Magazine article The Spectator

In Love with Lisbon

Magazine article The Spectator

In Love with Lisbon

Article excerpt

Novelist Monica Ali in the Portuguese capital

I first went to Lisbon with my husband in 1998 and fell in love with Alfama, the old historical part. It's so high in the hills that it was not affected by the great earthquake of 1775 and has remained intact. From a distance it looks magnificent but when you're in it it's all winding, cobbled, narrow Moorish streets, sagging red-tiled roofs, peeling paint, crumbling facades and iron balconies. It's very romantic, and exotic smells - coffee, fish and wonderful Portuguese food - waft from all the little cafes.

There's so much to explore: always something to discover. Last year we went to the Coach Museum for the first time. It doesn't sound much fun, but the kids loved it - mine are eight and ten. They showed the children the holes in the coach floors and explained how all the grand people went to the loo. The Portuguese are brilliant with kids, more so than in any other European country. It takes forever going shopping with them as the grocer gives them biscuits and the butcher takes time to give them chorizo to taste.

The kids also love the Belem tower on the river - it's the medieval tower from where Vasco de Gama and other great navigators set sail and it now has a great museum.

Vasco de Gama's body is in the Saint Geronimo monastery, which is a huge tourist attraction, but it's cool in its beautiful, ornate courtyards and a joy to visit.

There are lots of other good museums in Lisbon. There's the Naval History Museum, all model ships and guns and cannons and my son loves it. …

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