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Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, is something of a mystery. Often passed over for its louder neighbors in Spain, with their bullfighting, flamenco dancers, and wild bursts of color, Lisbon is not always the first choice for groups planning their next European adventure.
But why is that?
Well, for starters, there’s something deeply melancholy about the place. Somehow a travel guide filled with big grins and beaming sunshine doesn’t fit here. This is precisely what makes it beautiful. Here, the pretensions and grandeur of Paris and Rome give way to something humbler and altogether soulful.
It’s understated. A little beaten down. This is personified in the determined faces of elderly residents, as they somehow, slowly and determinedly, ascend even the steepest of the city’s cobbled streets (Lisbon is built on seven hills, meaning comfortable shoes are a must).
It’s felt in the deep, resonating notes of the Fado music that fills the air each night. Born from a long established fishing economy, these songs were often written by the women left behind, who wondered when- if ever- their men would come home from sea.
It is also quite literally painted into the fabric of the city. During times of oppression and fascist rule, Lisbon’s citizens, in their own uniquely poetic way, took to the streets and used the city’s walls as their canvas for hopes and dreams of a new world, resulting in a city filled with art. Today, graffiti artists come from all over the world to paint Lisbon’s walls, legally or otherwise, resulting in an ever changing outdoor gallery with thickly layered paint chips sprinkling the streets.
A short journey outside of Lisbon takes you to Sintra and Pena Palace, a rare example of romanticism that defies the current times. Winding through a lush green forest blanketed in mist, you’re suddenly rewarded with a sight that’s impossible to take in all at once. Once upon a time in the 18th century, an enraptured prince Ferdinand came upon a monastery. Upon becoming King, he used deep pockets, status, and a passion for architecture unconstrained by modern planning laws -and arguably reason- to build over the austere monastery with a mish mash of architectural styles, from medieval to Islamic. The result is a shape-shifting jumble of turrets and spires which constantly change the style and color of the palace, depending on the angle, giving you a delightful sense of never being able to explore it fully.
To return from Lisbon is to come back from an otherworldly experience. One that will haunt you in just the right way, imprinting the city on your memory and inspiring repeat visits. Lisbon doesn’t give up her secrets easily, but, for the more discerning group traveler, there are untold riches to be discovered.
For unique and innovative customized itineraries to Lisbon and beyond, please contact the tour planning experts at GroupsOnly by Goway:
Article written by Rebecca Goldsack Smith, GroupsOnly’s Europe Team Lead
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