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Portugal> Port to Port


ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN'S GUIDE

This itinerary takes you along the Atlantic shore of Portugal from Lisbon, the country's most important port, to Porto, the second in importance. You will often see Porto spelled Oporto, especially in the United Kingdom. That is simply a variant retaining the article "o" which means "the." Oporto simply means "the port." Porto is the Portuguese form, though, so we'll be using that. Porto is also the source of the word Portuguese, as it was the Porto dialect that King Diniz proclaimed to be the national language in the 13th century.

Recommended Pacing: If you do not want to rush, spend a night in Óbidos before continuing to Buçaco or Coimbra for a night. From there either go straight up the coast to Porto or follow our itinerary to spend the night in Manteigas before concluding the itinerary in Porto.

This itinerary follows the coastline known as the Costa da Prata (the silver coast). This is one of the less-developed coasts and rather less spoiled by modern high-rises. Quaint fishing villages with pretty beaches are more the rule than the exception.

The trip is not all seacoast, however, since we detour inland to visit three of the country's most compelling sights: the romantic forest of Buçaco, the old university city of Coimbra, and the spectacular mountain scenery of the Serra da Estrâla-Portugal's highest range.

We wind up in Portugal's second city, Porto, situated at the mouth of the River Douro, second in size only to the River Tagus. Although considerably smaller than Lisbon, Porto is a very cosmopolitan city with strong historical and commercial bonds with Britain. Here the British discovered, and acquired a taste for, the local wine known as port, and port has been a booming business ever since.

Leave Lisbon on the A8 (blue toll road) to Obidos. See the itinerary Medieval Monuments for suggestions on what to see and do in Óbidos.

Leaving Óbidos, head north on IC1, which bypasses Caldas Da Rainha (formerly the mineral baths of Queen Leonor, wife of João II) and continue on to Alcobaça. See the itinerary Medieval Monuments for sightseeing suggestions. There is such a rich history in Alcobaça that you must not miss it.

From Alcobaça, continue north on N8 to Batalha, where you need to stop to see another of Portugal's jewels, the Monastery of Batalha. See the itinerary Medieval Monuments for sightseeing suggestions.

From Batalha follow the N1 to Leiria and then take the connecting road to the A1. Continue north on the A1 and then turn off to Condeixa. Just beyond Condeixa is Conimbriga, one of the most impressive Roman ruins on the peninsula, dating from the 1st to the 3rd centuries A.D. On the right after you enter are some beautifully preserved mosaic floors edged by gardens. There is also a very nice, small museum at the site containing the artifacts (jewelry, glass, bronze, ceramics, sculpture, etc.) discovered in the excavation. There's a small shop where some rather good replicas are sold.

Return to the A1 and head north. Take the first exit beyond Coimbra marked to Mealhada. Follow signs to Mealhada and then continue east on N234 to Luso and a short distance further onto Buçaco, and the magnificent Bussaco Palace. The palace is reminiscent of a grand country estate, situated in the awesome Buçaco Forest at an altitude of about 365 meters above sea level. In the late 19th century a summer palace was built for the royal family. When the Republic was proclaimed in 1910, the royal family quietly left the country and the palace was converted into a private hotel (though the government owns the building). Long a protected area, the Buçaco Forest was taken over by the Carmelites in the 17th century. The meditative order added to the number of distinct species of flora during their residence and constructed a continuous wall around the area. A papal bill in 1643 forbade the cutting of the trees and threatened excommunication for those who did. In 1834 all church property was secularized and the forest passed to the state, when even more species of trees were planted until today the total exceeds 600 specimens from around the world.

Numerous marked trails leave the hotel in all directions, taking you through the dense forest to the viewpoints, tiny hermitages, springs, and pools that dot the area. The Via Sacra, or Way of the Cross path, twists up to the highest peak, the Cruz Alta, which has spellbinding views of the surrounding area and of several other mountain ranges. This peak may also be reached by road if you aren't up for a three-hour hike, and there are other appealing points that require less effort.

Buçaco was the scene of an important battle between General Wellington and the Napoleonic invaders in 1810. Wellington and a combined British and Portuguese contingent occupied the high ground and won the encounter. The French were forced to retreat and had to console themselves with the sacking of Coimbra. Wellington and his troops retired to the area defended by the lines of Torres Vedras.

The very lively old university city of Coimbra deserves an all-day visit. Coimbra was the capital of Portugal from the 12th to the 13th centuries. The first Portuguese university was established here in the 14th century, but was moved to Lisbon for a time. It was permanently returned to this city in 1537, and Coimbra has been the intellectual center of the country-indeed, of the whole Portuguese empire-ever since.

The older town on the hill is the location of the majority of the sights. The original university buildings are here, alongside some rather prosaic newer structures. Retaining the old ways, some students can still be seen in traditional black capes bearing colorful ribbons corresponding to their faculty (medicine, law, etc.). The main university building has a large central patio, and the impressive library building is just outside.

Just down the hill to the north you will find the Machado de Castro Museum with admirable collections of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and furniture, as well as a display of Roman antiquities. Slightly behind the museum is the old Cathedral (Se Velha), a good example of the Romanesque style from the 12th century and containing a fine Gothic retable in the soaring interior.

A long walk down the hill past the old cathedral passes through the old part of the city, then the notable Almedina Gate and, beyond that, the lower town (the more modern part) along the Rua Ferreira Borges (on the north it becomes Visconde) where the main shopping area is situated. At the north end of the street is the Monastery of Santa Cruz (on the 8th of May Square), in whose church is the impressive tomb, among others, of Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal. A bit to the east of the monastery is the large, colorful central market, worth a short visit.

If you are traveling with children, you might enjoy a visit to the children's park called Portugal dos Pequeninos (Children's Portugal), a complex of miniature buildings representing the geographical styles of the whole country and of the former overseas empire. It is located across the Santa Clara Bridge over the River Mondego. In this same area is the Santa Clara-a-Nova Convent where the remains of Saint Queen Isabel (wife of King Diniz) lie in a silver tomb.

Leave Buçaco heading east on N234, bypassing Mortágua after 13 kilometers. Another few kilometers bring you to Santa Comba Dão. Continue on the N234, where you'll be greeted by a succession of tidy towns surrounded by olive groves and the vineyards that produce Dão wine. Note: There was a flurry of highway work in progress when we were last there so the roads might have changed a bit by the time you arrive.

Staying on the N234, you come to the quaint old town of Canas De Senhorim, crowded with stone-block houses with wooden or stone balconies. Soon thereafter is the little town of Nelas, where you turn right on N231. The snowcapped peaks of the Serra da Estrâla now lie on the horizon and, after 21 kilometers and a crossing of the River Mondego, you will reach Seia, a charmingly situated market town at the foot of the mountains. Bear left toward Gouveia through a number of picturesque hamlets and some extraordinary scenery. Also along this road are a number of artesanato (handicraft stores) specializing in leather goods (vests, jackets, fur-lined slippers, purses, etc.).

If time permits, the 70-kilometer round-trip excursion to the top of Torre Peak beyond Manteigas will guarantee unparalleled panoramas. (In winter the road is often closed by snow-inquire before you set out.) Along the way you pass through the unusual-looking, boulder-strewn glacial valley where the River Zezere is born.

From Gouveia take N232 toward Manteigas. This is a tortuously winding mountain road and requires a careful approach, but it also has some remarkable views of the Serra. Partway up is a sign saying "Cabeca do Velho" (Old Man's Head), and if you look to your right, following the arrow, you'll notice a rock outcropping resembling the title given it. Watch also for a sign indicating the Nascente do Mondego, or the origin of the River Mondego, which flows east from here, then curls back west in a much larger form. Continue another 20 kilometers along this dramatic road following the River Zezere for truly impressive views of Manteigas in the valley below and of Torre, Portugal's highest peak at 1,980 meters.

While in this scenic area don't fail to descend the switchback mountain road to the colorful town of Manteigas, set like a jewel amid one of the most striking settings imaginable. It's situated at the head of a narrow valley surrounded on all sides by terraced farms stepping their way up the steep hillsides. Just west of town, as you enter the valley, a 6-kilometer detour to the left leads to the Poco do Inferno (the Well of Hell) where a waterfall flows wildly into a deep cave.

Leaving Manteigas, wind your way back down to Gouveia toward Mangualde on N232. Notice the broadened Mondego as you cross. Join the N16 leaving town to the north, and another 15 kilometers brings you to the beautiful old red-roofed town of Viseu clustered around its cathedral on the banks of the River Pavia. You get a splendid view as you approach.

The center of a 16th-century school of painting, Viseu boasts a good art museum: the Museu Grao Vasco. O Grao Vasco, the Great Basque (Fernandes), was one of the founders of the school. The museum is housed in a 16th-century mansion and located on the large cathedral square in the center of the old town. The 13th-century (subsequently remodeled) cathedral with its Manueline vault is worth a visit, too. Stroll around the enchanting old town to see the impressive mansions dating from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

Continue on N16 through pretty countryside to São Pedro Do Sul, near a mineral spa whose waters will cure, they say, almost anything that ails you. This is one of the most picturesque villages in the region, situated at the confluence of the Sul and Vouga rivers and surrounded by deep-green terraced hillsides.

Bear left, remaining on N16, to Vouzela. As you enter, note on your right the enchanting little church, its façade totally covered with blue-and-white tiles. In this area you begin to encounter espigueiros, the characteristic storage and smoking sheds set on stilts next to the stone houses or in the fields. They are typical of northern Portugal and Galicia in Spain (where they are called horreos).

From Vouzela go south for 8 kilometers to join the IP5, which you stay on all the way to Aveiro. The most notable feature of Aveiro is its large lagoon, formed by a long, thin sandbar, some 49 kilometers long and 2½ kilometers across at its widest. The average depth, outside the canals the ships use, is only a bit over 2 meters. The numerous canals crisscrossing the town itself add to its considerable charm.

Naturally enough, most activity in Aveiro centers around the water. The major products are salt from the surrounding salt pans, seaweed (used for fertilizer), and fish taken from the lagoon. Boat trips around the lagoon are sometimes available, depending on the time of year. They take you near the seashore lined with lovely houses and, although it's a fading practice, with a little luck you'll see the colorful, flat-bottomed boats called moliceiros collecting seaweed. Check with the tourist office on the Praça da Republica for current schedules and prices. One tour includes lunch at the Pousada do Murtosa/Torreira-Ria in Torreira on the other side of the lagoon. If you prefer, you could visit the area by driving north on N109 to Estarreja then turning left on N109-5. Here you cross the bridge over the lagoon and join up with the N327, where you again turn left for the 20-kilometer trip along the water to São Jacinto beach at the tip of the bar. The whole trip will take about an hour each way, not counting stops.

In Aveiro there are worthwhile sights, mostly in the area to the south of the central Humberto Delgado Square, which is actually a wide bridge over the main canal. The Art Museum, in a former convent, has a good collection of Portuguese art from all periods. The convent itself contains the baroque tomb of Santa Joãna, daughter of King Afonso V, who died here in 1490. On the same street is the Misericórdia Church, which has a striking baroque doorway and extensive azulejo decoration.

As you might expect, seafood is the main gastronomical fare around here. Two local specialties for the adventurous are eel stew (caldeirada de enguias) and an egg-based sweet called ovos moles. Aveiro has also long been a center of fine pottery and porcelain production, and you'll find both for sale around town. However, if you are a true potteryphile, you might want to make the 8-kilometer excursion (south on N109) to a little town called Vista Alegre, world-famous for its pottery works since 1824, which now has a museum depicting the history of developments in pottery manufacture. The porcelain made here is of an extremely fine quality and often hand painted with a faint Oriental flair.

From Aveiro, it's just a quick drive to Porto and its many sights. Leave Aveiro and return to the A1 and then drive north to Porto. You approach the city over the Arrabida Bridge, the youngest, longest, and westernmost of the three spectacular spans across the River Douro. The one you see to your right is the Dom Luis I, built in 1886, and beyond that is the railway bridge, Maria Pia, built ten years earlier by Gustave Eiffel (before he built the tower in Paris). The finest city views are available from these vantage points.

Porto's native son is Prince Henry the Navigator, the driving force behind Portugal's monumental voyages of discovery, famous for his school of navigation in Sagres. His parents were King João I and Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt. Their marriage in 1387 cemented the bond that Porto still maintains with the British. In the 18th century the British discovered port wine and the rest is history.

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, with nearly half a million inhabitants, and the heart of the nation's most important economic region, accounting for well over 50% of the country's economic production. The city has a long history of relative autonomy (fiercely protected) and has frequently found itself at odds with Lisbon. Unaffected by the 1755 earthquake, Porto retains an old-world ambiance unmatched in the capital city.

Most of the important sights are reached easily on foot from your hotel. Just a block east is the bustling Avenida Dos Aliados that runs from the Town Hall on the north to the busy Liberdade Square (the center of town) on the south. A few blocks to the west of the square on Rua dos Clerigos is Porto's landmark, the 75-meter Clerigos Tower C, offering expansive views over the city and the river.

Continuing south along the Avenida Dom Afonso Henriques, you encounter the Cathedral, founded in the 12th century but subsequently considerably altered. It boasts several ornate altars, including an impressive one of silver. Just south of the cathedral is the Guerra Junqueira Museum with an assortment of pottery and tapestries. Across the Avenida Dom Afonso Henriques is found the Santa Clara Church, elaborately decorated with carved wood. Northeast of here is a well-preserved section of the original town walls.

To the west and south of the cathedral area is the town's older quarter. A few blocks in that direction will bring you to the elegant 19th-century Bolsa, or Stock Exchange, with a gigantic neo-Moorish hall. Right behind it is the São Francisco Church, decorated in sumptuous baroque and rococo style with carved wood and gilt. East and a bit north of here is the Museum of Ethnography with a regional display illustrating the everyday life of the residents of northern Portugal.

Porto's most important museum is the Museu Soares dos Reis (named for the 19th-century sculptor), housed in an 18th-century palace. It has an extensive collection of Portuguese primitives and sculpture by Soares dos Reis, among other paintings, mostly by Portuguese artists.

The wine to which the city has given its name is mostly produced in the suburb across the river known as Vila Nova da Gaia. If you want to see the process and taste the results, take the Dom Luis I Bridge and go to the right as you reach the other side. You will see numerous wineries near the river where port wine is fermented in 25,000-gallon vats before being bottled and aged (15 years or more). Port officially comes only from the Douro river basin and is fortified with brandy to stop its fermentation and thus increase the sweetness. Most of these wineries may be visited, especially on weekdays during normal business hours.

If you turn left off the bridge instead of right you'll discover the 16th-century Convent of Nossa Senhora da Serra do Pilar, which has one of the best views of the city climbing up from the banks of the Douro.

If you have the time, an excursion up the coast north of Porto is a worthwhile trip. Take the Rua do Ouro along the river to the west of downtown through São João do Foz, a suburb sitting right at the mouth of the Douro with a 17th-century fort. Turn north along the Atlantic, past the old Castelo do Queijo, and continue to the new port of Leixoes, built at the mouth of the River Leca to circumvent problems with silt that plague Porto's channel. A few kilometers after crossing the river to Leca da Palmeira, join the N107, passing Porto's Pedras Rubras airport, and turn left on the N13.

After a pretty 15 kilometers you will reach Vila Do Conde, an ancient fishing village that predates the Romans, but which is increasingly attractive as a resort. The town is known for its lace making and, if you happen to be there on a Friday, you will find an especially large selection at the weekly market. The Santa Clara Convent is worth a visit, if only to see the carved ceilings and the tombs of the 14th-century founders, Dom Afonso Sanche and Dona Teresa Martin. In the cloister is a fountain fed by a 6-kilometer-long aqueduct, which originates in nearby Póvoa De Varzim. This neighboring town is also a popular resort due to its nice beach, casino, and colorful old fishermen's quarter.


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A Few Nearby Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts:   List Them All

A Karen Brown Recommended Hotel / Inn Guest House Douro
Porto, Porto, Portugal
€ 130-190
A Karen Brown Reader Discovery SeMarkinhas of the Vale do Douro
Folgosa, Viseu, Portugal
A Karen Brown Reader Discovery Quinta da Moenda
Alvoco das Várzeas, Coimbra, Portugal
A Karen Brown Reader Discovery Quinta dos Tres Rios
Parada de Gonta, Viseu, Portugal
A Karen Brown Reader Discovery Mosteiro de S Cristovao de Lafoes
Sao Pedro do Sul , Viseu, Portugal

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[ icon ] Cinfães
Montanhas, Viseu, Portugal
[ icon ] Mafra
Lisboa, Portugal
[ icon ] Obidos
Costa da Prata, Leiria, Portugal
[ icon ] Coimbra
Costa da Prata, Coimbra, Portugal
[ icon ] Trofa
Costa da Prata, Aveiro, Portugal

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[ icon ] Restaurant A Grade
Porto, Porto, Portugal
Portuguese Cuisine
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