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Travel inspiration: why Lisbon should be your next city break

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Susan Riley
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Stylist editor Susan Riley visits Europe’s most buzzed-about city – and finds a coastline of solace and simplicity nearby.

Lisbon is a total charmer. I know this because I’ve not met one person who has anything but amazing things to say about it. “I LOVE LISBON,” they yell, as if brainwashed like a fully-fledged cult member. And now too, dear reader, I am a member of said cult.

That’s right: I LOVE LISBON. Why the accolades? Hard to pinpoint exactly, it just feels nice. An incredibly laidback vibe mixed with insanely good food, drinks ripe for merriment (I defy you to not have your head turned by white port and tonic) and some sublime architecture and ornate tiles thrown in. Wonderfully manageable to wander, this is a city to feel at home in rather than try to conquer.

It’s also great for toning your glutes on its hillocks (pack flats, it’s cobbletastic) and primely positioned to twin with a chic beach break away from the crowds. More of that later.

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To sample this adored city (Madonna and Michael Fassbender recently bought homes here), I head to the Príncipe Real neighbourhood at the top of the Bairro Alto, where the Memmo Príncipe Real sits tucked down a side street, lording it up with its hip alfresco bar that shares a terrace with the slickest of lap pools. Central, but with a local vibe, this district is charmingly relaxed, full of concept stores and great eateries. It’s also an area that Memmo heartily embraces and is proud to call home. On arrival they offer guests walking tours and supply a locally crafted ‘host hat’ in every room which has suggestions of what to do tucked discreetly beneath it. One day our hat directed us to Silk, a rooftop club overlooking the city; the next to the Príncipe Real garden for its Saturday farmers’ market. It provides a local’s perspective that makes you feel instantly at home.

After a hearty hotel breakfast, every day the dilemma is where to eat next. Indeed, I’d navigate Lisbon on where to stop for food alone; seriously, just let your tastebuds drag you round the city. Metres away on Rua Dom Pedro V 81 is Tapisco, with its delightful mix of Portuguese petiscos (snacks) and Spanish-style tapas. Order the cuttlefish tempura, squid ink paella and both dark and milk chocolate mousses for dessert nirvana. I could have eaten there every night.

Susan basks in the lap pool of luxury 

Other food stops? Down the hill in the Chiado district is Palácio Chiado, an upmarket food hall in a renovated lavish palace. Then down to the waterfront and the Cais do Sodré neighbourhood to visit the invincible Time Out food market – 40 brilliantly curated food and drink outlets. We headed to Marlene Vieira for seafood bites with a Portuguese twist, Santini for its famous ice cream, and Manteigaria for their melt-in-the-mouth custard tarts (pastéis de nata) washed down with a shot of ginjinha (local cherry liqueur). Seriously yum. The only problem is being too full to get round everywhere.

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On my list was also Atira-te ao Rio at the foot of the Cristo Rei elevator for its tiny menu and sangria servings by the water’s edge; former boat station turned restaurant Último Porto; and Sud and Darwin’s Cafe in the museum district of Belém. Sorry stomach, until next time.

Food aside, the only touristy must is Castelo de São Jorge, perched above the Alfama district, built by the Moors in the 11th century and transformed into a royal palace in the 13th century. Get tramcar 12 or 28, bus 37 or, as we did, walk up.

The views are divine, as is sitting with a drink by a disused cannon. Other than that, sample Lisboa from one of the countless miradouros (parks on a hill with great views, usually with buskers worth their salt). The closest to Memmo is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, whose vista takes in the castle, Baixa (downtown) and the river Tagus. Plus, it’s right next to the Elevador da Gloria, one of Lisbon’s famous yellow funiculars, which has been clanking up and down the hill since the 19th century. As with everything here, you will love it. Everyone does.

Rooms at Memmo Príncipe Real from £130; memmohotels.com

Images: Memmo Hotels