Graça: Lisbon from on High
During our first month in Lisbon, we lived in Mouraria. The ascent to our apartment required the lungs of a deep sea diver and the legs of a cyborg, and although the trek always destroyed us, we had to concede that it could be worse. High above us, the residents of another neighborhood sneered at our exhaustion. While gasping for oxygen, we’d shake our fists at them. “Maybe not yet, Graça! But we’ll be ready for you soon!”
A month later, it was time. By now, we were hill-conquering machines, bounding up slopes which had mere weeks ago provoked tears. Our thighs had hardened into steel, our calves were tightly wound balls of pure muscle, and we were finally ready for Graça. We hoisted our luggage up onto our shoulders and with thunderous, manly strides, scaled the hill into the upper stratosphere. For our second month in Lisbon, this would be our home.
Graça is best known for its two tremendous viewpoints: the Miradouro da Graça and the Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte, the latter of which was almost adjacent to our new apartment. We were constantly amazed by the unbroken procession of tuk-tuks which traversed our street, dropping tourists off at the viewpoint. (“Har!” I often exclaimed to Jürgen, as we were tromping home like giants returning from a hunt. “Gaze upon yon foreigners, with flabby thighs of cheese!” Jürgen would raise one mighty leg and stomp onto the ground, sending shockwaves through the pavement and flipping tuk-tuks into the air like pancakes.)
There’s no need to visit both miradouros, as they’re so close to each other that the views are quite similar. The Senhora de Monte is the better choice, as it’s higher and correspondingly more impressive. Plenty of tourists make it here, but unfortunately, it usually seems to be their only stop in Graça. The neighborhood might not have any must-see museums or churches, but this is one of Lisbon’s most charming areas. We appreciated it more and more throughout the weeks we called it home.
Although it’s the lesser of the two viewpoints, the Miradouro da Graça (also known as the Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyer, after a local poet), has the advantage of being located next to the Convento da Graça. If it’s open, which isn’t always the case, make sure to tour the interior. The walls are covered in blue and white tiles that recreate scenes of bloody Christian martyrdom, and there’s a set of hundreds of small figures which model the city’s complete Corpus Christi processions.
Away from the two viewpoints, the atmosphere of Graça is decidedly local. The sidewalks are about two feet in width, and you can’t walk more than a couple steps without pausing for another little old lady to shuffle by. There are a lot of unremarkable shops, tiny tascas, and beautiful, tile-covered buildings, a few of which are especially impressive.
Graça is known for its “vilas”, or massive residential buildings. There’s Vila Sousa, near the Miradouro da Graça, Vila Estrela da Ouro, and Vila Berta, among others. We loved Vila Berta, which occupies the entire length of a street of the same name. With its overhanging balconies of wrought iron, cobblestone lane, and principal access through an arch at the end of the street, this looks just like it must have at the turn of the 20th century, when it was constructed.
Graça must be one of the last neighborhoods in central Lisbon still mainly occupied by Portuguese people. There’s a pleasant energy, particularly around dusk, when the many bakeries around the main square are packed full with patrons enjoying their daily pastel de nata, and fado can be heard pouring out of the small bars. It takes some effort to get up this high, but once you’re in Graça, it’s likely that you’ll want to stay.