My journey to Lisbon kicked off with an eating extravaganza before I even boarded the plane. United Airlines has invested $120 million to transform its terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport into a gastronomic haven. Travelers can expect more fun before they board with the glam redesign that features 55 dining venues, celebrity chefs, cushy lounges and amenities galore. These aren’t the standard eateries found in airports across the country either. Starchitect David Rockwell, whose past projects include sets for the Academy Awards and A- list eateries such as Nobu, created this space with the intent to dazzle.
I sampled juicy meatballs and oysters from Happy Clam whose menu was crafted by star toque Mario Carbone of Parm and Dirty French fame. Cuisines to satisfy every palate abound, from authentic ramen and lobster to gourmet Neapolitan-style pizza, sushi and more. An iPad at every seat lets United Airlines customers pay their checks using frequent-flier miles and monitor flight info.
My sybaritic journey continued onboard in United business class with a meal of tamale filled breast of chicken with corn and yucca, fine wine, excellent service and spacious lie flat seats that ensured a serene sleep so I arrived well rested in Lisbon.
I set out to explore Portugal’s capital, all the rage this year. Fashionistas love this coastal city on the Tagus River with its pastel colored buildings, sun drenched cafes and au courant ateliers. An insider tour to meet and greet some of the leading designers and tastemakers, arranged by the Corinthia Hotel Lisbon where I was residing, left me agog – as did the locale’s gastronomic cuisine.
My first stop was the super hip LX Factory. This former manufacturing district has been transformed into Lisbon’s new sceney playground dotted with trendy eateries, galleries, hip shops and boutiques, even an entire bookstore built around an old printing press.
Think NYC Soho in the early days when it buzzed with creative types. After meandering about I ducked into the vintage interiors of the very cool A Praca where I lunched on regional specialties and Sangria.
For dessert I headed to favorite foodie hangout, Time Out Lisboa Magazine’s handsome Mercado da Ribeira. This lively fresh food market hosts 35 kiosks such as the famed Santini where I relished what may be the best ice cream on the planet.
A traditional yellow tram took me on a scenic ride through palm tree-lined streets to Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district. Here I sipped a glass of port at an outdoor café amid smartly clad Lisboans and drank in the stunning river views.
Speaking of stunning, designer Valentim Quaresma’s futuristic jewelry and accessories electrified. I was captivated meeting this extraordinary artist and watching him at work in his atelier. His innovative collection always garners attention at Lisbon Fashion week. Lady Gaga is a fan, having featured his fanciful creations in her productions.
Then onto Portugal’s most luxurious shoe store. Luis Onofre’s glamorous footwear adorns such notables as Michelle Obama, Naomi Watts and Penelope Cruz. The renowned designer looks like a movie star himself with charisma and charm to match. He proudly showed me photos of his grandmother, an elegant lady who launched the brand in 1938 by meticulously hand-crafting every item from the highest quality materials. Continuing in that tradition, he creates exquisite works of art with his inspiring aesthetic and attention to detail. Perhaps the prince will slip the marigold stilettos on my feet.
Next I visited Concept Store 39a that everyone is buzzing about. My curiosity was piqued as I entered through the overlong electric green-lit passageway with black art installations suspended from the ceiling. Celeb owner Raquel Prates, model, actress, TV personality and first Portuguese woman to grace the cover of Vogue, greeted me and showed me around. Her new shop features a constantly changing mélange of art, lifestyle, beauty and fashion by talented local artists. Among the eclectic items – a designer bicycle buggy.
The sunshine called out for a stroll through Chiado, Lisbon’s trendiest neighborhood peppered with chic shops, tiled facades and fashionable Lisboans. Afterwards I headed to the very ‘in’ Rio Maravilha for a sunset cocktail. Perched on the 4th floor, this massive bar/lounge/eatery/concert venue features a spacious outdoor terrace with a striking art installation and Tagus River views.
For dinner, superstar chef Jose Avillez’s Mini Bar did not disappoint. Set inside the iconic Sao Luiz Theater with retro décor the 6 act tasting, which I highly recommend, is a gastronomic feast. Standouts such as prawns in ceviche, tuna tartar temaki and scallops with Thai flavors topped off by the final act, a lemon- lime globe of sorbet with a delightfully creamy filling, deserve a standing ovation.
After dinner I retired to the 5-star Corinthia Hotel Lisbon, my home away from home that offered all the creature comforts a gal could want. My stylish and spacious suite with glorious views over the 18th Century Aqueduct struck the perfect combination of elegance and modernity.
I especially liked the sitting area with its lovely divan. My tub called out for a candlelit bubble bath while I sipped champagne. Softest linens and a comfy bed lulled me into dreamland.
My guilty pleasure was the hotel Spa. This wellness abode features an array of pampering treatments as well as an Aqua area based on ancient hot and cold bathing rituals that revitalize and relax. Thermal facilities such as a hydrotherapy pool, cold plunge, ice fountain, sensory showers plus cooling walk followed by a Jacuzzi and sauna left me sublimely rejuvenated.
As to the cuisine, all of the restaurants were excellent. Each venue served up tasty, regional dishes made with the freshest ingredients paired with fine Portuguese wine. A highlight was the superb octopus salad, codfish carpaccio plus lime risotto with lobster and caviar dinner at the hotel’s Tipico Restaurant.
Evenings, the stylish Tempus Lounge Bar is a local hot spot where guests kick back to the cool sounds of Miguel Vieira on the piano. His repertoire went from Ben E. Kings’s hit ‘Stand by Me’ to classics like ‘As Time Goes By’ to soulful Portuguese Fado. This was also the locale for the coveted port workshop with Master Bar Manager Nelson Antunes where I learned about and tasted exquisite varieties of Portugal’s famous drink. The wonderful staff were always friendly, professional and caring. They made me feel like I was part of the Corinthia family. For a traveler visiting a foreign destination this is truly special.
Just outside Lisbon, there’s more: I hopped a helicopter piloted by beautiful Lisboan Claudia for a ride over Portugal’s coastline to Herdade da Comporta beach.
We touched down at SAL restaurant set on a pristine swath of sand with only the sound of birds and breaking waves. I lunched on fish soup and grouper while basking in the sun and azure sea views.
An excursion to Sintra, just a 40 minute drive passing picturesque villages, was truly memorable. This legendary locale with its charming town, breathtaking landscapes and fantastical Pena National Palace has long inspired romantics, poets and artists. It will surely capture your heart. The enchanting palace is said to have inspired Disney’s Cinderella Castle. Perhaps the prince will appear with those marigold stilettos.
How to Go: United Airlines offers direct flights with seamless service and top amenities in business class from Newark Liberty Airport to Lisbon. Additionally travelers can now enjoy the revamped ‘foodie’ United Terminal.