Great Places – Portugal

     Portugal lies at the southeastern extremity of Europe. Because of its long shoreline, it has long been noted for fishing and commerce. As a matter of fact, Portugal was one of Europe’s leader inexploration in the 15th and 16th century, with names such as, Magellan and Vasco de Gama. Today, Portugal is no longer a leader in the European community, but its past demands respect and there are many sights worthy of the tourist’s interest and attention. Below are some of the best places to visit. A photo album will eventually follow.
     1. Sintra
           Sintra, Portugal, was the summer retreat for Portuguese monarchs for over 500 years and is only about 25 km (15 miles) northwest of Lisbon (see # 81 below). Sintra has two fine palaces to attract the tourist — Queluz National Palace (Palacio Nacional de Queluz), with is ornate light-colored stonework and its elaborately decorated ceilings, and the Pena National Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena), with its towers, turrets and battlements, and its ostentatious furnishings.
           Sintra is also justly famous for its gardens. The Pena Gardens, next to the palace, and the Monserrate Gardens, west of the city, are noteworthy.
     2. Lisbon
           Lisbon, Portugal, although old and crumbling, is the heart and soul of Portugal. The Old Town is made up of several neighborhoods, the most important of which are the Barrio Alto, the Upper Town, with its confusing network of hilly streets, and Baixa, the Lower Town, whose streets are considerably more orderly. Of special note is Rossio Square, which is, today, lined with shops and restaurants, but was the scene of many burnings during the Inquisition.
           Also in the city are vestiges of the ancient Roman city, the site of which is now occupied by St George’s Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge), in the Alfama district, a charming maze of alleyways and stairs and narrow cobble-stoned streets, with tile-covered buildings. Take Tram #28 to the Castle, at the top of one of Lisbon’s seven hills, for a great view of the city. Se (cathedral) is the oldest church in the city and a local landmark. It was begun in the 1100’s in the Romanesque style.
           But Lisbon is, above all, a maritime city and this heritage may be best explored in the suburb of Belem. The must-sees here include the white Padrao dos Descobrimentos, a marvelous ship-shaped monument to Portuguese explorers, such as Henry the Navigator, Magellan, and Vasco de Gama, and the Torre de Belem, the 16th century tower, built to repel attacks from pirates, which has now been given World Heritage Site status. Also, near the waterfront is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, another World Heritage Site, which contains the tomb of Vasco de Gama, one of Portugal’s most famous explorers, and dates to 1501. The monastery was constructed, in large measure, from revenue derived from the trade of pepper.
          A favorite excursion from the city is the picturesque walled town of Obidos, about an hour north of Lisbon. Its narrow, cobblestone streets and Medieval, white-washed buildings, festooned with flowers, are a delight to explore. The walls are 13 meters (45 feet) high and dotted with towers. There is, of course, the attractive, obligatory castle at the highest point of the town.
          Another popular side trip is 65 miles (40 kilometers) to the northwest, in the village of Fatima. Here is the location of one of the most famous miracles in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the appearance of the Virgin Mary to three local children in 1937. Since then, the Basilica, built to honor the event and housing the tombs of the children, has become a major pilgrimage site.
      3. Algarve Region
           The Algarve region of Portugal lies along the southern coast of the country, its only Mediterranean shore. The area has become a tourist attraction for its lovely beaches, its sometimes rugged coastline, and its small, quaint villages and cities, such as Faro, which has lovely squares and several interesting churches.
           Check out the tiny town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, just inside the border with Spain. The main village square is charming and the pedestrian-only side streets have numerous shops.
     4. Madeira Island
           Madeira Island, a territory of Portugal, which lies about 650 kilometers (400 miles) south of Lisbon (see above), just off the coast of Africa, is a lush, tropical paradise and a magnet for Europeans, especially the British, on holiday. More recently, it has been discovered by the rest of the world. Funchal is the capital city and typical base of operations for the tourist.
           The best way to experience and explore the interior of the island is by walking the many footpaths which are found along the “levadas,” irrigation channels built by the original settlers to bring water to their remote farms. Get a list of walks from the Tourist Information Center in Funchal. Visit the Madeira Story Center, in the oldest part of the city, for an entertaining look at the geological and cultural history of the island. Nearby is a Cable Car which whisks tourist to Monte, popular for the Monte Palace Tropical Garden and its museum.
           Don’t forget to try the Madeira, a sweet wine, named for the island.


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