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Lisbon and Tagus Valley

As it approaches Lisbon, the river bed widens to create a green and fertile plain called the Leziria. The effect as it nears the capital is to grace the landscape with its broad blue estuary. The special beauty of the riverbank enriches a number of towns past which the Tagus makes its way: Abrantes, Constancia, Vila Nova da Barquinha and Santarem. The whole green river valley is like a stage setting upon which deeply-rooted cultural traditions are enacted. There is popular music and dance, and the traditional costume worn by the horsemen still seen rounding up their cattle in rural pastures is a real feature. Lisbon, the dazzling city that stretches along the banks of the Tagus, is an enchanting capital. There is the fortress around which the city originally sprang up, and which is now circled by neighborhoods drenched with medieval charm. Everywhere are fine monuments that bring to mind the great Age of Discoveries, and picturesque houses whose facades are decked with ornate ceramic tiles. As the dusk turns to night, the yellow electric tramcars continue to wind their way up and down the hills of the old capital, while the sound of traditional Fado songs enlivens many a candle-lit dinner table in restaurant or home. But the capital also provides ample opportunity for seeing popular celebrations, for shopping, and for enjoying the nightlife along the river bank. With the port and marinas situated nearby, water sports are a natural attraction too. Not far from the capital lies the town of Sintra, with its marvelous surrounding vegetation and landscape, Sintra is classified by UNESCO as of outstanding cultural importance. There is no better way to see the exuberant trees and vegetation than to take a horse-drawn carriage ride and pass by ancient mansions before reaching the Palacio da Pena at the top of the hill. Its fabulous romantic architecture keeps vivid the atmosphere of a truly royal residence. Back in the Lisbon area, there are many other places worth a visit: the imposing Mafra Convent, the cosmopolitan seaside resort of Cascais, the Arrabida hills and their nature reserve stocked with ancient trees or picturesque Sesimbra, the city of Setubal and the aristocratic country-houses of nearby Azeitao. The area provides something for every taste: beach, water sports, golf courses, and open air music festivals in the summer. The Atlantic coast, which stretches south (Alentejo and Algarve), north, and west of Lisbon, is of surprising beauty: here the landscape swiftly changes from high, sweeping cliffs to beaches of white sand, backed by lagoons. Let us not forget that here, Cabo da Roca, is Europe’s westernmost point. This is a region of enchanting coastal villages and towns such as Sesimbra, Peniche and Nazare, where the brightly-colored fishing boats still ply their trade. Further inland, at Alcobaca, Tomar, Batalha, Fatima are to be found the ancient monasteries and convents of the religious orders, which are part of UNESCO’s global heritage. They stand as witnesses to Portugal’s rich historical and cultural traditions. These are lands that were won back from the Moors by the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. And the memory of that era lives on in the ancient castles that loom above Leiria, Tomar, Obidos and Santarem. Monumental Cistercian Abbey of Santa Maria, founded in 1152 (classified in UNESCO’s International Heritage list). Inside in the church, beautiful Gothic tombs of King Pedro I and Ines de Castro; the cloisters; the chapter house and an enormous kitchen. Churches: Misericordia (Renaissance portal and 17th-century tiles) and Conceicao (17th century).

Batalha

The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria was built in answer to a vow made by King John I to the Virgin, if the Castillian’s invader were defeated in the Battle of Aljubarrota. Elected by UNESCO as World Heritage, it is a grand monument to the closing phase of Portuguese Gothic whose building began in 1388.

Cascais

Stylish summer resort. Amongst the numerous restaurants, bars and discotheques are the following historic places: Castro Guimaraes Museum and Sea Museum, the 18th century churches of Nossa Senhora da Assuncão and Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes; the chapels of Nossa Senhora da Guia (15th century) and São Sebastiao (16th and 17th-centuries) and the 17th century fortress. Just a few minutes away lies Guincho beach (a great place for those who enjoy surfing and windsurfing).

Estoril

Renowned worldwide as an important tourism spot (casino, golf course and racing track). The beautiful Santo Antonio Church stands out in this cosmopolitan resort, which also boasts an exciting nightlife.

Fatima

One of the most important Marian centers of pilgrimage in the catholic world. Basilica and Capelinha das Aparicoes, standing in the place where it is said that Our Lady appeared to the three shepherds.

Leiria

A striking medieval royal castle sits atop the graceful town of Leiria. Other important monuments: the Cathedral (16th-17th centuries, with an archaeology museum on its premises), São Pedro Church (Romanesque), Nossa Senhora da Pena Church (Gothic), Nossa Senhora da Encarnacão Sanctuary (16th century).

Lisbon

Spreading out along the right bank of the Tagus, its downtown, the ‘Baixa’, is at the 18th century area of Rossio. East of the arcades of Praca do Comercio, are the medieval quarters of Alfama and Mouraria, crowned by the magnificent St. George’s Castle. To the west lies Bairro Alto and Madragoa, with their typical streets, and on the western extreme lies Belem, with the Belem tower, the Jeronimos monastery (masterpieces of Manueline architecture and classified in UNESCO’s International Heritage list) and the Cultural Center of Belem.

Museums

Ancient Art, Chiado, Tile Museum, Archaeology, Design Museum, Ethnology Museum, Carriage Museum, Costume, Theater, Maritime, Military, City, Gulbenkian Museum, Modern Art Center, and the Ricardo Espirito Santo Silva Foundation.

Palaces

open to the public: Ajuda and Fronteira.

Churches

Cathedral (with treasury); Sao Vicente de Fora; Conceicao Velha (Manueline), Sao Roque (with a sacred art museum); Madre Deus; Santa Engracia Pantheon (Baroque), and Estrela Basilica.

Shopping

Downtown; Avenida de Roma, Praca de Londres, Avenida Guerra Junqueiro and shopping centers Amoreiras, Colombo and Vasco da Gama.

Nightlife

Bairro Alto and Avenida 24 de Julho, Alcantara and riverside discos and bars. The area where the last World’s Fair of last century (EXPO 98) was held is today called the Nations Park, and here are to be found the great Lisbon aquarium, restaurants, leisure activities as well as shows and exhibitions.

Mafra

Palace-Convent built in the 18th century, is the largest Portuguese religious monument. It consists of royal apartments, magnificent library, bell tower and basilica.

Obidos

Completely enclosed by lofty medieval walls, this is a small town with whitewashed houses brightened up by colorful bougainvilleas. The massively-towered castle has now been converted into an elegant Pousada. Churches: Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Romanesque-Gothic), Santa Maria (Renaissance, housing an art collection by the Portuguese painter Josefa d’Obidos), Misericordia (15th-18th centuries) and Sao Pedro (18th century). Nearby, Senhor da Pedra Sanctuary.

Palmela

Dominated by a magnificent castle, overlooking one of the most gorgeous views of the plains of the Lisbon area, the ocean, Setubal and Arrabida mountain range. The village of Palmela dates back to pre-Moorish times and it is a quaint little village with cobbled stone streets, great food and excellent wine. The castle houses the old Santiago convent where a Pousada is now featured.

Queluz

Located about 17km from downtown Lisbon. Queluz was the summer palace for the kings of Portugal in the 18th century, it encloses a series of rambling and beautiful gardens with lakes and sculptures, and houses an important collection of furniture, paintings, tiles, and decorative arts. Within the palace property stands the Pousada D. Maria.

Santarem

Castle of Roman origin overlooking Portas do Sol (Sun Gates) and opening on to a panoramic view of the Tagus river. Monuments: the Roman-Gothic Church of Sao Joao de Alporao (with an archaeology museum); the Gothic Convent of São Francisco and the Gothic churches of Graca and Santa Clara; the Renaissance Chapel of Nossa Senhora do Monte; from later periods, the churches of Santissimo Milagre and Seminario Patriarcal.

Sesimbra

Picturesque small fishing town, with a medieval castle atop a hill. While here, do not miss the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Cabo, at Cabo Espichel, and Lagoa de Albufeira, a favorite spot for windsurfers.

Setubal

Setubal is located in the Sado estuary. Opposite to it is the peninsula of Troia with 11 miles of beaches, new resorts and golf courses. Setubal itself is just south of some nice beaches as well as the Arrabida mountains natural reserve. Places of interest: museum, churches of Jesus and Sao Joao (Manueline), Sao Domingos, Boa Hora, Santa Maria da Graca and Sao Juliao. an abandoned fort sits atop a hill and is home to Pousada of S. Filipe.

Sintra

Sintra is a town classified by the UNESCO as World Heritage. At its center stands the National Palace, with its beautiful painted rooms and huge pair of conical chimneys, the village’s ex-libris. Other palaces include: Pena royal palace (19th century), Seteais palace (18th century) and Monserrate, renowned for its gardens and water courses. The churches of Sao Martinho (Romanesque origin), Santa Maria (Romanesque-Gothic) and Sao Pedro de Penaferrim (15th-16th-centuries). Nearby are the church of Santo Antonio do Penedo (16th-century) and Peninha Chapel (Baroque tile works). The Toy Museum, over 20 000 pieces from the 16th to the 20th-century and the Berardo Collection of Modern Art. In the suburbs: the Capuchos Convent (16th-century) and Cabo da Roca (the westernmost point in continental Europe).

Tomar

Christ Convent, classified in UNESCO’s International Heritage list (12th-16th centuries). With its famous Manueline window, it is the town’s supreme landmark. Other places to visit: Templars’ Castle (12th century); churches of Santa Maria do Olival (Gothic), Nossa Senhora da Conceicão (Renaissance) and São João Baptista (Manueline); and a 15th century synagogue.

Other places of interest

Abrantes, Almeirim, Azeitão, Azenhas do Mar, Berlengas (islands), Caldas da Rainha, Cartaxo, Chamusca, Colares, Constancia, Ericeira, Ferreira do Zêzere, Golegã, Lourinhã, Macão, Minde, Peniche, Porto de Mos, Salvaterra de Magos, Sardoal, Seixal (ecomuseum), Serra da Arrabida (beach and convent), Torres Novas, Torres Vedras, Vila Nova da Barquinha, Vila de Rei, Vimeiro (spa).

Local gastronomy

  • Fish soups and stews
  • Fish and seafood
  • Barbecued sardines and mackerel
  • Azeitão and cottage cheeses
  • Sweets: queijadas (cheese tarts) from Sintra and pasteis de Belem (custard cream tarts) from Lisbon.
  • Wines: Arruda, Carcavelos, Colares, Palmela, Bucelas, Ribatejo and Moscatel (Setubal).

Regional Handicrafts

  • Glass and crystal from Alcobaca
  • Wicker baskets and other objects
  • Copper utensils
  • Embroideries and lace
  • Pottery, artistic and popular ceramics (Caldas da Rainha)