Alentejo – A força da terra


No Alentejo, a força da terra marca o tempo.

A amplitude da paisagem é entrecortada por sobreiros ou oliveiras que resistem ao tempo.
E por muito que se conheça há sempre mais por conhecer!

É bom viver no Alentejo!


Head south to the Tuscany of Portugal

WHEN most British holidaymakers think of Portugal, they probably think of the Algarve. But there’s a lot more to this wonderful little country than the resorts on the south coast.

Alentejo is the next region north of the Algarve and covers most of the south of the country, sharing a border to the east with Spain.


With rolling Mediterranean countryside dotted with olive groves and cork trees, it’s not hard to see why travel guides have dubbed it “the new Tuscany”.

The beautiful landscape is immediately welcoming, and combined with a relaxed, small town atmosphere and great food, it makes for a very appealing destination.

From perfectly preserved medieval castles to art galleries and aquariums, there’s something for all ages in the heart of Portugal.

Of particular appeal for tourists looking for somewhere different to stay are the region’s many “pousadas” – luxury hotels built in historic buildings.

There are 44 across the country and each one is unique, offering a wide choice of accommodation that is far more interesting than the average run-of-the-mill holiday hotel.

Pousada Flor da Rosa in Crato is a perfect example, formerly a castle, a convent and a palace. Previously a monastery for the Knights of the Order of Malta, the building’s many historic features have been preserved.

But between the parapets and stone walls are all the indulgences you might expect from an excellent hotel, including a swimming pool.

There’s plenty to see in Alentejo’s 12,000-square miles, so hiring a car to take in as many sights as possible is probably the best way to go.

High on your list should be the horse stud farm of Alter Real in Alter do Chão.

Housing the Lusitano horse – a Portuguese breed – it is also a horse riding school dating back to the 18th century.

Visitors can expect to see dozens of these impressive animals up close during a tour of the site.

But Alter Real is not just about horses. It is also home to an impressive aviary for hunting birds.

From the smallest to the mighty golden eagle, you can see a wide range of birds in what is a growing part of the complex.

Food is a pure pleasure in this part of the world. From traditional smoked sausage and cheese to a hearty dogfish soup, there are plenty of regional specialities to keep you going.

Desserts have a definite Arabic flavour, with the ubiquitous honey and almonds revealing the region’s Moorish roots.

If you stop in the town of Portalegre, then the restaurant Tomba Lobos is definitely worth a visit for any self-respecting foodie.

The literal translation – “it overthrows wolves” – won’t help you much, but your taste buds will thank you for indulging them.

Chef José Júlio Vintém offers a modern take on Portuguese cuisine in a setting that is stylish but without pretension.

Like so many in the region, Portalegre itself is a pretty town, filled with narrow, winding streets.

It’s also home to the museum of Alentejo tapestry with examples of the traditional Arroiolos carpets. These are unique recreations of original paintings, in the form of tapestry. The amount of effort that goes into the pieces is extraordinary and a great tribute to Portuguese craftsmanship.

With it’s rustic charm and Latin character, Alentejo is a region that will exercise your camera finger and your shoe leather. And there’s no better sight-seeing destination than the fortified hilltop town of Marvão.

The castle there dates back to the 13th century and there are outstanding views that reach as far as Spain on the horizon.

The town below is pure picture postcard, awash with those familiar Mediterranean white walls and terracotta roofs, gorgeous flowers and charming locals.

People here clearly enjoy life and it’s not hard to see why – beautiful surroundings and sun-kissed skies are a winning combination.

Of course, one of the main reasons so many Brits head to southern Europe is the weather.

At home, the unexpected late-summer heat in September was certainly welcome, but is far from guaranteed.

Alentejo, meanwhile, like much of Portugal, is pretty much guaranteed good weather whenever you decide to pop over for a visit.

You can reach Alentejo in little more than an hour from the capital Lisbon, itself just a few hours from Bristol, with plenty of flights to choose from.

Even in October, temperatures push towards 30 degrees centigrade, so if you’re looking for some pre-winter sunshine, this is definitely an affordable choice.

Sintra, Portugal: Part four of four great little places









CHARLOTTE, October 4, 2011— “Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.”  Ray Bradbury, the prolific science fiction writer, couldn’t have been more accurate.


National Palace of Sintra

This is the fourth, and final, installment of a brief series of articles focusing on out of the way, unknown places that I have discovered in my quest to visit 100 countries or more before I die.  Each location was previously unknown to me, but they have become my personal secret treasures if am ever fortunate enough to return.  Hopefully this will inspire you to “discover” your own hidden gems of travel.

Sintra, Portugal:  This hillside village may have more castles, gardens, museums and scenery than any town its size in the world.  Sintra is distinctive because it is a must-see destination for travelers toLisbon, but remains relatively unheard of for many travelers.  Thanks to its stunning 19th architecture, Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with no less than six major attractions.

Located less than an hour by train from the Rossio Station in Lisbon, the hillside village of 33,000 residents features parks and gardens that compliment the magnificent palaces and castles to the delight of any visitor.  Two highlights are the 19th century PenaPalace and the National Palace of Portugal, the summer residence of the Portuguese kings.

Pena Palace is arguably the showcase.  Though regarded as one of the “Seven Wonders of Portugal,” it hasn’t always been the luxurious structure it is today.  For hundreds of years it was little more than a modest meditation site for a maximum of 18 monks.

The magical colors of Pena Palace, Sintra
The magical colors of Pena Palace, Sintra

Natural disasters, including an earthquake and lightning, left the former monastery in ruins during the 18th century.  Only the chapel with its marble and alabaster works of art survived.  It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century when reconstruction began to give PenaPalace the appearance it has today.

Among the elements requested by King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II, who began the rebuilding process, were medieval and Islamic aspects of architecture along with vault arches and an ornate window over the main façade.  Vibrant red and yellow colors added flair to the palace that distinguishes it even today.  The elaborate decorations combined with the intentional mixture of architectural designs have made PenaPalaceone of Portugal’s most popular destinations for visitors.

Interiors are surprisingly small considering the massive exterior.  Corridors and doorways were cleverly designed to slow the pace of surging invaders.  Each room has been lovingly appointed to the extent that the furnishings convey an ambience of habitation even though the palace has not been occupied for decades.  In fact, the elaborate extent of the décor may rival any historical monument of similar distinction in the world.

PenaPalace is only the beginning, however.  Sintra also features the Castle of the Moors,MonserratePalace, PenaNationalPalace, SeteaisPalace, Quinta da Regaleira and theSintraNationalPalace as well as countless gardens and parks that make it a horticultural haven.

Access to Sintra from Lisbon couldn’t be easier, and it is also inexpensive.  A ticket on one of the frequent trains from Rossio Station costs about 4 euros.  Take the train to the end of the line.  In Sintra, bus #434 provides regular service from the front of the railway station to most of the sights in town.  Buses are approximately 2 euros.

Hardier travelers can take a delightful walk along the hillside into the main village, but once there, it is advisable to catch a bus up to the palaces and castles.

Sintra is not a place to be rushed.  Plan to spend the day, enjoy a relaxing lunch and relish all that it has to offer.  By: Bob Taylor

You’re getting warm: Authentic Algarve

If you want to find the authentic Algarve, you don’t have to look far. Jonathan Bastable travels from the mountains to the beaches in Portugal’s sunshine region and discovers fiery piri-piri, Moorish legend and the wild countryside of its western coast…

Sometimes, when you come home from abroad, it is the sights that you remember; other times it’s the people. I saw some fine things and met some charming folk in the Algarve, but it is the smells and the tastes of the place that will linger most in my mind: the sweet miasma of the ubiquitous orange groves, the heady scent of the wine cellars, the smoky aroma of chicken roasting on coals, and the sharp tang of the fish markets down by the sea. It all makes for a very perfumed country.


Coimbra, Portugal: A cultural guide


“We are poets,” a Coimbra woman said to me. “We look at the ocean and we make fado.” I suspect they say this the length and breadth of Portugal but, even if the former capital is 31 miles (50km) from the Atlantic, and two hours north of Lisbon, it sums up its atmosphere nicely. Coimbra has a melancholy beauty all its own, and seems to yearn for its more glorious past.

Coimbra’s university, founded in 1290, is Portugal’s oldest and most distinguished, and a third of the city’s 35,000-strong population are students. They lend an oddball vitality to the city. I encountered a handful in academic gowns on the banks of the Mondego river, ordering a group of first years to do press-ups in the grass. Freshmen endure such ritual humiliations until the first week in May, when the end of the academic year is marked by a gathering outside the old 12th-century cathedral (the new cathedral was consecrated in 1640) and fado is performed on the steps.

The fado of Coimbra is unique – sung only by men, and considered more refined than that of Lisbon. It’s lovely to hear, even if you can’t understand a word the singer is tearing from his anguished soul. Traditionally fado is only performed after 10pm, but you can catch hourly performances at the Fado Centre in the middle of Escada do Quebra-Costas, which translates roughly as Backbreaker Street.

Coimbra is built on a hill, you see. The royal palace at its summit, inhabited by monarchs from the 12th to the 15th century, became the home of the university in 1537. If, like me, you can’t imagine the words “library” and “thrilling” in the same sentence, check out the baroque library. Quite marvellous – apart from the cathedral-like room itself, with its triumphal arches, walls of ancient tomes and shelves, pillars and tables embellished with gilt chinoiserie – is the fact that a colony of bats is nurtured within it to keep the insect population down.

Four Gulps of Porto, Portugal


At the mouth of the River Douro in Portugal, it appears a child’s crayon box has exploded. Rusty reds, mustard yellows, royal blues and tempting shades of turquoise adorn the crumbling buildings of Porto.


Porto may come second to Lisbon in terms of visitors and population, but the northern city has a whole crayon box of options for travelers to explore.


From the historic Ribeira district with its cluttered balconies to the tiled churches around nearly every corner, Porto presents a satisfying gulp of more than just its signature drink.


If you are planning a trip to Portugal, don’t short change Porto. While the experiences in the city abound, here are a few musts for the first timer.


Climb to the top of Torre Dos Clérigos—For a bird’s eye view of classic Portuguese red-tiled roofs, Torre Dos Clérigos is the only place to go in Porto. While the work of an Italian, architect Nasoni, the baroque tower is a fixture in the city. It began its days as a look out tower for ships. One lucky duck would take in the view while guiding ships into Porto. Completed in 1763, Torre Dos Clérigos glows at night, but its views by day allow you to see the good, the greater and the great of Porto. Just be prepared to walk up over 200 steps to a height of 76 meters.


Peek in Mercado do Bolhão—The two-tiered market in the heart of Porto is a standout for its 19th century wrought iron composition. Upon closer inspection, the building holding the market is just the beginning. Here you will find everything and the kitchen sink up for sale. Fish vendors screech their catch of the day in hopes you are hungry. It is a noisy, chaotic, yet peaceful scene at the same time. Foreigners may have to plug their noses as they walk past the salt cod, but you can take in the smells of Mercado do Bolhão in other means. This is a cultural whiff of Porto’s buying and selling, and screeching.


Walk across Ponte de Dom Luís I—If you are still view hungry, you can walk across Ponte de Dom Luís I, perhaps Porto’s most famous double decker bridge. The bridge connects Porto to its nosy neighbor, Vila Nova de Gaia. The two towns sit so close to each other, you probably think you are still in Porto once crossing over from the city’s Ribeira district. Created by a student of Gustave Eiffel, Ponte de Dom Luís I might even lend a show in summer time. Teens take to the bridge to drive into the cool Douro, much to the headshake of Porto’s older generations.


Sip on a Port Wine—After a long day of sightseeing in Porto, there is no better way to unwind than with the city’s signature drink. Port wine production stemmed from the area, rising in popularity by the mid 18th century. The largest concentration of port wine bottlers and exporters can be found in Vila Nova de Gaia, just opposite Porto on the River Douro. Tours and tastings are given for those that love the taste of the sweet, rich wine. If you aren’t a fan of Porto’s cocktail, at least give a tawny port or vintage port a sip while in the city. After all, you will be able to boast you had port in Porto.


Flickr: aromano

Pedestrian bridge over Ribeira da Carpinteira . Covilhã Portugal