When I took a brochure about megalithic erected stones in Portugal, I was amazed at the abundance of sites scattered throughout the country. We decided to visit some of these in a loop west of the city of Evora through Valverde, Sao Brissos and Guadalupe.
The narrow minor roads develop through gentle hills dominated by cork trees, the only human presence being a few men at work with stacks of cork bark sections ready for shipment.
Anta Grande do Zambujeiro is the tallest and largest dolmen in Iberia
Cromeleque dos Almendres is a circle counting nearly a hundred stones
Menhir dos Almendres is a tall, single erected stone
Dolmen Capela de Nossa Senhora do Livramento is a curious example of how a stone structure can be converted into a chapel.
These interesting megalitic sites are accessible on gravel roads for free visits. We went there on our own but we saw a small bus taking a couple of visitors on an organized tour, probably departing from Evora.
You won't hear much about this small group of islands, located just off the coast at Peniche, about 2 hours north of Lisbon, but they were one of the highlights of our Portugal trip! For the sake of a relatively cheap boat tour fee, you get to enjoy this amazing bird sanctuary island and it's ancient Fort de Sao Joao Baptista, re-built in the late 1600s after it was blown up by a Spanish attacking force in 1666.
Nobody lives on the island year-round, and in summer there is only an itinerant population of a few campers/tourists and the naturalists who are studying the local wildlife. After docking in Caramusteira Bay, as seen in the photo, you can either head off into the hills on your own (no roads on the island) for a wonderful hike along the cliffs to the Fort and other attractions or you can hire a small local boat to take you snorkeling or exploring the island's many sea caves.
The old fort, located on a small island connected to the main Berlenga island by a small foot-bridge, was once a posh restaurant in the days of the Salazar dictatorship. Now, you can book it for indoor camping with a few basic amenities!
If the weather is right, this is a trip well worth a few hours of your time!
We had not started the day well with an unexpected delay in Lisbon on the first day of our road trip around Portugal. We ended up having a long afternoon drive to the southern Algarve area of the country. By the time we had found our accommodations in the tiny village of Aljezur, it was already 4:30 PM.
Since we wanted to at least have a little taste of the ocean on this 29 C day, we very quickly headed for the closest nearby beach (only 5 km away) on the not so touristy western-Atlantic side of the Algarve. The beach at Monte Clerigo was just what the doctor ordered - a long smooth expanse of sand and cliffs with hardly another soul there! These seaweed covered rocks greeted us as we strolled down to the sea fog rising from where the cold Atlantic waters met the hot sandy beaches of Portugal!
Wow, did we ever enjoy this first ocean experience in Portugal!
As with the other castles that we visited during our trip (Sintra, Aljezur, Monsaraz and Marvao), Monsanto started it's life as a fortified settlement on top of the highest peak in the area that the locals could find! This part of Portugal, on the Spanish border near Castelo Branco, had been part of the early Roman settlements, and there are still remnants of their presence in nearby villages.
Unlike most of the other defensive villages along the border, Monsanto no longer has any fortifications to speak of, the last one having been blown up by an explosion in it's gunpowder magazine. Instead, the village that now occupies the top of this distant peak is the most striking place in Portugal that we visited during our entire 2-week trip!
Although the mountain top is covered in massive granite boulders, the people of the village have managed to integrate their houses with the rocks as if it was all meant to be! Once voted as Portugal's 'most Portugese village', this spot is well-deserving of the honour and is a place that you should not miss visiting if you ever get the chance!
Amarante doesn’t often show on touristic guides about Portugal. And they are so wrong!! It is one of the prettiest towns in Portugal, bathed by River Tamega. It has a charming ambiance, it’s hard to describe it, and the only thing I may say is that I felt in love with this town the first time I visited. My friend that visited Amarante for the first time with me mentioned that she found it the prettiest town in Portugal. I wouldn’t go that far, as “my” Lisbon is on top of my preferences, but Amarante is definitely high ranked on my preferences.
While in Amarante enjoy the architecture (it has some beautiful churches), the quietness of the town, the magic of the river. And be sure to taste the gastronomy, mainly the sweets, they are divine!!
Once we had finished our day trip to almost the very north of Portugal in the 'Geraz do Minho' region, we decided to take a short-cut back to Lamego via the Alvao Nature Park.
The landscape in this area north and west of Vila Real is different. Coming into the park area, the slopes were either covered with man-made pine forests or looked like they had been 'clear-cut' by logging activity. Something that I had never seen before in my travels was the large pine trees being milked for their yellowish sap. Each tree had a large plastic sac attached that was brimming with the stuff. Apparently, it is used to make a glue for both the furniture and paper-making industries.
After passing through that area, we came to the more natural looking barren slopes that you see here. The twisting roads and amazing views out over the rugged and stark countryside provided great enjoyment as we snaked our way through this not well-travelled portion of Portugal!
In the not so popular western Atlantic seaside town of 'Praia de Mira', just south of Aviero, we came upon two forlorn looking old beach houses. The most impressive of the two was this solid masonry structure, even with all its windows and doors removed and many fallen orange roof tiles.
Because of the many abandoned farms in my home province of New Brunswick, Canada, I have always had a fascination for exploring these run-down old buildings. They evoke thoughts of who lived there and why did they just leave them to rot or crumble away?
In the case of this building, a closer look revealed that it had been richly decorated with the colourful blue and white 'azulejo' ceramic tiles (you can see a glimpse of them just above the deck railing) that are characteristic of many Portugese buildings, thanks to the Moorish conquest 1000 years ago! A walk on its crumbling porch gave us a close-up view of the beautiful tiles that had once made this someone's happy place on the oceanfront.
Alcobaça is a town situated somewhat near Lisbon (about 120km by highway). In Alcobaça THE must-see is the beautiful 12th century monastery situated in the town's main square. The "complex" consists of the medieval church (which is free) considered as the biggest church in Portugal, and also the monastery (paid entry) - several rooms, kitchen and beautiful cloisters. The church has the remains of famous Portuguese lovers – King Dom Pedro and Dona Inês. This Monastery is classified by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.
Apart from visiting the Monastery, while in Alcobaça take a stroll around its streets and admire the typical pottery. Also taste some local sweets, which are pretty good.
Batalha houses one of the most beautiful Portuguese Monasteries – Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória. It is classified by Unesco as World Heritage Site and shows elaborate carved details. The Monastery is imposing and no-one driving past Batalha through the national road will miss it. I'd say that this is amongst the major must-see Portuguese Monuments, after Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém.
After visiting the Monastery, wander around the town. Be sure to have some meal there - lunch or dinner or both!! - as local gastronomy is very good. But, if possible, avoid visiting on weekends and bank holidays, as it tends to get crowded.
We went out of our way to visit the top of the highest mountain along the southern Algarve coast, 3000-ft ( 909-m) high Mount Foia, located not too far from Monchique.
Although this is not the view from the top of the mountain, it is more what the top would look like if people had not got there first! Our short stop at the top of the peak was not one of our highlights because of human intrusions. It is covered by tall communications antennae of various shapes and heights, including a Portugese military base. This complements a very ugly-looking tourist restaurant/trinket shop also perched on top of the peak! Compounding our problem, was the haze on this day. Although we could see the coastline off to the south, it really was not clear enough to warrent even a photo. Still, on the way back down, I felt compelled to at least take one shot from up there, just above the tree-line.
There are several great restaurants along the road to the top though, and we really enjoyed a cold beer or two at the Quinta de Sao Bento at the 800-m level on our descent!
Cruising the River Douro is one the best options to explore the breathtaking views provided by the slopes of the mountains covered in vineyards and bathed by the River. I did a day cruise and even though it was raining it was simply amazing. I imagine how marvelous it should be on a sunny day. I will definitely return there some day, hopefully next time weather will be on my side!!
There are several options to cruise the River, concerning departure and arrival towns, as well as duration of the trip, which can vary from a couple of hours to a week, although this later might tend to be boring on my opinion.
My trip was booked with operator Douro Azul (www.douroazul.pt) but there are other operators offering packages for this destination. With Douro Azul everything went perfectly ok, so on my next trip I will contact them for sure.
I think the cruises can, sometimes, be a rip off though. Prices are not that cheap, …. We did a cruise which started at 12.30pm and ended around 5.30pm, and it included lunch. Each adult paid 50euros for that (May 2004) and even my 3 yo son had paid 25euros (children aged 3 to 11 pay half the price).
Régua is a pleasant town to visit, bathed by River Douro. The history, development and customs of this town are marked for centuries by the trading and producing of Porto sweet wine and Douro wines. It has some nice architecture to see, but mainly the wine related customs are the highlight of this town, on my opinion.
It is also a good starting point to explore the Douro vineyard region, which is classified by Unesco as protected landscape. Don’t miss the rabelo boat, a typical wooden boat associated with the transportation of the wine.
Sabrosa is a lovely village on the Douro region (District Vila Real, north of Portugal) with beautiful manor houses, some of them dating from the 15th century. Strolling around such an enchanting village situated in the Douro region was a pleasant discover to all of us. The manor houses are classified as National Monuments, as well as the Parish Church.
Also, the magnificent mountains that surround the village provide a breathtaking scenario. The region's big annual event is the grapes' harvest, to produce the worldly famous Porto sweet wine and also the Douro wines.
For further information see my Sabrosa page.
Pinhão is a cozy village situated on a valley and surrounded by mountains with vineyards on the step slopes. The village is bathed by River Pinhão (actually it is named after the River) where it meets River Douro. It is situated on the Douro region (District Vila Real).
Major highlights of this village are the train station which is classified as Portugal's most beautiful train station and also the metallic bridge built in the 19th century.I loved our visit to Pinhão, although weather wasn't on our side. Its people are friendly, the wine very good (Porto sweet wine) and the landscape is breathtaking, both the green mountains and the quiet River.
For further information see my Pinhao page.
Close to Marvão and the Serra de São Mamede, this charming little town deserves a visit for its castle and the old quarters that had preserved their original ambience through the centuries. Nearby the castle it's common to see local residents chatting in the shade to escape the heat of summer months, and a walk down the Fontana da Vila, the town spring fountain, is a pleasant trip through the ages. An ancient synagogue built in XIII century is said to be one among the oldest in the whole of Europe. Cats seem to enjoy a quiet life as well as that of elderly residents, always ready to greet bypassers and foreigners with a genuine smile.
The castle and ramparts probably didn't undergo restoration, or at least if they did it must have been quite a while ago. Don't expect to find something outrageously fancy, but rather a real, as-it-was complex still in excellent conditions.
Have a sit alfresco at a restaurant to enjoy a snack or dinner. We tried Pastelaria Sol Nascente for a drink but also remained for dinner. Here is where I had mouth-watering "queijada a laranja", a dessert made with cheese and orange.
Like in some other lcations, a sign reading "ha caracois" means they serve delicious small snails cooked to perfection.
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