By Charlotte Cox
Never let it be said that we don't know a good deal when we see one (no matter what our Net-a-Porter account history may say). So when faced with planning festivals, not for us was spending a £200-plus ticket price to sit in your average field, playing 'will it rain?' roulette and sleeping in a soggy tent covered in (what we hope is) mud. Nope, not this year. This year, we want more from our festivals. We're going chicer. We're going smarter. And we started at NOS Alive.
One of the continent's hottest festivals, NOS Alive takes place in Lisbon in July. Which means it is QUITE LITERALLY one of the continent's hottest festivals. With temperatures averaging around 30C and a festival site a handy 10-minute, €6 cab away from the city centre, NOS Alive can claim plenty of slashes in its job description. Music fest/city break/pool holiday… just think of it as the Cara Delevingne of the festival world.
The emphasis here is on 'music' – for NOS Alive is pretty different to the British understanding of the word 'festival'. Its urban setting means you swap bucolic (well, swampy) fields for stark concrete; hidden stages, teepees and Hare Krishna tents for astroturf, neon and a helluva lot of branding. It's a shock to the system at first. But this festival starts at dusk and runs till pre-dawn, and as darkness falls the setting begins to make far more sense – the glowing Allianz and Heineken signage becomes almost pretty. (Though that may just be the effect of the very reasonably priced local wine… €4 for 400ml will do that to you.)
One thing that NOS isn't short on, though, is atmosphere. The lack of dancing druids, bongo recitals and (mercifully) flower-crown making means that the focus is squarely on the music. The excitement in the air in the build-up to each set is palpable, the reaction to each riff one of frenzied euphoria. It's hard not to get swept up in the enthusiasm of it all… At one point, we almost find ourselves enjoying The 1975. Almost.
Of course, with the sounds the star of the show, much rests on the quality of the line-up. And NOS Alive nails it. 2016's festival kicks off with Thursday sets from Wolf Alice (who storm through 'Lisbon' in the city it was named after), a hit-packed slot from alt-rock behemoths Pixies (This Monkey's Gone to Heaven – and took us with it) and a jukebox dance-along courtesy of Chemical Brothers. Follow it up with a none-more-cool disco mash-up from 2ManyDJs, and you have a first day that not so much sets the bar high, as stratospheric.
So much so that few festivals would have the depth of bookings policy to follow it. But day two of NOS offers a one-after-the-other, bang-bang-BANG trio of bands that are each headliner-worthy in their own right. First up comes a swaggering, riff heavy tear-up from Foals. Then at sundown comes the dreamy psychedelia of Tame Impala, met with such enthusiasm that spontaneous stripping ensues throughout the blissed-out crowd. ('I see you, Portugal,' says singer Kevin Parker conspiratorially, 'taking off your clothes…' And no, before you ask, we didn't.)
Of course, this is all building to the band whose name has been whispered throughout the crowd all day: Radiohead. And when they finally appear, they play a transcendent set that veers between new material (the pin-drop, reverential silence that meets Daydreaming says it all), out-and-out classics (My Iron Lung, Street Spirit) and fan rarities (Talk Show Host, Creep). This is the World's Most Important Band™ having a serious amount of fun. When the crowd continue chant the closing refrain of finale Karma Police after the song's end, Thom Yorke stays singing along with us long after rest of the band have left the stage. Rumour has it, he even smiled.
If you add to all this wonderment a closing day headlined by Arcade Fire – complete with cinematic sing-alongs, confetti cannons and supersize doppelgangers dancing on stage – and you should be booking your tickets for 2017 now. We guarantee: the line-up will be GOOD.
The brilliant thing about the oh-so-civilised festival hours is that they give you plenty of time to explore Lisbon during the day. And explore it you really should. We suggest that on day one of the festival (when you're still full of energy) you should head up to São Jorge, the centuries-old castle atop the city's highest hill – you can always take one of the legendary yellow tramcars up there if the gradient gets too much. Then wander back through the narrow, cobbled streets of the surrounding Alfama district with its intricately tiled buildings.
In the daylight hours of day two – feeling somewhat rougher around the edges, we'd imagine – the best remedy is to go for a late lunch at Time Out Mercado da Ribeira). A cavernous market hall filled with long dining tables surrounded by mini-restaurant hatches, here you can pick 'n' mix plates of charcuterie, cheese and tortilla with everything from pizza to sushi to paella. Food market: 1; Hangover: 0.
Next, limber up for a return to the festival with sundowners at one of Lisbon's famed rooftop bars. This is a city best enjoyed from above, cocktail in hand: and our no.1 pick would be the chilled, intimate Terrace BA at Bairro Alto Hotel. Voted as the fourth-best hotel terrace view in the world, here you can look out over the old Lisbon rooftops to the Rio Tejo and its iconic suspension bridge. That is, if you can tear your gaze away from the extensive cocktail list, filled with the classics and offering the best mojito we've ever tasted (and we've tasted a lot.) Just like that, you'll be ready to rock again.
Day three is when the final and – as anyone who has survived a trenchfoot year at Glasto may agree – most appealing slash of NOS Alive comes into play. Namely, at this festival you can swap your tents for some poolside hotel luxury, perfect for recovering when you're two nights of partying to the bad. And with festival tickets just €119 (around £100) for a weekend, less than half the price of a UK equivalent, you can afford to treat yourself to somewhere special.
We'd argue that nowhere is more special than the Pestana Palace Lisbon. A former 19th century palace, nowadays it's all air-conditioned splendour, with light, airy bedrooms and sauna, steam room and gym on hand. Not that, by day three, the gym is coming into it – we make straight for the sparkling pool, surrounded by jungly foliage and with a waterside bar a few steps away. Now THIS is how to festival.
Which may as well be our motto for the whole weekend. A musical line-up of dreams, a super-cool city to explore by day and – if all else fails – a luxe pool to bask next to with a bellini. It's chicer. It's smarter. It's sunnier. THIS is how to festival.
NOS Alive 2017 runs from 6-8 July; weekend tickets from £100.
Flights from London to Lisbon with TAP Portugal start from around £150 return
Double rooms at the Pestana Palace Lisbon start from £195, B&B. A taxi from the hotel to the festival site costs around €10 (£8)