Steps from São Jorge Castle and the River Tagus, Memmo Alfama hotel was once a shoe polish factory. It’s certainly scrubbed up well: sleek decor, bold street art and a see-and-be-seen terraced pool bar make this white and breezy townhouse a laid-back Lisbon bolthole.
Alfresco wine bar
Striking red pool
A Portuguese custard tart and glass of liqueur for two
In the know
Also need to know:
One of the Alfama rooms on the ground floor is equipped for disabled guests. Smokers can indulge on the terrace only. Local street artist Vhils (a young, Portuguese Banksy) has left his mark on the building’s façade with a striking large-scale portrait of a former resident. Inside, housed in what was once a bakery, the library is stocked with books on Lisbon’s history.
Don’t even think about heels: leather sandals will fare much better on Lisbon’s slippery cobbled hills. Pick up a vintage tin at the flea market to fill with golden custard tarts before your flight home.
Something crisp and comfortable to explore the city; cool cottons and elegant flats will do the trick.
Mr and Mrs Smith reviews
Trekking around Lisbon can be an uphill challenge at the best of times, but things get particularly tricky in the quaint, atmospheric district of Alfama. Dropping us off, the taxi driver told us to walk 100 metres up one of the narrow alleys and turn right. After walking, turning, walking, turning, and dragging my fat Tumi, we found nothing. What we did get to appreciate was one of Lisbon’s most traditional neighbourhoods as its residents went about their day-to-day lives. At a bakery, we stopped to ask where Memmo Alfama is – it was a mile away. High noon and the sun was out – but we were determined to get there, and somehow (including a little wheel damage caused by Lisbon’s charming cobblestoned streets), we made it. Turns out that Memmo Alfama is still a well-kept secret – and it isn’t difficult to get there. If you know where it is.
It was too early for our room to be ready, but that wasn’t a problem: checked in, we had a special day planned in Lisbon. This was a rare chance for me to enjoy my hometown as a regular tourist. Still, we couldn’t set off without first getting an eyeful of the view from this prime perch.
This townhouse has been sensitively refreshed from its shoe-polish-factory past with clean lines, tactile furnishings and a bold graffiti mural. Navigating through the hotel’s common areas – a smart living room and a communal-style dining room, which has an air of Scandinavian design with Portuguese touches – I soon found the stairs that led to the terrace. I had seen photos of the sexy red infinity plunge pool, but seeing it up close with Lisbon’s old town at our feet was something else.
Our busy day out and about included a private visit to the top of the freshly revived triumphal Rua Augusta Arch. (We booked our visit through Exclusive by TLC,) After such a concentrated dose of sightseeing, we were ready to return to Memmo. And with only one night there, we planned not leave again until we absolutely had to. Lisbon is a city of steep alleyways and tricky cobblestones best explored, rather cruelly, on foot. This picturesque slice of old-school, red-roofed Portugal clings determinedly to the hillside above a wide, beguiling stretch of the River Tagus – usually you need to clamber up the slopes for heart-stirring vistas, duck past tempting tabernas and Fado restaurants and crane your neck to gawp at some of the capital’s most iconic castles and churches. Thankfully, you’ll find blissful respite from all this strenuous exploring at this soothing, bright white bolthole steps from the cathedral.
When we got to our room, my husband led the way. (He always likes to be one step ahead, which is fine by me.) One foot in the door, after a quick peek he said with a smile: ‘Either you go in or the suitcases do – your choice.’ To say our room was cosy is an understatement. I love the design and quirky details, like the fabric mailbox, with great suggestions for things to do around town, but as the hotel was fully booked, we had no choice but to take a patio room. In I went and the Tumi put to rest in the surprisingly spacious sleek concrete-floored bathroom with its fabulous walk-in shower. Bright-yellow loo paper to match the decor set a new standard for attention to detail.
We decided that our baby room was a great place to sleep but we were happiest out on that terrace; we cancelled evening plans to stay put and enjoy our base. The rooftop bar is a dream if you’re a G&T fan, here a gin-tônic comes in a proper gin goblet, nothing like the silly glasses with three ice cubes we get back in the UK. Although Memmo Alfama doesn’t have a formal restaurant, it serves fantastic tapas – so a few minutes later, the friends that came to meet us for dinner were also quickly mesmerised by the river views. We loved dining on Portuguese delicacies such as fried beans, cheese, octopus and charcuterie, pairing it with delicious gins. (We found the wine list limited for Portugal but I never say no to a Gin Mare or G’Vine.) Everything was perfect – simple and so peaceful, but not too quiet. At around midnight, the bar closed but we were told to make ourselves at home and just leave when we were ready. It was at 1.30am when we finally left the cosy sofa and made our way to our room.
Pared-down and inviting, the rooms have warm wooden flooring and big beds with plump pillows. We slept wonderfully and woke in true Portuguese fashion – that’s to say not so early – immediately agreeing it was time for breakfast with those views. Memmo Alfama lays on a great spread of Portuguese classics such as four types of delicious bread, cheeses and hams and there’s a wonderful big fat Smeg fridge where you help yourself to freshly squeezed fruit juices. I want one at home! Eggs and cooked dishes are made to order and brought to you wherever you want them. Naturally, as it was summer in Lisbon we chose outside by the glass wall on the terrace; sat side by side at a bar-style table, we just savoured the lookout over the red rooftops, the pool and the river. I am not usually a morning person, but sipping my Nespresso in the fresh air seeing Portugal’s capital city come to life soon brought me round. Then, for the rest of the day the sultry ruby-red pool was all ours.
27 Travessa Das Merceeiras, Alfama, Lisbon, Lisboa e Vale do Tejo, 1100-348
1.0 mi / 1.7 km from city centre
- Valet parking
- Exercise gym
- Internet services
- Complimentary in-room coffee or tea
- Room service
- Onsite laundry
None, but breakfast in served in the Living Room, a laid-back Scandinavian-inspired space gently lit by a light well in the ceiling from the terrace above. Take a seat at the long communal wooden table and help yourself from the buffet and the Smeg fridge, well stocked with milk, juice and yoghurts. After breakfast, the Wine Bar has a tapas menu for the peckish; put up your feet on the terrace and snack on plates of Portuguese ham croquettes, octopus salad and tender veal loin.
If you can’t help whispering sweet nothings over your morning pastries, nab a couple of brown leather bucket seats at one of the tables for two.
Breakfast is served from 7.30am to 11am. The bar’s small plates are served until 10pm.
The Wine Bar’s tapas menu is available until 11pm.
You’ll find a scattering of Carrara marble tables and a wall of local wines, ports and champagnes at the Wine Bar, but the real action is outside: walk through the sliding glass doors and pick a spot on the poolside terrace. Head for the furthest deck, flanked by glass barriers, for the best views of the higgledy-piggledy jumble of red-roofed houses tumbling down to the riverfront.
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