When I asked the concierge of the hotel I was staying in, what was the most popular place and bar to hang out in Lisbon, I didn’t know what to expect when he told me about Pensão Amor.
‘You have to go to Pensão Amor’ he said and winked as he was telling a secret, and wrote me the address on a piece of paper. ‘If you go there during the weekend’ he said ‘be prepared to wait in a long line outside, but it is worth the wait’ he smiled.
Luckily, it wasn’t the weekend yet, but Thursday evening and I jumped into a cab up the hills of Bairro Alto, toward Cais do Sodré area. The cab driver dropped me in Rua Nova do Carvalho at the entrance of Pensão Amor and winked as well. Apparently, Rua Nova do Carvalho used to bethe ‘red-light-district’ area in Lisbon for decades. In recent years it has been transformed and became one of the most hip and trendy streets in Lisbon, lined with hip bars and clubs that become crowded after 2AM when the bars in the legendary area Bairro Alto start to close.
I knew I was in the right place.
But what I didn’t know was what to expect when I got inside.
It used to be a cheap pension with rooms rented by the hour to prostitutes and their clients in that area. Pensão Amor, or ‘Guesthouse of Love’ is now a chic place of five floors; In the first floor you can find the bar that serves drinks and Peruvian food, a small bookstore with erotic books and literature and a pole dance room decorated with leopard and gold. Someone just told me that Pole dance workshops are held here to learn the tricks of seduction…In the other floors you can find a boutique that sells sexy lingerie and some vintage clothing and a trendy hair salon. Don’t forget to visit the restrooms; neon lights are all over!
I loved the decoration of the place and every room is different than the other. The ceilings of this former ’guesthouse’ are painted with frescoes, some walls are covered with mirrors, paintings and old posters, and some rooms might be too dark to notice anything. If you visit Lisbon and look for a trendy and relaxed atmosphere to hang out, I highly recommend this place. You will not get bored, for sure.
The week after I was also surprised to find another image on the cover of the magazine (issue *349) in which I am talking about the Love signs on the walls of Lisbon.
Le Cool Magazine is a free weekly magazine distributed every Thursday that features a selection of cultural events and leisure activities, revealing the things you really shouldn’t miss. The magazine filters out, among other things, the best art, film, music, and club nights, as well as a careful selection of extraordinary bars, restaurants and other fine places. Le Cool is featured in Barcelona, Budapest, Dublin, Istanbul, London, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Rome and Vienna.
A photographed interview with Fredric Coustols, a French landscape collector, who lives in Lisbon and is the owner of Palacio Belmonte, one of the most luxurious hotels in the World. I was lucky enough to meet Fredric and his wife, Merry, and have a free access to all rooms in this beautiful palace. The interview is now published in At Magazine, July 2012 issue.
I’m really honored and excited my images of Palacio Belmonte in Lisbon were warmly welcomed by Amy and Grace from Design Sponge. I had a good feeling they would love the interiors, the colors and more over, the great story behind the Palace and its furnitures, and would love to share this magical place with their readers.
I love how Amy described the circumstances and coincidence that led me to discovered Palacio Belmonte and become friends with Fredric, the owner.
‘This June, she was in Lisbon, on the hunt for the two most important things for a modern traveler: a bathroom and a WiFi connection. She stumbled into the Belmont Coffee Club, and while checking her email, she chatted with the friendly staff and the cafe owner, Frederic Coustols. One thing led to another, and Sivan found herself touring the Palacio Belmonte. Lucky for us, she brought her camera’ .
To see more of my features in Design Sponge, please clickhere.
I love it when I take a random turn and it turns out to be the perfect one, or the one with full surprises. That what happened to me few days ago in Lisbon. I’ve visited the city for 48 hours and in one of my strolls I got into a small but well designed artistic cafe, the Belmonte Cultural Club Cafe. I think I was looking for the restrooms and I also wanted to check my emails, therefore I got in. I ended up having an interesting conversation with the owner of the cafe and with the cute mysterious bartender who turned out to be an artist himself. I was very inspired by the interior, the endless books spread around and with the characters. While exploring the place, the bartender made me coffee and put it on one of the tables.
So this is how it looks when an Artist makes me coffee.
I was fortunate enough to get some insider tips from my friends at Gat Rossio Hotel when I asked about the top places to go to while in Lisbon. One of the places I was encouraged to go and see was Pharmacia restaurant in Barrio Alto Santa Catarina area, one of the young and hype areas of the city.
My intention was to see the place and maybe take some pictures of its interior, as I’ve heard it was designed as a pharmacy. And when I walked in and asked for a permission to shoot, it turned out the woman I’ve asked, was not only, but one of the owners who is actually in charge of the restaurant’s design. (two birds in one stone)
Tânia was so friendly and helpful. In fact, after she showed me around Pharmacia and let me take as many pictures as I wanted, she drove me to her other two restaurants; Taberna Ideal and Petiscaria Ideal. (But this is for a different post)
The restaurant is located in a 200- years-building that was once belonged to a rich family in Portugal and served them as a family residential. For the last few years the building is a home of the National Pharmacy Association in Portugal and Pharmacia is located in the ground floor with a great outdoor lawn overlooking the river.
Tânia Martins is the creative person who is responsible for the interior design and the restaurant’s concept. She was working closely with a graphic designer who did the restaurant’s cards, designed the tabs, the medicine boxes that serve as decorative details and even designed the unique wall paper of the restaurant. She told me how much she loves wandering the vintage markets and look for furniture and articles to decorate her restaurants.
Susana Felicidade is the creative chef. She comes from a family where everyone cooks. She is originally from a small fishermen’s village (Arrifama) and spent her childhood in her grandfather’s restaurant that was passed to her parents. Her father is a fisherman as well. She never studied cooking professionally but she has been passionate about it all her life. She comes up with all the food and dishes combinations and tries out new things all the time.
But not only the design, the decor and the concept are appealing, so does the food. Both Tânia and Susana came out with a ‘sharing-food’ concept, which is quite new in Portugal. The menu is such that people can order few small plates and dishes of small portions to share with the other people around the table. Sort of tapas to share and not one main dish per person.
The favorite dishes in Pharmacia are * Tibornas: A toasted bread with garlic and olive oil, topped with brie cheese, arugula and roasted tomatoes with coriander sauce. * Duck croquettes with orange jam, Madeira bread with salted mushrooms thyme and fried egg. *Pica-pau – Sirloin meat with fried potatoes. * Lobster à bras served with egg, fried potatoes, onion, olive oil and parsley. I wish I had the time to try them all.
Next time you are in Lisbon, don’t skip Pharmacia.
Rua Marechal Saldanha 1. Bairro Alto-Santa Catarina area, Lisboa. 213.462.146
Drinking coffee at the local Starbucks but with a Portuguese flavor two times a day, running along the Tagus river instead of the Hudson. Climbing up the hills of Alfama all the way to Castelo S. Jorge just to have an amazing view of the city. Spotting a lot of Laundry shots to upgrade my photography series. Taking a random turn just to discover the artistic design of Belmonte Cultural Club Cafe. Joking around with the owner and getting a free access to shoot whatever I want in Palacio Belmonte Luxury hotel. Having a late lunch early dinner at Saint Antonio restaurant next to San Miguel church. Taking the yellow carreira number 28 instead of the yellow subway line in Manhattan. Croquette de Ovo for dessert. Joining a friend for a last minute call to watch the Companhia Nacional de Bailado. (The National Ballet). Two fish cakes during the break. Bolo de Arroz and Pastel de Nata for breakfast at the Gat Rossaio Hotel in Rua Jardim Do Regedor. Walking along Rua Augusta all the way to Praca do Comercio, Mudo Museu do Design in a Holiday morning. Grilled Sardines with mayonnaise twice at the same day. Another overview of the city but this time from Monumento Nacional. Empty streets of Baixa. Coffee break at the trendy Kaffee Haus in Rua Anchieta. Chocolate break in Xocoa Chocolate Place (Orange flavor). Walking along the streets of Bairro Alto, searching for A Vida Portuguese concept store. Pineapple virgin martini on a sunny afternoon in Pharmacia restaurant in Rua Marechal Saldanha. Having a special tour with the owner of Pharmacia to Petiscaria Ideal and Taberna Ideal. Sneak Peek to Pensao Amor, the newest sexy Nightbar in town. Drinking tiny cherry liqueur in the street with the locals, sleeping only 4 hours a night but walking the streets all day…Priceless.
“…Hope and fear are both phantoms that arise from thinking of the self. When we don’t see the self as self, what do we have to fear? See the world as yourself. Have faith in the way things are. Love the world as yourself; then you can care for all things…”
Lisbon, Portugal June 2012
I stepped into Belmonte Coffee Club in Lisbon by chance.
I think I was looking for a restrooms or a Wifi connection to check some of my emails when I stepped in. A warm welcoming by the cute and mysterious young manager of the cafe made me stay a bit longer and ask him some questions about the place and the way it designed. Then Fredric, the owner of the place stepped in and I forwarded my questions to him. Apparently, Fredric turned out to be an artist (he made this statue) an avid book reader (he reads a book a day) an ambitious Landscape Collector (who owns the 15th century Palacio Belmonte) and an interesting funny guy. Looking back at this specific day, I can now say my visit to this cafe wasn’t just by chance, and I should have faith in the way things are…Stay tuned for more.
I am already getting used to all the suspicious looks from people, when they see me standing under laundry wires, pointing my camera up or kneeling down to get a better angle. Deep down I keep telling myself that if they had known what I was looking for or what I was working on, they wouldn’t have given me these looks or maybe they would have understood me. But on the other hand, I can’t blame them; A photographer who is standing under laundry wires waiting for the breeze, is not a common view. I was visiting Lisbon for two days for a shoot, and during my free time, I was looking for laundry, so I could add and expand my ‘Intimacy under the Wires’ collection. It wasn’t hard to find. I was walking in the narrow streets and alleys of Alfama and Bairro Alto, and could easily spot laundry on wires. It really made me smile. And as for the suspicious looks I kept getting from the locals? I guess I have to get used to it, or just smile back.
I love how things work out and how coincidences can sometimes run my life and get me into interesting situations. A random turn can lead into a completely new experience, as it happened to me in Lisbon. As a travel photographer who is visiting places outside my New York radius, these coincidences are what sometimes make it all so rewarding and part of the nature of the business. I am in Lisbon for 48 hours, as I am on my way from New York to Paris. My only agenda is to discover the city as much as possible. A random turn because of a graffiti I saw on one of the walls in Alfama yesterday led me into a coffee place I stepped into, in a hunt for a wifi connection and a bathroom. Besides a cute and charming bartender, who turned out to be also a designer for movies’ interiors, there was another man sitting in front of a computer on a wooden table with piles of books in front of him. A few minutes later I was sitting next to him, showing him my website and my published work and having a conversation.
This man is Fredric Coustols. In addition to being an avid book reader (he reads a book a day) he is also a creative artist, a landscape collector and the owner of Palacio Belmonte, an enchanted palace transformed into a luxurious hotel of ten designed suites in it.
Fredric was kind enough and gave me a free access to some of the rooms and opportunity to take as many pictures as I liked. So I did!
The History of Palacio Belmonte
Some might see Palacio Belmonte as one of the most veiled secrets in Lisbon and the history of the place is the story of Portugal itself. It is the oldest building of its kind in the city, the Palace was the residence of the Marques d’Atalia, Alvares Cabral and the Earls of Belmonte for over 500 years. It was built in 1449, atop ancient Roman and Moorish walls. In 1503, one of Portugal’s most famous adventurers, Pedro Alvares Cabral, who owned the palace, added more space to the existing house so he could host some well known historic figures, including Vasco de Gama, who was welcomed in the palace right after he got back from his triumphant in India.
In 1640, the building was expanded to include stunning terraces overlooking the ocean and between 1720-1730, two great masters of Portuguese tiles were commissioned by the Belmonte family to create a unique collection of 59 panels with more than 3000! tiles that portray the daily life of the Portuguese royal court. The tremendous earthquake of 1775 that destroyed most of the Lisbon’s major constructions, didn’t hit the palace.
In 1994 Fredric Coustols bought Palacio Belmonte and started a six-years restoration project to convert this beautiful space into ten luxurious suites, each different to the other. Suites that preserve the history and the beauty of the place and at the same time, equipped with modern comforts and conveniences to better accommodate the lifestyle of the sophisticated traveler.
You have to meet Fredric and his wife Maria in person, in order to understand the uniqueness of the place, its style and more important, the inviting atmosphere. They are both down to earth, creative, friendly and warm people. Their personality and creativity blends well with everything in the space. While Fredric’s books are in every corner in the palace, Maria’s paintings decorate some of the walls.
Interiors and Design
Each of the ten exquisite suites is an original masterpiece with its own individual character, blending historic architectural features with contemporary design. Each suite is named for a Portuguese writer, artist, philosopher, adventurer or inventor. You can choose to lay your head in the Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro for example, or have breakfast at the Gil Vicente one for a change.
Images above: This is one of my favorite corners in Palacio Belmonte. The simplicity of everything, the bold complimentary colors, the way the three pictures on the wall ‘talk’ to the book on the table in terms of colors and symmetry. I love the clean white table cloth, the right book and the yellow pillow.
God is definitely in the small details.
Images above: Amadeo Souza Cardoso Suite, is also known as the Presidential suite. An extraordinary suite lined with an impressive collection of the 18th century Azulejo tile panels and sporting a cathedral ceiling, a living room with a fireplace, a dining room and a queen size half-canopied bed hung with deep red silks. Running along the length of the suite there is a large veranda with a stunning view of the garden and the river beyond, giving the entire suite incredible lighting. I love the blue Azulejos panels on the walls and the writing desk which is from a 19th century Portuguese ship and has so many secret drawers…and of course.. books are everywhere.
Images above: Ahhhh, this dining room! I love it. Filled with light and great space. It reminded me of all the movies I used to watch where the royal family used to throw all these banquets. This room has a 25-foot-high ceiling, huge double white doors and the magnificent views of the old city and the sea. I could stare at this view for hours. Seriously! The azulejos panels date to 1725 and are signed by one of the best Portuguese masters of the time, Manuel dos Santos.
Images above: Another hidden reading corner in the palace, overlooking the sea. The color of the chair matches the cover of the magazine on the coffee table. If you want to hide for a while, this might be the place.
Images above: When I entered this suite, all I could say was ‘WOW’. This is the Ricardo Reis Suite, which is a real gem. The bedroom is stunning and filled with light and the frescos are so fresh that nobody could believe they were covered by 20 layers of paint and had been discovered by the electricians while digging to hide their tubes.
The yellow room is the suite’s sitting room, and the cameo portraits are figures of one of the Marquis and Marchionness of Belmonte. The floor was designed using jacaranda wood in the traditional pattern.
Images above: Alberto Caeiro Suite, is a family suit of two bedrooms with beautiful low ceilings, a living room, a bathroom and one shower room. The blue painting is by Maria Mendonca, the owner of the place, while she was in China. The table under the painting is from an antique dealer in Monsaraz, Portugal. It’s from the 17th century, and Fredric chose it for its simple, elegant lines that pair perfectly with the white lime-washed walls. The carpet is a 50-year-old kilim rug. I just love the green doors that match perfectly with the color of the armchairs, and the ocean-blue painting is such a comfort to look at.
Palacio Belmonte is indeed, one of the most veiled secrets in Lisbon. I’m glad I had the opportunity to walk through its halls and catch a piece of history of Lisbon. When looking at these pictures I sometimes think it was all just a dream, a beautiful one.
Thanks Maria and Fredric for opening the Red Doors for me and my readers!