Experiences and Impressions of Travel to Portugal
My last trip was through Portugal. It was impossible to reach Portugal without expectations. I immediately fell in love with the neighborhoods of Lisbon. I had also wanted to see the Oporto area for some time, but other trips always came out. So I planned a route through beautiful towns and cities in this area of our neighboring country. Our faithful companion was the bad weather with rain, storms, wind, cold, and fog except for a single day (with bright sun).
Several storms were entering the Atlantic almost in succession. On the roads, the speed had to be reduced. We circulated among the clouds and often submerged in a real storm. This is what we had, so we had to adapt. But the bad weather made us enjoy the places more intensely. There were fewer tourists. We were practically alone in many of the towns. There was much more charm to capture innumerable photographic images, where the contrast is much greater.
Portugal is still a cheap destination to which you can travel. With a tight budget, you can make an interesting trip, and this was our case. Eating, sleeping, tapas, snacks and moving around Portugal is tremendously affordable. That yes, that will depend on each pocket and the demands of each. We stayed in very economical and welcoming places, and especially well located, which was our preference, especially in the case of Oporto.
1 Day in Lisbon
I dedicated 3 days to the capital. Many people told me that it was too much. I like to travel quietly. I came from moving a lot around Europe and I wanted to release my backpack. That's why I put a stop to the hostels and I rented a studio. They also offer a small breakfast included in the price and has the metro station of Arroios less than 5 minutes walk.
4 months ago I was traveling and meeting many people, which I love and it is the best of travel, no doubt. But there came a moment when my mind asked me for solitude. And I gave it to it, at least, the first days. Something was in my mind and I had to define it. Re-organize my last months of travel. Lisbon gave me peace, tranquility, time to read and write. Time to listen to me. We started with the most central neighborhoods of the city, the Barrio de la Baixa, the Alto and Chiado neighborhood.
I take the opportunity to do something I love. I got lost in the streets of all its neighborhoods. I played to hide the maps and let myself be guided by my intuition. I went up and down many (many) stairs. I took hundreds (thousands) of photos. Once we had kept everything in the hotel, we headed to the city center. We took the metro to the Baixa-Chiado station. From the metro stop, we head towards Praca do Comercio, taking a walk along the Rua Augusta, the commercial hub of the Baixa district.
The Praca do Comercio is one of the most important in the city, and the triumphal arch that gives access to Rua Augusta and the equestrian statue of Jose I stands out. The square is u-shaped. It is open in its southern part, which leads to the Tagus since years ago the ships arrived with goods for the city of Lisbon.
From here and traveling again to Augusta Rua, but this time north, we went to find a restaurant in the heart of the Baixa. The restaurant is famous for its seafood rice, which is served in a large pot. We have to say that the rice was good. It is true that for the price they charge, the quantity, and being in the heart of Lisbon, make it a very good option.
After the copious meal, we took a walk through the Baixa neighborhood, which is totally flat, reaching Rossio Square or Praca Dom Pedro IV. This square is one of the liveliest in the city, we also find several monuments in it, such as the Statue of D. Pedro IV, the Dona Maria II National Theatre, and one of the most beautiful stations in Europe, the railway station of Rossio.
The station has a beautiful neo-Manueline facade of the late nineteenth century, designed by the architect Jose Luis Monteiro. From this station is where trains leave for Sintra. As a curiosity, and for those who want to rest for a while, we will tell you that when entering the station you will find a cafe, where you can have a drink and rest a while, as we did while having a coffee.
To spend the afternoon we decided to go to the Alto district of Lisbon, so we went to the Elevador da Gloria, which is next to the Restauradores Square, Praca dos Restauradores, at the beginning of Avenida de la Libertad, very close to the Rossio station itself. The Elevador da Gloria connects the Baixa with the upper district since 1885. Declared a National Monument, the elevator that has operated with water tanks thanks to gravity, with coal, and now it does so with electricity, climbs a steep street cobblestone, that ends next to the viewpoint of San Pedro de Alcantara, already in the Alto district of Lisbon.
From the viewpoint, we have fantastic views of the San Jorge castle, and a good part of the city. In addition, the area of the viewpoint is very lively and has a bar with a terrace where you can have a quiet drink. The rest of the afternoon we spent walking through the streets of the Alto district, which are full of small bars and places for nightlife.
Going south, we reach the Chiado neighborhood, which is separated from the upper district by the Rua da Misericordia. The Chiado district of Lisbon is known as the Bohemian neighborhood and is delimited by the Alto and Baixa neighborhoods. It is an elegant neighborhood, which is sometimes compared to the Parisian Montmartre district, due to its bohemian style.
The neuralgic center of the neighborhood is the Praca Luis de Camoes, from which we went to stop at the most famous street in the neighborhood, the Garret street. We pass by the famous Cafe A Brasileira, a place where poets and writers met. Next, to the cafe, we find a statue of the poet and writer Fernando Pessoa, one of the most brilliant of Portuguese literature.
Another point of interest is the ruins of the Convent of Carmo, and the nearby Santa Justa elevator, which with its 45 meters of height saves the difference between the Bairro Alto and Baixa. To finish we went to dinner at a restaurant, at Rua das Gaveas, next to Praca Luis Camoes. The restaurant specializes in steaks made in the stone fire. It is a very small place. The tables are close together, and even some of them are joined.
So we will have to share a table with people at our side. But all this is forgotten when a piece of picanha comes to our table. In addition, the meat is accompanied by a good quantity of potatoes. We have to say that we really enjoyed dinner. To end the night we took a walk down to the Baixa, to enjoy the beautiful nighttime facade of the Rossio station, which is beautiful by day, at night it is even more so.
2 Days in Lisbon
On our second day in Lisbon, we dedicate to walk the neighborhood of Alfama, the old fishing district with narrow streets and overlooking the Tagus. The neighborhood of Alfama is famous for its viewpoints, so we decided to start our visit with one of them. To get to the Viewpoint of the Puertas del Sol, we stop at the Largo das Portas do Sol for tram 12, as we did, or tram 28 which also stops.
From the viewpoint we see the roofs of the houses in a large part of the Alfama neighborhood, although it is a very touristy viewpoint, and very little quiet. From here we went up the winding and steep streets of Alfama towards the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Located on the hill of San Jorge, the castle is listed as a National Monument. The castle has its origin in the time of the Visigoths, about the 5th century. One of the stages that most marked it was the stage of Islamic occupation in the ninth century. Due to this occupation, it is also known as the Castle of the Moors.
It is one of the most visited monuments in Lisbon and has undergone several restorations because it has been affected by the various earthquakes that have affected the city. The last restoration began in the year 1990. We have to say that the castle is fine, but it did not seem like a great wonder either, so we took a little stroll around the grounds and through the gardens, where there are several peacocks that the girls loved.
From the castle, we headed for the Se, crossing the streets of the Alfama district and enjoying small corners that are only found when you do not look for them. Known by the Lisboners as Se de Lisboa, the cathedral was built after the conquest of the city by the Moors, in the year 1147. The architectural style of the cathedral ranges from Romanesque, which can be clearly seen in its facade, to the Gothic. It is one of the oldest medieval monuments in Lisbon.
In the Lisbon Cathedral, we can see the different chapels and rooms that compose it. As in the castle, the various earthquakes that have occurred in the city have damaged it, but they have not managed to destroy it, although they have had to carry out several reconstructions. The access to the cathedral is free, but we pay to enter the cloister and see the treasure. Frankly, the Se of Lisbon is not bad.
The house of the Bicos is one of the unique buildings that we find in Lisbon. It is very close to the Cathedral, and as you can imagine its name comes from the "peaks or tips" that we find in its facade. It is said that its owner, Bras de Alburquerque, had it built in the same way as the Palace of Diamonds in Ferrara, which he saw during one of his trips to Italy.
The building, very affected by the earthquake of 1755, was almost completely destroyed. The building, currently owned by the Municipal Chamber of Lisbon, although ceded to the Jose Saramago Foundation, underwent a major reconstruction in 1983, restoring its original appearance. In our case, we did not visit it on the inside because we were a bit short on time for the rest of the visits.
From here, and after having eaten, we went back up to the viewpoints of the Alfama. The idea was to walk the streets of the neighborhood without order, and without direction. In this way, we discover the essence of one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of Lisbon. There are small squares between colorful houses, cobbled streets, and corners and more places that we fell in love with.
After a walk from the viewpoint of Santa Luzia, we arrive at the Panteao Nacional, an emblematic Portuguese monument. The old Church of Santa Engracia is a Baroque building, which is known today as the National Pantheon. Since 1910 it is considered a national monument, and in 1916 it was dedicated to the National Pantheon, in order to be a resting place for illustrious Portuguese characters.
In the pantheon rest the remains of several Portuguese presidents, several writers, and even the fadista Amalia Rodrigues. You can also find the empty tombs of six of the most illustrious figures in Portuguese history. They are of Vasco de Gama, Luis de Camoes, Infante Don Henrique, Alfonso de Albuquerque, Nuno Alvares Pereira and Pedro Alvares Cabral.
The most interesting part of the National Pantheon is undoubtedly the dome and its terrace from where we have stunning views of the Barrio de La Alfama and much of Lisbon. To end the day, we go down taking a walk towards the banks of the Tagus, from the Plaza del Comercio take the subway and return to the hotel where we had dinner in the surroundings.
New Years Eve in Lisbon
As the previous day we got up at 7 am, because today we are going to visit Sintra. Since we are going by train, we have to get up early to take advantage of the day there. Today the legs are even more tired. The 7 hills are taking their toll on us, but nothing will prevent us from visiting Sintra. We have a special interest in knowing this town and its main monuments because we have heard wonders.
What makes us get up with more desire, is to think about the breakfast that awaits us when going down to the dining room of the hotel. Once we left the hotel, we went to the metro to take the blue line in the direction of Jardim Zoologico. Once we got to the subway stop, we went through the mouth of the same and headed to the train station of Sete Rios, from where the train leaves for Sintra. We decided to go to Sete Rios, to see more areas of Lisbon. The train leaves line 2 and we have to make a transfer at the Amadora stop to line 1.
Once settled in the final train, we see the landscape that separates Lisbon from Sintra, and the rain threatens to spoil the day. The clouds are very dark, but we hope it does not dilute, and we can enjoy this mountainous town. We arrive at the final stop and go directly to the Sintra tourist office going to the station on the right. There they give us a map of the town and inform us of the special hours of that day (they close most of the sites at 3:00 pm).
We took a shot because he also told us that the Quinta da Regaleira did not open during that day. It was what we wanted to see because we were well equipped with flashlights and everything to get into their caves. That was not going to stop us from enjoying our day in Sintra. So we asked the girl for information on the tourist bus and she tells us where to take it and what number it is.
The route is circular. I say this because we had planned to visit first Pena and then the Castle of the Moors, thinking that once in Pena it would go back to the castle. However, this is not the case and we had to go down to the town to take the bus again to the castle. We do not pay for the second trip since the ticket is valid for the whole day.
We get on the tourist bus to the Pena Palace. The bus has to do some maneuvers and go uphill. We arrived at the Palace around 10am. It was a good time because there were not many lines to get the entrance. We took the combined ticket of Pena Palace and Castle of the Moors. The first impression from the ticket office is very good. We can see the Palace and it is a small climb to walk up to the door.
So for comfort and for the health of our legs, we decided to get on the bus disguised as a tram that prevented us from climbing that hill. I would say that walking is about 10-15 minutes but we had no strength to walk more. The National Palace of Pena is one of the main residences of the Portuguese royal family during the 19th century and at the same time, it constitutes one of the maximum expressions of the romantic style of the 19th century in Portugal.
The palace is based on large boulders, presents a mixture of architectural styles totally intentional. You can find elements that belong to neo-Gothic, neo-Manueline, neo-Islamic, neo-Renaissance and to a lesser extent colonial architecture. The reason for this is that the romantic mentality of the 19th century is enormously fascinated by everything exotic
The exterior of the Palace has to be said that it is beautiful, of what I liked the most on this trip. The views from the Palace are impressive. We enter the interior of the Palace (you can not take photos) through a door that is next to the famous Triton. The interior is very well maintained, being decorated in cathedral style, according to the fashion of the time. The furniture and ornamentation present in its interior, give a great sample of it.
The visit is done in a linear way since you are following the path you have marked. In each room, there is a brief written explanation of what can be seen in it. It is interesting to see this furniture and the different rooms. Once the interior visit is made, we go out again to take more photos (the truth is that here you can take photos without stopping).
We take the bus-tram and go down to the ticket offices, and from there to take the bus to go to the castle. So we went down to the town and went back to take the bus to go up to the Castle of the Moors. Once at the gates of the castle, we took refuge for a few minutes at the ticket offices and took the opportunity to take a map of the castle that will guide us.
When the rain stopped, we began our visit to the castle. Erected on a rocky massif, isolated on one of the peaks of the Sierra de Sintra, from its walls you can enjoy a privileged view of the area to the Atlantic Ocean, only that the weather was not as extensive as on sunny days. The walls are constituted by a double chain with five towers. There are four rectangular and one circular plant crowned by pyramidal bases.
The strong wind makes it a little scary to climb to the highest point, but we put on a brave face and go up there. The views are stunning, and the castle meets the expectations that we had created. After the visit to the castle, we take the bus again and we go down to the town to eat. We make an express lunch of Bocadillo and we take a coffee and some cakes at the pastry shop, where we taste the typical desserts of the area of Travesseiros and Feijoada.
Once the forces were restored, the idea was to visit the Quinta da Regaleira after lunch. We went around the streets of Sintra, seeing the typical souvenir shops. We conclude our day in Sintra, and go down to the train station on the tourist bus and head for Lisbon, to prepare for New Year's Eve in Lisbon.
Once prepared, we take the subway (blue line) to Restauradores Square and look for a restaurant to dine. We went early so as not to have problems finding a place, as we did not have anything reserved. We had an eye on an Italian restaurant that looked good and we went there to ask. As we were told there was a table (the place is huge) we stayed there. The site was very beautiful and had a nice Christmas decoration.
It was different from the rest of the year because it was special for that day. We ordered a pizza, tiramisu and a fruit cup with ice cream. As it was full and there were people waiting for dinner, we decided to take a coffee at another place and then we took the metro to go up to the hotel. After the champagne and the calls and messages, we get back to the metro in a hurry to go to Belem. We get off at the Baixa-Chiado stop and from there we take the green line towards Cais do Sodre.
Once there it was almost 12 at night, and there were huge lines to go to Belem. So we stayed in the area of Cais do Sodre and saw the fireworks from there. We saw the Lisbon night and decided to return to the hotel, as the day had been exhausting and we were very tired.
Day 4 - Coimbra
Taking into account that the previous night was the end of the year, we did not want to get up early either. So at about 10 in the morning we left towards Coimbra. We decided to go to this beautiful city divided in two by the Mondego river. Our trip was peaceful and practically without vehicles on the roads. It was normal as it was the new year.
To stay in Coimbra, we look for an accommodation behind the University, as it is a quiet area with plenty of parking. The accommodation we choose does not have much to emphasize. Since we only spend one night nothing else we will indicate that it is a simple place and with a good price.
It has a full kitchen, a living room with television and a fantastic interior patio. It is something similar to a hostel or pension. Its location allows access to the old town in 10 minutes. Once the suitcases were unloaded, we set out to tour the city. To access to visit the university we have several types of tickets. The simplest, which was the one we chose, allows us access to the old Royal Palace, the main building of the university, the Joanina Library, and the San Miguel Chapel.
We continue touring the university and visit the old student prison and the different inner courtyards. After visiting the main building we went to see the Chapel of San Miguel. Finally, we went to visit the most outstanding point, the Joanina Library, where photos are not allowed. In the surroundings, we find the different faculties, which are dedicated to the study of the more than 20,000 students who attend the university. From the university, we went down the hill discovering the beautiful medieval streets that make up the old area of Coimbra.
The next visit was the Old Cathedral of Coimbra, Se Velha. It is one of the jewels of the Portuguese Romanesque architecture. The exterior has the shape of a fortress due to its high walls with battlements. The interior is an authentic wonder. It also has a cloister with several chapels and a beautiful interior courtyard. From the cathedral and after having eaten, we went down to the main commercial street of the city, the Rua Ferreira Borges. It is a pedestrian street full of shops, through which we reach the banks of the Mondego River.
We crossed the river by the Santa Clara bridge to visit Portugal dos Pequenitos. It is a kind of theme park of the monuments, architecture, and history of Portugal. It is similar to the Mini-Europe Park in Brussels. They say it is the most visited theme park in the country. The truth is that we found the place dispensable if you do not go with children, since the entrance is not exactly cheap, and is a place designed for the enjoyment of children.
Once we got tired, we returned to the streets of Coimbra, going through the different streets and squares that are parallel to the commercial street Rua Ferreira Borges. One of the interesting points in our journey was the Igreja de Santiago, built in Romanesque style. Inspired by the facade of the old cathedral, it is also decorated externally with shells in honor of its patron.
We continue walking towards the Monastery of Santa Cruz, and we find really beautiful corners and alleys. After buying to snack on some fruit, in the street of Gala, we went to see the Church or Monastery of Santa Cruz. The monastery was founded in 1131 and has undergone several renovations. Its original Romanesque construction is barely noticeable and deserves a visit. In addition to its lateral walls, it counts on two beautiful mosaics of tiles in which the history of Vera Cruz and the life of San Agustin is represented. We reached the point of closing so we could not visit it completely.
From here we go to the Jardim da Manga, which is very close to this square. It seems that this garden belonged to one of the cloisters of the Monastery of Santa Cruz. Right next to it we find the Municipal Market of Coimbra, where there is an elevator that takes us back to the top of the hill. From here we returned to the area of the University, to go to the hotel to rest, passing by the arches of the Aqueduct of San Sebastian.
We saw many more interesting things in the city, but we consider that you should visit it, that's why we will not tell you all the secrets.
Day 5 - Aveiro
Aveiro is our next stop. Shortly after four in the afternoon, we arrived at our destination. Very well located and a few meters from the center we arrived at our hotel, an excellent place to stay. In addition, just in front, pulling down a street, we can park easily, since there is a wide esplanade where we can leave the car. Although we can take breakfast, it is not worth it, because we can have breakfast in half in the many cafes that are in the vicinity. With a delicate and careful decoration, this historic building is located on one of the main avenues of Aveiro.
We got our gear for the room and soon after we went to visit Aveiro. We take the route that was given to us in reception, and our guidebook. Well wrapped we left with direction to the Grand Canal, which we arrived in just ten minutes.
Aveiro is known as the Portuguese Venice, as well as other European cities such as Amsterdam, Stockholm, Bruges. But nobody is deceived. Venice is only one, and the authentic and original is that charming Italian city. Nobody wants to compare both cities, as it has nothing to do with it. Aveiro has coquettish corners, and the typical boats (moliceiro) gives them a touch of charm.
The raised prow of these moliceiro reminds of the Venetian gondolas, and along with the canals that cross the city, and the bent bridges, have caused that it is also known as the Venice of the Atlantic. These moliceiros were once used for the collection of algae and are now used for tourist purposes. Curious and colorful drawings embellish these boats. At the beginning of the 16th century it was a prosperous maritime port, but in the 1570s a devastating storm blocked the mouth of the Vouga river and blocked the passage of ships to the sea, creating unhealthy marshes.
Soon after starting our walk through the streets of Aveiro, the sky became darker and the night began to fall. We approached the central channel and asked the price of the boats for the next day. There is no competition, and all charge the same. In one of them, they told us that if we took the tickets they would give us a discount in a souvenir shop. Something is something, we had it in mind for the next day.
The alleys in the center were a little deserted and the boatmen were without any customers. It was already night, and there was a strong wind and some cold. Many of the restaurants were closed, and only the cafeterias seemed alive. So we continue walking through its streets and some channels.
We arrive at the Praca do Peixe, next to a slender church and the food market. We started looking for somewhere to eat. Almost everything was closed. So, in the end, we went to the mall located in front of the central channel (it's a bad day, January 1st). We have some appetizing sweets of Ovos moles in one of the confectioneries next to the canal and the hotel.
Day 6 - Costa Nova
At 9 o'clock in the morning, we were already having breakfast in one of the cafes in the same street as the hotel. We had a good and cheap breakfast. Then we went to the souvenir shop, next to the tourist office, to get the tickets from the boats. Shortly after 10, we were already assembled together with five other people. It was cold, and so the ferryman gives us some blankets to cover us in our navigation.
The boatman who controls our moliceiro and a guide explain all the details of the ride to our companions. He explains something about its history and some curiosities of the place. For example, he indicates that all the salt collected here was taken to Newfoundland to conserve the cod that later returned as dry salted cod. Likewise, he shows us some colonial houses and other Art Nouveau located next to the Central Canal.
From the Canal Central, we head to the Canal das Piramides and the Sao Roque canal, located on the outskirts of Aveiro, next to the roads leading to the beach. After passing some curved bridges similar to those of Venice, we reached an interior canal that leads to the fish market. On both sides of the canal, there were beautiful houses with bright and vibrant yellow, green, blue colors.
The moliceiros are reflected in the waters of the canal forming a beautiful picture. We continue sailing towards the interior of Aveiro. We pass through a coquettish bridge, where many locks are hung to perpetuate the love of the couples. Soon after we arrived at the most modern part of Aveiro and again back to our pier. It was a pleasant journey, and without a doubt, a nice experience for any traveler who wants to tread these Lusitanian lands.
We finish our visit by some pedestrian streets of the small center and browse in some shops about the products of the land. We move to the car, to then head towards the beach of Costa Nova. About thirteen kilometers to the coast, we reach the beaches of Barra and Costa Nova. We will go to this second. Curiously, many people believe that this beach belongs to Aveiro. So we set off to get to know this picturesque beach. Costa Nova is famous for its palheiros, houses whose inhabitants adorn and paint the facades with colored stripes.
Next to the promenade, we find many terraces of restaurants, cafeterias. On the same side of the promenade, there is a row of striking colored houses that we began to observe one by one. Some green, others blue, and yellow. A set of bright colors enhance this fantastic walk, where these houses give the climax of a beautiful picture. I take out the camera and I keep photographing these striking images. Some of them have cozy porches adorned with leafy pots full of flowers, and others with elegant wrought iron benches.
We do not get tired of observing this group of houses that are so beautifully combined. In addition, as the day closes, a radiant sun whips the facades of these houses. In one of the colorful houses, we could see an inscription in the stone written in Portuguese. All these colorful houses are not only located on the seafront, but also to the interior streets.
We enter them, passing first through several exquisite fish restaurants and several seafood restaurants. We only stayed to see the prices of the dishes. They are too expensive for our budget. I would have liked to go into one, and more when it was time for lunch.
A steep staircase leads to one of the interior streets. Right in it, an appealing restaurant seems to be there, but it is still too expensive for our pocket. It's almost noon, and we start looking somewhere to eat, but we could not decide on any. So we take the car and we move towards the small port that is on the same promenade. Another row of colorful houses overlooks the back of the restaurant. Small windows covered with canvas decorate the facades of the same.
We are only 70 km away from Oporto, our next destination. So we decided not to eat here and go to the capital of the Douro. We head towards Aveiro and from there by the motorway towards Oporto. The weather began to change. The clouds were covering the sky and the expected Atlantic storm reached the peninsula. Almost an hour later we arrived in Porto. In all parts of the world when you reach a capital, there is an exit of the national highway.
Here it seems that this is not styled. So when we overtook Oporto to see no exit to the "center" we turned around and at the first entrance of the highway, we move to Porto. But where are we? Time to put the google maps and take us to the center. Our hostel is in the downtown. Santa Catarina is the most famous pedestrian street of Porto. And of course, what happens when an establishment is in the center. Indeed it is impossible to park.
One lap, another lap, and another one. Incredible, I find a small hole in a narrow alley just behind the Chapel of Souls. I start to turn back the car, and in a dizzying maneuver, I finally put the car in a hole. It was so narrow and tight, that when we go out and look at the direction of the hostel, we are right next.
Under a fine drizzle, we went to our hostel, at Santa Catarina, to which we arrived in five minutes. In Oporto and other cities in Portugal, the streets have dozens of portals. Although that should not worry us since these numbers jump many times alarmingly. If there are a thousand portals, they also remain in a real way. We arrived at our typical youth hostel, where many of the rooms are shared with several bunk beds.
In fact, our room despite being just for us also had some bunk beds. It was enough to give the accouterment and sleep in the very center of Porto for a very good price. It was almost four in the afternoon. So we left and asked the guy at the reception for a good place to eat nearby. He quickly sent us to one of the best just five minutes from the hostel.
We order good roasted chicken with side dishes. It was very complete and well served. It is the best offer of this popular and cheap grill, also with super-economic soups. So down the Rua Santa Catarina (elegant street with refined boutiques, sidewalks paved with striped stone and a lively crowd), we arrive at Pedro Do Frangos, located at Do Bonjardim. Once well-nourished and with a map in hand, we head towards the neighborhood of Ribeira.
It is the oldest neighborhood in Oporto located on the banks of the Duero. The romantic Porto offers a colorful and dilapidated dream with medieval vestiges, tall bell towers, extraordinary baroque churches and majestic beaux-arts buildings stacked on top of each other. The historic center of Porto is the district of Ribeira, a World Heritage Site by Unesco in which the tripeiros (residents of Oporto) and many travelers and tourists stroll through its narrow streets, contemplating some beautiful buildings, excellent views of the city.
Undoubtedly, this is the most lively neighborhood, which we cannot miss. After a half hour walk since we left our restaurant, we finally reached the Ribeira. The most usual entrance is through the Ribeira square, the heart of the neighborhood. Narrow lanes bordered by the river flow into this square. Framed by some houses with tiles and various colors make this place a picturesque space next to the Douro.
There are many terraces where you can taste exquisite fish and typical local foods. We strolled along the river, and in front, we can see the famous Dom Luis I Bridge. This bridge was completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel. The upper part of the bridge is reserved for pedestrians, in addition to one of the metro lines. Through the lower one, flanked by narrow footbridges, traffic circulates.
We cross the bridge at the bottom (the next day we would do it at the top) and we move to Vila Nova de Gaia, which although on the other side does not belong to Oporto. Although it is technically a municipality, Gaia is linked to the fabric of Oporto by means of a series of impressive bridges and by its shared history in the manufacture of ports.
Since the mid-eighteenth century, the bottlers of this wine are required to keep their delegations there. Strolling along the attractive river promenade, lined with beautiful rabelo boats (flat bottom boats specially designed to transport barrels through the dangerous times of the Duero rapids). From here we can see beautiful views of the historic center of Porto.
From this same shore, a cable car crosses the distance to the south end of Dom Luis I Bridge.The night has already fallen, and the river walk has become a romantic walk, where many young couples seem to declare their love. There are many wineries in this area, and some of them offer free tastings of their drinks. In addition, restaurants are present in many corners of Gaia. Tomorrow we will eat in one of them.
Once again we return to the historic center, where the crowds walk along the banks of the Duero. The improvised artists liven up the evening with their melodious music, while the living statues remain motionless waiting to collect some euros. Slowly we return towards our hostel. But yes, we stop at each step to enjoy the many contrasts that this city has. Again it starts to rain, and the cold is getting worse. So once in the Rua de Santa Catarina, we have a few bites in the Andalusian tapas and to sleep.
Day 7 - Porto
The day dawns stormy, rainy and with strong gusts of wind, and also some cold. Soon after starting our march towards the impressive Avenida dos Aliados, we ran out of our first umbrella (it would not be the only one). The water whips horizontally, and this storm has entered strong. This avenue is bordered by protruding beaux-arts facades and crowned by the majestic Municipal Chamber. The avenue recalls splendid imitations of Paris.
From there we turn to the Clerigos Tower with incomparable views of Porto. This baroque-style tower was designed by the Italian master Nicolau Nasoni in the mid-1700s and is located at the end of the steep Rua Dos Clerigos, next to a group of beautiful houses with curious balconies. From here we move to the nearby Plaza de Lisboa. Nearby, we walk through steep lanes that take us directly to one of the corners with the best views of Porto, and luckily or unfortunately to the little visited Miradouro da Vitoria viewpoint.
Going down again through the alleys, by the way, some very damaged and abandoned, we now go to the famous railway station of Sao Bento. It is French-inspired, with amazing tiles in its main lobby. This station finished in 1903, seems directly imported from Paris of the nineteenth century. The real attraction of this station is the impressive and spectacular tiles that are inside. Designed by Jorge Colaco in 1930, some 20,000 tiles show scenes of historical battles, such as the conquest of Ceuta by Henry the Navigator, as well as the history of transport.
In front, we see the Se (Cathedral), which we try to reach, but the strong wind and rain prevent us. The umbrella that we bought for the second time has been shattered. In a small improvement, we took refuge in the Cathedral. We cannot leave, the strong wind drags us inside. We are soaked and our shoes seem flooded in a pond of frogs. In Oporto, the Cathedral is not what stands out most. Located in the Terreiro da Se it stands like a viewpoint after climbing a jumble of medieval streets and stairs that end in the mass of the cathedral.
Founded in the 12th century, it was largely rebuilt a century later and reformed during the 18th century, its Romanesque outline being appreciated. We are next to the top of Dom Luis I Bridge. So despite the bad weather, we head towards it. The strong wind makes us stumble on the narrow footbridges, next to the subway tracks. With what remains of the umbrella we try to cover as much we can. The rain does not allow us to almost see.
We are alone on top of the bridge. With effort and avoiding that my camera does not gets soaked, I could take some panoramic photo of the historic Porto. As we could, we quickly crossed the last section of the bridge and took refuge in the metro stop there, and of course throw the umbrella directly to the wastebasket. It is impossible to go out in the pouring rain and up here the wind blows stronger.
After almost half an hour of waiting and without improvement, we decided to venture and go down the long stairs that are next to the cable car and that flow into the river walk of Vila Nova de Gaia. We had seen a restaurant very close to where we were (once below), which a fellow had told us had good food at a good price on Avenida Ramos Pinto.
Right at lunch time, we were already there. We dried in the bathroom as we could, and then go to eat. It was a small and very welcoming family friendly restaurant. As we arrive, the waiter quickly attends us and suggests what we can ask for. We look around and look at the dishes. How good they look! First, we taste the guts, which is why the inhabitants of this city are nicknamed tripeiros since they were the inventors of this dish.
It is a stew whose recipe is based on tripe, beans, ham, chicken meat, veal, and pork. It was all very good. The fish dishes were very rich, plentiful and well served. And what to drink? It was clear that it has to be good Port wines, to digest such abundant food. As we were wet (sorry, soaked) we were clear that we could not return to our rooms by taxi. So we told the waiter to call us to pick us up. In 10 minutes I was already there.
Once in the hostel, after a change to dry clothes, a bit of rest and an hour and a half later we were on the street again. We are going to take an excellent snack with exquisite sweets in one of the many cafeterias-confectioneries in the area. It was a difficult choice between so many delicious cakes, also at very low prices. Belem pastries (cream cakes), also called simply cream, princess or princesinha are so many that in one bite we would taste all.
After the snack, and with so much rain, with umbrella and guide in hand we continue touring the city. We head to the Sao Bento station but this time through some streets that are in the north. We find the picturesque tram, which recalls past eras. It, by the way, was stuck as a car was invading part of the road. We were now heading towards the Praca do Infante D. Henrique, where the majestic Palacio da Bolsa is located. This splendid neoclassical building, built between 1842 and 1910, honors the merchants of Oporto.
Once I enter the deserted streets of the neighborhood of Ribeira to the banks of the Duero, only a few seagulls accompany me. Like me, under a light drizzle, we enjoy beautiful views of the river. They flutter next to me, not caring about the water that falls on them. They seem to pose, without fear, before my camera. They are surprised that someone, besides them, want to be here under this fine drizzle.
We decided to go to one of the restaurants very close to the Sao Bento station. The place is peculiar. It is a bar-restaurant in two heights. In the lower part immediately entering the room we have the embers where cooking is in sight so that everyone can see how they prepare food. On the first floor, they have a small dining room with tables. It is a modest place, where we eat well and at a good price.
The truth is that the grilled meat was delicious especially the Picanha, and the portions were a plentiful at very good price. As time went on, it got worse, and it started to rain a lot. So we first took refuge in the famous Rua Santa Catarina shopping street. Along the river, I wander through a small solitary passage and from here little by little I return to my hostel.
Day 8 - Guimaraes
At 9:30 we were already having breakfast and ready to go to the beautiful city of Guimaraes. Located just 60 km from Oporto, we were already there in just over an hour. As usual in Portugal, the numbers that correspond to the portals have nothing to do with the houses that actually have the street. So our hotel was at Dom Joao IV. Finding it was not difficult, although the shape of the street location is strange, in the form of "L". The hotel was a good establishment to stay. It was very good value for money, also with buffet breakfast included, located just ten minutes from downtown.
We went to our room. We left all the gear and soon we were ready with a map to travel the city. But first, we took advantage of the warm air conditioning, to dry all the clothes that we still had soaked. Undoubtedly, of all the places we have visited on this trip, Guimaraes takes the number one. It is the beautiful, most flirtatious and most cared. In fact, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The beautifully preserved Guimaraes has an illustrious past. The proud birthplace of Alfonso Enriquez, the first independent king of Portugal. He was born here in 1110 and later used the city to launch the main offensive of the Reconquista against the Moors.
The medieval quarter is a labyrinth of picturesque streets and squares framed by 14th-century buildings. To start the route through its old town we find ourselves in the beautiful square "Largo do Toural". There is a central fountain in the middle of an extensive esplanade surrounded by beautiful houses. Here the large windows and balconies give a beautiful harmony. In front, is one of the many churches in Gimaraes.
Through a narrow alley, we enter its medieval center. As we approach its streets, we realize the great charm that this city has. Of all the places that are in Guimaraes, without a doubt the most flirtatious is that of Sao Tiago. This square still preserves its medieval aspect, and in it, there is a small 17th-century chapel dedicated to Santiago.
Legend has it that he received the Apostle James who brought an image of the Virgin Mary. It is a cobbled square surrounded by old stone houses, many of them with beautiful balconies. From this square we head down Santa Maria Street, heading north. This is the street with more history of the city and the oldest one since in the 10th century it communicated the Convent founded by the Countess Mumadona in the lower part of the town with the castle located on the Sacred Hill.
Currently, it goes from Rua Serva Pinto to the Alberto Sampaio Museum, where the building of the Municipal Chamber is located. It is a narrow and cobbled street in which some stone houses stand out, such as the Casa del Arco or the Casa dos Valadares and also the tourist office. We continue walking, although with an open umbrella, through these quiet and harmonious streets. It's emblazoned houses, porches and noble buildings that surround it seem to come out to meet us.
The Plaza de Oliveira, undoubtedly the most atmospheric square in the city is always very lively with its terraces. In this square, we find the Church of Our Lady of Oliveira, built by Joao I. Another of the highlights in the square is the Monumento del Salado, a memorial to the Portuguese victory at the Battle of Salado in 1340.
It's noon, and is lunchtime. We started looking for a restaurant. Although we marked a couple of them with good references when we went to one of them it was closed. So we had to improvise and find another one, since it was getting late. At the end, we enter one that is next to the Largo do Toural, at Paio Galvao. It is a self-service restaurant, shared with a cafeteria. Being late, we were served directly at the table.
One of the most typical meals of this area of Portugal is the Francesinha. It is a slice of bread mold, filled with various types of sausages and meat. There is cooked ham, mortadella, a filet of beef or pork. Then it is covered with another slice of toast bread and with slices of cheese, which is then bathed in a spicy sauce made mainly from beer and tomato. In some cases, a fried egg is added. Normally Francesinha is accompanied with chips and a beer. Yes, that's what we asked for, a huge Francesinha and two delicious soups, and beer.
After lunch, we went to have dessert at one of the many coffee shops that have pastry shops in the area. What rich pastries they have in Portugal! We ate the famous cakes of Guimaraes, the cakes made with flour, sugar, egg, zucchini, and almonds, for whose preparation no explanations are given. Each chef has his recipe. With the afternoon well advanced we went back to walk through its historic center.
Being in times of Christmas, all its streets and squares were exquisitely lit with beautiful little lights of colors, with very good taste placed and with many adornments. The Largo Republica do Brasil with a whole garden and illuminated area, leads us directly into the slender and majestic Igreja de Sao Gualter, without a doubt the most impressive of all the churches of Guimaraes.
Well into the night, the cold was taking over the alleys of Guimaraes. Although there were beautifully illuminated buildings, squares and many of its streets, it is time we go slowly back to our hotel. Today has been a long day, and tomorrow there will be more. Some fruit and sausage and we have dinner ready in our rooms.
Day 9 - Braga
Today we wanted to share it between Braga and Guimaraes. So we decided to leave soon, first for Braga and Bom Jesus and in the afternoon the area of the castle, walls, and palace of the Dukes of Guimaraes. After a delicious breakfast served in the same hotel in Guimaraes, we left for Braga, located to the north and only 25 kilometers away.
Like these days ago, we started our march with rain. An hour later we were already parking in the vicinity of Central Avenue, right in the center. Braga is the third city by the size in Portugal. Being a locality of narrow old streets closed to traffic, and full of squares, Braga is perhaps the one with the greatest devotion with a fabulous range of Baroque churches.
Perhaps the Se is the building that stands out in Braga, not only for its antiquity (the oldest in Portugal) but for the different architectural styles. There is a Romanesque structure, Manueline coating, and Baroque ornaments. Construction began in the year 1070 and it was finished during the following century. We enter the Cathedral through the western portico or through a courtyard and a cloister lined with Gothic chapels on the north side.
One of the things that surprise us most in this cathedral is the impressive and beautiful choir, ashlar and organ. You have to do it with a guided tour. Being alone, we just see the organ from below, which already impresses. Another interesting place is the chapel of the kings, with the tombs of Enrique de Borgona and Dona Teresa, parents of the first king of Portugal. We leave the cathedral and walk through the streets that surround it.
Pulling along the Do Diago street we arrive at the Arco da Porta Nova, Puerta Nueva. Since 1512, when D. Diago de Souza ordered it opened, it established the main axis of intramural circulation. We go back along the Sao Joao street, to Largo de S. Joao Do Souto, where we can see the churches of Santa Cruz and San Marcos. Between convents, churches and other religious centers, I have counted on our map around 20.
Another interesting place is Nossa Senhora de Torre. This oratory inspires an immense open-air church. The constant clatter of church bells makes us realize that we are in a holy city with strong religious roots. In fact, almost in all the churches, we enter, is full of faithful listening to the parish priest giving mass. After several hours of visiting Braga, we moved now to the nearby religious complex of Bom Jesus, located about five kilometers up the hill.
This religious complex is one of the most recognizable emblems of Portugal. This clamorous and windy place of pilgrimage is formed by a neoclassical church that stands on top of a hill of trees from which we can see fabulous views. Most people, like us, are attracted by the extraordinary baroque staircase that ascends towards the church, the Escadaria Do Bom Jesus.
This photogenic ascent is formed by a series of staircases arranged in steps, dating from different periods of the eighteenth century. The first is flanked by chapels representing the stations of the Via Crucis. The Escadaria dos Cinco Sentidos presents allegorical sources whose pipes are born from the ears, eyes, nose, and mouth of the different statues. The highest tier is the Escadaria das Tres Virtudes, with chapels and fountains that represent faith, hope, and charity.
For those people who do not want or can not climb the 116 meters of unevenness distributed in a few steps you can take a zipper funicular that saves this difference. Obviously, for us being mountaineers, this was little unevenness. The whole area around the church has become a kind of resort, with sophisticated hotels, tennis courts, gardens.
Luckily for us, the place is not overcrowded, which is the most usual. So we were able to enjoy this original and beautiful place practically alone. Again we started towards Guimaraes, directly, and eat at one of the restaurants we had already seen. Once in Guimaraes, we went directly to eat at the restaurant recommended by Tripadvisor. The cook prepares some delicious dishes. Each day he serves a unique different menu with a first course, second course, and dessert. The place is small but very cozy, and the dishes although somewhat lacking are deliciously prepared.
After lunch, and then the corresponding coffee with the tasty cakes of Guimaraes, we went to visit the area of the wall, castle and the palace of the Dukes of Braganza. Above the medieval helmet, at the top of the hill of Guimaraes, this palace with its crenelated towers and its cylindrical brick chimneys, was built in 1401 and then pompously restored as a presidential residence for Salazar.
It was built under the orders of D. Alfonso, the illegitimate son of King D. Joao and Dona Ines Pires Esteves, 1st Duke of the House of Braganza and 8th Count of Barcelos. Although you can visit inside, we did not get to enter. We only saw it outside and from the surroundings of the castle. This castle with seven towers was built in the 11th century, the place where Alfonso Henriquez was born.
It was originally built in wood and earth and was founded by the Countess Muniadora Diaz. Classified as a National Monument it was chosen as one of the seven wonders of Portugal. The castle can be accessed free of charge. So with a menacing rain that soon became a reality, we entered it. The castle has an approximate shape of a faceted shield. Its walls reinforced by four towers are torn by the doors.
It was originally built with the aim of defending against Islamic and Norman attacks. This castle consists of a 28-meter high homage tower with a quadrangular floor, flanked by four towers at their angles, and two doors on the wall, each flanked by two small towers. The only access to the keep is a small wooden bridge that connects the tower to the wall.
Accompanied only by a couple of Japanese, the castle seemed deserted. The four of us and an intense rain were the companions of the visit. We had to tread very carefully, the footbridges that surround the walls are soaked and in an oversight, we can slip. We left the castle and headed back to the medieval town. We approach the walls through which we access the center of Guimaraes. Only one section of the wall is preserved, the one that overlooks the castle and the Palace of the Dukes.
Although we had the idea of climbing the Penha (highest point overlooking Guimaraes) the sky was too gray, and the night would soon fall. With what few views we would have enjoyed, so we went to the hotel to rest a little and at night again go out to dinner. We get to a small and cute restaurant, located in the heart of the old town, on the Rua da Arrochela.
It was a family tavern with walls adorned with ceramic fragments. Each day they have only two or three dishes prepared, but cooked as if we were in our own house. The small restaurant is shared with and extended family of children, grandchildren, mothers. Here everyone was together and around a large table dine just like us. With the family, there was only another couple (who, by the way, were lodged in our same hotel) and us.
Here we eat an authentic and homemade traditional Portuguese food. We ask for part cod in tomato sauce and for another, pork dish. Both dishes were very well served. They were delicious, with many potatoes and rice garnish, and to drink we order a good carafe of house wine. It was an excellent place with very good quality to price.
Day 10 - Lamego
Today we head towards Amarante, located about 50 kilometers from Guimaraes. After breakfast at the hotel, at about nine o'clock in the morning we depart, with rain included, to the picturesque town of Amarante. In a bend of the Tamega River, this quiet village is dominated by an impressive church and monastery, which rises dazzlingly next to a medieval bridge.
We stop for a couple of hours to tour the town. I had engraved in my mind the photo of the monastery next to the river that days ago I could see in a Portugal travel guide. So once we arrived in Amarante we headed towards that bridge. Although it rains, the day is beautiful to get good pictures of the area. This strategic bridge was almost his undoing in 1809 when the French lost their brief takeover of Portugal.
The Ponte de Sao Goncalo is the symbol of the heroic defense against the French since a French detachment arrived in search of a passage of the river, but some brave citizens and the troops contained it until the neighbors managed to reach the other shore. The French took revenge by burning much of the town. The monastery of Sao Goncalo is the imposing temple next to the river. Founded in 1543 by Joao III. This monastery, together with the church, was finished in 1620.
Legend has it that people who are looking for a partner will see their wishes granted in a year if they touch the statue on the tomb. As expected, the hopefuls have worn away the limestone from the toes and hands, and the face. In the rain, we take a short walk through the adjoining streets of the monastery.
In the same square of the monastery, we find the cafe-bar with more tradition and history in entire Amarante. In it, Teixeira de Pascoaes, who was born in Amarante, and is one of the most important writers of the last century, met with many other intellectuals from artists, politicians, figures of reference in Amaranthian society and illustrious anonymous.
We leave Amarante and continue south towards Lamego. Located about 70 kilometers away, Lamego is known for the amazing baroque staircase that zigzags up to the Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Los Remedios. Its old town is a mixture of meandering narrow streets and wooded boulevards, with medieval monuments in many corners. In the historic center, we find the Se, one of the oldest in Portugal, from the 12th century, declared a National Monument.
Little remains of the original, except for the base of the bell tower of the square. The rest of the structure, including its wonderfully carved triple Gothic portico dates mostly from the 16th and 18th centuries. From the cathedral, we take the alleys that ascend to the highest point of the town in search of the castle.
I begin to lose myself in the meandering alleys that go up to the castle. Once up, I am alone. There is no one else, so I quietly climb the stairs and travel all its periphery. From the top of the castle, we can enjoy fabulous views of Lamego. Again I wander through its steep, lonely and cobbled slopes, and abandon its medieval helmet by one of its arches. At the top of the hill, and surrounded by a handful of old stone houses, this medieval castle is one of the smallest in Portugal, with only one tower and part of its walls.
Once again in the lower part of the town, I enter one of the gift shops to buy a bottle of her excellent wines. Here are typical wines called raposeira, the famous sparkling wine that according to the experts provides a pleasant respite between the rounds of Oporto. We take the car and we go towards the Shrine of Our Lady of the Remedies, to which we will arrive in fifteen minutes after a long ascent by the highway.
Fountains and statues scattered on the staircase make it one of the best works of the Portuguese Rococo. This is one of the most important pilgrimage centers in Portugal, and without a doubt with the largest stairway in the country, more than 600 steps. The church has an elegant blue and white stucco interior with sky blue rococo ceilings and a golden altar.
We left Lamego and head towards home, arriving almost at midnight.