Loyalty in Lisbon: Going to Portugal with Travel’s Largest Points ProgramPhoto from Unsplash Travel Features
“Get Out There” is a monthly column for itchy footed humans written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although weird now, travel is still worthwhile—especially to these open borders.
As global travel restrictions all but disappear, the world’s largest hotelier expects pent up demand to finally pop. “An overwhelming number of people are going to travel this year,” one Marriott representative told me. “In fact, 77% of Americans plan to take at least one trip, domestic or international.” That’s a lot of people—hundreds of millions even. Because math.
In an effort to ease travelers back into the swing of things, Marriott is making a big push to promote their free Bonvoy rewards program, where guests can earn points anytime they stay at one of the company’s 7600 hotels across 30 total brands, which have made it the world’s largest hotel company by a wide margin over the last five years. To sweeten the deal, guests can earn points on Uber rides, car rentals, or while booking tours.
This month, my wife and I decided to use this program to book our first intercontinental trip since the world closed. Our only criteria: we wanted to travel to Europe, to someplace we’d never been, and we wanted it to be welcoming to foreigners, i.e. with few (if any) restrictions. After some Googling, we decided on Lisbon, Portugal, which has been trending for the last decade as a sunkissed, warm, scenic city with a lot of history.
To keep things easy and affordable, we booked a five day stay at Moxy Lisbon City, one of the newest hotels that opened last year. Centrally located and about a 15 minute walk from the city’s coastal hotspots (like Alfama, pictured above), the Moxy is a delightfully playful boutique hotel with complimentary breakfast, a rooftop pool, and terrace rooms (or funky windows) that overlook the rolling hills and many “miradouros” or viewpoints that Lisbon is known for.
While walking the countless cobblestone streets that are absolutely EVERYWHERE, I mentioned to my wife, “This feels as old as Rome.” It’s actually older. In between bites of bacalhau (the namesake traditional codfish) and too many pastel de natas (mini custard pies, the official dessert of Portugal) to count, I learned that Lisbon is actually the second oldest capital in Europe, with a Phoenician trading post located in what is now the city as far back as 1200 BC. And although there’s little trace of the ancient city today, downtown Lisbon looks and feels noticeably older than similarly aged cities, as it was largely spared from the world wars that ravaged so much of Europe.
So as not to sprain an ankle, my wife and I deliberately chose not to sightsee from dusk ‘til dawn. Instead we took a chill approach to immersing ourselves in the culture. We booked an informative “TukTuk” tour in an oversized, street legal golf cart to the most famous neighborhoods, including the aforementioned Alfama with its tightly packed townhomes, the famous Avenue da Liberdade, the wide open Praça do Comércio, the poshy Chiado, and my personal favorite, the quaint Bairro Alto. “It’s unreal how close these buildings are!” I noted in my journal.
We enjoyed a food tour to some of the lesser known and popular bites the city has to offer, including a sardine bar called Sol E Pesca that was much better than expected (would go again). Some of our favorite meals included the 5-star Re’Tasco for traditional Portuguese, the views and tapas at Lumi Rooftop Restaurant, brunch at Augusto Lisboa, and fast-casual La Bonne Crepe. As for the best natas, we searched wide and far. Most were fantastic. Pastéis de Belém, the inventor of the nata, was the favorite.
In between meals and meandering, we stumbled upon three remarkable gems: the stunning Miradouro da Graça at sunset, the Vatican-like Church of Our Lady of Grace, and Jam Bar, which is a tiny Portuguese version of Cheers, where everybody knows your name in a matter of minutes. We finished our trip at sunset with a 35 minute scooter ride using Lime along the boardwalk to Padrão dos Descobrimentos and Belém Tower, two sacred spots that over half a millennium ago served as the launch port to much of the western world.
All told, I was completely charmed by Lisbon, my new favorite European city. The Portuguese people are some of the warmest you’ll find on the continent. The views were stupendous. The food was delicious. The hotel was fantastic. It was an excellent use of our Marriott Bonvoy points.
Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with an adolescent family and their “bullador beagle.”