As the calendar year turns over, we’ve grown accustomed to the barrage of lists telling us where to travel during the next 12 months. Oftentimes these places are a country or even a whole region – you could spend an entire year exploring just one of the locations listed and still barely make a dent.
We like to travel on a smaller scale. Forget countries and cities, for us the neighborhood is the ideal unit of exploration. Celebrating neighborhood life and businesses is, of course, essential to what we do as Culinary Backstreets. Since our founding in 2012, we’ve been dedicated to publishing the stories of unsung local culinary heroes and visiting them on our food walks, particularly in neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.
Last January, we declared 2018 as “The Year of the Neighborhood,” and what a fruitful year it was. We had our fair share of fresh experiences and were also able to contribute to the economies of neighborhoods otherwise neglected by the tourism industry. Tourism is an important economic force in many cities, as it should be, but if it is not dispersed responsibly, it can devastate the urban ecosystem, one that’s based on the sound health of all of a city’s neighborhoods.
With that in mind, we are happy to again focus on neighborhoods off the main tourist trail in 2019, as well as the people and places that keep them going. Below is a compilation of the less-visited areas that our correspondents are planning to explore this year:
Sitting on a hilltop, the highest in Lisbon, right next to the picturesque Castelo de São Jorge, Graça could sell tickets as the neighborhood with the best panoramic views in town. Two of the city’s most beautiful miradouros (viewpoints) are here (Graça and Senhora do Monte), and there’s nothing that the other six hills of Lisbon can do about it.
Sadly the tuk-tuks, those motorized, three-wheel vehicles whose colonization of the city coincided with the tourism boom, have also found them, so gone are the days when you could leisurely sip a drink in Esplanada da Graça or contemplate a peaceful sunset in Senhora do Monte. Now it’s even a struggle to find a place to take a photo. Yet if you venture deeper into the neighborhood, there are still corners that remain untouched by mass tourism.
Most of the area dates back to the 18th century, but it was only after the 1755 earthquake that its population began to grow. Perhaps the biggest change to the urban landscape came in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution: the old working-class villas (villas operárias in Portuguese), now a distinctive feature of Graça, were built to lodge the factory workers coming from different parts of Portugal. Villa Berta (from 1902) is the most beautiful but Estrela d’Ouro (1908) might be the most original.
The renewed attention on Graça is not surprising: artists and poets have long been fascinated by this hilly neighborhood. Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, one of the most important Portuguese authors of the 20th century, used to contemplate the river and the city from the Graça miradouro, which now features a bust of the author. City hall has also invested in sprucing up the area. The main square and the garden (Jardim da Cerca da Graça) descending towards Mouraria have been renovated, while the controversial Graça-Mouraria funicular is currently under construction.
Despite the crowds that are trickling in, we’re drawn to this residential neighborhood because it’s bursting with interesting new spots, like the restaurant Taberna do Mar, the craft beer bar Taproom Oitava Colina, the clubs Camones and Damas, as well as a new café in A Voz do Operário (The Worker’s Voice), an association that’s more than a century old. What’s exciting and refreshing is that these newcomers coexist with older spots, rather than pushing them out. Like, for example, the tascas O Satélite and Cardoso da Estrela, the restaurants O Pitéu da Graça and Via Graça, and Botequim, a bar originally founded in 1971 by the poet Natália Correia, one of the iconic women who railed against the dictatorship and whose name was given to a street in Graça.
The famous American street artist Shepard Fairey has painted two murals in Graça and celebrities are said to be fleeing up the hill from Alfama, yet residents still shop in traditional grocery stores, often walking millimeters from the nostalgic (and tourist-packed) tram 28, whose track slowly winds up through the neighborhood. These are the kinds of contrasts that you don’t see everywhere. Yet they also suggest that now is the time to visit Graça, before the crowds fully erase its charm. – Célia Pedroso
Click here to read the full neighborhood guide.