Estremadura and the Ribatejo: Places to Explore

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Óbidos

The medieval village of Óbidos is a place to wander and wonder, both inside the city walls and out. Once a strategic seaport, Óbidos is now high and dry—and 10 km (6 miles) inland—owing to the silting of its harbor. On the approach to town, you can see bastions and crenellated walls standing like sentinels over the now-peaceful valley of the Ria Arnoia. It's hard to imagine fishing boats and trading vessels docking in places that are today filled by cottages and cultivated fields.

As you enter town through the massive, arched gates, it seems as if you've been transported to Portugal in the Middle Ages, when the fortress was taken by Portugal from the Moors. The narrow Rua Direita, lined with boutiques and white, flower-bedecked houses, runs from the gates to the foot of the castle: you may want to shop for ceramics and clothing on this street. The rest of the town is crisscrossed by a labyrinth of stone footpaths, tiny squares, and decaying stairways. Each nook and cranny offers its own reward. Cars aren't permitted inside the walls except to unload luggage at hotels. Parking is provided outside town.

Óbidos has a long association with prominent Portuguese women. Young Queen Isabel was so enchanted with Óbidos—which she visited with her husband, Dom Dinis, shortly after their marriage in 1282—that the king gave it to her as a gift, along with Abrantes and Porto de Mós; the town remained the property of the queens of Portugal until 1834. Queen Leonor (the wife of João II) came here in the 15th century to recuperate after the death of her young son; the town pillory bears her coat of arms. Famous primitive painter and daughter of an Óbidos artist, Josefa de Óbidos lived in the Capelaria mansion just outside town during the 17th century. She is buried in the São Pedro Church in Óbidos.

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