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Joana Vasconcelos's Lisbon

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Paris-born Joana Vasconcelos is known for taking objects and placing them completely out of context, like hand-painted Iberian tiles on the exterior of a boat, or a large, chrocheted bird (dubbed "Mary Poppins") in the foyer of Versailles. But when it comes to her hometown of Lisbon, the places she frequents—from the warehouse with delectable fresh cod to the boutique that sells woolen Alentejo blankets—simply cannot exist in any other city. With beautiful beaches, a thriving nightlife, and one of Europe's most vibrant art scenes, Lisbon is eternally bustling—and nobody knows that better than this passionate denizen. (For more travel suggestions, see the DEPARTURES Guide to Lisbon.) 

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived there? I live in Algés, a town located where the Tagus River merges with the ocean, just after Lisbon, and I’ve lived here nearly my entire life.

Where do you put up friends visiting town? I can’t recommend enough the Pestana Palace, installed in a beautiful 19th century palace with French-style decoration, as a unique experience of luxury and sophistication, due to its flawless service, impeccable gardens and the very inspiring, ever-present view of the river Tagus (Rua Jau, 54; 35-12/1361-5600;

Where is the best place to find your hometown’s signature dish? Bica do Sapato and its bacalhau fresco em cama à Brás (fresh codfish). I have a special affection for this old warehouse on the Santa Apolónia dock, turned into a contemporary, cosmopolitan site, with an inventive menu (Ave. Infante D. Henrique, Armazém B.; 35/12/1881-0320;

What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? Chef José Avillez’s Belcanto, in Chiado, and its degustation menus, which are wonderful to have a taste of various plates—there is even one that is just composed of seasonal products (Largo de São Carlos, 10; 35-12/1342-0607;

What is your go-to after-hours bar? Since I’ve become a mother, I don’t have much time to spend to go out at night, but I really enjoy LuxFrágil club, where I worked as head of security for a while. It continues to be perhaps the best place in Lisbon to see great bands live, listen to good music and dance until dawn. If you can handle it, I specially recommend watching the sunrise on its wonderful terrace, over the river (Ave. Infante D. Henrique, Armazém A; 35-12/1882-0890;

What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon in town? As soon as the weather starts warming up, I love to take my daughter and nephews to the Costa da Caparica beaches, on the south bank of the river. Museu Berardo, situated in the notable building that is Centro Cultural de Belém, is a place of reference in Lisbon, where people may enjoy the best of Modern and Contemporary Art, or even just the sun, on its Babylon-like hanging gardens (Praça do Império; 35-12/1361-2878; Fundação Ricardo Espírito Santo, home to a collection of Decorative Arts from the XV century until the XVIII century, composed of  different genres, such as Furniture, Textiles, Silverware, Porcelain, Portuguese Potter and Tiles, Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, and Book-binding, among others, is a wonderful institution that includes the best conservation and restoration school in Portugal, if not maybe one of the best in the world (Largo Portas do Sol, 2; 35-12/1881-4600;

What is your Sunday morning routine in your neighborhood? I usually go to the flea market for cheap and unusual buys (Campo de Santa Clara; 35-12/1817-0800).

Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? I don’t drink coffee, but I really enjoy the Quiosques de Refresco with their esplanades and sweet drinks, made of concentrates such as capilé and red currant (Praça Luís de Camões; 35-12/1395-8329).

What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? The view from my own home, over the mouth of the Tagus River: to the left, I have a view over the city of Lisbon; to the right, I have an endless view of the ocean; and straight ahead, I see the south bank beaches I so much adore.

What’s your favorite shop or boutique? I have several, but to cite a few: Filipe Faísca (Calçada do Combro, 99; 35-12/1342-0014; He is just great at knowing how to dress a woman, combining exceptional tailoring with sexy, feminine touches. His studio/boutique is a must in the Chiado neighborhood. A Vida Portuguesa (Largo do Intendente Pina Manique, 23; 35-12/1197-4512; A boutique that is a real dive into the past of Portugal and its innocent, naïve aesthethics. A true delight, where you find Tricana canned sardines, Claus soaps—a sophisticated cosmetic factory, established in 1887 in Porto—or the famous wool Alentejo blankets, with magnificent patterns and colour combinations. Leitão & Irmão - Antigos Joalheiros da Corôa (multiple locations; Both boutiques are the epitomy of luxury in Lisbon. Founded in 1822, this House was the official jeweler for both the Imperial House of Brazil and the Portuguese Crown, and holds one of the oldest punctures of manufacture (pointeau) in the world. I love it because it takes upon popular forms used in pottery, furniture and everyday objects, as well as historical styles, and turns them into delicate and precious pieces of jewelry, often in filigree (a technique I truly adore).

What’s the ultimate souvenir from your town—something you can only get there? The colors of Lisbon due to its light. The colors of this city never become too pastel or too pale, but are clean, intense and distinct.

What’s the best-kept local secret? Museu do Azulejo is perhaps one of Lisbon’s best kept secrets even though it is one of our most important national museums (Rua da Madre de Deus, 4; 35-12/1810-0340; It has a unique Azulejo (Portuguese tile) collection, including a panel which is a great iconographic document due to its depiction of Lisbon before the earthquake of 1755 (and which served as inspiration for the tile panel that covers the outside of Trafaria Praia, the floating pavilion and total work of art I presented at the 2013 Venice Biennale).

In our Hometown Guides series, we're seeking the best restaurants, bars, vistas, and things to do in a given place from the people who know best—the artists, designers, chefs, and store-owners who live there. See more Hometown Guides »

Image Credits: Courtesy Pestana Palace; Courtesy Museu Berardo


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