Having just returned from a week in this western European country where I discovered an “s” is pronounced “sh” or “ch” or “gia” depending on where you are from, I can say with certainty that Portugal offers a great value for groups looking to experience Europe, without the sting of the Euro.
In five days, I was only able to see a fraction of what the country has to offer for groups, and so focused my energy on the capital, Lisbon. After a fairly easy, 7-hour flight from Newark, we arrived in Lisbon and in 45 minutes we made it through customs, collected our bags, and emerged into the still-dark city. After a ten minute drive, we arrived at our hotel—the Tiara Park Atlantic Lisboa.
Tiara Park is located directly across the street from the Four Seasons Lisbon. The Tiara has been fabulously kept up, and the one thing that might be considered “old” is the dedication to great service. Guest rooms are appointed with dark wood, chrome fixtures, and marble. The hotel was happy to provide everyone with the proper electronic converters and adapters, and bathrooms were home to Hermes toiletries. In the mornings, a full breakfast is served in the restaurant off the lobby. Breakfast, I would come to learn, is a serious affair in Portuguese hotels and I was never disappointed with the spread.
After a 3-hour nap, our first visit was to the new Nation’s Park District. Here, the modern architecture stands in stunning contrast to the rest of Lisbon, and on a sunny day, one would be content to walk along the brackish riverside for hours exploring the sculpture gardens, or take a gondola ride over the water to the Oceanario, the city’s aquarium. For a small group of 20, one of the balconies beside this huge tank filled with sea life would make a captivating cocktail area. To get here, take GPS-ready go carts for an exciting transfer experience.
Over the next few days we visited a slew of historic sites offering ample space for unique events. Of these sites, most are reminiscent of the shared Christian-Judeo-Moorish history that is Lisbon. A visit to the Mafra National Palace would make for an interesting afternoon, but head to Jeronimos Monastery in the Belem Quarter if you want to see the tomb of Vasco de Gama. Of course, the city had its fair share of transportation options, but my favorite was the city’s classic cable car which takes you across town, or up the steep narrow streets to restaurants that might otherwise go undiscovered.
For a more seaside experience, I recommend heading to the city of Cascais. About 4o minutes north of the airport, Cascais is where the James Bond movie. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” was filmed, and where the Estoril Casino still stands proud. Groups opting for an upscale experience should stay at the Hotel Palacio Estoril, which, together with its gleaming marble, crystal chandeliers, and pink and orange furnishings in the public areas, reflects a tasteful feel of old Hollywood glam. Outdoor function space abounds here, and the food is remarkable. While fish is definitely on the menu throughout Portugal, one can still find great non-fish items. The nearby town of Colares is home to Portugal’s best white wines, and Sintra, also close by, offers Portugal’s best handmade tiles.
For a European experience at a fraction of the cost, try visiting Cascais, Sintra, and of course, downtown Lisbon. Between the old world charm of the former, and the history and shopping found in the latter, groups are sure to have an intriguing setting for an incentive with networking and teambuilding components.