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Chasing a Literary Lion in Lisbon

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Jul 22, 2020

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Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Tracing the life of a Portuguese poet becomes a way into the local culture.

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Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

With terracotta roofs that tumble down to the shimmering Tagus River, it’s easy to see how Lisbon could inspire wordsmiths. And it has, with José Saramago and Eça de Queiros emerging from these gorgeous surroundings. But it was another writer, Fernando Pessoa—poet, critic, and philosopher who lived from 1888 to 1935—who became, after his death, one of most significant literary figures of the 20th century. Today, tributes to Pessoa pepper the urban landscape and offer a way to understand the rhythms of Lisbon.  

Fontecruz Lizboa, Lisbon, Portugal

Day 1

Check into the sophisticated Fontecruz Lisboa, a member of the Autograph Collection, set downtown on Avenida da Liberdade. You’ll find a thoughtful design that combines elements of traditional Portuguese décor with contemporary luxury, channeling history in the public areas and 72 sumptuous rooms. Kick off your day with a coffee on the outdoor terrace of the hotel’s restaurant, Bistroa.

Your first stop is nearby, at Casa Fernando Pessoa—both a museum and where the polymath lived his last 15 years. See a reconstruction of his bedroom and private library, plus a sheet of paper with his last words: “I know not what tomorrow will bring.” Walk into the lobby of the Lisboa Pessoa Hotel to peruse a glass case with more Pessoa memorabilia.

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At the Cafe A Brasileira, you’ll see a bronze statue of Pessoa, and an Art Deco interior unchanged since the café opened in 1905. This is the original home of the bica—a strong espresso—so indulge. The fuel will carry you to the Bertrand bookstore on Garret Street; founded in 1732, it’s been declared by Guinness as the world’s oldest operating bookstore.

Enjoy a quiet dinner at another historic treasure: Café Martinho da Arcada, founded in 1778 and Pessoa’s favorite café.  

Jerónimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal

Day 2

Take your time following the Rua dos Douradoresa place of inspiration for Portuguese authors—to Largo de São Carlos, the square facing the apartment where Pessoa was born. Continue on to the Praça do Comércio to see its ornate buildings and massive equestrian sculpture, with the Tagus River just beyond. Enjoy lunch at a riverside café and watch life go by.

Then head out to the Belém district to visit Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This sprawling, stunning building took 100 years to build, and you could easily spend the rest of the day here. It’s also where Pessoa was laid to rest, making for a fitting finish to the exploration of his life.

Penha Longa Resort

Day 3

Today is about relaxation. Make the 30-minute drive to Sintra and the Penha Longa Resort, surrounded by lush parkland. The massive, ornate building traces its origins to the 14th century, but it’s been transformed in to a 5-star property with 194 luxurious rooms, eight restaurants (including the Michelin-starred LAB), indoor and outdoor pools, 27 golf holes designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and a Thai-inspired spa.

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If you have the energy, the nearby World Heritage-designated Pena Palace makes for another fascinating historic discovery. Or just kick back and let the Portuguese scenery inspire you to write some works of your own.

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