Eight routes to fall in love with Portugal
From the Douro vineyards to the Ria Formosa, passing through the Alentejo and the slate villages of the mountains to the east of Coimbra, Portuguese escapades to experience the autumn
1. National 2: across Portugal by car
If the United States has Route 66, Portugal has its National 2, a highway off highways, the backbone of the interior of the country. From Chaves to Faro, a route of authentic country and authentic gastronomy. Although its 737 kilometers allow to cover the road in a day, it would be a waste. The EN2 is to savor it. The goal is not to arrive. From the Trás-os-Montes region, a land of chestnuts and cloaked men, this 19th century road crosses the great rivers of the country, soon with the Duero, then with the Dão and the Tagus and finally with the estuary Formosa, land of clams and men with Bermuda shorts. In between, food houses that do not appear on the Internet, ravines, villages and crafts. The EN2 crosses the cities instead of skirting them, so the temptation to make stops is permanent and, in addition, rewarding.
Alentejo cante is the excuse to explore the most authentic villages in the interior of this region.
The landscape is tempered. You start with mountain ranges and humid climate to make your way through the fluvial beaches of Tondela, Góis or Pedrógão Grande, which take advantage of raging rivers and neighboring marshes. Little by little the horizon widens, the eucalyptus disappear and is filled with immense meadows with cork oaks and oaks. In Alentejo, oak trees are shown bare from the neck down, uncorked with the skill of surgeons.
Always in the interior, only when going up to Aljustrel you can see a bit of ocean in the distance before descending, with a usually sunny and dry weather, up to Almodôvar. The road from here to São Brás de Alportel has been declared a national heritage. The old signage and the pawnshop houses, their typical tiled facades and mileage to nearby cities have been rehabilitated. There are 17 kilometers to Faro. The goal is sensed by the abundance of hotels, supermarkets and floats shaped like ducks. The objective is almost fulfilled and we already have saudades of what we left behind.
2. Browse between vineyards, from Pinhão to Provesende
Pinhão grows in the Duero, equidistant from Oporto and the Spanish border, in the center of the oldest wine area with designation of origin, that of the Duero (1756). From its dock boat tours of 1,000 euros are offered, in yacht-hotel, with nights and endless libations included, and also of 35 euros, as the round trip between Pinhão and Régua, also with wine tasting included. While the boat advances, the river passes through green and brown streaks with lime or albero spikes; they are the fifths, each one with its centuries-old history: Quinta do Castro, Quinta de Santa Barbara, Quinta do Vallado ... In Peso da Régua, the capital of the region, you have to visit the Wine Museum to understand the history of the region .
From Pinhão towards Tua, to the north, you can see the highest concentration of river fifths (Ronção, Malvedos, Bom Retiro, Vesúvio), with vineyards that climb up to 500 meters between meanders and streams. There is no harder collection than this part of the Duero. You have to climb the peaks of the mountains to appreciate the magnificence of the work of man. The paths are steep and dangerous, just for a car.
Without a breath, we arrive at Provesende, a noble village in other times judging by its blazons and granite stone mansions. Conquered by the Arabs, it has a Roman cemetery, a Romanesque chapel, a Baroque fountain and 10 Manueline mansions that could house the entire neighborhood. Here, tired and hungry, you must stop at Papes Zaide.
3. To Santiago by the coast Lusa
The central Portuguese road (Oporto-Valença-Santiago) is the second most popular, after the French (Roncesvalles-Santiago). But not the only one that crosses Portugal.Since last year the 11 municipalities of the forgotten coastal route have created a common, clear and rigorous signaling with history, as well as a website with official hostels and points of interest.
On the way you have to meander, so you discover unique places from your departure in Porto to Vila Nova de Cerveira, passing through Matosinhos, Maia, Vila do Conde, Póvoa de Varzim, Esposende, Viana do Castelo and Caminha. They are 150 kilometers by the Portuguese geography (250 will be missing until the Obradoiro).Although it is called the coast path, you rarely see the sea, which does not mean that the beauty of the promenade is guaranteed with old Roman roads, leafy trees, old patients and old aqueducts.
What better start than Oporto, the invincible, and with the beautiful beaches of its neighbors Foz and Matosinhos. After eating an incomparable francesinha in the O Requinte restaurant, he starts walking towards Vila do Conde, where the Manueline portico of his cathedral stands out; it passes through Esposende, where the Cávado river allows us to decide whether to continue along the coast, towards Apúlia, or to go back up in Fonte Boa.
The castle of Tomar, built in 1160 on a hill, was the most modern military defense of its time. It was consecrated in 862, shortly after the discovery of the tomb of the apostle in Compostela.
4. Slate Villages
In the center of the country, between Castelo Branco and Coimbra, there are 27 shale villages. Thanks to tourism, these forgotten places have achieved a second life. Today their houses are repainted and paved to the door. This is the case of Piódão, considered one of the seven wonders of Portugal. Do not ask your opinion to the neighbors of the nearby Sobral de São Miguel, which are considered the heart of the blackboard, and for that reason, the stone is extracted for export to the whole world.
In these villages the slate of their houses predominates, however, not all the slates are the same, as there are more black and brown, all unites a forceful gastronomy. There is good bread, cooked in wood ovens, jams, compotes and honey. The kid is an obligatory dish (stop at O ??Pascoal, in Fajão), as well as the chanfana (which takes advantage of old animals), the crumbs and the popular accords.
Each village seeks to find its uniqueness. Cerdeira, for example, aims at organic farming, artistic works and coworking. The villages next to the river Zézere and the Tagus, already more of granite than of slate, foment the leisure of water. Do not forget Talasnal (and its restaurant Ti Lena), or Chiqueiro, or Fajão, or Martin Branco or Gondramaz, and talk to its people, who teach how to make bread, make spirits or wooden spoons. It is not easy to reach all the villages, because although spatially close, the roads have to save the Açor and Lousã mountains and the rivers. It is essential to visit the Aldeiasdoxisto page to plan the route, either by car, on foot or by bike.
5. Refuge of templars
Game of thrones, Assasin's Creed, there is no better place to take to follow in the footsteps of the Knights of the Order of the Temple, the Templars. Created in the twelfth century to help the Christian reconquest of the country, Pope Clement V cut his wings two centuries later, jealous of his growing power, however in Portugal he continued for a time as the Order of the Knights of Christ.
To take is templar from beginning to end; It has parties, hotels, restaurants and, of course, churches and templar castles. Its four great monuments are located strategically in the four cardinal points, forming a cross. The castle, built in 1160 on a hill, was the most modern military defense of its time. Next, the only one, the singular and magical convent of Christ, with the window of the chapter, the greatest exponent of the Manueline style. Inside, the dazzling Charola was copied from the holy sepulcher of Jerusalem. The church follows the proportions of Solomon's temple, where the order was founded.
The road between Almodôvar and São Brás de Alportel on the N2 road has been declared a world heritage site.
In the village stands the church of Santa María del Olivo, pantheon of the knights of the Temple and cathedral of all the churches of the Portuguese empire in America, Asia and Africa. Following the river Zézere you will reach other templar castles, all of them raised to reject the invasion of the Muslims or recovered from them. On a rock in the middle of the river stands the castle of Almourol (1169). A boat from the neighboring Vila Nova da Barquinha facilitates the visit to the castle-island.
The tower of Dornes, the castle of Soure and Castelo Branco are other templar fortresses, although you have to travel to the castle of Penha Garcia (1295) to see its last refuge from a history of war and religion.
If the sins have not yet been forgiven and there are no crusades to redeem them, the most practical thing is to go to the Shrine of Fatima, pray to the cowherd boys and take a good snack at the excellent Alice restaurant.
6. Alentejo cante
Alentejo cante is the excuse to explore the most authentic villages in the interior of this Portuguese region. On the side we leave its maritime part, which live well from the sun and the beach, nothing to do with its interior, historically the poorest and most suffering part, heart of the communist party, the lower Alentejo. In villages such as Serpa, Sete, Beja, Castro Verde, they sing the troubles of agricultural and mining operations. It is a song of the earth, deep, before only of men, without any musical accompaniment. In 2014, it was declared a world heritage by Unesco thanks, above all, to the efforts of the Serpa neighbors, where the Casa do Cante resides.
Music is the excuse to get to this town, and soon it is understood that the landscape makes music. The simplicity of the Alentejo cante is the same as its towns, white, clean, with the square, where the church, the bar, the asylum and the bank are concentrated, of those of sitting down, since the others are fleeing from these slow-moving villages.
There are villages of white houses with blue stripe and villages of white houses with ocher stripe, but the stillness is the same in São Marcos da Ataboeiraque in Moura or Arraiolos, famous for the carpets that their women darn handcrafted. In the middle is, of course, Évora, big words, capital of the Alentejo, with its university, one of the oldest in Europe, and its dolmens and its crómlech de los Almendros and its chapel of bones and skulls.
Today there are more than a hundred groups of Alentejo cante, all of them join that infinite field, the inclement sun in summer. You have to go through villages like Alvito, with its walls, or Cuba, which claims the birth of Columbus, and of course Beja, with its airport in the middle of nowhere, 10 years after its inauguration, practically for the first time. Someday the most affluent will arrive to buy the most difficult thing to have, peace, silence and immense lands sautéed with olive trees and oaks.
7. Tour between islands from Faro to Cacela Velha
Autumn is the best season in the natural park of the Ria Formosa. A short distance from the airport and the noise begins an extensive wetland where only birds break the silence. Islands, islets and islets appear and disappear depending on the tide. Through its labyrinthine canals the fishing boats and guides move. It is essential to walk with them, because in addition to reaching otherwise inaccessible places, the guides are discovering the richness of the flora and fauna that would go unnoticed.
The paradise of the Ria Formosa consists of five islands, from east to west: Cabanas, Tavira, Armona, Culatra and Barreta, embraced by a peninsula at each end, that of Cacela, already very close to the natural border of the Guadiana and that of Ançao leaving Faro. Ferries and taxi boats connect them to the mainland.
This archipelago of waters and sands conceals 600 species of plants, 200 species of birds and 300 of molluscs. During this time, up to 20,000 birds and endangered species, such as the chameleon and the seahorse, are sheltered, with the largest population in the world.
Cabanas, Tavira, Armona, Culatra and Barreta (or Desert, because it is) are islands with a greater shaft, which can be reached on foot from the coast, by boat or by train. All of them have calm and temperate waters, more Mediterranean than Atlantic, and immense beaches free of hotels and restaurants.
The village of Olhão is the commercial center of the archipelago. The ferry that connects with the island of Armona carries islanders with carts loaded with basic products, water and food, refrigerators and mops. Armona only has a street of modest houses, which go from the dock to the dunes, raised in the sixties for weekend solace, because without electricity or fresh water they did not serve much else. In the market of Olhão the star product is the mollusk, and of all of them, the clam, raised and collected a few meters, as well as cockles and knives. But to taste them, at a table, nothing better than visiting the restaurant Noélia and Jerónimo de Cabanas, and then snoozing and staying at the Pensão Agrícola. Both experiences as pleasant as sighting birds in this paradise that forms the Ria Formosa.
8. Literary Lisbon, behind Saramago and Pessoa
Lisbon has a thousand tours, but two of the most complete follow in the footsteps of its two great writers of the twentieth century. If Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) was more than the taverns of Chiado and La Baixa, ending in Campo de Ourique, Saramago (1922-2010) takes us to the Estrela neighborhood, the Alfama hill and the Avenida de la Libertad and the headquarters of Diário de Notícias, where the Nobel Prize served as deputy director for 10 months. Founded in 1864, the building has been converted into apartments, although it keeps the light with the name of the newspaper and the unique panels of Almada Negreiros.
Saramago lived in Estrela, next to its delightful park and the basilica of the same name, referred to in the novel Memorial of the convent. Tram 28 passes in front, which makes it easier for us to move to the viewpoint of Santa Catarina, where the protagonist of Ricardo Reis' The Year of Death strolls. Following him, he takes us to Alecrim street and strolls through the populated Cais do Sodré and the spectacular Plaza del Comercio.
In a corner follows Martinho de Arcade, Pessoa's favorite restaurant. There he ate, drank and wrote a lot, among other things Mensagem, and respect is kept at his table. Saramago has its reserved table in Farta Brutos, in the Alto district, and also in Varina da Madragoa, in Estrela. We are a few meters from the Casa dos Bicos, today the headquarters of the Nobel Foundation. It is enough to cross the Dark Arc or the Arch of the Puerta del Mar to dazzle with the light of the Tagus or get lost in Alfama. This is the neighborhood of Raimundo Silva, the reviewer of texts of History of the siege of Lisbon. Through his character, Saramago takes us up the cathedral, the church of San Antonio, the viewpoints of Santa Luzia and the Sun to the castle of San Jorge, the beginning and end of this city.