The teleological argument for the existence of God – or any deity you might subscribe to – states that something as beautifully intrinsic and perfect as the universe couldn’t have happened by chance; it must be the product of a designer, or ‘higher power’.
The same can be said for Lisbon’s NOS Alive 2016; a music festival so quintessentially sublime that we can only assume that it’s the result of divine intervention.
With Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Pixies leading the charge, flanked by some of the biggest LGBT+ names in music today – from John Grant to Years & Years – NOS Alive undoubtedly boasted the best music festival line-up in Europe this summer. The Thom Yorke-led Oxford quintet were the most talked about of the weekend, showcasing their new album A Moon Shaped Pool – all beats and crystalline falsetto – alongside some of the greatest rock hits of the 21st century; Karma Police, Creep, Paranoid Android and Idioteque in the same set is any Radiohead fan’s dream.
Arcade Fire, on the other hand, took their first steps on the road of their highly-anticipated comeback with a career-defining greatest hits set mixing suburban existential crises, carnivalesque euphoria and equality-urging anthems: “White men have run the world for long enough,” mused frontman Win Butler, before launching into his ode to the disenfranchised We Exist, “It’s time women and people of colour try for 100 years or so.”
And whether it’s the stadium rock pomp of Foals and Biffy Clyro, the Russian-techno-meets-avant-garde-pop of Grimes, or the scuzzy Down Under punk of Courtney Barnett, NOS Alive demonstrated an inclusive line-up which took ‘something for everyone’ to whole new heights.
When Years & Years take to the stage under a glorious sun, we’re still overwhelmed to see thousands-strong wave rainbow flags and show their visible support for the LGBT+ community – regardless of their colours, creeds or religions. While we’ve seen this display at Years & Years gigs in the UK for some time now, the fact that it’s filtering through to countries across the world shows the importance of having such a visible gay popstar as Olly Alexander. And after running through what’s now become the well-deserved hit-laden victory lap of their Communion tour – courtesy of King, Desire and Take Shelter – as Olly surveys the adoring crowd, he says what we’re all thinking: “I don’t think there’s a more beautiful festival in the world.”
He’s right. But the real highlight of NOS Alive didn’t walk on stage, plug a guitar into an amp and launch into a second encore; the bright, shinning gem in the crown of NOS Alive is the city of Lisbon itself. The festival site is nestled in the bosom of the River Tagus, and just a little further along the shore – just a short bus journey or an even shorter tram ride away – is the central hub of the city.
If you and your friends or, dare we say it, ‘significant other’ have a tendency to disagree when it comes to holiday destinations, then Lisbon might save you from any heated debates and headaches. With cosy winding streets, ornate centuries-old churches and restaurants serving the best in local wines (if you didn’t know by now, Portugal is partial to a bottle of red…) and freshly-caught fish, Lisbon is a real capital of culture. And with revolutionaries overthrowing a fascist dictatorship as recently as 1974, there’s a rich tapestry of history woven through the city’s picturesque squares and quaint coffee shops.
If you’re more of a ‘whip it off on the beach and have the sun beat down on your back’ kind of guy, however, then the charming nearby beach towns of Estoril and Cascais are less than 30 minutes away by train. In short, you’re in the perfect location to avoid a tug-of-war between pounding the city streets to soak up the culture or pounding the beaches to soak up the rays.
As much as Lisbon is a tale of two cities, as was also the case with our accommodation. With temperatures hovering somewhere around 30ºC in Lisbon for the month of July, NOS Alive isn’t the kind of festival where you pack a tent. Not unless you want to risk serious heatstroke, anyway. So it’s one of those times when Airbnb becomes your friend. If you’ve never used the service before, it takes seconds to be chatting with a certified and vetted renter. We settled on a beautifully-decorated apartment close to the beating heart of the city’s nightlife. Hosted by the charming Diogo, he was on hand throughout the duration of our stay to answer any questions, point us in the direction of hidden local gems and give us the best tips and advice for getting around; Airbnb really is the closest you’re going to get to staying in a city and living like a local.
But if you want to lap it up in the height of luxury, there’s no other choice than the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz. Built in the late-50s by the then-dictator in an attempt to prove that Lisbon can do luxury, it was later taken over by the Four Seasons group after the revolution, but still carries on the mantle of being one of the most luxurious stays money can buy.
Bedrooms come with their own balconies (bigger than most London flats we’ve seen) overlooking the beautiful, leafy-green grounds of Eduardo VII Park and the jacaranda-lined streets below. Décor is grand, but tasteful – with chandeliers and local Portuguese art hanging throughout the hotel – with opulence very much being the order of the day. And whether you’re after cigarettes or wanting to arrange a sightseeing tour in a vintage motorbike and sidecar (which, trust us, is the best and most exhilarating way to experience any city), the expert concierge service is on hand to cater to your every whim.
But even if you’re not lucky enough to be a guest in the Four Seasons on your trip to Lisbon, the hotel’s Veranda Restaurant led by French chef Pascal Meynard is a dinning experience in the city that’s second to none. Offering a rich variety of authentic Portuguese dishes, world class service and the freshest octopus we’ve ever tasted, as the sun sets on our final night in Lisbon and we toast a glass of 30-year-old port, just a small taste of this luxurious lifestyle means we’re already planning our next trip.
Hopefully, for next year’s NOS Alive. l
Gay Times stayed with Airbnb (airbnb.co.uk) and Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon (fourseasons.com/lisbon). Rooms at the Four Seasons start from from €360/approx £300. For more on NOS Alive visit nosalive.com.