Lisbon is having a day of it and is presently in rebirth mode. From total dormancy, it has emerged as one of the most exciting capital cities — and the world is noticing.
Portugal fell off the tourist map for a number of years while the rest of Western Europe romped ahead at full throttle. For almost a decade only a few tourists were going to Portugal, the poor relative to the rest of Europe.
One reason for this was that for forty-eight years in the prior century, Portugal had been under a military dictatorship headed by António de Oliveira Salazar, which ended with a peaceful revolution in 1974. Known as the Carnation Revolution, the army was on the side of the people and it was a bloodless coup; there was no fighting and no shots were fired. By this time, the Portuguese resources were drained as Salazar had been fighting a Colonial war for thirteen years, trying to hold onto it’s Colony, Angola, which was seeking its independence. The resulting war was a costly one that was a losing battle and drained Portugal’s economy to the limit.
Following the end of Salazar’s rule, the country was unstable and the economy sputtered. Over time, some of the best brains and most qualified people left Portugal for other countries where they were able to find work and earn decent incomes. By 2008, Portugal was in a deep recession — it was not until 2011 when they were bailed out by the International Monetary Fund that the economy began to recover. This was followed by the introduction of the Golden E.U. Visa that attracted billions of Euros in for investment.
With the recovery, jobs were created, the tourists started coming back and this time Portugal bolted ahead, bringing back the creatives and the professionals with a vengeance for lost time.
You find me writing again about my favorite subject: adaptive re-use of space, also known as urban renewal. LX Factory is another prime example of adaptive reuse: an abandoned factory development from the 1800s that has been given new life by transforming it into a shopping complex with concept stores, restaurants bakeries, coffee shops, bars, music and a phenomenal book shop whose interior was dictated by the original old printing press — which has remained inside, becoming an important architectural feature.
Built underneath the “April 25th Bridge”, the setting is one in a million, this being the longest suspension bridge in Western Europe. “Floating” over the Tagus River, this bridge connects Lisbon to the municipality of Almada across two tiers: the upper with six lanes for cars and the lower with two tracks for trains. It is a dominant feature of the landscape, day and night. If the bridge reminds you of the Golden Gate Bridge, you are correct. The April 25th Bridge was designed by the American Bridge Company, who also designed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Underneath the bridge, previously, were these huge, abandoned weathered brick industrial factories in Alcantar, an old industrial neighborhood. Nearly all of them had fallen into disrepair: six buildings alone were equal to almost 250,000 square feet of available, but dilapidated space. But in 2008, it was transformed into one of the most interesting shopping projects in the region, attracting a number of creative tenants.
It is an urban, gritty, authentic old factory site, now housing an eclectic collection of concept stores, restaurants, bars, offices, and an open-air market on Sunday that is even more diverse and attracts an enormous crowd. Everything at LX Factory is different — and I mean different in a unique way. It is a hub of creativity for bold design, both interior and fashion — and houses some of the quirkiest shops in Lisbon, It also offers music, fashion, and art shows fashioned in its own inimitable way, creative, unique and original.
LX Factory is a visit that should not be rushed. Take your time walking through, looking at the shops, stopping for a meal — or a delicious coffee and pastry. Make it interactive. Be engaged in the experience.
At nighttime, when the bridge is lit up overheard, LX Factory takes on a more romantic ambiance. The nightlife is off the charts with bars, music, dancing, and concerts — you’ll see how the Portuguese party like there is no tomorrow. Today and tomorrow may merge with no sleep dividing them!
Lisbon is known for having some of the finest street art — at LXFactory, it’s no different. Work by the best artists can be viewed strolling through the complex. There is nothing like it anywhere else; it is one of the finest open-air galleries for this genre of art.
There are several ‘installations’ — mainly large pieces, mostly with a social message. Some of the Portuguese artists being exhibited here are world-famous and others are important artists from overseas who were invited to participate. The art shows particularly well in the gritty environment of a former factory setting. Because of the number of visitors passing through LX Factory each day, by now the art has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.
This cheesemonger was at the Sunday market. After spending time talking to him, I decided he is an “affineur” — not only does he make the cheese, but he also watches over it as it ages and ripens! He travels several hours from the country to have a stall at the market. With almost no sleep on a Saturday night, he loads up his truck and then travels many hours to arrive in time and arrange the cheese display. Look at the cheese — it doesn’t get much better than that! I wish you could smell it, it was ripe.
Where to begin? There are quite a few restaurants and coffee shops at LX Factory. From humble to topnotch and ethnically diverse across the scale. The interiors were creatively put together and a true representation of the owner’s talents.
Landeau, an unpretentious bakery, serves an outstanding chocolate cake, supposedly the best in Lisbon. Having other things to do, I did not go on a chocolate cake tasting expedition, because having tasted this one, there cannot possibly be another to compete. It is way above any other chocolate cake I have ever tasted. In case you doubt my judgment, Food and Wine Magazine featured it glowingly on their pages and The New York Times published the recipe on its website, if anyone wants to try and make it.
This was the New York Times review: “The cake is dark and dense with a long finish. The flavor holds on playing base to the cakes softer and lighter notes. “
It goes well with their gourmet coffee or a refreshing hot lemon tea, or, In case one needs more chocolate, Landeau’s hot chocolate is in a class of its own.
LIVRARIA LER DEVEGAR
Portugal has a rich literary history and Ler Devegar is one more of its outstanding bookshops. It is most noted for its iconic flying nun creation that has been photographed and published over and over in tourist publications. The New York Times described it as “one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world” and many other prestigious publications have added to the list of accolades.
There are six factory buildings at LX Factory — this particular factory building had originally been a printing and publishing business in the 19th century. The printing presses were left inside when the building was abandoned — probably too heavy to move! — and are now part of the decor. It is a large space, big enough for concerts, exhibitions, and presentations and accented with a grand staircase. There are two floors with thousands of books, mainly Portuguese and a few English titles. It also has a café and a small cinema in the back — a fine place to pause and browse through the books.
The antique ‘hounds’ have scooped up some very interesting collectibles here at LX Factory. With so much reconstruction and updating happening in Lisbon, there must be a lot of collectibles finding their way onto the second-hand market. These are not antiques in the true sense of the word, but they are interesting decor pieces and they feature heavily here. The collections are well-curated and cleverly displayed, sometimes mixed with more contemporary pieces.
FRESH ORANGE JUICE
So refreshing to see and to taste! This contraption has been designed with a series of moving parts to squeeze the oranges – generated by the person sitting in the seat, pedaling. I actually sat on the bike pushing the pedals that set off other moving parts — it was hilarious to see the manpower needed to keep the moving pieces going that would ultimately extract the juice. I can think of simpler ways to squeeze oranges, but it was a crowd magnet!
I am totally intrigued by “inking.” It is a messy procedure, but I love the creativity that goes along with it and the fact that people will desecrate their bodies to express their individuality — to say nothing about how painful it is. This company, the Queen of Hearts, also does body piercing — I admit, I am not a fan of this as art or any other form.
‘We Hate Tourism Tours” is the tour company that I used in Lisbon and Porto to find many of the places featured on my blog. “We Hate Tourism Tours” is located at LX Factory, in fact, inside one of the buildings. Its headquarters is filled with creative artists and designers making products of one sort or another. The guides are university graduates who could not find jobs elsewhere — and through them, I gained enormous insight into what is happening in Portugal with the impact of the Golden Visa, which has resuscitated the economy and at the same time sold the country out to the investors. The company was recommended to me by my friend Tanya in San Francisco — and I in turn will highly recommend them to anyone wanting to look a little deeper into what is happening in Portugal. Checking now, I see their rating on Google is 4.9 out of 5 stars. That’s certainly on par with my experience! It is best to contact them in advance, or otherwise, when in town, you may reach them and book a tour by calling 351/9137-7659-8 or view their website,www.wehatetourismtours.com
Try not to rush a visit to the LX Factory. Go with an open mind and let it reveal itself in all its originality. Wear comfortable shoes and know: it is an interactive experience! Have a look at some of the shops and pause a little to have a good cup of coffee and sample the food. Take your camera and capture the uniqueness of the 19th-century factory setting with modern-day chicness and art. And if you are there in the evening, stay for a drink and admire the view over the river at sunset. Make sure to hurry home as the sun is setting — or you may just get caught up in the party vibe and miss a night’s sleep as you party on into the next day.
Rua Rodrigues de Faria 103
Each company sets its own time for opening and closing.