I recently escorted a fam trip to Portugal on behalf the Lisbon Visitors and Convention Bureau. The two night whistle-stop tour of the capital city was designed to showcase some of Lisbon’s best event facilities, accommodation, cultural attractions and nightlife. While I know and love Lisbon well, it was the first visit for several of the eight UK MICE industry guests that were joining me.
We took a morning flight with Portugal’s national airline Tap from Gatwick, in just two and a half hours we left rainy London behind and had arrived in beautiful, sunny Lisbon. We headed straight for Saint Georges Castle, one of the oldest forts in the region. Set on a hill top overlooking the whole city, parts of the stone structure date to the 2nd century BC, an onsite museum provided the group with a fascinating insight into Lisbon’s rich history.
After a delicious cod lunch (a local favourite) at the family run Casa Do Leão restaurant, we headed for our hotel. Our accommodation for both nights was the luxurious DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Lisbon, where we were given a fresh-baked cookie on arrival. Set in the Saldanha area of Lisbon, the modern property is just a stone’s throw from the city’s major tourist attractions, shopping districts and within easy reach of the beach.
After checking-in and freshening up, we had the opportunity to take an old-style tuk tuk trip around the historic quarters of Lisbon. Open to the elements and with a top speed of about 40mph, we raced through the cobbled back streets of the city. The driver of my vehicle clearly loved his job and made the thrilling journey feel like a rollercoaster ride; whizzing past old houses, boutique shops and traditional street stalls.
Then before dinner, at the nearby five star Hotel Tivoli, I joined the group on a short river cruise aboard the majestic sailing boat Westenwind (pictured). With a capacity up to 33 guests, the ship is an 80ft Klipper, typical of those used on the rivers of The Netherlands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sailing up Lisbon’s River Tagus provided stunning views of city from a unique perspective. One of our guests said it was fascinating to think that the same stretch of river was used by the great Portuguese explorers on their way to Asia and the Americas.
We spent much of the second day in the quaint fishing port of Cascais and in the province of Sintra. The strikingly beautiful area benefits from a rocky mountain range, lush greenery and mile upon mile of pristine beaches. Named ‘Hill of the Moon’ by its Celtic settlers and ‘Mons Lunae’ by the Romans, Sintra is also home to an extensive natural park that includes Europe’s most westerly point. My favourite part of the fam was the transfer from the Hilton to Sintra, when we rode in brightly coloured vintage convertible Beetles (pictured). The open top classic cars were the perfect vehicles in which to enjoy the stunning scenery along the Atlantic coast.
That evening we ate at Restaurante Kais, back in central Lisbon. The former warehouse is one of Lisbon’s coolest nightspots; its contemporary design reflects its industrial past and the internationally inspired menu uses only the finest locally sourced ingredients. I opted for the delicious Tenderloin Tornedó in cheese sauce served with mashed potatoes and pure butter; one of the best meals I have ever had in Portugal!
After checking out of the hotel the next morning we embarked on a ‘Go Car’ tour of Lisbon. The new concept provides an entirely new way of exploring the city in nifty yellow convertibles. The tiny cars talk to you as you take a self-guided tour complete with commentary; incredibly the vehicles have a personality and even a sense of humour! Then, before departing for the airport we had just enough time to take an exhilarating speed boat tour in and around Lisbon’s historic docks. The outing provided a great contrast to the tall ship experience earlier in the trip, and was the perfect way to bring our visit to an end.