In the spring of 2001 I had to pick a European country – any country – where to spend the summer. This was going to be my three months sabbatical before going back to the hustle and bustle of my busy life as a management consultant in London. Or so I thought. Overwhelmed by the options, I closed my eyes and gently held my hand over the Atlas laid open on the table. When it felt right, I randomly put my finger down on the most southwest corner of Europe. When I opened my eyes, Portugal – which was back then off the beaten track, both exotic and unassuming – seemed to be winking at me.
This was the not-so-obvious beginning of how I fell in love with Portugal. As we all learn with time, falling in love is easier than staying in love. I am happy to report that 20 years in, I am still in love with this outpost of chilled urban living on the shores of the Atlantic.
I arrived in Lisbon on a sunny mid-June day sponsored by an EU Marie Curie Fellowship to start my doctoral studies. That very night, as I wondered aimlessly through Alfama’s alleys in the old city, I stumbled upon an enchanting place called “Chapitô”, a restaurant/circus which is hard to describe but impossible to forget. As I was dining, I met three locals also in their mid-twenties. I felt immediately welcome, the kind of feeling you get when you finally come back home. As I was walking out, I stopped for a moment to take in the view from the terrace. I knew – then and there – I was home. Glowing in the moonlight, the majestic 25 de Abril bridge seemed to encourage me to take the leap.
That moment is now twenty years old. I have seen Lisbon change much over the years, it has become more cosmopolitan and driven but hasn’t lost its magic. It’s a special place where opposites somehow come together harmoniously. It’s full of energy, but served at a chilled tempo. It wins you over without trying to seduce you. It doesn’t boast, it winks. It’s as lively as the gentle ocean breeze that encourages you to surf its seven hills and explore its beautifully diverse surroundings.
It’s a special place where opposites somehow come together harmoniously. It’s full of energy, but served at a chilled tempo. It wins you over without trying to seduce you. It doesn’t boast, it winks.
Over the years I have travelled much for work and fun, I experimented living for months in a dozen other countries, but I always felt drawn back to Lisbon. And when crossing that bridge, I always smiled as I felt that unmistakable, warm feeling of coming home. All this traveling has taught me that while there are obviously other beautiful places, warmer waters, taller mountains, an enchanting cities (I am from Rome, after all!), few places can so harmoniously pull together all that I value in life.
For years I lived in the historic city centre, in the lovely Santos district, with a view of that same bridge that back then whispered to me what I can now say out loud to you: “what a place!”. I now live on the edge of a beautiful lagoon, a natural reserve about 30 minutes southwest of Lisbon. Here in nature is where I chill, surf, kitesurf and paraglide almost daily all year round. From here is where I take the short ride across that same bridge to access all the charm, energy and opportunities of such a unique capital city.
Thank you, Lisbon, for this wonderful love story and for being the place where a nomad like me has effortlessly found a place where to grow my roots. Obrigado.