View of Lisbon looking west.

View of Lisbon looking west.

Last weekend we decided to take a trip over to see Lisbon. Flights were very cheap from Nice and we’ve been wanting to visit for some time. We stayed in a very nice boutique hotel in central Lisbon called Lis Baixa (ask for room 305 or 405 as they are much larger). Good price, nice breakfast included and the people are super friendly.

We were also there on business as we’ve been looking into establishing residency in Portugal under the “non-habitual residency” program, a program that has significant fiscal advantages and would provide me with a visa that would allow me to stay in Europe as long as I want. Tax-wise, Portugal will not tax you on income earned outside of Portugal for up to ten years. So we wanted to go over and make sure we liked the place first, before we signed up.

And we did. Lisbon is a great city, and not overly huge with only 800,000 people. The whole country only has less than 10 million. It is a small country – 10% the size of British Columbia and 1% the size of all of Canada! You can drive across the country in a few hours or drive north to south easily in a day.

City gates and mosaic pedestrian-only roads

City gates and mosaic pedestrian-only roads

Downtown has many streets that are pedestrian only, paved with mosaics of black and white rocks. There is the continual ongoing sound of construction as Lisbon continues to transform itself, renovating classic buildings in popular neighborhoods such as Alfama, Baixa, Chiado, and Bairro Alto. There is definitely a real estate frenzy going on here, amplified by the non-habitual residency program, and also the “Golden Visa” program, which basically allows foreigners to obtain immediately residency (although you don’t have to live there) for an investment of 1 million euros or by buying real estate valued at $500,000 (and this may be lowered to $300,000).

It reminds me what Vancouver went through went it offered a similar program and so many people from Hong Kong took advantage of it back when Hong Kong was transferred back into Chinese hands. Well, the Chinese are the main people taking advantage of the Golden Visa program in Portugal as well, and it seems to be driving up prices. Many are buying sight unseen. Will be interesting to see where this goes.

Castle of Sao Jorge

Castle of Sao Jorge

Lisbon is like a bowl that is open on one side to the sea. To the east is the Sao Jorge Castle high on the hillside, with Alfama, the oldest area of Lisbon, at its base. The castle has been wonderfully restored and has an excellent museum, showing the transition from its earliest settlements in the 7th century BC, until the 19th century. Alfama is the old Medieval city, which was not damaged much by the 17th earthquake that hit 9.0 and destroyed a lot of the city.

View from Hotel do Chiado Sky Bar looking east.

View from Hotel do Chiado Sky Bar looking east.

Hotel do Chiado has a lovely Sky Bar and offers great views of Lisbon. It also has an oyster bar and a good selection of wines. We and a bottle of Roquette & Cazes wine from the Douro region, ,that is a joint venture between the Lynch Bages family, whose boutique hotel and vineyard we visited in Bordeaux, and a Portuguese wine family (Roquette). Great wine, washed down well with their cheese plate.

On the west hillside is the fashionable neighborhood of Chiado, with its high-end shopping and real estate. A little further is Bairro Alto, where the nightlife goes on all night long, with lots of restaurants, cafes and nightclubs. A great place to take in the view is at the sky bar at the Hotel do Chiado, right next to the Armazens do Chiado shopping center and the historic elevator.

Cascais

Cascais

We rented a car one day and drove west out to Cascais and then up the west coast to Sintra. Cascais is a touristy beach town with nice beaches and some surf. The west coast opens up to the Atlantic ocean and when we were driving the wind was blowing and the sea was very restless. It is a very dramatic coastline, high hills with rocky cliffs below that are pounded by the relentless sea. We wound our way up to Sintra, but it was now mid’ day and all the tourists were out. Sintra looks amazing but we couldn’t find a parking place anywhere. We ended up finding a restaurant outside of town and definitely plan to go back when we return in September.

We returned back to Lisbon and that night we walked the streets of Alfama. What a great neighborhood, with windy streets, trolley cars going up and down, all sorts of real estate styles, and many churches and monuments and views of the city and river. It is definitely our favorite area (so far) of Lisbon, and I can’t think of a city that is as fun to walk. Paris is great in its way, but this just has a lot more funkiness thrown in.