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
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
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
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 Portugal!
& Architecture in Modern Spain | Le
Canal du Midi
Cler, Paris | Memories
Way of St. James | Paris
Parks & Gardens | Northern Portugal