The country is amazing. At the edge of the River Minho, there’s a gorgeous Neo-classical palace with a chapel and theatre. On the banks of the Paiva, the stunning walkways are a natural sanctuary. In Coimbra, the vault of the Sagrada Família Church is reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel. In Encostas da Vidigueira there’s an impressive contemporary arts centre. The largest private tile collection is in Redondo. In Barquinha, an unexpected mural by Vhils. In Loulé, there’s a salt mine. Funchal’s Tropical Garden is a paradise. There are the Santo Cristo Caldera’s crystalline lagoons in the Azores. This is a very special country.
The North’s secret code
There’s an artistic town, incredible palaces in the middle of the countryside, unusual villages and signs from the past waiting to be read.
Minho is a region with a well-preserved identity that makes the most of its attributes. First up is the filigree and the vinho verde wine, produced in a demarcated area since 1908 and crafted in places like Quinta da Aveleda, in Penafiel, and at Palácio da Brejoeira (with a chapel and theatre!), which is worth visiting for the architecture alone. Brejoeira is one of the crowning jewels of Monção, which shares the River Minho with Spain and offers peerless gastronomic experiences, like roast kid, minhoto-style salt cod or pork and the unmistakeable papas de sarrabulho (meat and blood soup!). Little more than 30 kilometres away, in the village of Val de Poldros, in the restaurant of the same name, the food is served by Fernando Gonçalves, the only inhabitant of the hamlet. Val de Poldros is known as the “Hobbits Village”, due to its similarity with the scenery found in Lord of the Rings films.
Minho stretches to Valença and Vila Nova de Cerveira, further south, officially the “arts town”; its art biennial is the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula. The museum holds over 600 examples of Portuguese and international contemporary art. The stag is a regional icon – check out the sculpture on top of Monte do Crasto, in Serra da Gávea, made by José Rodrigues (1936-2016), founder of the biennial. Close by is the town of Caminha, which boasts gems like the Eiffel Bridge, built over the River Coura by the company belonging to the engineer who constructed the famous tower, or the Ínsua Fort, on an islet opposite the beach, which has a freshwater well, one of only three in the world that are bored in the sea bed.
In the mountains, Minho also has plenty of interest. The Castro Laboreiro breed, which has the same name as the village, was highlighted by the writer Camilo Castelo Branco (1825-1890) for its loyalty and skills as a guard dog. It’s a kind of mastiff, perfect for the harshness of the mountains since time immemorial. Just a few kilometres from the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês, we find another surprise: the village of Sistelo, otherwise known as the “Portuguese Tibet” because of its setting. Surrounded by farmed terraces, it’s here we find the unexpected and contrasting 19th-century palace of the viscount of Sistelo.
However, one of the best ways of discovering hidden Minho is to take the Portuguese part of the Way of Saint James, used by everyone, both believers and non-believers. From Porto, you can go along the coast or via the interior. On the boundaries of the region, ancestral customs can be seen in Póvoa de Varzim, where the entrances to old houses have “siglas poveiras”. These are marks used as family signatures, passed down through the generations, which were introduced during the Viking colonisation between the 9th and 10th centuries. Descended from the runic alphabet, they also show how different and less obvious Minho is.
by Augusto Freitas de Sousa
TRÁS-OS-MONTES & ALTO DOURO
Far off, on a ship of rocks
In the most northern part of the country, trails are trodden between far-off places and the mysteries of the River Douro.
Clemente Menéres, aged 31, arrived in Romeu at four in the afternoon on 18th May, 1874. He was looking for an inn and found Maria Rita’s, which now operates as a restaurant managed by Clemente’s descendants, where, 50 kilometres south of Bragança, in Trás-os-Montes, they have built a small empire, producing wine, olive oil and cork. Those in the know say the best alheiras (non-pork sausage) in Portugal are served here. The village has a museum of curiosities with charming music boxes, old cameras and film projectors, sewing machines and clothes presses, radios, bicycles, coaches, cars and even a primitive fire engine. One of the founder’s sons, Manoel, renovated this and three villages in the area, setting up nursery schools. Even now, younger generations have the same fondness for the place as those of the past. Romeu is a world apart.
One life wouldn’t be enough to discover all the secrets of Trásos-Montes and Douro. Fewer than a hundred kilometres from Romeu is a village that is possibly the region’s most beautiful. Curiously, Provesende possesses a relatively high number of aristocratic and manor houses. The old streets are irresistible and there’s a traditional bakery that hasn’t changed since it opened in 1940. The landscape is part of the Alto Douro Wine Region, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Just a few minutes away is the impressive Quinta do Portal winery, designed by one of the Portuguese Pritzker Award winners, Siza Vieira.
Heading towards the border, we arrive in Miranda do Douro, which transports visitors to a place of traditions and customs revolving around the country’s other official language, mirandês (Mirandese). Its roots are also Latin, but of the Astur-Leonese family (from the Spanish regions Asturias and Leon). In Miranda, you can see the unusual dance of the pauliteiros, who fence with wooden rods in what is believed to be derived from druid ceremonies. The town sits above an escarpment overlooking the Douro River. One of its secrets is the number four written in lichens on the other bank. It’s not easy to identify, but legend has it that if a couple is able to do so, they will be happy forever.
Following the river to its mouth, an unforgettable two-hour journey, travellers can discover other wonders of the Douro from a special viewpoint in São Leonardo da Galafura, which inspired poet Miguel Torga: ““At the bow of a ship of rocks, \ To sail on a sweet sea of must,\ Captain at his post\ Commanding,\ Saint Leonardo is ploughing \ The waves\ Of eternity, \ In no hurry to reach his destination.”
All of this is even tastier if you have already stopped off in Pinhão, on the banks of the same river, to visit Sr. Fernando’s butcher shop, opposite the train station. Sustenance not only comes from the hams, chouriços, alheiras, paios and other meats, but also from the owner’s knack for storytelling. And on your way to Porto, stop off at Castelo de Paiva, whose walkways around and over the river Paiva amaze by the way they immerse the explorer in the landscape. The final surprise is a few kilometres ahead, when the Paiva flows into the Douro: what appear is Ilha dos Amores, whose name harks back to the love of a noblewoman of the region and a farmer’s son. Well-hidden peace.
by Augusto Freitas de Sousa
Between surprising Coimbra and the magnificent Estrela Mountains there are little-known flavours, arts and comforts.
The crocodile appeared in Beco do Forno. The River Mondego is just a hundred metres away, but it didn’t come from there. Nobody knows how it happened. The truth is that one day it arrived at Beco do Forno, entered Zé Manel dos Ossos and parked itself on the ceiling, watching over the diners at one of Coimbra’s most hidden taverns. There’s a wild boar trophy with sunglasses, stopped clocks, as well as memories and caricatures scrawled on paper towels upon which bones are eaten. We’re talking boiled pork bones – a juicy delicacy, a rarity in Portugal, prepared here for over 50 years. In fact, the decorative crocodile doesn’t even have bones: it’s just skin. It is a kind of totem of hidden Coimbra.
Then there was the poet who lived in a tower. The official guides call it the Guitar and Coimbra Fado Museum Center, but it’s the Torre de Anto as in António Nobre, the brilliant 19th-century writer who occupied this medieval building at the top of Rua de Sobre-Ribas. How many poets had a private headland? And this is the perfect place to observe Coimbra in its entirety, before descending the alleys towards the Mondego. But first you have to see another nearby wonder: the 18th-century vault of the Sagrada Família do Seminário Maior Church, which shows a spectacular Ascension of the Virgin. A kind of Portuguese Sistine Chapel.
Following the river in the direction of its origin, which is in the Estrela Mountains, the flow makes you stop in Penacova, 20 kilometres from Coimbra, and admire the Livraria do Mondego, a bizarre natural monument whose huge vertical rock plates look like a gigantic library. The Mondego continues north, but now we disobey the course and follow a less obvious one, its tributary, the Alva. It points to the Aldeia das Dez. Guides normally visit the charming Piódão village in the same area, but the Dez is surprising. Standing tall at an altitude of 500 metres, there is unexpected art for such a small place: the baroque altarpiece of the Mother Church, the ruins of the impressive Pina Ferraz mansion, the very Gothic old cemetery is like something from a Mary Shelley story.
Beiras also has unexpected cosmopolitan elements. In the town of Gouveia, 50 kilometres from Dez, the Abel Manta Museum of Modern Art, named after local Modernist painter, exhibits works by Árpád Szenes, Vieira da Silva and Paula Rego. (Gouveia also has the Miniature Automobile Museum.) This gets the explorer back on track to find an abrupt combination of more Modernism, nature and religion at the heart of the mountains: the Virgin of the Shepherds carved directly out of the rock by artist António Duarte in the 1940s. And talking of shepherds: Beira animals are unique. The reliable Serra da Estrela breed of dog descends from the ancient mastiffs of Tibet (look for them at the Quinta de São Fernando Kennel in Manteigas), and from the native sheep, the bordaleiras, whose wool is extracted for burel, a durable and comfortable fabric from the mountains (discover how it’s made at the Burel Factory in Amieiros Verdes).
Now it’s time to walk ten more kilometres and rest in Covão da Ametade, flanked by birch trees. Thousands of years ago, a glacier valley made another memorable river, the Zêzere, which has more hidden stories.
Zé Manel dos Ossos, Beco do Forno, 12, Coimbra \\\ turismodecoimbra.pt \\\ diocesedecoimbra.pt \\\ cm-penacova.pt \\\ aldeiasdoxisto.pt/aldeia/aldeia-das-dez \\\ cm-gouveia.pt \\\ estrela-dog.com \\\ burelfactory.com
by João Macdonald
RIBATEJO & OESTE
Between fresh and saltwater
A journey through time via ancient natural monuments surrounded by vibrant landscape, unique handicrafts and unusual gastronomy.
In Ribatejo, the region north of Lisbon that is serenely traversed by the River Tagus, life is slow and there’s a lot to discover. For example, the Alcobertas Grotto, situated on one of the slopes of the Candeeiros Mountains, boasting 15 thousand years of history. Made up of four galleries, it extends for 220 metres (some galleries are nine metres high!). Visits are possible with the Cooperativa Terra Chã, which also showcases the landscape and cultural heritage of another wonder of the municipality of Rio Maior, the village of Chãos. Here, you can buy salt and associated products from the salt pans of Rio Maior. 800 years old and offering great natural beauty, they’re the only salt pans located in the country’s interior. Further from the sea, the Pego da Rainha waterfall, in the village of Zimbreira, in Mação, is a paradise discovered by adventurers who walk these long trails. Coexisting with the natural scenarios, in Vila Nova da Barquinha, we find one of the many works of urban artist Vhils. The mural is seven metres long and pays tribute to potters, a traditional profession in the region. Weaving is another important skill in the area, especially in Minde, in the same Santarém district, which is used to make the famous blankets, as well as being used on bags and decorative items. The Roque Gameiro Arts and Crafts Center teaches and sells this art.
Further towards the coast, in the Oeste region, the Paul da Tornada nature reserve (which is the wetland of the Caldas da Rainha district) has a wealth of fauna and flora, where many birds can be observed: it’s a sanctuary for herons, ducks, sparrowhawks, and mergansers. If it’s saltwater we’re talking about, a real must is exploring the footbridges of the Foz do Arelho cliffs, which face the Berlengas archipelago. They link seven wonderfully designed spaces that operate as viewpoints, immersed in biodiversity. To the left, you can see Peniche, where you discover the art of bobbin lace at the municipal school. Attended by students of all ages, it also welcomes anyone interested in acquiring knowledge about this rich craftsmanship and trying it out for themselves, all free of charge.
Now it’s time to eat. If we’re in Peniche, we have to go to the Escola Superior de Turismo e Tecnologia do Mar, where they have created an unusual type of bread with seaweed that can be enjoyed in Pastelaria Calé. It’s also worth a 15-minute trip to Caldas da Rainha to try the steak sandwich (prego) in Selim, before heading for Cruzes, a nearby village, to enjoy grilled cod (available only by order) at Taberna do Manelvina. Going north, Casa do Pão de Ló, in Alfeizerão, sells this delicious sponge cake. However, it’s worth knowing that there are some great Ribatejo flavours that are semi-hidden. One of them is açorda de ovas (fish roe in bread, garlic and olive oil), which is best sampled at the Santa Isabel restaurant in Abrantes. Chícharos (a leguminous plant) with baked cod is a menu highlight of the previously-mentioned Cooperativa Terra Chã restaurant in Chãos, Rio Maior, which has a panoramic view that takes in over a hundred kilometres of rural landscape.
by Manuel Simões
Where time strolls
In the country’s largest region, there is a rare combination of contemporary art, secret villages and a coastline with much to discover.
Everyone rushes to the coast, excited about the beaches, but there’s plenty of magic happening in the less obvious, less explored and less crowded interior of the Alentejo. The peace starts at the Centro de Arte Quetzal, run by the Dutch couple Cees and Inge C. de Bruin-Heijn, collectors and patrons who took the unusual step of housing their generous collection of modern art, photography and video in a wine-producing farm in Vila de Frades, next to the oldest Roman winery in the Iberian Peninsula, on the slopes of Vidigueira. It continues when admiring dolmens and menhirs in Castelo de Vide, impeccably preserved megalithic tombs with names like Melriça, Meada, Sobral or Tapadão da Relva. The south is less religious, however, in Vila Nova da Baronia, among the fields of Herdade do Aires is the small Ermida de São Neutel chapel, known as the Capela de Santa Ágata, which possesses. 16thcentury tiles and altarpieces with saints and angels in Gothic and Mannerist architecture. It welcomes pilgrims, so visitors need to ask the caretakers to open the door. In Aldeia da Serra, in Redondo, don’t miss the largest private collection of tiles, which belongs to the Convent of São Paulo, which is also a discreet hotel with 40 rooms, only accessible after zig-zagging the Serra d’Ossa’s slopes. It’s well worth the trip to see the approximately 54,000 azulejos.
If your idea of spirituality is being at one with the elements, then this is the place. The Pulo do Lobo viewpoint is the largest waterfall in the south of the Alentejo, and right next door, when the River Guadiana reaches the vast cornfields of Serpa, there are fountains, watermills and forts created by the underground waters that come from Alqueva lake. Only the many birds that live there break the silence. The Alentejo is the country’s most arid region but emotionally fertile, boasting people who are humorous and humble. For something more exciting, there are 260-metre cliffs at Portas de Ródão, where you can see Castelo de Vide dam, and Marvão, whose walls are said to offer a view of one of the world’s finest sunsets. If you get peckish, head for the Chana restaurant in Redondo and try its famous tomato soup.
by Patrícia Barnabé
The history of land and sea
Southern Portugal is sweet, maritime, mountainous and authentic on an unexpected itinerary.
The most southern part of mainland Portugal is recognisable for its limestone cliffs along the coast. In Carvoeiro, the Algar Seco is one of the monuments. Nature offers natural pools and holes in rocks that are veritable windows on the Atlantic Ocean. From this town’s beach there’s a wooden walkway above the rocks. The section extends for over 500 metres and reaches the ruins of the Nossa Senhora da Encarnação Fort, staring out into infinity. About one hundred kilometres east, Tavira has a spectacle in the same vein, but with a 360-degree perspective from the camera obscura at the top of the old water tank. The place is called Torre de Tavira and it uses a simple optical principle, made up of a mirror and two lenses, which provides a journey around this bucolic town in real time, far from the hustle and bustle. A little further on, just like in Tavira, Vila Real de Santo António is a place with a handicraft tradition. Every Thursday in August, from seven in the afternoon, the Praça Marquês de Pombal hosts a fair selling tiles, embroidery, ceramics, wicker and glass work.
And now we head to the interior of the Algarve where, instead of dips in the sea, there are other refreshing alternatives. Queda do Vigário is one of them, a waterfall on the outskirts of the region’s most traditional village, Alte. Close by, in Campina de Cima, in Loulé, the Centro Ciência Viva do Algarve invites those interested to descend 230 metres in the salt mine on 10th August. In this unusual place, which extends for over 40 kilometres and whose various galleries come in all shapes and sizes, geological history combines with the chemical industry. Not to be missed!
And, being the explorers that we are, we climb up to Monchique on an itinerary of distilleries making medronho, the Algarve’s typical fruit brandy. There are over 30 producers who open their doors and showcase their centuries-old aguardente, part of the town’s cultural and gastronomic identity. In the Monchique Mountains there are tastings and workshops on how to make traditional chouriços (a type of sausage) and presuntos (cured ham) at Evangelista de Oliveira factory.
When it comes to top Algrave sweets, Fátima Galego, from Tesouros da Serra, in São Brás de Alportel, revives traditional recipes and is well-known for her carob and fig cake with almond or the Serra do Caldeirão morgado. With distinctions from different competitions, Maria Encarnação Gonçalves, who was awarded the prize for Best Traditional Food Artisan of Europe, spends her time crafting Dom Rodrigos and beijinhos-de-freira at the Quinta dos Avós tea house, in Algoz. At the Pão do Rogil artisan bakery, in the village of Rogil (Aljezur), food lovers can enjoy the most famous bread on the Costa Vicentina.
For a healthy lifestyle, the Mediterranean diet, considered World Heritage by UNESCO, is a result of the climate, fauna, flora and geography of the region. One of its temples can be found in Cabanas de Tavira: the Noélia & Jerónimo restaurant is master of Mediterranean dishes.
by Manuel Simões
All the green in the world
In the middle of the Atlantic, the wonderful archipelago is a place of stunning nature and delicate surprises
An entire magazine wouldn’t be enough to reveal all the secrets of the Azores’ nine islands. However, we’ll try to give you sufficient clues to whet your appetite. Land in São Miguel and travel the 4.9 kilometres of the Terras de Nosso Senhor trail, which ends with the crystalline waters of Poço Azul, where you can swim. Also in the Nordeste region, visit the Azores bullfinch Interpretation Centre, which is dedicated to a bird you won’t see anywhere else in the world. If you’re hungry, seek out the Sete Cidades and find someone to sell you goat’s cheese, wrapped in ginger-lily leaves – it will be one of the best cheeses you’ve ever had. From São Miguel to the island of Santa Maria, in the Vila do Porto Municipal Library enjoy the virtual reality system that allows you to swim with giant oceanic manta rays, whose movement is similar to a bird flapping its wings.
The fajãs, supratidal talus-platform geology constructed from landslides or lava flows, exist throughout Macaronesia (Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands), but nowhere as much as in São Jorge. There are over 70 and we highlight the one at Caldeira de Santo Cristo – a nature reserve since 1984, it has a crystalline lagoon and is a place of pilgrimage for surfers – and the Fajã do Ouvidor, particularly the natural pool of Poça de Simão Dias, which is ideal for sea swimming, as well as being protected from the wind and waves. In Manadas, visit the Santa Bárbara church and its 18thcentury tile panels. One of the attractions at the São Jorge Mother Church, in Velas, is an altarpiece given by King Sebastião in the 16th century. And don’t forget to try the São Jorge cheese, of course. But that’s a poorly kept secret. On the island of Terceira, we adore the Algar do Carvão, an old volcanic vent, with obsidian walls covered with vegetation. In Faial, another must-see are the Charcos de Pedro Miguel, which are located in a tectonic trench and great for bird watching. On the other side of the channel, Pico Island offers a long history of scrimshaw, the art of carving and engraving sperm whales teeth and bones. The Jacob Tomás and João Flores collections can be found at the Pico Museum. On the island of Flores, there’s a bizarre rock known as Pedra do Frade e da Freira (Friar and Nun Rock), whose likeness to these figures is due to erosion. A little further south, there’s Alagoa Bay, a natural reserve for flora and fauna. On Corvo, which has just 400 inhabitants, the whole island is a secret, transformed into an eco or territory museum.
When it comes to taking presents home, think about buying a lapinha nativity scene, which are miniatures depicting the Holy Family’s cave inside domes or glass cases on the island of São Jorge. On Graciosa, look out for the traditional Richelieu embroidery and straw embroidery on Faial, which is used as gold thread in white and black tulle. You can also pick out a beret from Corvo, which are made of wool, usually with two colours. Or fuss over a Barbado da Terceira, a long-haired dog traditionally used to drive cattle.
by Hermínia Saraiva
The unexpected island
Tropical gardens, magic mountains, volcanic remains: here is the little-known splendour of the princess of the Atlantic.
Even when things get chilly and the wind bites, there’s no better place to see a new day. If you’re lucky, the sky will be clear, and, standing at 1,818 metres on Pico do Areeiro, you’ll have a perfect view of the sea, the island’s south coast, Curral das Freiras, in the interior, the deep green valleys of the Laurissilva Forest and, on the horizon, the outline of Porto Santo. Here we find Zino’s petrel, a sea bird that nests in these hills, now a protected species after once being declared extinct. If it’s a cloudy day, don’t worry. You’re so high up that you’ll feel yourself hovering over them.
Down below, near Funchal, there’s an earthly paradise called Jardim Tropical Monte Palace, which also boasts a museum. The botanical collection hails from all over the globe, while the art is a fusion of Oriental style and Portuguese tiles dotted around the gardens. And if you drop by the the Museum of Quinta das Cruzes, also in Funchal, there is an orchestraphone from 1900, made in France, a bizarre mechanical musical instrument, unique in Portugal. Next, you can descend to the São Vicente caves, which were formed 890 thousand years ago from a volcanic eruption, on the island’s north coast. Here, stone by stone, you can learn the very beginnings of the archipelago. A visit to the caves is only complete if you stop off at the Volcanism Centre, where it explains how the island appeared in the middle of the Atlantic from “nothing”.
Enjoy the road that traverses the island from north to south, winding through deep valleys, green forests and proud peaks piercing the clouds. It’s nature in its purest state, among water courses and unique biological diversity, where the Laurissilva Forest flaunts all its splendour. On these slopes, usually in hard-to-get-to places, there are poios, which are terraces supported by drystone walls. Here we find the 30-plus grape varieties used to make Madeira, a wine celebrated throughout the world and the tipple chosen to toast the proclamation of American independence in 1776. And don’t miss the Vereda do Fanal, a small volcanic caldera with old laurel trees, an exception on such a rugged island. It’s called the “Rest and Silence Reservation”, and when you get there, it’s easy to see why. You still need to visit the Jardim do Mar. Nestling between heights of jagged rock and the Atlantic, which have helped preserve centuries-old traditions and tranquillity, this pretty coastal village offers narrow streets, low-rise houses, with a sea wall protecting the village from the ocean that once hosted the world surfing championship, which put Jardim do Mar on the map. Next to the sea remain the ruins of an old sugar plantation and the tiles that lined the tanks, testimony of an old aguardente (brandy) factory.
by Hermínia Saraiva
illustration Susa Monteiro
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