Guyan Mitra

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About me

I'm a freelance travel writer, editor and author. I write and edit travel features and books for Lonely Planet, the Sunday Times, the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, A Hedonist's Guide To..., Esquire and many others.

I have been a regular visitor to Lisbon for the past thirteen years. I first visted on an interrail trip as an eager 16 year-old backpacker and immediately fell in love with the city for its cobbled mish-mash charm and Atlantic-sprayed air. I have many close ties with the city, and working as a travel journalist, I continue to return regularly. I’ve often spent months at a time in the city, living in an apartment in Bairro Alto or Cascais, where I would eat and drink my way around the town by night and sleep it off on the suburban beaches by day. I consider the city a second home and when I’m not there I can be found seeking out the best pastel de nata or bica in the many Portuguese enclaves of North West London.

My Lisbon

Where I always grab a coffee: going for a coffee in Lisbon is as much about getting my pastry fix as it is tending to caffeine cravings. If I’m anywhere near Belem, I’ll go into Pasteis de Belem for the world’s best pastel de nata (custard tart). If I’m closer to the centre of town I’ll head into Café A Brasíleira, for excellent coffee, Old World charm and bustling street tables.

My favourite stroll: in the summer, I like to head out to the beachside suburbs of Cascais and Estoril. There’s a lovely walk along the seafront promenade that connects the two towns. I also like to take one of the free bikes at Cascais train station and cycle out to the wild beaches at Guincho and beyond.

Fiction for inspiration: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler will give you an insight into 16th-century Lisbon and the mystical world of kabbalah during the Jewish persecutions of the time. While the book is set in a very different Lisbon from the one you’ll see today, it does bring alive the medieval cobbled streets of the historic quarters and gives the city’s religious sites real poignancy.

Where to be seen: with its penthouse views across the city, members bar Silk (free membership can be arranged easily online) in Bairro Alto is where the beautiful people hangout these days.

The most breathtaking view: position yourself behind any of the cannons that protect the medieval Castelo de São Jorge. Here you’ll get a view that spans over the city’s church spires, terracotta rooftops and yawning Atlantic-facing estuary.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: for real inner-city calm you can’t beat the city’s ornate and serene churches and cathedrals, Basílica da Estrela, Igreja De São Roque, Igreja de São Vicente da Fora and Sé Cathedral.

Shopaholics beware: the vintage tailors, perfumeries, herbalists and haberdashers in the timeworn Baixa district are a maze of skills, crafts and trade.

City soundtrack: while the melancholic fado music is the traditional sound of the city, 21st-century Lisbon swings to a more Samba sound. My favourite local artist is Sara Tavares, have a listen to the lovely ‘Balancé’.

Don’t leave without... partying till dawn then getting a freshly baked pão com chorizo (chrozio baked in bread, or a Portuguese hot dog, if you like) from one of the city’s just-opened bakeries.

My expert information

Cascais (Estremadura, Portugal, Europe,

If you’re looking to mix southern European sun with urban accessibility, then look no further than Cascais (pronounced kush-kaish). It’s a lovely little seaside town - just 30 minutes or so from Lisbon’s city centre - with simple seafront restaurants and petite sandy coves. Rather than stay in the city, I often like to use Cascais as a coastal launching pad to explore the surrounding wild beaches of Guincho (8kms away) and beyond. It’s also a short hop into Lisbon’s city centre (40 minutes by train or 20 minutes by car).

Estoril (Estremadura, Portugal, Europe,

A summer resort of old, folk have been holidaying in Estoril since the Second World War. As a result of her neutrality, various great and (not so) good characters from the aristo-exiled community flocked into Portugal, settling on Estoril as a pleasant spot to see out any trouble in their respective motherlands. The region hence became known as the Portuguese Riviera, renowned for jolly international frivolities while the rest of Europe was at each other’s throats.

Lisbon (Estremadura, Portugal, Europe,

It’s a truly vintage city

Old World tradition and history still play a part in the daily lives of every Lisboeta, who still live in a vintage era. Just witness the commuters trundling along to work in 100-year-old wooden trams, or wander the Baixa district, where age-old herbalists, haberdasheries and tailors rub shoulders in the city centre’s most ornate streets.

Sintra (Estremadura, Portugal, Europe,

High up in the dewy hills on the outskirts of Lisbon you’ll find the palatial and opulent hill station of Sintra. Once referred to by Byron as a “glorious Eden”, the suburban retreat has been a favourite of Portuguese royalty and international aristocracy for generations because of its cooler micro-climate and lush surrounds. The impossibly pretty town is just 30-odd minutes outside Lisbon by train or car.