In the heat of the summer, there’s nothing quite like settling into a breezy spot close to vast blue of the Tagus River with some friends and a few snacks. But due to the city’s hills and its construction projects, it’s not always easy to find a nice place for a picnic close to the river.
One consistently good spot, though, is Tapada das Necessidades, previously a royal park. It’s also conveniently close to the Alcântara neighborhood, home to some of our favorite food and wine shops. While we aren’t currently permitted to drink in public places – a new Covid-19 measure – we can still picnic with amazing produce while overlooking the river and the 25th April Bridge.
In spite of its former glory, Tapada das Necessidades has more recently been a quiet shelter from the bustle of Lisbon, especially as the city attracted more and more tourists. While still relatively quiet during the coronavirus lockdown, it also became a favorite spot for walking or jogging.
The park is right next to the former convent and later royal palace of Necessidades, the only royal residence to have survived the earthquake of 1755. The building is now occupied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros), and thus off-limits to visitors. But the Tapada’s ten hectares are open to the public. Inside – the park is behind a wall – there are plenty of trees offering shade for a picnic. Families with children usually prefer to sit by the small ponds, where it’s easier to spot ducks and geese.
The grounds, which were originally conceived as a royal hunting “mini-forest” (that’s the meaning of tapada), eventually became a favorite picnic spot for the upper echelons of society. The French painter Édouard Manet claimed that his masterpiece “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” was inspired by a short stay at Necessidades palace in 1859 (although he doesn’t reveal how he snagged such an invite). The painting, which shows a naked woman having a picnic with two dressed men, shocked 19th-century Paris and can be seen nowadays at Musée d’Orsay.
Even the last king of Portugal, Manuel II, who was overthrown by a Republican coup on October 5, 1910, had planned a huge picnic in Tapada das Necessidades for the following day, October 6, as seen in his diary.
While Lisboetas have taken a new interest in the Tapada thanks to the lockdown, they were already quite familiar with the food shops nearby – many of which sell items perfect for a picnic basket.
For instance, the bakery Gleba has been a phenomenal success since its opening three years ago on a quiet corner of Prior do Crato Street. A few weeks ago, it moved to a much bigger place, five minutes down the road, where you can also get coffee and a huge variety of loaves, buns and brioches. Owner Diogo Amorim, the baker that started the sourdough bread trend in Lisbon, has worked hard to get Portuguese grains back on the map. We normally go in and pick whichever loaf strikes our fancy – we have yet to be disappointed – and ask the staff to slice it for us.
On the other side of the busy junction, on Rua de Alcântara, there’s a grocery shop with no name. It’s known by everyone as Sr. João’s mercearia, a little place with really good sheep and goat cheese from this hometown, Castelo Branco, in the Beira Baixa region (central eastern Portugal). He was a shepherd between the ages of 11 and 17, and knows his cheese well – his sisters and mother were cheesemakers. Despite being 78 years old, he works six days a week (only closes on Sunday) to serve his loyal clientele – mostly older people who have known him for decades and come here to stock up on cheese, good local fruit (he often says, “This ours, not Spanish,” as opposed to the fruit sold in supermarkets), charcuterie, tinned fish and wine, especially old port wine. His peaches, strawberries, plums, grapes and melon have never let us down. Ask him to taste the cheese before making a purchase, and he will happily oblige.
For some good chouriço, we stop by Talho Central de Alcântara, a well-established butcher that supplies many households and restaurants in Alcântara – they even source the beef for the delicious steak sandwiches at Palácio from their own farm north of Lisbon.
Once you have the foundations of a good picnic – bread, cheese, fruit, sardines in oil, chouriço – it’s only a short distance to the Tapada, where you can give yourself over to the shade and the view.
Editor’s note: As summer heats up, we’re looking to get outside. So we asked our contributors to write about their favorite spots to eat outdoors as well as nearby shops to fill a picnic basket for Picnic Week 2020.
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