Portugal: The Best of Portugal

Road Scholar started our tour  of the Best of Portugal in Lisbon.  I wasn’t able to cover every place we went but I tried to cover the highlights of the trip as best as possible.  We certainly enjoyed the views and the Portuguese cuisine that make up this lovely but sometimes overlooked European country.  After our visit, I’d highly recommend putting it on your go to list.  Aside from being the capital of Portugal, Lisbon is the western most capital city in Europe and the only capital on the Atlantic.  As most of Europe, Portugal was conquered by the Romans and later by the Muslims in 711 so Lisbon shows influences of both cultures.  Views of the city are magnificent from either São Jorge Castle (left of central city) or the Jardín de São Pedro de Alcântara (right of central city).  A couple of recommendations on restaurants while you’re in Libon are Ramiro and Marisqueira de Santa Marta, both very good seafood restaurants.  Ramiro’s is not to be missed.

Some of the Graffiti is pretty interesting as well as the monuments and statues you’ll find in Lisbon.  In the middle is Padre Antonio Vieira who was a Jesuit missionary, orator,  and diplomat who played an active role in both Portuguese and Brazilian history in the 17th-century.

Tile is Portugal, even many of the building have tiles on their exterior.  Portugal is most famous for azulejo tile that dates back to the 13th century, when the Moors invaded. The word azulejo stems from Arabic, meaning polished stone.  King Manuel I had a strong influence in the adoption of this artwork into its culture.

One place to visit in Lisbon is Rossio Square which is probably the liveliest square in the city.   On either side of the square are two baroque fountains, and in the center is a monument.  The statue is of at the top of the monument is of Dom Pedro IV.  In the 19th century, the square was paved with cobblestones in wave patterns.  On the north side of the square is the Dona Maria II National Theater, a monumental neoclassical building built in the 1840s.

We were kind of lucky, I guess, we got to see a demonstration for better funding for schools while in Lisbon.

It’s interesting to learn about the Marques do Pombal whose monument looks down the beautiful avenue that runs through Lisbon.  He was charged with the responsible for rebuilding Lisbon after the disastrous earthquake in 1755.

While you’re in Lisbon, you have to take a side trip to Sintra.  Spend a day or if you can squeeze in two, it’s well worth it.  Visit the Castle of the Moors.  The fortifications are still in pretty good shape considering their age.  I can’t imagine actually attacking these fortifications.

The Pena Palace and Sentra National Palace are stunning.  Pictures do not do justice to the palaces, a must see if you possibly can while in Portugal.  The views are spectacular of the countryside and viewing the National Palace from above.

The Pena Palace began as chapel, built in the middle ages and dedicated to Our Lady of Pena on the top of the hill above Sintra.  King Manual I order that a monastery be built and donated to the Order of Saint Jerome.  Between 1842 and 1854, King Ferdinand had the remains of the monastery rebuilt into a Romantic style palace by Lieutenant-General Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege so that it would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.  In 1889 it was purchased by the Portugal, and classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum in 1910.

The Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon is worth the visit, not just for seeing the fortifications but the grand view of the city.  Probably the best view of Lisbon that you can find.  While you’re there, enjoy the peacocks, there are a lot of them.

One of our first stops with Road Scholar was to visit the Royal Palace of Queluz in Sintra.  The palace was beautifully furnished with period furniture and art and one of the last great Rococo buildings to be designed in Europe.  Peter IV was born and died in the King’s Bedroom.  After the visit to the Palace, we went out for lunch on our own in Sintra and walked around the town.  We didn’t have time to visit the National Palace but we were able to walk around it for a time.

Go see the Belem Tower which is Lisbon’s most famous landmark, standing in the middle of the Tagus River. It was constructed between 1514 and 1520 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor and protect the city. The monument’s architecture and its historical significance symbolize Portugal’s Age of Discovery and is a UNESCO’s World Heritage monument.

After the Belem Tower visit, we went to see the Jerónimos Monastery which is one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon.  The Manueline style incorporates maritime elements and representations of the discoveries brought from the voyages of Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral.

We proceeded to the National Tile Museum that is dedicated to the azulejo, the traditional tilework of Portugal.  The Tile Museum is in the former Madre de Deus Convent and the ceramics collection is one of the largest in the world.  Gene, one of our group, comes out of the Tile Museum smiling ear to ear.

If you have a chance, go see the “Cabo da Roca” also known as the Rock of Lisbon.  It is the most western point of continental Europe.  One of our Road Scholar participants, Robert, relaxes along the rail while looking out on the Atlantic.

We traveled to Porto and the Douro Valley at the end of our trip.  Some wonderful scenery along the way.  Before getting there, we stopped in the town of, a walled town that was enchanting.

The Alcobaça Monastery is one of the first foundations of the Cistercian Order in Portugal. It was founded in 1153 as a gift to Bernard of Clairvaux, shortly before his death, from the first Portuguese King, Afonso Henriques, to commemorate his victory over the Moors at Santarém in March 1147.  It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We stayed in Figueira da Foz at a very nice seaside hotel before visiting the salt pan and a local school to learn about the educational system in Portugal.  The local market was filled with fresh seafood, yum.

Our next stop was at the University of Coimbra a public university established in 1290 in Lisbon before moving permanently to Coimbra in 1537.   The University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world and the oldest university of Portugal.  Our Road Scholar group assembled before our visit to the University.  Afterwards we lunched in Coimbra and went to a Fado show.  One of our group got enlisted to take a picture of other visitors to the city.

The Douro River is wine country and fantastically picturesque, one might say, breathtaking.  The Douro Valley vineyards is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world dating back to 1756.  Grapes have been harvested and wine produced in the area for over 2,000 years.  The Douro has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A visit to the Sandeman cellars was a fun tour with a nice tasting at the end.

In Porto, the main avenue is quite impressive.

Porto (19)-min

Visit the São Bento station for the tiles that provide a history lesson. To the left of the entrance is a scene depicting the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez and Egas Moniz before Alfonso VII of Castile and on the right, is D. João I in Oporto, with his fiancé and the Conquest of Ceuta.

We also went to see the home and garden at Quinta da Aveleda where we did some wine tasting.  Aveleda, in the Vinho Verde Region, is one of the largest wine producers in Portugal and exports over half of its output around the world.  The gardens are captivating, not just for their flowers and foliage but for their odd buildings.  The peacocks are quite at home here.

Be sure and visit the harbor and take a boat tour, the bridges and scenery are well worth it.  Wished we’d had a better day.  From the boat, aside from the marvelous bridges, we could see the Porto Cathedral.  We walked around the city and saw Porto’s famous Lello Bookstore and the Church of the Clergymen.  And of course, our many new good friends who made the trip to Portugal so memorable.




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