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Travel: Five-star luxury retreat in a city rich with history and culture...

Belem Tower.
Belem Tower.

While being pampered in Lisbon’s Corinthia Hotel spa, masseuse Christina said I didn’t look old enough to have four grandchildren.

I’ll take that, any day, I thought as I lapped up the compliment, but, to be fair, the lighting was low and I was lying face down on a treatment bed, towelled up to my shoulders.

Corinthia Hotel Lisbon garden terrace.

Corinthia Hotel Lisbon garden terrace.

Everything about this award-winning, five-star hotel exudes luxury, as I discovered, experiencing an indulgent Portuguese Journey massage, using ingredients inspired by the Indian

Discovery Routes of Vasco da Gama in 1498. After 80 minutes, this exfoliated, moisturised grandma, fragrant with the scent of clove buds and cinnamon, muscles oiled and relaxed, emerged invigorated and hopefully, rejuvenated.

The award-winning spa, which covers 3,500 metres, is an oasis of warmth and calm, with swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam bath, crushed ice fountains, sensory showers, Jacuzzi and gym.

The family-friendly Corinthia Hotel, which accommodates corporate and leisure guests in 518 rooms, is a short metro distance or taxi ride from the city centre. Stylish bedrooms are spacious, well-equipped and designed for comfort with huge beds, quality bed linen and large TV screens. A daily offering of sweet and savoury canapés, fresh juice, fruit and nuts was a welcome treat.

The Pasteis de Nata was very tasty.

The Pasteis de Nata was very tasty.

With views of the city, historic aqueducts and bridges, the 24th floor Executive Club Sky Lounge, offers a top drawer buffet and cooked to order breakfast.

Staff make you feel special here and, in fact, everywhere in the hotel. Portuguese and other European cuisine of the highest standard is served in the hotel restaurants. The impressive, relaxing public areas include a delightful alfresco dining terrace and garden.

Lisbon, Portugal’s City of Light, situated by the widest stretch of the Tagus River, benefits from reflected sunlight on its calm waters. Rich in history and culture, this seafaring city pays homage to great explorers who sailed from its harbour – Columbus, Prince Henry (not our Prince Harry) Magellan, Vasco de Gama and many more – with the riverside Discoveries Monument built in 1960.

Nearby, the majestic Tower of Belem, a lighthouse/fortress built in 1500 recognises de Gama. The 11-mile long, 25th April or Vasco bridge, was completed in the 1960s.

In 1755, an earthquake, tsunami and fire almost destroyed the city. The statue of King José on horseback in the Praça do Comércio represents Lisbon’s wealth and economic power in Europe.

Pastel-painted buildings, elegant tiled squares and tree-lined avenues of three and four storey mansions with wrought iron balconies stand alongside artisan-style outlets, contemporary restaurants, clubs and Art Nouveau cafes. Hand-crafted soaps, infused with fine scents, have been the pride of Claus Porto’s beauty and fragrance house for 130 years. Lovingly wrapped by hand, these, along with perfumes, creams, candles, diffusers and colognes make charming gifts and are showcased in glass-fronted cabinets.

Claus Porto, located in Lisbon’s vibrant, cultural Chiado district, also houses a collection of archives and artefacts.

But we spied an undercover side to Lisbon. It was here novelist Ian Fleming was inspired to write Casino Royale, his first James Bond novel.

And author Graham Greene used his experience on the Lisbon desk for British Intelligence in his books. Lisbon’s trams are integral to the public transport network and cover areas without metro access. The historic, yellow Remodelado trams rattle and screech through the narrow streets. The modern Siemens Articulado trams are more discreet.

Foodies flock to the buzzing, atmospheric Taberna Bairro do Avillez in Chiado, and no wonder, for renowned chef José Avillez utilises expertise and flair to create traditional Portuguese dishes, tapas and charcuterie, fused with a modern twist.

In this informal, bustling, central patio-style restaurant with a vaulted ceiling and gallery, huge cured hams hang over the serving pass to the open kitchen. The plates kept coming as we tucked into horse mackerel cones, sliced baby octopus, beef croquettes and more.

Fish, fish and more fish, including sardines, of course, is on every menu in the city.

Located on the beachfront in the delightful resort of Cascais, the family-run Mar do Inferno is famed for its enormous seafood platters of crab, lobster, salmon, mussels and prawns, plus the ocean and sunset views. Booking is advisable here. Our small group chose to share and still couldn’t clear the colourful plate.

You can’t visit Lisbon without sampling the famous Pasteis de Nata, or custard tarts, a plain description which doesn’t do them justice, at the Antiga Praça Confeitaria de Belem. Staff sign a contract pledging not to reveal the ancient secret recipe dating back to 1837, devised by nuns who populated the former convent.

Who knows what happens to staff if they break their promise of secrecy.

Perhaps there’s a dungeon at the Castelo de Sao Jorge which isn’t too far away! There’s certainly a “Door of Treason” there!

Master confectioners make and sell 20,000 of these irresistible vanilla custard cream-filled filo pastry tartlets in their cafe and over the counter to queues of people, every day, and no wonder. Crunchy, creamy and moreish, it’s an unwritten rule you have to eat at least two.

Oh, go on, then.

Travel facts:

Corinthia Hotel, Lisbon, from 140€/night for a double room to include breakfast. Visit http://www.corinthia.com/Lisbon Claus Porto