Escaping the City – Without Escaping the City!

Rain. Grey clouds. Cold winds. Buying a coat.

These are not things I associate with my adoptive home of Lisbon, Portugal, but for the last 3 weeks, this has pretty much been how things have been. As such, I’ve been using my innate British power of complaining to all and sundry about it. But then my friend started telling me about St Martin’s Summer (O Verão de São Martinho). Right on queue, on Friday, the sun showed up again and we’ve had an unseasonably warm weekend, so I decided to get out of the city today, but without leaving the city limits.

To the west of Lisbon’s centre is a huge green space, called Monsanto. Walk into the place and you’re surrounded by quiet, by greenery and by wildlife. The boundaries of the park area are separated only by a dual carriageway from Benfica, one of the busiest residential and commercial districts in the city and yet, only a few metres into the park, you can easily forget it.

I started off my walk today at Campolide and took the road opposite the incredible aqueduct to Serafina. It seems to be quite a run down place, but has an amazing position at one of the highest points in the city. It’s also nestled right alongside the wonderful aqueduct, making for some terrific views. Add to this that you barely need to leave the neighbourhood to find the first edge of Monsanto and it’s an easy choice to make.

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After walking through the park of Serafina, you come out on to a main road with the first of many towers, which are dotted around throughout Monsanto. I don’t know what the purpose of them is or was, but there was and is a substantial prison in the area, as well as a military facility, so some connection with one or both of these seems likely. The road beyond the tower leads you downhill, straight into the very heart of Benfica. You can see the stadium of the the football team clearly from the road. But a turn to the left and you can dive back into the park, via Benfica’s old, grand church.

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From here, you can scale a steep hill within the forest to find yourself inside the park proper. You can follow the many quiet paths, passing the occasional family or dog walker as you go, but largely undisturbed, weaving along the roadside, until you come to Montes Flores, also known as Lisboa Secret Spot. It’s a simple garden, with a long, narrow water feature in the middle and raised, grassy walkways at either side, with panoramic views over various elements of the city.

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From the Secret Spot, you can either pick up the bus and head back into the city or, as I did, you can walk down the hill through Ajuda and into Alcantara. There are some truly awe-inspiring views this way too. Best of all, when I was finished, it was only a 30 minute ride home!

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