(CNN) – Lisbon is in full renaissance. Europe’s latest capital of affordable rents, fantastic nightlife and gorgeous streets, which climb into the hills from the Tagus River, have seen younger travelers arrive in droves in recent years, enjoying extended stays thanks to to a dedicated “digital nomad”. visas
As a result, the city has acquired a youthful, multicultural and international atmosphere, helping to attract tourists from all over the world in the process.
However, it is not just those who seek to live and work here that are driving this change.
Walk the streets of Portugal’s bustling capital and it’s impossible to escape the sense of confidence that hangs over the place.
Locals have really started to embrace their Portuguese identity, unashamedly showcasing the best of traditional food and culture, from delicious cream cake pastry shop in the neighborhood of Belem to the painful sounds of fado singing in Alfama.
Lisbon has been a magnet for young travelers in recent years.
Alexander Spatari/Moment RF/Getty Images
Everything goes to create what the citizens of Lisbon call “alma” or soul, something absolutely unique in this wonderful place.
Visitors can see it on special nights such as the Feast of Saint Anthony on June 13, perhaps the biggest night in Lisbon’s calendar, when locals celebrate their patron saint with long processions that run late into the night, preceded by epic meals of sardines and local wine in the streets.
But “alma” goes beyond one night.
Come here at any time of the year and you get the feeling that life should be lived in public. This could be in the bohemian streets of the Bairro Alto neighborhood, where restaurants line narrow alleyways. Or at ultra-hip places like Park, a bar atop a multi-storey car park that’s become synonymous with hipster cool, not to mention incredible views. Everyone is welcome and the atmosphere stays vibrant until well into the morning.
Young fado star Gisela João puts Portugal’s traditional music on its head.
However, “Alma” isn’t just about hanging out with friends or enjoying languid meals outdoors. It is also found in traditional music, especially fado.
Marrying poetry and song and born in the streets of the beautiful neighborhoods of Alfama and Mouraria in Lisbon, it is more than a simple expression of sadness and melancholy. It is rather, explains fado singer Gisela João, an expression of Portuguese intensity and tradition.
“I think that Fado, is the most true… how we can be expressing personality [the] Portuguese country, Portuguese people,” he says as he walks the streets of Alfama.
Gisela João — a fado singer with a difference.
João is not the archetypal fado singer of yesteryear. He’s not wearing a black dress and he’s also younger than most stereotypical fado singers.
“Why should I dress like a girl who grew up in the 40s and 50s?” she asks “I am not who I am.”
She, however, is deeply immersed in the history of music.
“I moved here because I came to sing in a fado restaurant,” he says. “In this street, for example, I remember walking down the street and hearing: fado coming out of the windows like here, one here singing, another here… It was as if you were in the middle of Fado.”
He also wants to disprove the idea that sadness is what defines Fado.
“For me, [Fado] it’s about poetry and the poem for me, a very beautiful poem, is a poem that can be talked about [the] everyone’s life… when I sing is when I feel I can express myself”.
This is evident in João’s beautiful voice, which echoes through the neighborhood. It is a sound that is quintessentially Portuguese.
“We are very intense people,” he says with a laugh. “We care a lot. You come to Portugal and it’s very normal that you meet someone and that person immediately invites you to go home, have dinner, be with friends and family and throw a big party just to welcome you… We’re dramatic!”
An era of discoveries
Solo sailor Ricardo Diniz knows his way around the Tagus River. He explains why Lisbon is the “ocean capital” of Europe.
Lisbon can feel like it’s half land and half sea, with the wide stretch of the Tagus River leading into the vast Atlantic. This, after all, is a country that is still very proud of its 500 years of maritime history.
Lisbon’s famous Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Monument to the Discoveries, located in the Belem neighborhood on the banks of the Tagus, pays tribute to the country’s great explorers.
Ricardo Diniz: “We are very proud of our past.”
Henry the Navigator is depicted alongside historical figures such as Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, a tribute to Lisbon’s place at the heart of maritime discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Ricardo Diniz, an intrepid solo surfer turned corporate trainer, continues this long tradition, bringing the past into the present.
“We are very proud of our past. We achieved something incredible over 500 years ago, and we are reminded of that every day,” he says, pointing from the deck of his boat across the water.
“We’re on the ocean. We have this amazing river.” When he returns from long sea voyages, he says that his pride increases as he sees Lisbon.
Diniz says that while water is key to Lisbon’s traditions, as well as its present and future as a modern city, changes in recent years have been driven by outsiders talking about how great it is. place
“In the last five years, especially, many people who come from abroad to Lisbon are surprised by what they find”, he says. “I think they are the true ambassadors of our city and our country, people from abroad who speak highly of Portugal.”
A city of trust
Chef José Avillez chose Portuguese cuisine over French cuisine for his luxury restaurants. His gamble paid off and he has put Lisbon on the culinary map.
Talk to the locals here and it won’t be long before they remind you of the great explorers and the Age of Discovery some 500 years ago. However, there wasn’t always much to say about its more modern past. However, much of this has changed in the past 20 years, as this sense of confidence has been felt throughout the city with Lisbon’s resurgence as a tourist destination and place to work and play.
This is particularly clear in Lisbon’s food scene.
Acclaimed chef Jose Avillez has championed fine Portuguese cuisine for years. Fifteen years ago he started introducing the humblest of local dishes, the sardine, to his high-end restaurant.
Jose Avillez: Diners expect “the soul of Portuguese food”.
They are, he says, “… very, very special, because it’s something we only have three, four months, a year, maximum.
“When Portuguese [people] come to a contemporary portuguese restaurant…expect to have modern food but have the soul of portuguese food. So we have a lot of respect for sardines.”
You can’t help but return to this sense of soul when you’re in Lisbon. It is, explains Avillez, a respect for tradition while bringing the dishes into the future.
“I would say that the Portuguese cuisine that is passed down from grandmothers to granddaughters, from mothers to daughters is the art of bringing flavors together with simplicity, with love. [That] that’s what we try to do, even if you do it very creatively and very creatively – if it’s good food, it’s a Michelin star of two, whatever, what you have to bring to your guests is something delicious And, I’ll say 90% of the time, pretty simple.”
This is true of Avillez’s cuisine, from its simple sardine recipes to its delicious steak.
Pastel de nata: a Portuguese classic.
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And of course, no meal in Lisbon would be complete without a famous patís de nata, the custard cake that hails from Belem. These little treats have gone global in recent years, but they taste best right here in this glittering city.
Lisbon’s renaissance is something to behold, especially with something so delicious on hand. A place that has changed in many ways in the 21st century, but has managed to stay true to its roots, its past and its fascinating history.