Iberian trip III: Central Portugal
After our Spanish wedding was over, we still had a week to travel around before coming back to China. We decided to go to Portugal, which is just 100 kilometres away from my hometown. Our Taiwanese friends suggested visiting some off the beaten path places which they would have not even thought about if they were going on their own, so I arranged a road trip around several historic towns in central Portugal. We were 12 in total, as my parents and my uncle and aunt also joined, and we drove 3 cars. We visited the towns of Marvão, Belver, Tomar, the grottoes of Mira de Aire, Alcobaça, São Martinho do Porto, Óbidos and Santarém.
We already went to Marvão the first time C. went to Portugal. It’s a very pretty and peaceful village close to the border and you can see some pictures in one of my old posts. This time the landscape photos were not as nice as unfortunately Portugal was experiencing some horrible fires and the smoke was visible on the horizon during our whole trip. On the way from Marvão to Tomar we had a pit stop in the village of Belver. It has a hill with a castle on top but it was closed. From the hill we could see the marks of some previous fire (Portugal and Spain both had an awful summer this year, with hundreds of fires and over 100 dead people).
The main attraction in Tomar is the Convento de Cristo, a convent built by the Templar Knights between the 12th and the 16th century. It is now listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. The entrance ticket costs 6 euros and inside the convent you can see several cloisters, a church with frescoes, the monks’ dining room, part of an aqueduct…
In Tomar we stayed in a very interesting lodging: an old mansion which must have been over 100 years old! It was not super cheap, you can find more economic options, but I thought the Chinese guests would enjoy spending a night like the aristocrats from old times. And they loved it! I loved it too, our room was huge and there were original letters and postcards in the drawers. I couldn’t help taking a look… my favourite discovery was a postcard from 1927. I examined everything and then left it as it was, for the next explorer!
After lunch we headed to our next stop: Mira de Aire. When planning the trip, I randomly found that the biggest caves in Portugal are located here. As it was more or less on the way from Tomar to Alcobaça, and it would be a change from the convents and monasteries we were going to visit in the other towns, I decided to visit them. They are in a hill inside a small town and the place looks like a theme park from the 70s, but the caves themselves are very impressive. They are 11 km long but only 600 m can be visited and you have to go down more than 600 steps. Fortunately, there is an elevator for the way up! The visit is guided and the staff spoke Portuguese and English. In the middle of our visit, the lights went out and the poor guide had to run all the way up, he almost fainted!
As usual, we ate a lot of delicious things in Portugal but I didn’t take pictures! There are some, but they will appear in the second part of this post, in which I will talk about our visits to Alcobaça, São Martinho do Porto, Óbidos and Santarém. Stay tuned!