architecture and port wine
travel article by Carolyn Mainguené, Circa Tours
such a relatively small country, Portugal offers a wide variety of scenery and
sightseeing, from the majestic Douro River Valley in the north to the sunny beaches
of the Algarve in the south. Recently I traveled from one end of the country to
the other, one week by car and the second week by minibus with a group of fellow
travel agents. I enjoyed the whole trip, but my favorite part of the country was
picking up my rental car in Lisbon, I took a short side trip to Sintra
before heading north. Long the summer getaway of Portugal's royalty, Sintra offers
the National Palace (still used for official receptions); the Pena Palace,
a 19th-century extravaganza of Gothic towers, Moorish arches, and typically Portuguese
tiled walls; and the Castle of the Moors. The 15th-century National Palace is
very impressive with its painted ceilings, wall tiles from various periods, and
enormous kitchen. Next, I took the shuttle bus up the hill to the Moorish Castle.
Walking along the parapets of the half-ruined walls, I could imagine the Moors
vainly trying to hold off the Christian forces in 1147.
the time I reached the Pena Palace, it was pouring rain, but I could still appreciate
the splendor of the pink and yellow towers - round and square, tall and squat
- plus an intriguing carved stone half-human half-beast figure holding up an enclosed
spending the night in Nazaré, a fishing village on the Atlantic
coast, I visited the Gothic monasteries at Batalha
and Alcobaça. Batalha is a remarkable example of the Manueline style
of architecture, which is especially visible in the arcades of the Royal Cloister.
This style, which was popular during the reign of Manuel I (1495-1521), marks
the transition from Gothic to Renaissance in Portugal. It is characterized by
carvings of nautical and plant themes, such as mariners' knots, anchors, acorns,
corn cobs, and oak leaves.
on my itinerary was Fátima, a famous pilgrimage site. In 1917, three
children saw visions of the Virgin Mary, who prophesied the end of World War I
and the beginning of World War II, the rise of communism in Russia, and an attempt
on the life of a Pope. It was truly remarkable to see the number of visitors from
all over the world worshipping in the basilica and the chapel - some of them even
making their way to the chapel on their knees.
Fátima I made my way north to the fascinating Roman ruins at Conímbriga
and then to the city of Coimbra, home of one of the
oldest universities in Europe (founded in 1290). After touring the university
with its magnificent Baroque library, I walked through the colorful indoor market,
where the local people were buying everything from flowers to salt cod. I have
to say that, although salt cod doesn't look very appetizing in the fishmonger's
display, it is really quite tasty when it's prepared the right way. (The key is
to soak it long enough to get rid of the salt before you cook it.)
famous monument is the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, near Braga. The
long flight of steps leading up to the church consists of the Stairway of the
Five Senses followed by the Stairway of the Three Virtues. Carved out of gray
granite and set off by whitewashed walls, this Via Sacra (Holy Way) represents
the spiritual journey of believers who must overcome their bodily senses and practice
the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity in order to attain salvation. Each level
has a fountain representing one of the senses or one of the virtues. For example,
the fountain representing the sense of sight has a figure of a woman with water
pouring from her eyes. After climbing down the stairs, I looked up and realized
I was going to have to go back up to get to my car. I definitely did not overcome
my senses because my legs complained for the next two days!
the final part of my week in northern Portugal, I visited the city of Porto
and the Douro River Valley. Situated at the mouth of the river, Porto
is really two cities - Porto on the north bank and Vila Nova de Gaia on the south
bank. I was lucky to find a hotel on the south bank that was easy to get to by
car. It was just across the street from a Metro stop and next door to El Corte
Ingles, my favorite department store chain in Portugal and Spain.
course, Porto is the home of port wine. All the major brands are represented by
wine cellars or "lodges" where you can taste various kinds of this specialty
wine, which has formed a major basis of British-Portuguese trade and partnerships
for over 300 years.
has a number of buildings with good examples of azulejos. This word, which
is thought to have come either from azul (blue) or from the Arabic for
"a smooth piece of terracotta," is now used to refer both to tiles that
are used to make large pictorial murals (usually blue and white) and to tiles
with geometrical designs that are used to cover entire building facades. The murals
in the São Bento Train Station and the cloister of the cathedral are quite
detailed. Santo Ildefonso Church has blue and white azulejo murals covering
all the outside walls.
highlight of Porto is the São Francisco Church, which has more gold-covered
carvings than I have ever seen in a single church. Nearby is the Ribeira, where
you can sit at a sidewalk cafe and watch the boats on the river.
of boats, one goal of my trip was to visit two of the riverboats that cruise the
Douro River. I didn't have time to actually take a cruise, but I did tour the
boats and had dinner on one of them. The next two days, I drove along the river
about halfway to Spain and back to check out some of the scheduled stops on the
cruises. "Spectacular" hardly seems an adequate description of the scenery,
which reminded me a lot of the Rhine River Valley in Germany. Olive groves and
vineyards seemed to hang from the steep hillsides, often held in place by stone
terraces built centuries ago.
my last day, after getting lost for a while, I finally found the Convento de
Alpendurada nestled in the hills. Even though it was getting late for lunch,
I was able to eat in their restaurant, which has floor-to-ceiling picture windows
looking down over the Douro Valley. What a wonderful way to end my stay in Northern
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