Portugal: July 2013

Immediately after our walk in the Cotswolds, Penny and I flew to Porto and stayed 2 nights in a 2-star hotel while we explored the city. We’d originally planned to do some more walking in the Portuguese national parks, but with temperatures high in the 30’s, and blazing summer sun, we settled for buses, trains and swimming pools instead.

The historic centre of Porto was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 … not hard to see why with its stately bridges across the river, the multi-coloured buildings in the riverside district, narrow cobbled streets and palatial palace and cathedral. We explored the cathedral and enjoyed the famous port wine in the bodegas. However, Marvao and Castel de Vide were our main objectives and time was limited, so it was off to the countryside, near the border with Spain.

Rural Portugal is rocky and mountainous, with villages and towns hanging on the side of hills or hidden in valleys. Travelling north/south is easy – by train or bus – but trying to get across the country east/west is difficult without a car.

Our hotel in Marvao had a swimming pool … very welcome in the Portuguese heat! But we still managed to climb to the high points of the village to look out over Spain and the surrounding areas. Similarly in Castel der Vide, we rambled around the village, finding vantage points to see the views and soaking up the laid-back feel of the Portuguese summer.

Tomar hadn’t been planned but we were so glad we discovered it along the way. Described as one of Portugal’s ‘ historic jewels’ and site of a magnificent 12th Century Knights Templar castle and convent, it’s a must-see stopping point for anyone travelling through Portugal. There are other equally lovely old churches, a synagogue and a huge central plaza where we happened to see some kind of procession, dancing and singing after eating at one of the local bars around the plaza.

Where we stayed in Tomar

Penny and I parted ways in Tomar. She travelled south to meet her Scottish family for a beach holiday near Lisbon (and continued to enjoy the sights of Lisbon after they left.) I took the train up to Coimbra to meet Clive, who I’d stayed with after completing the Camino in 2012.

Coimbra is also superb with its medieval university, library and clock tower. It’s one of the oldest university cities in Europe. I was more than happy to visit it again. I love the winding pathway that snakes up the hill to the huge University square at the top … with little shops, stalls, cafes and bars lining the way. The ubiquitous Portuguese roosters (in every possible size) fill the shelves and doorways, along with T-shirts, shawls, dolls, bottles of wine and beautiful ceramic tiles – yet somehow it retains the charm of thousands of years of history and culture.

Clive’s villa and swimming pool was an oasis in the summer sun – particularly enjoyable for a spot of R&R after another long walk (Cotswolds Way) and then travelling around the Portuguese countryside. I stayed for a week before making my way back to Porto, then Heathrow and finally home to Oz again.

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