt/
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