Enchanted by Saudade: My Love Letter to Lisbon

This post is part of our Love Letter series: first-person accounts of what we love about Lisbon.

Hilly streets, buildings with history and a soft sea breeze. These are my first memories of Lisbon, a city I visited for the first time in 2007. Over a decade later a lot has changed, much due to a harsh recession and later the mixed impact of tourism on the local economy.

But what hasn’t changed is the soul of Lisbon, a city where the people are friendly and the food is homemade and delicious, where the coffee is strong and the sea breeze still as appealing as ever.

When deciding to expand Devour Tours, Lisbon was our first choice. And we were looking for someone with a true connection to the soul of the city to take the reins. After all, we want to share the real people, stories and food of Lisbon with our guests. Ellis Dixon lives and breathes Lisbon and I’m proud to welcome her as the newest member of Devour Tours. Join her to go deep and discover a Lisbon beyond the guidebooks—bite by bite!

— Lauren Aloise, Founder of Devour Tours

You know you've truly fallen in love with Lisbon when you experience saudade—the feeling of missing a place before you've even left it.

Photo Credit: Ellis Dixon, Text Overlay: Devour Lisbon Food Tours

What you already know about Lisbon is that the weather is bright and cheerful, it’s pretty inexpensive, and you’ve probably even heard of fado.

That’s what I knew about the city before I landed here eight years ago, but what I’ve come to understand is so much richer and intoxicating: Lisbon is home.

It’s a cinematic fairy tale to walk in the shadow of the Castelo São Jorge and under rows of drying linens. It’s enchanting to shop along cobblestone streets, and it’s thrilling to visit a fado club nestled in the heart of Alfama, but the real showstopper comes from the prato do dia menu at your local tasca, the fresh fish at the market that’s expertly de-boned and scaled before your eyes, and the coffee that’s pressed to perfection and served to you in seconds. Lisbon is meant to be savored in layers, just as the mil-folhas (thousand-layer) pastries melt in your mouth as you watch the tall ships squeeze under the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge with Cristo Rei standing by with open arms to receive them.

As the newest member of the Devour Tours team, Ellis knows what it's like to experience saudade in Lisbon better than anyone.
Ellis sits in what we can only imagine is a food coma on some steps near Sta. Apólonia Station. Photo credit: Ellis Dixon

Historically, Lisbon was run by the Visigoths, the Romans, the Moors, and the Christian crusaders, only to be leveled by the great earthquake, and then re-built. Despite the city’s turbulent history, touches of all these ages have somehow remained pancaked on top of each other, giving Lisbon a beauty all its own and a cuisine that pays homage to each occupation and trade route established by the discoverers.

Each street holds various incarnations of itself depending on the hour of day, so the city unfolds slowly as you explore it, showing little parts of herself at a time. The same goes for the people who live here and the stories and passions they allow you to see as you get to know them. Lisbon is a city filled with unexpected snapshots of yesteryear intermingled with modern life.

Ellis is an expert on Lisbon and the art of saudade. Here she is celebrating Portuguese Carnival.
Ellis gets with the local custom of Carnival by having a dance with a Portuguese careto. Photo credit: Ellis Dixon

After spending countless hours exploring the city bit by bit (and bite by bite), I started to write about the passionate people and facets of Portuguese life that make Lisbon the best city on Earth. I founded AtlasLisboa.com five years ago to help visitors understand how to get the most out of the city and its culinary scene, and Devour Tours took notice.

Atlas and Devour share the same mission, which is how I know I’ve found my home. We feel compelled to help keep the little guys running, to tell the lesser-known story of an ancient establishment, to give a voice to the Lisboeta behind the counter, canvas or canto who pours their heart and soul into what they do. Their stories are our stories.

If you're doing it right, experiencing saudade in Lisbon will make you miss the city before you even leave.
It’s seldom just the bifana, it’s more often the people behind them, like this shopkeeper in Santos. Photo credit: Ellis Dixon

Visiting Lisboa means falling in love with and missing her even while you’re still here. This is what the Portuguese word saudade means, and this is the message that is woven into the fabric of fado, of food, and of daily life here. I was delighted when Devour asked me to join their team to show visitors what it means to be Portuguese. While it’s true that the best way to get to know a culture is through its food, we know that half the flavor comes from engaging with those who have crafted it.

That’s why I can’t wait to introduce you to the real flavors of Lisbon—so that you can see what it means to love them and miss them simultaneously.  

If you think there’s no better person to show you around Lisbon than Ellis—you’re right! Join her on our Tastes & Traditions of Lisbon Food Tour for shops with histories that date back more than a century, iconic dishes prepared by the best of the best and Portuguese pastries known the world over.

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