Like most people in our region, I knew little about Portugal and tend to associate it with egg tarts, port wines, Malacca and Macau.
A quick check revealed that the small country established the first global empire stretching from Brazil in the west to India in the east and as far as Timor in the south and Macau in the north. This southern European country on the Iberian peninsula administered 22 jurisdictions as early as the 15th century, much earlier than England, France, Holland and Spain.
Alas, she could not hold the vast empire forever and lost Macau, her last colony, in 1999.
Today, Portugal is a developed country and the third most peaceful country in the world. Her most popular export is Cristiano Ronaldo – the world's best footballer who plays for Real Madrid.
He tops the Forbes highest paid sportsmen for the second year in a row, taking in an impressive US$93mil a year in salaries and endorsements.
Pestana CR7 Lisboa
The tedious task of finding a good hotel in a prime location over the Internet was settled when I clicked on a peculiar name, Pestana CR7 Lisboa Hotel and a question appeared across the screen, "Are you a fan of Cristiano Ronaldo?"
Ronaldo has a hotel?
Interestingly, Pestana CR7 Lisboa is a partnership between the football legend and Pestana Group, a leading local multi-national hotel chain. The word "CR7" is the acronym formed with the initials of the footballer's name and the number printed on his shirt.
Assuming this collaboration would ensure that the hotel would uphold his reputation and protect his investment, I booked it.
The limousine driver who picked us at the Lisbon Airport told us that every Portuguese knew this property.
The distinctive hotel was a completely renovated historic building in the posh neighbourhood of Baixa Pombalina in the centre of the city. Many popular tourist sites like the Chiado shopping district, Avenida da Liberdade shopping street, Cais do Sodre, Terreiro do Paco and PraPraco do Rossio were within a few minutes' walk.
The interior decor was chic, modern European in dark colours, creating a cozy ambience that relaxes anyone who steps in. Articles about sports adorned the walls and showcases.
Our room featured soft tones and textures, offering a sophisticated environment with discreet sporty touches. When I laid back on the comfortable bed, I saw hues of green resembling grass and goalposts on both ends and felt like I was in a football stadium. Then I realised it was subtly modelled after a football field.
After a delightful meal at the CR7 Corner Bar & Bistro, we took interactive photos with the Real Madrid star – a unique and exclusive experience.
Young street performer
Stepping out, we started exploring popular places nearby. The streets with beautiful buildings of architectural styles of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassicism were a sight to behold.
Lisbon is well served by trams and the metro. The next day, we rode the iconic Tram 28 in the historic district of Alfama up a hill to Castelo de Sao Jorge to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. It was like an exciting roller-coaster ride along narrow streets.
There was a street performer singing and strumming his guitar in the large square below the castle. When one-and-a-half-year-old Baby CAT heard the music, she danced spontaneously as usual – gyrating, turning and fluttering happily – attracting a sizable crowd to watch her perform. A toddler became her instant fan and followed her wherever she went.
The highlight was an excursion to visit a picturesque resort town called Sintra, located in the midst of pine-covered hills. We hired a tour guide who drove us to Village Sintra, a quaint little town to try the famous local desserts at Piriquita. Both the shop and its sole waitress were aged, blending perfectly with the ancient town.
After arriving in Sintra, we boarded a small bus to ride along a narrow road up a hill to visit the colourful 19th century Pena Palace, which has a whimsical design that inspired Walt Disney to create the iconic Cinderella castle seen in every one of its theme parks.
The wind blowing over the hilltop palace grounds was so strong that it blew my hat away, and I could hardly hold on to my umbrella.
Sintra Park had five attractions but we skipped the others to allow time to take a leisurely drive along the coast to savour seafood at a famous restaurant on the beach of the charming fishing town of Cascais.
After visiting Portugal, I can attest that she has more to offer other than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Lisbon is such a beautiful and colourful historical city with friendly people enjoying a leisurely lifestyle. Besides, it is child-friendly and less expensive compared to other European countries.
The marvellous stay at the unique Pestana CR7 Lisboa Hotel enhanced our appreciation of the city as well as the country.
I hear that the football star is opening more hotels in Portugal. That calls for another trip – for I am not only a fan of Ronaldo now, but of Portugal.