The last month of 2014 has started with a much missed sun but with the temperatures as low as an average of 9°C/48°F. The city is dressing up for the Holidays in lights, ribbons and Christmas trees in the main squares. The air starts to fill with the scent of deep fried sweets of the season and it’s not unusual to start seeing them on display in cafes: “sonhos”, “filozes”, “bolos rei”, french toast. It’s a feast of flavors — pumpkins, carrots, cinnamon, comfit fruits. They go well with cold mornings and hot chocolate. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, do step inside Confeitaria Nacional at Praça da Figueira and treat yourself to a slice of their king cake (“bolo rei”), a secret recipe that is over 150 years old.
It seems common for the Portuguese to leave all the Christmas shopping for the last minute so all the shops and malls will be unbearable, unless you love loudness and crowds. It is also the season for the classic company dinner parties, so my advise is to steer away from the restaurants that can accommodate large groups of people and find more intimate hideaways. I have a soft spot for the Italian and unpretentious cuisine of Osteria and for the laid back environment and the homemade feel of the dishes at Taberna da Rua das Flores.
If you celebrate this Christian holiday and are hoping to find a Christmas market similar to others across Europe, this city hasn’t yet hit it off with this tradition — for the Portuguese this celebration is still very family oriented and privacy driven. If you are content enough with the local options, visit the Mercado Natal Campo Pequeno on the first week of the month. Although if you’re looking for something a bit more over the top, than Obidos is your destination and its Christmas Village, throughout all this month and ending after the New Year. This small 12th century medieval town is about two and a half hours from Lisbon and really puts up a show for this season.
Christmas isn’t really your mood? If this wonderful weather keeps up, make the most of the ghost town kind of feel during the season week and wander the streets — most people will be heading up (or down) for the event at their hometowns and, after the shopping spree is over, the capital winds down for a few days.
By the end of the month, if you enjoy saying goodbye to the old and welcome the new with a bang and a crowd, join the party people around the tree at Praça do Comércio, bring your bottle of champagne and shout your powerful HAPPY NEW YEAR to a colorful show of fireworks.
Happy Holidays and I'll see you next year!!!