LISBON, Portugal -- Lapa, the diplomatic quarter of Portugal's
capital, is a quiet, residential neighborhood of old palaces
surrounded by high walls.
Located just west of downtown and slightly downhill from the
trendy Bairro Alto district, Lapa is hardly out of the way, but
surprisingly doesn't attract many travelers. Yet the neighborhood
contains three memorable places -- the Museu Nacional de Arte
Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art), Hotel As Janelas Verdes
and Restaurante Senhor Vinho.
The National Museum of Ancient Art, one of the most acclaimed in
Portugal, was converted from the 17th century palace of the Count
of Alvor. Most of the pieces in its collections date from the 14th
to the 19th centuries. Nuno Goncalves' Panels of Sao Vicente is the
museum's centerpiece. The six panels illustrate the spectrum of
15th century Lisbon society -- from royal figures such as Prince
Henry the Navigator to priests, fishermen, soldiers and others --
paying homage to Sao Vicente, Portugal's patron saint.
My favorite pieces in the museum are the nambans, a series of
screens depicting Portuguese explorers arriving in Japan in 1543.
The Japanese artists who created the nambans were fascinated by
their Western visitors, who are rendered in extraordinary
The write stuff
Nearly adjacent to the National Museum of Ancient Art is the
Hotel As Janelas Verdes. The onetime town house of 19th century
Portuguese novelist Jose Maria Eca de Queiroz, the hotel has 29
rooms, each of which is stocked with a complimentary decanter of
Autumn rates start at around $139, double, and commissions range
from 8% to 10%. A library on the third floor contains Queiroz's
novels, among others, as well as a full honor bar. Hotel As Janelas
Verdes provides a full buffet breakfast every morning for 2,500
escudos, or about $11, in its attractive parlor.
When I stayed there in March, the weather was pleasant enough to
partake of my morning meal in the courtyard, a cozy, cobblestoned
space surrounded by ivy-covered walls.
Singing for supper
Although it serves the full breakfast, Hotel As Janelas Verdes
does not contain a restaurant. The top choice for dinner in the
neighborhood is Senhor Vinho, an upscale place at Rua do Meio a
Lapa 18 that also hosts some of the best fado musicians in
Fado, which translates loosely as "fate," is the soulful,
lament-filled music of Portuguese taverns. "Fadistas," or fado
singers, are usually women, accompanied by at least two guitarists.
In fact, Maria da Fe, one of Lisbon's famous fadistas, is the
At Senhor Vinho, the standard trio was joined by a man playing a
stand-up bass. Although Senhor Vinho is a fine restaurant, it
follows the custom of ordinary taverns for staging fado
performances. At around 9:45 p.m., the musicians simply walk to the
middle of the dining room and begin playing. Some people continue
to eat quietly; others pause to devote their full attention to the
The food at Senhor Vinho nearly matches the entertainment. I
enjoyed a typically hearty feijoada, a sausage and fava bean stew.
As you'd expect of a restaurant that calls itself "Mr. Wine," the
wine list is well chosen. Senhor Vinho was the only restaurant
where I could find Colares, a powerful, tannic red wine that is
becoming increasingly rare in Portugal. Like many fado houses,
Senhor Vinho requires guests to spend a minimum amount (in this
case 3,500 escudos, or about $15) on food and drink -- essentially
a cover charge for the music.