Shopping in Lisbon can be a memorable occasion, especially if you pop along to A Vida Portuguesa. This quirky emporium – sited in a quiet lane in the heart of the city’s fashionable Chiado district – sells authentic, retro-wrapped Portuguese products, special items of nostalgia that make ideal holiday souvenirs.
A Vida Portuguesa in Lisbon's Chiado district — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Resembling an old-fashioned drugstore, with all-wood panelling and antique cabinets, A Vida Portuguesa fits snugly under the arched brick stone ceiling of a former 19th-century warehouse, a design feature that enhances the shop’s traditional character.
This is a place to shop for original products made in Portugal. Everything you see is manufactured in the country. Indeed, much of the stock is unique, handmade by artisans and regionally trademarked.
A Vida Portuguesa means "The Portuguese Life," and the inventory is essentially a collection of reproduction quality goods that were once widely available throughout the country, exclusive brands produced by family-run companies and independent traders.
The idea here is to promote Portugal’s industrial and manufacturing heritage by reintroducing rare and iconic products onto the modern-day retail market.
The collection of perfumed soaps are all packaged in colourful retro wrapping, featuring original designs and logos — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
What sets many of the items apart is their beautiful packaging, mini works of art replete with vintage logo and poetic copywriting.
Especially eye-catching is the range of perfumed soaps. Each bar is enveloped with vivid insignia, graphic design that’s colorful and evocative. Originally manufactured in the early 20th century in the northern city of Oporto by Ach. Brito/Claus Porto, the soaps are infused with exotic-sounding tobacco blossom, sweet honeysuckle and fruity grapefruit, among other fragrances.
A bottle of Moura Alves wine vinegar, the neck of which features a wax seal — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Foodies are in for a treat at A Vida Portuguesa. Gourmet goodies abound. You can find condiments like jars of flor do sal – fluffy sea salt from the Algarve – and bottled Moura Alves wine vinegar, stoppered and sealed with wax.
There are packets of Gorreana tea from the Azores (Gorreana is the only tea plantation in Europe.), tinned fish and seafood featuring 1940s-era livery and dainty Regina chocolates shaped like candy cane umbrellas.
Standing alongside vintage Ramos Pinto port wine are stubby bottles of Licor Beirão, wickedly sweet liquor that’s been gracing the shelves of Portugal’s bars and cafes since 1929.
Distinctive Licor Beirao liquor, a favorite Portuguese tipple — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
If you’re looking for a household gift to take home, the rainbow banded Alentejo carpets look as good on the wall as they do on the floor. The delicately embroidered napkins and tablecloths from the northern seaport of Viana do Castelo are really too good to eat off, but they make wonderfully decorative keepsakes.
There are handcrafted, scented candles to choose from (The Water Lily smells lovely.) and a fantastic selection of azulejos ("tiles"), each one emblazoned with individually hand-drawn patterns.
Ceramics on sale include the Everyman figure of Zé Povinho from a design by celebrated potter Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Actually, of all the ceramics in stock, it’s the reproductions of works by the 19th-century Portuguese artist and potter Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro that are the most symbolic of Portuguese earthenware. His dart-like swallows – caught by the kiln in various mid-flight poses – are ubiquitous domestic accessories and can be found displayed in formation over many a mantelpiece.
A Vida Portuguesa also has examples of the famous Zé Povinho, the long-suffering chubby cheeked Everyman figure created by Pinheiro as an expression of the trials and tribulations of the average Portuguese working man.
Scented candles are popular mementos — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
It’s easy to spend a good half hour in A Vida Portuguesa poring over this wonderful display of patriotic craftsmanship. These are genuine products, all made with singular pride, that have survived the passage of time.
You won’t find high-street designer labels here, and there’s only a hint of modernity about the place. Instead, this is a shopping excursion down memory lane to a time when quality really did matter over quantity.
Special gift boxes are available at A Vida Portuguesa, and they make ideal presents — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
That said, A Vida Portuguesa has solved the customer’s dilemma of a bulk purchase. If several items take your fancy, consider one of their gift boxes, where toiletries, foodstuffs, stationary, books, toys and even jewelery are carefully gift wrapped and presented in a wonderful example of cultural wholesale.