Located near the mouth on the right bank of the Tagus River Lisbon is the westernmost capital of Europe. The historic city center is composed of seven hills, and some of the streets to narrow to allow the passage of vehicles. About 2.8 million people live in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (which represents approximately 27% of the country's population) The Lisbon region is the wealthiest region in Portugal and it is well above the European Union's GDP per capita average
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest in Western Europe, predating other modern European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by centuries. Ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the 5th century, it was captured by the Moors in the 8th century. In 1147, the Crusaders under Afonso Henriques reconquered the city and since then it has been a major political, economic, and cultural center of Portugal.
Most of the Portuguese expeditions of the Age of Discovery left Lisbon during the period from the end of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century, including Vasco da Gama's expedition to India in 1498. The 16th century was Lisbon's golden era: the city was the European hub of commerce between Africa, India, the Far East and later, Brazil, and acquired great riches by exploiting the trade in spices, slaves, sugar, textiles and other goods.
In November 1755, the city was destroyed by a devastating earthquake, which killed an estimated 30% of the population and destroyed 85 percent of the city's structures.
The decision was made too completely rebuild the city in the Parisian style of star, or 5 street, intersections. Today like Paris Lisbon is a city of grand boulevards and intimate neighborhoods. Street cars and even a tramway ease getting from place to place and add immense character to the city. Some of the must-see places in Lisbon are:
Jeronimos - a World Heritage Gothic Monastery.
The medieval Belem Tower that stands guard over the Targa River.
Sao Jorge Moorish Castle and palace ruins.
Sao Roque Church & Santa Catarina Church, are exceptionally lavish masterpieces of Baroque art and style.
Madre de Deus Convent, formerly a lavish convent it is now a museum housed in a beautiful church.
Alfama district one of the oldest parts of the city with charming streets that are a world away from modern Lisbon.
Lisbon’s nightlife is becoming one of Europe’s best with stylish bar and restaurants. Cocktail Culture is the vibe here as many places offer over 100 unique cocktails. If you don’t like your drink trade it in for a different one!
The fairy tale castles and palaces of Sintra are only 40 minutes away. Nearby the towns of the Portuguese Riviera, once famous for intrigue and spies, are now a surfer’s paradise. A little further north are the European surfing mecca’s of Ericera and Nazare. But if your taste is more historic the medieval towns of Obidos and the rococo palace Queluz are easy trips from Lisbon.
Portugal is a country of surprises. Lisbon deftly blends a little of the old with the demands of a modern capital. And if you tire of it there are medieval villages, swanky beaches, and surfing mecca’s nearby.
The Portuguese Riviera
Within an hour of Lisbon you’ll discover Sintra, and the Portuguese Rivera. The towns of Sintra, Cascais, and Estoril neighbor each other but are completely unique. Sintra, in the cool foothills of the mountains, was the king’s resort town. The Sintra National Palace, the Pena Palace, and Quinta da Regaleira are the must-see places in Sintra, but the village has more than 10 national monuments. Including ornate palaces, ancient ruins and decorative houses. The Pena Palace is the standout monument of Sintra, known for a whimsical design and sweeping views. The vividly painted palace was designed to reflect a scene from an opera. The interior of the palace is as it was in 1910, when the nobility fled Portugal due to the revolution. Completely different, the Quinta da Regaleira, is an extravagant 19th century gothic mansion that is surrounded with some of the most elaborate gardens of Sintra. They are a joy to explore with decorative fortifications, mystic religious symbols, secret passages and caves. One of the finest examples of Islamic inspired architecture is the 19th century mansion, Palacio de Monserrate. The palace overflows with intricate geometrical patterns, fine carved stone detail, and stunning Indian inspired stone inlaying. The palace’s fine detail is to such perfection that it could only be funded by England’s richest man, Sir Francis Cook, a merchant who amassed a fortune exporting textiles and wool. Just a few miles away Cascais is a delightful fishing town that is the region’s most popular holiday destination. Historically the town was a favorite with the Portuguese nobility, and today the town is an elegant blend of grand 19th century architecture, traditional Portuguese charm and outstanding tourist facilities The heart of Cascais is the pretty Old Town that overlooks the fishing harbor. Cascais has been a holiday destination since the early 19th century. It was a minor fishing port but this changed when King Fernando II proclaimed Cascais as his favored destination for his summer retreat.
Estoril has been inhabited for centuries. There are remains of Roman villas in the parish that date back to the first millennium. During the Second World War, the region was the center of spies and diplomatic secrecy. During the Second World War European nobility such as King Umberto II of Italy, Carol II of Romania, the Count of Paris, and Spain's Don Juan lived here. Hollywood actor Orson Wells stayed at the town's legendary Hotel Palacio at the time, and was reportedly "stunned" by the number of kings at the hotel during his stay. Estoril became a major tourist destination with the construction of the grand Casino, which to this day is still one of the largest casinos in Europe. The writer Ian Fleming was inspired to create his legendary hero, James Bond, based upon the intrigue and events that played out in the historic casino.
We’ll have a busy day exploring these towns, and you will begin to see why Portugal is a country of surprises.
There is a great website about the Making of Her Majesty s' Secret Service visit On the Tracks Of 007