Anyone who’s visited Lisbon can easily reel off the prerequisite activities: listening to melancholic Fado music, hopping aboard an old tram straining up a steep incline, climbing the ramparts of the old Moorish Castelo de São Jorge, visiting the Belem district with its monuments to the great explorers, strolling along a woodland trail.
Huh? What was that last one?
Forest in Lisbon? Well, yes, Portugal’s capital is carpeted by a vast tract of wilderness. In fact, many perceptions about the city may change for those who visit later this month (September 21-28) during Lisbon Week, a cultural event whose tag line couldn’t be more apt: “Lisbon like you’ve never seen.”
The festivities are structured around themed routes referred to as “Discoveries,” each of which opens the door to a rare set of activities for the general public, who can sign up for several in a day.
The Teatro Thalia, shuttered for 150 years, is the site of a contemporary video exposition. Rua das Portas de Santo Antão, the street that serves as the festival’s focal point, will shed its staid ambiance and thrum to sounds that reflect the vibe of this former bohemian bastion of the Jazz Age.
On the World Discovery itinerary, the public will be invited into an ambassador’s home, while in the Palácio da Independência, visitors on the History track can enter a hidden room where, in the 17th century, secret meetings were held to discuss banishing the Spanish. In Casa do Alentejo, formerly the Majestic, an elite men’s club in the early 20th century, a handful of petite private dining rooms are on view, each decorated in a different motif, from Art Nouveau to Art Deco.
Most surprising, though, may be the Green Discovery route, where a local biologist accompanies a group along some 1.5 miles of the newly opened final section of the Monsanto Green Corridor, departing from a placid garden named for the fadist Amália Rodrigues in Parque Eduardo VII and winding up at Parque do Calhau with its sunny lawns and picnic tables. (It’s part of Monsanto Forest Park, a 2,500-acre mountain forest.)
More than 30 years in the making, the entire corridor connects a series of green spaces through the city. It was designed by Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles, an architect committed to the idea that Portugal’s future depended on preserving its natural side. The result is a landscaped urban path that radiates eco-consciousness with the signage constructed of recycled plastic and a new bridge crafted of Nordic pine cut from sustainable forests, allowing pedestrians to safely walk, pedal, or blade above Lisbon’s traffic-choked streets.
Though the trail isn’t isolated from the city – glass and steel edifices frame the corridor until entering the thick forestland – the lush landscaping blanketed with stone pines, oaks, wild olive and poplars, and flecked with clusters of ornamental grasses and a colorful palette of jasmine, lavender, and other blooms makes for a verdant experience.
In keeping with the green ethic, during Lisbon Week kids can craft scarecrows in Quinta do Zé Pinto, a private agricultural project along the Monsanto Corridor where wheat, barley and sunflowers grow (depending on the season) and, after visiting the community gardens crowded with patches of radishes, cabbage, leeks, cucumbers, and tomatoes, learn to grow vegetables at home.
Other features of the Green Discovery itinerary include a storyteller who weaves eco-tales focused around produce and activities that acknowledge the mind-body connection (tai chi, yoga, and meditation), all part of an attempt to cast Lisbon in a whole new light: a place where urban development can successfully coexist with sustainability.