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Falling For Portugal: A Mai Tai Tom (Trip) Report

Falling For Portugal: A Mai Tai Tom (Trip) Report

Old Jan 4th, 2023, 12:09 PM
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On Day Two in Sintra, we were finally able to visit Quinta da Regaleira, where a tourist had died the previous day. We used advice from yesterday's guide and were nearly the first ones at the Initiation Well, which made for a much more pleasant experience as we descended. The grounds at the Quinta are the major star, and we also visited the palace and the chapel. After a quick bite to eat, it was on to the colorful, yet crowded, Palácio da Pena. I know some people have said, you don’t need to go inside the palace, but even with the crowds, we enjoyed it. Afterward, we’d luck out on securing transportation back to Sintra, and in the evening enjoy our best meal in Portugal ... so far. Do not just make Sintra a day trip! There's a lot to see. Story with photos in link below ... below photos story with no photos.


Day Eight: Early Birds, All’s Well, Dante’s Inferno, More Manini, Crowd Control, Blown Away (Literally), The Best €20 We Have Ever Spent and A Neighborhood Gem

Since I had booked and rebooked this trip three times since 2019, I had forgotten one minor detail involving our stay at Chalet Saudade Vintage Guest House. I had originally booked the two smaller rooms in 2019, because they were all that was left. About a month before leaving I remembered this error and attempted to upgrade. Unfortunately, they had no more larger rooms, but as it turned out the rooms were perfectly fine with a scenic garden view. Plus, it’s not like we spend a lot of time in our room.

Breakfast is included at Chalet Saudade, but it’s not located on the property. It’s less than a 5-minute walk up some nearby stairs to the Café Saudade, owned by the same people. We had a tasty breakfast and hiked to the Quinta da Regaleira, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We got there a little before they opened at 10 a.m.

Our friend from yesterday, Italian architect Luigi Manini, and owner António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro designed the Quinta da Regaleira estate, which was completed in the early 20th-century. The approximately 2 1/2 acre estate contains grottos, lakes, statues, caves, a chapel, a palace, a famous well and monuments that supposedly hide symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar and other spiritual orders. It is sometimes called "The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire” (Monteiro was a wealthy Brazilian/Portuguese businessman and well-known Freemason … maybe … who sold coffee and precious stones.)

We had purchased advanced tickets so we could avoid waiting in the ticket line. (The tickets were good on any day through the end of 2022.) Quinta da Regaleira is named after one of its previous owners, Baroness da Regaleira.

We entered near the old horse stables (if you have not pre-purchased a ticket, the ticket office is located here). This area is where the woman fell and died the previous day. Immediately we wound our way through the gorgeous grounds toward the Poço Iniciático (Initiatic or Initiation Well).

First, we’d see a few things along the way such as a couple of its Garden Follies. I had never heard that expression so had to look it up. “A garden folly is usually considered a building or structure that is designed for decoration with no other purpose than to add a touch of whimsy or extravagance.”

While Kim utilized one of the follies atop the Portal of Guardians, Mary looked like she was auditioning to be in the Follies. Sondheim would be proud.

There were no shortage of these stone follies on the Quinta property.

On the Terrace of the Celestial Worlds is the Ziggurat Tower. You can climb it, but at the moment we were looking for a place to walk down.

We arrived at the inverted folly, the Initiation Well. Isabel’s sage advice worked to perfection, only four people had arrived ahead of us.

We looked down the 88-foot well that was never intended to be a well. The winding staircase was ready to be conquered by the four of us. Isabel had told us that the well represented the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno (nine circles of Hell, Paradise and Purgatory). There are a number of other theories, as well.

We started down, taking a few photos along the way.

When we reached the bottom, things started looking up.

At the bottom, we walked through a system of tunnels for 15 minutes.

Kim and I navigated so perfectly that we said, “It’s so easy, cavemen can do it.” We did not, however, get 15 percent off of our car insurance at Geico…

… while Tracy found Lago da Cascata (Waterfall Lake).

We wandered aimlessly through the gardens. This stone urn carved with a Satyr and grapes caught our attention. Wine is a symbol of abundance and immortality

As did the Fonte da Abundância (Fountain of Abundance). I could not find an abundance of information, however, although I was told the Dolphins above the fountain represent fire and light.

We passed an ornate bench and looked at people frolicking on the follies.

Walking around you could see why so many people call Quinta da Regaleira a “magical place to visit.”

In the garden is the Capela da Santíssima Trindade (the Chapel of the Holy Trinity).

Similar to the palace, the chapel is constructed in a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Manueline styles, while other structures on the property are in a more simple medieval style.

We checked out the sculptures on the outside …

…before heading in.

There are fabulous frescoes on the walls, while the floor shows off Knights Templar crosses.

It was time to stop by the palace, starting in the Renaissance Room with a coffered ceiling in oak wood.. By now, there were lots of people in the palace, so our picture taking abilities were limited, plus the upper floors were not open.

The woodwork and wood ceilings were amazingly detailed.

The palace has some interesting door knockers, too.

Wall frescoes were spectacular in the Music Room.

The star of the show at Quinta da Regalia is not the palace, but the gardens itself.

We were there a little under two hours and could have stayed longer.

Quinta a Regaleira turned out to be our favorite stop in Sintra.

Somehow we kept passing by that Satyr bench. We could have used Isabel right about now to give us some extra information.

We got one last look at the Chapel Tower and a Folly Tower.

This fellow said he was the Mane attraction at the Quinta.

However, this guy barked his disagreement.

We needed to head back to town to have lunch before our expedition to the Palácio da Pena.

Once again we passed by the Fonte dos Pisoes, which lies between the historic center of Sintra and Quinta da Regaleira. Back in the day, the overflow tank would have enabled farm animals to drink from here.

Although it was a long time until Christmas, chestnuts were roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost, however, was nowhere in sight.

Nearly across the street, half way up the stairs we had traversed earlier that morning on the way to breakfast, is Larmanjat. It had recently opened, and there was only one sign for the restaurant so we almost missed it, but were glad we didn’t. Everything from the chicken Caesar salad to the beef carpaccio salad to a couple of paninis were terrific, as was the pleasant service. I hope they’ve added more signage so people can discover this place.

Next stop … Palácio da Pena. We took the nearly 30-minute Uber ride (a little more than 6€ before overtipping) to the palace along the winding roads of Sintra, arriving a little before 2 p.m. We had 2:30 tickets for the palace that we had purchased before we left for Portugal. Lucky we did, because we might not have ever gotten in that day.

It’s a fairly steep walk up to the palace from where the Uber drops you off that also takes approximately 20 - 30 minutes. There is a minibus that you can take from the ticket office, but the walk was pleasant and I needed to walk off that carpacccio.

The line for timed entry stretched a long way, so we got to take a good look at the Romanticist castle (the first one of its kind in Portugal) finished in 1854 by King-consort Ferdinand. 2:30 soon gave away to 3 as we made our way into the palace. As in most of Portugal, seemingly no one ever wore a mask. Hint: I would buy the 9:30 timed tickets to avoid the crowds.

The palace’s history dates back to the 12th-century when it served as a monastery. It was pretty much decimated in the Big Quake of 1775, but was purchased by King Ferdinand (Queen Maria’s husband).

We entered the Manueline Cloister, filled with Hispano-Moresque tiles. The palace was selected as one of the “7 Wonders of Portugal” in 2007. Four small turtles hold up that big shell.

More colorful tiles greeted us in the first room, as did this decorative piece that kind of reminded me of Jimmy Durante on steroids.

The former refectory of the monks that lived on this property from the 12th-century was converted into a dining room, and still has its original 16th-century ceiling.

We hopped into the office of King Carlos I, who reigned as Portugal’s king from 1889 - 1908, when he and his son were assassinated (we had seen his tomb in Lisbon). It was originally a coffee room, which I assume Carlos had insufficient grounds to keep it as one. Lots of nymphs on the wall, too. King Carlos purportedly painted them himself. Next to that are his Chambers. Could that bed be any shorter?

We continued our self-guided tour (along with thousands of new friends), and saw the cloister from up top.

We also caught a glimpse of the clock tower.

The Bedroom of the Lady In Waiting, which leads to …

… the Bedroom of Ferdinand II (and eventually Queen Amélia). The bed is made of rosewood.

It is covered in a decorative Neo-Moorish style.

The tile work in this room is definitely the star.

Queen Amélia hosted her guests in the Tea Room, while the photo on the right is from her office.

Although this is technically the Telephone Room, which still displays the original switchboard, it’s the green cabinet that housed the switchboard that everyone is interested in.

One of the nicer sitting rooms we’ve visited in our travels is the Moorish one here. It was commissioned by Ferdinand II in 1854.

I believe we can all figure out why this is called The Green Room. King Pedro V is the one next to the wall.

One of the last “old palace” rooms is The Sacristy, the room used for the preparation of religious ceremonies.

Kings and queens need a place to party, and at Pena Palace it was here in the Great Hall.

The chandelier and furniture was commissioned in 1866, while a Male Moorish statues holds up a Candelabra. Liberace would have loved that.

We quickly walked through the Smoking Room.

The Stag Room was supposed to be utilized as the dining room for the new palace. Stags and a column that looks like a tree trunk highlight this unfinished room.

As is the case with most palaces, the last room to visit was the Kitchen. Fortunately someone had cleaned all the pots so we were free to go.

It was time for some fresh air, and looking down the lines to get in the palace had not diminished one bit.

These vibrant colors make the palace recognizable from so many vantage points in Sintra.

Tracy found The Chapel.

The incredible Altarpiece in alabaster and a type of limestone dates all the way back to the 1520s and was commissioned by João III, son of Manuel I, the founder of the convent.

It was a quick, but beautiful stop.

Also striking were some of the views afforded from the palace. As we stood on the terraces up above, I was afraid I might end up like Sally Field in the Flying Nun, as the winds were whipping at a very high speed as we stood on top.

A romantic selfie after walking the parapet is a must for any young couple.

Yes, there are lots of people, but if you get the chance I’d go (but be sure to get those online tickets during heavy tourist season).

No visit to a palace is really complete until you see a half man, half fish, but that’s exactly what you get at the Triton Terrace near the Sentry Walk.

It looked he was saying, “Maybe sell less a few less tickets.”

Some more stonework, and it was time to head down from where we started. Pena has a large park to explore, but I had stupidly booked tickets at prime time, so we decided to head back to the hotel where we would have a little time to freshen up for dinner.

I told the group, “We’ll just call an Uber and be on our way.” Unfortunately so had about 75 others, and even though there’s a lot of Ubers in Sintra, by using my splendid San Diego State Math 3 skills, I quickly concluded there were not enough Ubers to pick us up for a long, long time. As Karl Malden once asked, “What will you do?”

We contemplated that scenario for a minute and thought about taking a Tuk Tuk down the steep and winding road, however Kim and Mary realized they wanted to see their grandchildren again, while I was still hoping the Padres might make the World Series.

Then fate (and a savvy entrepreneur) suddenly stepped into our lives. He said, “Hey stupid tourist who thought you could catch an Uber up here with these massive crowds (not his exact words), I have a friend who can take the four of you back to Sintra for €20.”

Thinking I was back in U.S., my first thought was, “What if he robs us and takes us to Cabo da Roca and throws us off a cliff.” Then I remembered we were in Portugal where everyone had been nice, and for €10 per couple it was definitely worth the money at this moment. The guy was great, and with his fast driving we made it down in a much shorter time than our way up. I kept checking to see if he had any brakes in the car.

Dinner on this Saturday night would now vault into #1 on the trip. Venturing the opposite direction from the crowds in the historic center, it was less than a ten minute walk to a charming neighborhood spot, Taberna Criativa.

Our server (the only server by the way in this tiny restaurant) was terrific, and all the dishes came out were on the mark and beyond. Tracy started with a “Wow” Veal Carpaccio on a bed of polenta with grilled veggies.

Mary loved her fish on pasta with curry.

Meanwhile Kim and I shared a “Steak For Two,” served with smashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.

My dessert was insanely delicious.

The Folhado de ma was some sort of puff pastry, with apples, cream, and vanilla topped with ice cream. They had to drag me out kicking and screaming because I easily could have eaten three.

Tomorrow we’d hit one more Sintra site, the magical and mystic Monserrate. Not to spoil the Sintra ending, but it and Quinta da Regealeira were our two favorite Sintra palaces.

Afterward, I had wanted to drive out to the most western point of Europe, but something got lost in translation with our Uber driver, so we eventually returned to Sintra. Kim, Mary and I would get the “News” at a museum in town, while Tracy wandered around Sintra.

Kim, Tracy and I would then Uber to the Lisbon Airport to pick up our rental car that we would be using for the next nine days. Finally, we would once again luck out on a fantastic dinner.

By the way, during Tracy’s afternoon stroll though Sintra she would make it back near the Palácio Nacional de Sintra, where she would witness the aftermath of yet another fall.

Chapter Nine: Magical Monserrate

maitaitom is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2023, 04:47 PM
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maitaitom, My husband and I took one of those tuktuk's up to Sintra... and definate.. omg.it was a very fun ride indeed.
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Old Jan 14th, 2023, 10:58 AM
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There was still one more Sintra palace to visit to fill out our Sintra Bingo card. Palácio de Monserrate is as magical as advertised. It has lush gardens, and the palace, which is not quite as well known as a few other Sintra sites (except, of course, here on Fodor's), was spectacular featuring its Moorish Revival, Romantic and Manueline architecture. I want a house like that! Back in Sintra, we visited a lesser known museum thanks to a communication error on my part with our Uber driver, and then headed to the Lisbon Airport to pick up our rental car (Danger Will Robinson) that would take us northward tomorrow. One final great dinner, and it was goodbye Sintra and hello Tomar tomorrow with a couple of UNESCO stops along the way. Story photos link...no photos under photos.

Chapter Nine: Magical, Mystical Monserrate

Day Nine: The Early Birds, A Lovely Walk, Stunning Palace, Less Is Moor, The First Lawn Planted In Portugal, Here Is The News, Somebody Call An Ambulance, What Color Is Diesel?, Toll Unit and the “Real” Deal

On a windy, sunny day in Sintra we were up early for a quick breakfast at Café Saudade.

We hailed an Uber for the 15 minute ride to the Parque & Palácio de Monserrate, another magical and mystical spot on our Sintra bingo card. The palace (villa) was commissioned by Sir Francis Cook, an English textile millionaire, in 1853 and inspired by Islamic architecture. Cook was also the owner of one of the largest private art collections in Britain.

Back in 1793, however, English novelist William Thomas Beckford subleased the property and designed a landscaped garden. He did such a good job that when Lord Byron visited in 1809 he was captivated by its beauty. He called it the “first and most beautiful place on this land.”

Arriving just a few minutes after it opened, after being greeted by a statue of a gargoyle (I think), we started through a portion of the park including the Indigenous Forest. We came upon a sign indicating various paths to the palace. Since little was in bloom, we decided to explore the Vale dos Fetos (Fern Valley).

The Valley supposedly has a unique microclimate lending itself to a “tremendous collection of Tree ferns.”

I believe this might be part of Hippocreme, a lake named after either a legendary fountain in ancient Greece or a sunscreen for hippopotami.

The gardens at Monserrate are one of the earliest Romantic gardens ever planted and in other seasons would be abloom with rhododendrons, azaelas, hydrangeas, camellias and roses. As a matter of fact, Cook sourced exotic species from all over the world when he expanded the gardens.

It was another stunningly beautiful blue sky day to take a stroll in another park. Besides the park in Monserrate, we were told that not only does the entire Parques de Sintra that surrounds the palaces have an abundant number of flowers, plants and trees, but if you also add in all the species of animals and birds, the total comes out close to 3,000 different varieties when you add them all together.

The rock formations were also of interest.

Near the palace is the Indian Arch, which was acquired by Cook after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, where Indians protested against “the campaign of westernization by the East India Company. The British army, after defeating the mutineers, sacked and destroyed many Indian palaces.”

The path headed straight up from the arch to the palace, considered to be a “masterpiece of Romanticism.” It was designed by architect James Knowles Jr. with a lot of input from Cook. It has been completely restored.

The palace and park became a popular retreat for writers, especially from Britain.

The garden entrance was where family and friends hung out, and where they could easily access many of the rooms. Today, there is very little furniture in the palace, so you can spend your time admiring the incredible architectural features.

Since our 2015 trip to Spain, I’ve been intrigued by Moorish architecture, so I was really looking forward to our visit. We would not be disappointed.

Walking into the Main Hall, once again a ceiling claimed our attention and Tracy’s camera. The Octagon dates all the way back to the original palace when it was inhabited by William Beckman. It was inspired by the Founder’s Chapel of Mosteiro da Batalha, which we would visit in a few days. Quite remarkable.

The Sacred Art Room contained religious artifacts and some of those ever-present stained glass windows (that might total up to a million by now).

The Moorish influence of The Central Gallery was apparent. It seemingly goes on forever as you walk through the palace. Those people look very small in the long hallway. There is no more photogenic spot in the palace, in my opinion.

The Billiards Room isn’t like other Billiard Rooms I have seen, plus somebody “lost” the pool table sometime in the last century, which presumably put him or her behind the eight ball.

Once again, Tracy falls in love with a ceiling.

The library was restored a little more than a decade ago and is, according to our notes, the only room that has a door. I guess I’ll have to return to see if that is true.

Going upstairs, looking back down at the Main Atrium with its fountain is a tad vertiginous.

Like Judy Collins, Mary contemplated the palace layout from both sides now.

We looked out at the “first lawn ever planted in Portugal.” Its vast expanse would have made it difficult for Clint Eastwood to yell at people to get off it.

Back downstairs, or I think we were downstairs, is the Dining Room. The statue makes it seem more like a chapel. I read that canopies were utilized in this room to make a sort of “Oriental tent” for diners.

The other room that is stunning throughout is this room. The Music Room is considered the main hall of the palace, although there is a room called the Main Hall. But I digress. It is a spectacularly beautiful room where concerts were held, so its design was to make this room acoustically perfect.

Once again, the cupola is the highlight of the room, with its white and gold motifs.

Tracy and my biggest highlight was watching Kim and Mary get down on the floor to take ceiling photos (or look for a missing contact lens, I truthfully forget which). But it was the duo getting up off the floor so deftly that was truly spectacular. Tracy, Mary and Kim all took ceiling photos in this room, while I wisely stayed upright or we might have missed lunch trying to peel me off the floor.

The Central Gallery is a stunner no matter where you stand in it.

Isn’t gargoyle from the entrance on the left?

As it turned out, Palácio de Monserrate and Quinta de Regaleira were our favorites of all the palaces we visited in Sintra, however it seems you can’t go wrong by visiting any one of them.

We walked back along circuitous paths to the entrance, and we would really like to see the park when more flowers and plants are blooming.

Although not on everyone’s radar, I think it should be at the top of your list. The views back to the ocean were spectacular, which gave me an idea, albeit a little too late.

For the 492nd time on vacation, there was something lost in translation, this time with the Uber driver who picked us up in Monserrate. And, as always, I was the person who instigated the confusion. I had plugged in that we wanted to head back to Sintra when I ordered the Uber, but while waiting, I thought that since it was a beautiful day, we could have him drive us to Cabo San Roca, which is the westernmost point in all of continental Europe.

When he arrived, I attempted to tell him we would rather go there and then come back to Sintra. I used my best Portuguese to explain, which also happens to be the worst Portuguese on the planet. After about five minutes I gave up, and back to Sintra we went.

Back in town, I told this guy about the palaces we had seen in the last 48 hours, and he turned green with envy.

In hindsight, I should have planned something better for Sunday afternoon. Knowing, however, that we only had a couple of hours before we had to return to the Lisbon Airport to pick up our rental car, I said, “Let’s go to the News Museum.” I had read good things about it, which said that even foreigners would find it quite interesting. Since we are news junkies, Mary, Kim and I bought our tickets. Meanwhile Tracy meandered through Sintra trying to find news of her own, which she would (stay tuned).

Of course, wherever we travel, the paparazzi is certain to hounding my every move, just as they when as I walked the red carpet of the News Museum.

Had we looked more in depth and if more of the exhibits had been translated, I’m sure we would have enjoyed this more, but by now after 48 seemingly continuous hours of palace-hopping, none of us were really in the mood.

Hey, I did know these two guys.

There were interesting tidbits about freedom of the press …

… and also somber reminders that those freedoms can come with danger

I enjoyed the trivia game of news events and history (yes, this was a lucky guess), but it was time to pick up our rental car.

First we had to find Tracy, and she came running toward us (which we call “walking fast” at our age) with big news. She had gone to the National Palace to take some exterior photos and video, and just as she got there an ambulance arrived on the scene, picking up yet another person who had taken a tumble on some stairs.

On the way back to the hotel, Tracy saw more houses we should make an offer on.

We picked up our rental car at the Lisbon Airport because there are no rental car agencies in Sintra. Plus, it was only a 25-minute Uber ride from our hotel (or about 1/3 the time it takes to get from my house to LAX in traffic). Be certain to get the Toll Transponder Device for the car which alerts you every time there is a toll and will send you a bill at the end rather than stopping each time (our toll bill ended up being a minuscule $14 US for the remainder of the trip). We also diligently took a video of the car checking especially for “road burn” on the wheels, as we have been unfairly charged on a few occasions, like in Great Britain a few months previously (we actually won that dispute).

We arrived back to the hotel just in time for another marvelous meal. Tacho Real ( R. Ferraria 4) located in central Sintra is housed in an old home that doubles as a charming restaurant. It has a lovely interior space with arched ceilings, green tile and, most importantly, sumptuous food.

It also has patio dining.

My creamed pumpkin soup with foam and pesto drizzle was a delight. I devoured my perfectly cooked steak with Roquefort and shallot sauce.

Even better was Tracy’s Steak au Poivre.

After dinner, we walked past the News Museum, which was lit in various colors.

Back at the Chalet Saudade, Tracy and I sipped a glass of port with a few of the guests in the quaintness of its sitting area. Over the course of three nights, we met some very nice people mostly from the U.S. and Canada.

The following day would be a road trip (always dangerous with this group) from Sintra to Tomar via two massive UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Mosteiro Pálacio Nacional de Mafra actually took 50,000 people to build and has more than 1,200 rooms. After an ill-advised detour, before hitting Tomar, we would also stop at Mosteiro de Alcobaça, a humongous monastery that dates back nearly 1,000 years. We even got a special tour after Mary and our guide eventually got the door open.

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Old Jan 14th, 2023, 11:57 AM
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What a lovely description and stunning photos of my personal favorite in the Sintra monument bingo card! Although such an eclectic mix of architectural styles, I thought they blended together really harmoniously. I fell in love with it, the gardens and the quiet.
You also did an excellent job of re-telling the amusing story of the National Palace magpie room!
And I think you may be the very first Fodorites ever to visit the newly opened Palacio Biester! (I just missed it by a month or so). And the advantage of having the lovely Isabel guide you, is that she was able quickly to pivot after the tragedy at Regaleira.

Eagerly awaiting the next chapter!
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Old Jan 14th, 2023, 03:52 PM
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The ceilings are exquisite! I think my favorite is the bright pink one!
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Old Jan 15th, 2023, 05:42 AM
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Love your gorgeous photos and the interesting details in your report. I know I would love Montserrat. I, too, have been intrigued with Moorish architecture ever since our trip to Andalusia in 2017. The pink ceiling, the Central Gallery, and the cupola in the Music Room are all so stunning

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Old Jan 16th, 2023, 01:31 PM
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Thanks Maribel. I wish we could have taken Isabel all over Portugal. She was great!

Debbielynn, I had to take Tracy out kicking and screaming or she would still be taking photos of the bright pink ceiling.

KarenWoo, I fell in love with Moorish architecture and decor when we visited Granada. I think you will love it!
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Old Jan 17th, 2023, 05:58 PM
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Beautiful, especially since I'm another Moorish architecture fan. Although I'm starting to wonder if all of Portugal is a tripping hazard.
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Old Jan 19th, 2023, 02:09 PM
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Today was UNESCO World Heritage Day for the four of us. First, Portuguese citizens scattered in terror as we took off in our rental car toward Tomar. Before we hit Tomar, we had two stops along the way (well, three if you count the town we never found … “Tom, you idiot!”). Our first was at the Mosteiro Pálacio Nacional de Mafra, a huge complex that only took 50,000 men to build, where they also put bats to work. After somehow making a wrong turn in our futile attempt to find Óbidos, we stopped and scoped out the magnificent Mosteiro de Alcobaça, where we would take a nearly private tour of an utterly remarkable room. We’d end the day at our charming hotel in Tomar, and luck followed us with another memorable meal for dinner. Story with photos and less spelling errors in link below ... without photos below photos.


Chapter Ten - Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites On The Way To Tomar

Day Ten - Two Towers Are Better Than One, Where Did All The Royals Go?, Going Batty In The Biblioteca, We’re On The Road To Nowhere, Getting A Food Complex, That’s The Ticket, Marvelous Monastery, A “Key” Development, Altarpiece Like No Other, Time For Tomar and Hardest Working Servers In Portugal

Waking up a few times during the night, I realized one important fact: I should limit my late night port sipping to only one glass, although the dreams were pretty darned crazy. Today would be an exciting one because we would punch our faux UNESCO World Heritage Sites card twice on our way to Tomar.

Located a mere 30 minutes north of Sintra, the Mosteiro Pálacio Nacional de Mafra looms large over the town. It had to be large to accommodate the 1,200 rooms, 156 staircases along with 5,000 doors and windows. To accomplish the task, in 1717, 50,000 men, on the order of King João V, started construction on the palace to mark the birth of his first child and heir, the once and future King José I.

About 30 rooms are available to tour today along with its beautiful basilica. After all that work to get it built, it turns out that João V and the queen didn’t spend much time here. They basically used it for royal family members who enjoyed hunting. King João VI did live here for a bit, but bolted the castle and headed for Brazil in 1808 to escape oncoming French troops. I don’t know what moving company they hired, but they were able to get most of the furniture and valuables out of the palace, leaving it the way it is today.

One interesting story we read was about the twin bell towers that house the “Carrilhões de Mafra (Carrillons of Mafra).” When told that one bell tower would be too expensive, the king basically replied, “Well, I’ll build two instead.” His favorite song must have been Peggy Lee’s, “Hey Big Spender.” And cheap they weren’t, “built by two of the most important foundrymen of that time … the carillons [were] transported from Rotterdam to Lisbon in specially prepared ships….” It turned out that these are the “largest surviving 18th century carillons in the world,” with 119 bells that can be heard over 9 miles away. After being silenced for many years, they were recently restored and in 2020 began ringing again with concerts on Sundays at 2 p.m. (https://www.cm-mafra.pt/)

Upon entering, we came upon the first of those 156 staircases. Fortunately, we only had to navigate a small number (whatever happened to my “1,000 stairs a day”mantra?).

We came upon one of a number of inner courtyards.

Stepping inside, one of the first things we saw was a sculpture entitled the Saint Martyrs of Morocco, depicting the terrible scene from 1219 when six Franciscan friars were decapitated in the country where they had been sent to preach. News of the martyrdom eventually made St. Anthony “change [the name of the Order] from the Saint Augustin Order into the Franciscans.” There, of course, were reliquaries nearby.

Here’s a sampling of a few of the 30 or so rooms: The Infirmary is where the injured and ill were taken care of in the cubicles along the walls of this fairly large hall. On Sundays, the beds were put in the center so they could hear mass from the chapel at the far end of the room.

Since they also had to eat, the kitchen was nearby.

The Hall of Diana (the “Goddess of the Hunt”) displays a plethora of satyrs and nymphs on the ceiling, along with Diana.

Using my power of deduction, I assumed this must be a tapestry of a Portuguese king, although I don’t have a clue which one.

Not surprisingly since there are a couple of thrones, we entered the Throne Room, where audiences with the king were held. Frescoes on the wall detail the “Royal Virtues,” and the ornate ceiling is pretty spectacular.

We discovered the Discoveries Room that contains paintings of explorers.

I think this is the ceiling in that room.

I guess it was fate to enter The Hall of Destiny, where a ceiling (of course) captivated Tracy, who is always looking up. There are lots of ancient kings painted on the ceiling, including Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, holding the Book of Destiny (which probably foretold the Chargers epic collapse against the Jaguars).

I have no idea what this is, but it’s colorful.

Another room, another ceiling.

Since there was a painting of King João VI (hard to keep your King Joãos straight) we correctly surmised this was the King’s Bedroom.

I call this “The Guys On Horses Room.” I’m sure it made for a stable environment.

A Grand Piano sings out in a room of yellow, aptly called The Music Room.

It was all fun and games here.

As stated, some of the royals loved to hunt, thus The Hunting and Trophy Room.

I don’t think I would have been comfortable sitting below these poor animals that were killed. I’ve probably seen too many Twilight Zones.

The star of Mafra Palace is undoubtedly the Library. It holds a priceless collection of about 40,000 books, or the amount of books Tracy reads in a month. There is also a collection of musical “scores written expressly for [the six organs located in the Royal Basilica] which can only be played [t]here.”

This is one library where you are not allowed to check out books while checking them out. To keep insects from devouring this treasure trove of literature, we were told at night the windows of the library are opened to let the bats inside eat the insects. So instead of “bats in the belfry,” you have “bats in the biblioteca.” It’s just another chapter of things we learn while traveling.

Counting our blessings as we neared the end of our self-guided tour as we headed for The Blessing Room, utilizing the gallery that connects the two towers.

From the Blessing Room there is quite a view of the Basilica of Our Lady and St. Anthony of Mafra, which was consecrated in 1730.

Tons of limestone from Pero Pinheiro and Sintra was used to construct the Royal Basilica.

This is just one of the 14 marble statues of saints that some call the “finest assembly of Baroque Italian sculpture found outside Italy.”

They were made by members of the Mafra School of Sculpture under the guidance of Italian master Alessandro Giusti.

And, there are a set of six organs, too. I begged once again for just a small rendition of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, but it was not to be.

Yep, Kim and Tracy didn’t even have to get down on the floor to take these …

… including the central dome.

It was a great way to finish our morning, but we were only half way through “Palace and Monastery UNESCO Day.”

It did not take long to encounter our first destination error. I thought since Óbidos was pretty much on the way to Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça, we might as well take a little time to check out this supposedly very cute town. I set the GPS for Praça de Santa Maria, the square where we could see a few of the town’s sights.

Exiting the main highway, in under two minutes found ourselves circumnavigating (this whole Portugal explorer thing had me using many nautical terms) Óbidos, but not actually getting there. The next thing we knew we were on a bumpy dirt road headed to the middle of nowhere and nowhere to turn around. Finally, we found a spot in the road to reverse, as did the car behind us who must have had the same GPS misinformation. A little while later we found the main road and waved goodbye to Óbidos, the town never to be found.

It wasn’t long before we made our way into Alcobaça where we lucked into a parking spot adjacent to the huge monastery.

First, however, we needed to eat. I had been told to dine at Fiore de Zucca, located only about a block or two away from the monastery. It was pizza time, and the pizza was great. Kim and Mary downed a good-sized Quattro Formaggi Pizza, while Tracy and I enjoyed our delicious Arugula and Prosciutto pizza with Sicilian Lemon Zest. I had ordered the bruschetta to start and for about the fifth time so far on this trip the restaurant was didn’t have what I ordered, I was now getting a complex.

Powered by pizza, we hopped back across the street to a monastery founded in the 12th century by King Alfonso I. We bought the combo Unesco Heritage Monument ticket for Mosteiro de Alcobaça, Convento de Cristo and Mosteiro da Batalha (€7.50 for old geezers (proof of age for discount) and €15 for Tracy the Younger). We would visit the other Unesco sites over the course of the next couple of days.

We also learned that for €2, we could get a tour of the Manueline Sacristy and Reliquary Chapel at 3 p.m. Alcobaça was the last abbey founded during the lifetime of St. Bernard, and the first complete Gothic building in Portugal. It looks virtually the same as it did 800 - 900 years ago, although no one is around from that time to verify it.

First, we strolled through the large Gothic cloisters.

This fountain is where the monks would wash their hands.

The next stop was The Refectory, consisting of three naves and some cool columns.

The pulpit is where the monks would read scriptures during their meals.

If you have to have meals, you have to have a Kitchen, conveniently located adjacent to the Refectory. There’s a large chimney (about 55 feet tall) with tiles. Back in the day, the monks could cook a half dozen oxen at once in the humongous fireplace. According to what I read, “novelist William Beckford described it as the ‘most distinguished temple of gluttony in all Europe’ when he visited in 1794.” Now, that is food for thought.

The Chapter House is where the monks would congregate to chat about what was going on at the monastery. It also houses a number of Baroque statues.

You are never far from the the only cloister in the monastery, the King Dinis Cloister.

We entered the transept of the church where the tombs of King Pedro I and his mistress, the noblewoman Inés de Castro, are located facing one another. Although married, Pedro (the Crown Prince of Portugal) fell head over boots with one of his wife’s ladies in waiting, Inés, which not only displeased his wife but also his dad, King Alfonso IV. It ticked him off so much that King Alfonso had Inés decapitated in front of her own children.

Pedro did not like that one bit, and although revenge against his father would not have been a good idea for the monarchy (note to “Spare” Harry), when Alfonso kicked the bucket, Pedro had Inés disinterred and laid too rest in the monastery near where he would eventually be buried in 1367. He had said they were secretly married before she was killed, which I guess makes Inés the first posthumous queen of Portugal.

The tomb includes incredible detail, with scenes from the Last Judgment with angels holding her up.

Pedro’s tomb narrates the life of St. Bartholomew and his undying (sort of) love for Inés.

The tombs each include the inscription “Até ao fim do mundo” (“Until the end of the world”). Pedro also had a large dog on his tomb. There are a lot of sordid legends surrounding this entire affair, including Pedro having the hearts ripped out of the two guys who killed Inés. You might want to check these stories out for your own morbid entertainment.

Like the rest of the building, the church is enormous, with pillars seemingly reaching to the sky.

Nearby is a statue of the Mother of God, who the monks would serenade in the evening.

It was getting near to 3 p.m., but we ducked into the Royal Pantheon, added at the end of the 18th century, and which is “the earliest neo-Gothic building in Portugal to house to tombs of the Portuguese monarchy.”

The tomb on the left is Queen Urraca, who died in 1220. The relief of the queen is on top with the apostles sculpted on the side.

The final room we explored before the reliquary was the Sala dos Reis (King’s Room), featuring statues of virtually every king of Portugal.

Also noteworthy are the azulejo friezes, which tell tales of the monastery’s construction.

At one minute to three we arrived at the entrance to the Manueline Sacristy and Reliquary Chapel, the only portion of the monastery to survive the 1775 earthquake. Only one other couple joined us, so this would be a rather private tour, but we needed to get in first. Our affable guide asked Mary to do the honors and try as she might that darned key would just not open the door, much to chuckles from our guide and the peanut gallery. … None shall pass …

Lo and behold however, our guide also had difficulties with the stubborn door, but finally after a couple of minutes we entered.

A long rectangular room, the New Sacristy was just the prelim to a once in a lifetime sight.

I can’t remember the significance of this chest, but I did tell Tracy that I would never be able to find my socks in it.

We took a peek outside …

… passed a couple of sculptures …

… and found ourselves inside the Reliquary Chapel, dubbed “The Mirror of Heaven.” Wow! Unfortunately, our photos do not do this room justice.

Gilded carvings surrounded us, which was given light by the skylight in the domed ceiling.

There are six levels containing 89 reliquary sculptures held in niches.

Most of the reliquaries have just heads and torsos, with seven of the sculptures “full-figured,” highlighted by the Virgin Mary in the center. I think even an atheist would find this an incredible piece of workmanship.

Our guide took our photo, so now there were 11 full-figured bodies in the room.

It had been quite a day of sight-seeing, but it was now time to head a little less than an hour’s drive to Tomar, where we would spend a couple of nights. Our hotel, Thomar Boutique Hotel, was a great choice … terrific staff, comfortable (and quiet) room and a good breakfast. It had a rooftop where you could sip the libation of your choice, but unfortunately it was very hot and windy, so we passed.

Located just across the River Nabão, we checked out the views of Tomar before relaxing and getting ready for dinner.

We had 8 p.m. reservations at the highly recommended Restaurante Beira Rio, where we were served a wonderful meal by one of the hardest working restaurant staffs I’ve ever seen. One of our servers had previously worked at Quinta do Pego in the Douro Valley, so we picked his brain about the hotel since we would be staying there the following week.

I had a delicious sirloin steak with olio and garlic, served with smashed potatoes.

Mary went for the grilled lamb chops, while Kim had the Nero risotto, which does not include any fiddling. It is actually black rice with scallops and prawns.

Still full from her afternoon pizza, Tracy ordered mixed greens (the salads in Portugal are amazing!). Including wine, bread with olives and garlic butter, the entire bill came to €87. With the euro now hovering at 97 cents U.S., dining in Portugal was the bargain of the century. Glasses of wine that would cost a disgusting $16 and up in the U.S, could be purchased in Portugal for an average of about €5, and the pours were twice as large than those at home. It’s been hard to dine out after returning to the states.

Exhausted by our long day, we dropped into bed, knowing tomorrow we’d scope out what Tomar has to offer. It would start with an upward climb to see another UNESCO site, Convento de Cristo/Mosteiro de Cristo, which was at one time a 12th century Templar stronghold. We’d get there early, hopefully in time to beat the dreaded tour bus crowd. Then, after lunch, we would meander through the streets of Tomar, grab lunch and visit a museum that could not be said is “match”-less.

While the others napped, I would also check out a short section of the Tomar Heritage Trail. Another great dinner, which featured music fit for Queen, would end another busy and eventful day.

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Old Jan 19th, 2023, 04:58 PM
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Wow!!! The Alcobaca Monastery is quite amazing. It's so ornate. The story of Pedro and Ines is, indeed, extremely morbid. Those poor children!
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Old Jan 19th, 2023, 06:01 PM
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Alcobaça was one of our favorite sites in Portugal. Thanks for taking me back there. We learned a lot more about King Pedro and his Ines in Coimbra where we stayed in a Quinta rumored to be the site of their liaisons, Quinta de las Lagrimas.
We made a huge mistake of staying in Obidos to tour the surrounding area. A cutesy town that takes no more than two hours to see and packed with tourists! One of those places that exists for tourism.
The only good decision we made in regards to Obidos was staying in the Pousada, a castle! Great views and atmosphere. The bartender did not know how to make a martini so had a lesson from my better half.
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Old Jan 28th, 2023, 07:38 AM
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A day discovering a little bit of Tomar. We started out with a stroll through town, and then it was up the hill to Convento de Cristo, founded in the 12th century by the Grand Master of the Templars. After exploring the convent/castle, we stopped and smelled the flowers and trees at Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes (National Forest of the Seven Hills). After lunch, Tracy and I visited a unique museum (Museu dos Fósforos) that was “matched” by no other. I was on my own later in the day, when I popped into one of the sights along Tomar’s Heritage Trail, Igreja de Santa Maria do Olival, which is sometimes referred to as the "Pantheon of the Templar Masters." We finished off our day at the #1 rated restaurant in Tomar, and it did not disappoint. The only thing missing was Freddie Mercury. Story with photos link below ... without photos below photos ...


Chapter Eleven: Traversing Templar Tomar

Day Eleven: Hanging With The Templars, Barely Beating The Crowd, Window of Opportunity Shut, Traversing Tomar, Forest Tuckered, Weeping Water Wheel, The Match Game, Danger Of Death, Checking Out Tomar’s Heritage, My New Almost Girlfriend and Bohemian Rhapsody

Time to explore a little of historic Tomar. Near our hotel, we ventured across the bridge with three name. Old Bridge, Ponte Velha or Dom Manuel Bridge, which may or may not have been built over an old Roman Bridge, crosses the Rio Nabão. That was a lot of information to digest after only one cup of coffee. In any event, our destination was that big fortress on top of the hill in the distance, the Convento de Cristo.

Once again, the sky was that deeper shade of blue that almost looks fake.

Our goal along the way to the castle was to visit the late 15th-century Igreja de São João Baptista. We reached the Praça da República where the church commemorated by Henry The Navigator is located, and much to our disappointment the church was closed for renovation with scaffolding covering its exterior. Instead, we took a picture of the square with the statue of the founder of Tomar (Guildim Pais) standing tall in the center. Only a few of the Tomar pigeons greeted us.

Continuing our walk through town, we reached the hill that provided views over Tomar. All that walking in Lisbon and Sintra had paid off, as the walk up was of no difficulty.

Besides being a UNESCO World Heritage site, Convento de Cristo was also the second of the places we’d see on the World Heritage Route (Mosteiro de Alcobaça and Mosteiro da Batalha being the others). The combo ticket we had purchased the previous day at Alcobaça allowed us to enter. First we explored the New Sacristy, because although Convento de Cristo was founded in the 12th century by the Grand Master of the Templar, this was part of the 16th-century rebuild when the second church was consecrated.

We have no idea where this ceiling photo was taken, but it was either in or near the New Sacristy, although it seems more rustic. Oh well, nice shot.

Since we had gotten a late start on the morning, we barely beat the tour busses and in order to dodge the gathering hordes, we did not visit the Convento in the order we should have.

There were lots of cloisters, so I hope I don’t get them too confused. I think this one is the Cemetery Cloister where friar knights and others in the convent were buried. We were deftly attempting to stay one step ahead of the crowd, but they seemed to be gaining on us.

The Claustro de Lavagem (Wash Cloister) is the two-story cloister where the monks washed their clothes.

By now, I was completely enamored of those beautiful blue azuelos, and plenty could be found here on the second floor, including this colorful corridor. It was constructed at the time when Prince Henry the Navigator was Grand Master of the order in the 15th century.

From here we took a look at the entrance staircase.

We could also look out onto the castle ruins from what I believe were Prince Henry’s Quarters.

Near the Claustro de Lavagem is the Portocarreiros Chapel named after António Portocarreiro along with his wife and kids that was constructed in the 1620s. Can’t get enough of these tiles.

Now it was time to enter the Round Church (Tomar Charola or Rotunda). This stunning part of the convent dates all the way back to the 12th century when this was a Romanesque fortified oratory that was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

King Manuel commissioned the paintings, wooden statues and gold trimmings.

The 16-sided octagonal Charola is definitely the most photographic spot in the complex. It reminded me of the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain, and other Spanish buildings we saw when there that meshed Moorish-type architecture with Christian churches.

We kept taking pictures until we heard the sound of footsteps.

Fortunately, we were able to view the Charola and exit just a few minutes before the tour bus people started trampling visitors when they walked en masse inside.

Safe haven was found shortly afterward in the corridors of the Main Cloister.

In honor of Prince Henry, we carefully navigated the nearby dizzying circular staircase.

From above we looked out at The Main Cloister, considered “a masterpiece of the European Renaissance.” It was finished in 1562.

By now we were very excited, because we were nearing the “most famous and fantastical feature of the monastery,” the Janela Manuelina (Manueline Window). We had read that this architectural wonder is considered a “celebration of the Age of Discoveries.” When we reached the viewing area, alas, we found out it was undergoing “intervention and restoration” for the next year or so. Ah, the perils of traveling to ancient places.

Not done with our quest, and much less exciting than the “fantastical” window we missed, we did stop by The Refectory after a walk on some more azuelo-lined steps.

Another cloister (and corridor) …

… and we were inside the kitchen.

I forget the name of this area, but if you feel like it’s a little bit of a tight space, you might call it the Claustro da Phobia.

The Claustro da Hospedaria was where guests and pilgrims of St. James were housed. If you were considered someone of higher social status, you got to stay on the upper floor. Others would stay on the lower level near the horse stable. “Let them eat hay!”

Before heading out we checked out some headstones. The headstone on the right shows a plowman goading a team of oxen, which meant the yoke was on them.

On our way back to Tomar we scoped out more views and caught a glimpse of what looked like a small chapel.

After about a 2-minute walk we arrived at Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes (National Forest of the Seven Hills), a 96-acre national woodland. This was an area where the Order of the Christ grew crops. The bronze statue out front is of Dom Henrique, the Navigator, who was the third son of King João I. Along with many other things (not all good), he sponsored voyages of exploration and was instrumental in being a part of the Age of Exploration. He was widely known as the “patron of the Portuguese maritime discoveries and exploration.” On the negative side, he was also a “founder of the Atlantic enslaved people trade.”

We spent about 30 minutes meandering part of the park grounds.

It also gave Tracy a chance to get her requisite flower photo.

Something looks familiar behind those trees.

The heat had taken its toll, so we headed back across the “Bridge of Three Names” to find a place for lunch. As we crossed it, there stood a wooden water wheel near one of the entrances to the island of Mouchão Park.

I thought about shooting some hoops, but realized that would be difficult without a basketball.

Back across the bridge we trudged about looking for a restaurant.

We found a nice spot for lunch at Tasquinha da Mitas.

Walking through the charming streets of Tomar afterward, the ever present Convento de Cristo loomed large.

Our next stop held no interest for Kim and Mary, but I thought it could be a “match” made in heaven. The Museu dos Fósforos
(Matchbox Museum) located in the Convento de São Francisco has a collection of around 80,000 matchbooks (about 43,000 are on display, and no, we didn’t see them all). I don’t think any similar type museum could hold a candle to that.

It seems back in 1953 collector Aquiles da Mota Lima took a ship to London for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. On board, he met a woman who asked if he could pick up a matchbox souvenirs of the event for her along with some from other countries he visited. An obsession was born. (For some unknown reason, Tracy and I actually have the matchbook on the right.)

By the time he returned to Portugal, Mota Lima had dozens upon dozens of matchbooks, and by the time he was done, nobody could match his collection.

There are matches from nearly 130 countries in the collection that was donated by Mota Lima in 1980.

The matchbook collection is separated by three different time periods.

I dare to say this might be the only museum in the world that contains a matchbox of Bin Laden in it.

I, of course, found this museum much more interesting than Tracy, but we were both happy to be inside on another very hot day.

Even Glenn Miller trumpeted the virtues of this museum, but Tracy said she’d like to go, and even though I wanted to see more, I was no match for her.

As we returned to town, I decided to put the “Tom” in Tomar.

Manuel Mendes Godinho played a big part in the economic development of Tomar in the early 20th century, and was rewarded with this bust.

On our little afternoon stroll, I came upon some street art that I wanted to take a closer look at. Getting closer, I saw the words in the upper right hand corner that shockingly read “Perugo de Morte.” Not wanting to tempt the “Danger of Death,” we quickly moved on.

We crossed a different bridge on the way back that offered a glimpse back on what we called our “Home Bridge.” We figured why not give it a fourth name.

At this point it was a little after 3:30 p.m. and Kim and Mary, and now Tracy, decided it was time to relax. I also attempted to lay down for a bit, but after about 30 minutes, that was enough relaxing.

In the room there was a little pamphlet about Tomar’s Heritage Trail. I decided to at least check out Igreja de Santa Maria do Olival. Along the way I stopped into the cemetery located along the route

I never got the cemetery name, but I had to scurry over to the church in case it closed at 5 p.m. Igreja de Santa Maria do Olival was the church mother of mariners during the Age of Discoveries in the 1500s. It has a three-story bell tower standing adjacent to it.

It is better known for its association with omnipresent Knights Templar. The first Grand Master of the Templars and founder of Tomar, Gualdim Pais, as are many other Templars.

The church is sometimes referred to as the “Pantheon of the Templar Masses.”

Are those hamburger buns? “Give us our daily bread,” indeed.

Once again you can’t escape the beautiful tile work here.

Something else I couldn’t escape was getting back in time for wine on the rooftop before dinner. The construction work next door didn’t help the ambiance unfortunately. We each had a glass of wine, but once again the wind was whipping, plus it was time for dinner.

Sabores ao Rubro (Rua dos Moinhos 76 A) is #1 Tomar rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, so I thought we’d give it a shot (reservations highly recommended). It deserves its rating. Shortly after this photo was taken, not an empty seat remained.

After ordering, some “equipment” was put on the table. “Is someone having dental work before dinner?” I asked.

Actually those would be used for taking off Kim’s Shrimp Skewers on a Stick.

Although smitten with our server, after learning she was the owner’s daughter (this is a family run establishment) and the fact she was about 50 years younger than me, I was my usual gentlemanly self, especially since her dad was serving us the vinho.

By the way, my pepper steak smothered in a delectable sauce turned out tender and fantastic.

Tracy and Mary also enjoyed their Monkfish Rice and Seafood rice.

Not content with a steak the size of Wyoming, I also finished with a scrumptious cheesecake with fresh berries.

As we were dining, the family affair continued, a woman, who we believed was the cook sat down and started tickling the keys on the piano. After a very nice rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine, she continued with Bohemian Rhapsody. Mamma Mia, Mamma Mia, Figaro, she was really good. If only Freddie could have been here. All our food, including entertainment, dessert and wine cost a grand total of €60 per couple. Portugal was not only turning out to have some of the best food we have eaten on our many trips, but also the best prices.

That would be it for Tomar, as the next day we’d head to college, well at least the college town of Coimbra. It’s never a straight shot anywhere for us … along the way we’d stop to explore an incredible 17th century aqueduct that features 180 arches, then completed our World Heritage Trifecta at the huge Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória and visited a castle that once housed King Dinis in the 14th century.

Arriving in Coimbra, our driving skills and navigation were put to a tough test in our quest to find our elusively located quirky hotel. Did we eventually reach our hotel by automobile? Stay tuned.

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Old Jan 28th, 2023, 12:04 PM
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Still loving your TA! You may be the first Fodorite ever to visit the Tomar Matchbook Museum!
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Old Jan 28th, 2023, 03:09 PM
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"You may be the first Fodorite ever to visit the Tomar Matchbook Museum!"

Perhaps someday I'll be known as the "Vasco da Gama of Matches!"

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Old Jan 28th, 2023, 04:32 PM
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So enjoying your trip report. Love your sense of humor, stories, and beautiful pictures. This report makes me want to put decorative tiles all over my house, especially on the ceilings! Alas, my husband says no.
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Old Jan 29th, 2023, 06:56 PM
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I love your photos and report on Tomar. . THe Convento de Christo is amazing with all the tile work, gold, etc. Tomar looks like it’s very pretty. I enjoy the street scenes. I didn’t know anything about it until your report. And once again it looks like you had another delicious meal!
Surprisingly, the matchbook museum looks quite interesting!
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Old Feb 5th, 2023, 08:21 AM
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We really enjoyed Tomar, and now it was on to Coimbra. Our first stop was just outside Tomar at an aqueduct whose beginnings date back to the late 1500s. For the brave, there are sections of Aqueduto dos Pegões Altos to walk on (or for the unfortunate, off). It was then a short drive to Mosteiro da Batalha (Moistero Santa Maria da Vitória), where we paid our respects to the remains of Henry The Navigator and walked through this Gothic masterpiece. Then it was on to the Castelo de Leiria, where a funicular took us up for magnificent views. My Grand Prix turning skills were tested attempting to find our hotel in the college town of Coimbra. As I drove aimlessly, once again local citizens fled my oncoming path. We still had time to get a little taste of Coimbra, while later also tasting some of the best fruit we’ve had in quite some time. (story with photos links below ... no photos below photos)


Chapter Twelve: Tomar To Coimbra

Day Twelve: Arch Supports, Skipping “Our Lady,” Massive Magnificent Monastery, In Search Of Henry, Sky Ceiling, Stadium Parking, Fit For A King, Trash Talking, Rental Car Peril, A Quirky Fun Hotel, Cape Town and Singing The Night Away

Our short stay in Tomar had come to an end. Tomar was perfect for a two night stay and there was plenty to do. Despite the construction going on next door, we recommend the Thomar Boutique Hotel as a quality place to stay. Now, it was on to Coimbra.

It was just five minutes to our first destination of the day, Aqueduto dos Pegões Altos (aka O Aqueduto do Convento de Cristo).

Stretching for about six kilometers across the Ribeira dos Pegões Valley, the aqueduct was constructed to supply water to Convento di Cristo and Tomar. It did so until the middle of the 20th century

Construction began in 1593 under direction of Filippo Terzi, who had the cool moniker of “Chief Architect of the Kingdom.” Take that Frank Gehry.

There are a lot of good vantage points to take in this marvel that brought water to the convent from four springs. The aqueduct has 178 more arches than McDonald’s, 180 in all. The highest of them rises nearly 100 feet.

For the brave and those willing to risk death, there are sections of the aqueduct that you can walk on. In actuality, speaking from my ground level point of view, it’s not too bad, although only Tracy and Kim went up onto the aqueduct. This building is the entrance to the top of the aqueduct.

We spent about 20-30 minutes hanging around. It was a great way to start the day.

A half-hour later we reached the gorgeous Gothic (along with Manueline) style Mosteiro da Batalha (Moistero Santa Maria da Vitória), the final stop on our Heritage Trifecta Ticket. Don’t skip this mosterio, it is magnificent! Founded by King João I in 1386, although construction continued for another 200 years. The king made a vow to the Virgin Mary after Portugal’s victory in the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385 to build the mosteiro, and he followed through on his promise.

I learned that King João I was the founder of the House of Aviz (Avis) Dynasty, whose motto I believe was, “We try harder.”

It’s hard to find a place in Portugal without a statue or tribute to Henry The Navigator called a “brilliant light of medieval history.” Since 1461 his remains have been at Batalha in the Founder’s Chapel with several of his family members. This bust was created in 2010 to commemorate the 550th year since he died.

When we arrived at 10:30, the place was virtually empty. (I guess everyone was still in Sintra.)

In the square stands a statue of Nuo Álvarez Pereira, a strategist in winning the Battle of Aljubarrota. Je was also a brother at the Convento di Carmo in Lisbon and was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. He now goes by the name of Saint Nuno of Saint Mary.

On each side of the entrance to the Nave of the Church of Santa Maria da Vitória are the apostles.

Once inside, the first thought is, “This church is huge.” It’s more than 260 feet long and more than 100 feet tall. It is quite impressive as are the stained glass windows near the altar.

For more than 25 years the man who served as architect for the monastery was Mateo Fernandes. As a reward for his efforts, his tomb is located within the church.

Just off the nave is The Founder’s Chapel, which was built as a family pantheon in 1434 for King João I and the Avis Dynasty. The King and Queen Filipa de Lencastre’s magnificent tombs are located in the center of the chapel where they hold hands for eternity (we get a better view of another royal couple later).

There are, of course, tombs of other royals, but the one everyone gravitates to after the king and queen is the one of Henry The Navigator (on the right). I believe Prince João and his wife, Isabel, are the ones on the left.

We saw a lot of tombs on this trip.

Entering the Chapter House, and the first thing I spotted were two soldiers with weapons standing guard.

That’s because this room contains The Portuguese Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers of two unknown soldiers who were killed during World War I.

The stained glass window dates to 1508.

We stepped into The Royal Cloister also known as the Cloister of King João I.

The Basin served as a very important part of the monastery’s hydraulic system. This is also where washing of hands took place before dining (and this was pre-pre-Covid).

It is a beautiful space and even had a ceiling for Tracy to photograph.

Not every part of the monastery had a ceiling, however. We entered the Imperfect or Unfinished Chapels, which began construction in 1334 under King Duarte.

What they don’t have, is a roof in the center. When King Duarte died in 1347 followed by his architect David Huguet a year later, construction was ceased.

During King Manuel’s reign in the early 16th century, the seven funeral chapels were completed.

In the 1940s the twin tombs of King Duarte I and Queen Leonor de Aragão were relocated here, with the couple holding hands for the rest of time… I hope they liked each other.

One of the chapels holds the tomb of Prince João, the first-borne son of King Alfonso V. I just don’t know which tomb. By now I was suffering from tomb fatigue.

Finally, we checked out the Unfinished Chapels from the outside.

From Batalha, it was a short 15-minute drive to the Castelo de Leiria. Then, in a portent of things to come later in the day, we got completely turned around and drove the low roads and high roads of Leira in search of a parking place. After passing the futbol stadium across the street from the castle, we just decided to park there, not knowing if that was legal, and by this time, not caring.

Staring at the castle looming above us, and were happy that Tracy had (on one of our many passes of the castle) noticed there was a funicular nearby. Our legs shouted out in glee.

These happy tourists headed to the summit.

We entered the castle grounds through the Albacara Gateway and confirmed our car and luggage were still there. So far, so good.

This castle dates to the 12th century, which seemingly was the last time we ate. We knew at this juncture, this would be one of our shorter stops.

The site has actually been occupied for about 5,000 years. We took a look at the Torre dos Sinos (Bell’s Tower) …

… and started up the steps. I sometimes use Tracy’s shoulders as the rail, which is why she tends to list to one side sometimes.

Soon we found ourselves in the renovated interior of Santa Maria da Pena.

Through a little sleuthing, I believe this is a page from Livre de Chasse (Book of the Hunt) what has been called “the most famous book on hunting ever.” Written in the 1380s by Gaston Phoebus who was one of the “greatest hunters of his generation.” He died from a stroke “while washing his hands after a bear hunt.” Use that tidbit at your next cocktail party.

There were great views of Leiria and the surrounding countryside (we can never get enough arch photos) from up here, but hunger finally won out.

Our car was still in the stadium parking lot, and after checking that nobody had stolen our underwear, we drove into town, which was a lot easier than our first foray into Leiria. There is a popular Portuguese rhyme that says, “Leiria has a river that flows uphill, a tower that does not have a cathedral, a cathedral that does not have a tower, and a High Street that is not straight.” All we needed to find was the local restaurant the castle gatekeeper had recommended.

After walking through a couple of squares we found Restaurante Porto Artur. The inside was jammed, and there was only one table left on the patio, which is situated in an alley. This was the first place on the trip where we heard no English spoken. The gatekeeper had said this was definitely where the locals hang out. We could see why. The prices were incredibly inexpensive (lunch specials including soft drink for €8).

Ours was not that inexpensive, but the traditional Portuguese cuisine was very good, from the swordfish to the pork cutlets to my gigantic dish of pork with white beans and rice. It could have been shared by the four of us.

Across the alley was a building that had become a canvas for some colorful street art.

The only downside was our table was across from a number of garbage cans, so when I say this restaurant had a buzz, it’s not only because it was packed. Flies aside, however, Porto Artur was a great call.

From Leiria it was a little less than an hour to our next two-night stop.

Crossing the bridge into town, our mission was to find Hotel Solar Antigo Luxury Coimbra, which was located very near the university where we’d take a tour the following day. Getting to the hotel was an adventure. The higher we drove, the narrower the streets became, with hairpin turns being the order of the day. At one stop I glanced at my passengers’ faces, who were trying their hardest to conceal the terror that was evident with their looks.

I came perilously close to not making one incredibly sharp turn, and with cars following close behind me, I did not want to cause a jam. Thankfully, I made the turn, but somehow we had missed the hotel and were heading back down. We made a second drive-thru and once again somehow could not find the hotel. Back down below I pulled to the side of the street to regroup. Tracy pointed and said, “Look, there’s a parking garage. Why don’t we pull in there and Uber to the hotel?” Why not, indeed.

Our Uber driver must have been a retired Grand Prix driver, because before you could say Niki Lauda, we were in front of our hotel. We were greeted by our friendly hostess, and shown to our rooms, which were upstairs (steep … no elevator). The only rooms left when I had emailed earlier in the year were a Deluxe Apartment and a Deluxe Suite. Kim and Mary graciously took the extra flight of stairs to the Deluxe Suite.

It’s hard to describe our room. First of all, it was huge (more than 600 square feet). It had two bedrooms, and two showers that were cleverly hidden in the bedrooms. Oh, it also had a kitchen. This was bigger than the apartment I rented when I was a disc jockey decades ago. Quirky, but elegant in a strange way.

Kim and Mary’s bed in their room looked like something out of a Hallmark romance movie. The only thing missing was Hugh Hefner’s smoking jacket.

In the early evening, we walked down to town to check out a few things before dinner. We saw where we had made the wrong turn (twice) and enjoyed the views.

Below us at one point was the The Jardim da Manga (aka Claustro da Manga). King João III commissioned this building, one of the first Renaissance architectural buildings in Portugal, in 1528. The cloister with an Arabic architecture feel, is located behind Igreja de Santa Cruz.

In a few minutes we were down in the Praça 8 de Maio (May 8th Square). It was a little before 7 p.m. closing time when we ducked into Igreja de Santa Cruz.

It was a lovely church that included an 18th century Baroque pipe organ. Unbeknownst to us, there was so much more to this church that we missed, but fortunately we stopped in again the following day.

We walked around town scoping out some of the colorful buildings, and at about 7:25 we made our way to the highly recommended No Tacho, where we had 7:30 dinner reservations (and no, we did not line up by height).

The compact restaurant is super cute, and the food more than lived up to its advanced billing. We shared a fantastic charcuterie platter of Portuguese cheeses and meats, along with some of the most tasty fresh fruit I’ve had in a long time.

Mary loved her grilled octopus on a parsnip purée with asparagus and carrots.

Kim had a confit codfish with orange, bay leaf and coriander seeds, as well as smashed potatoes with onion purée and fennel.

My veal tail with vegetables was really good, as was Tracy’s large mixed salad with pineapple, red onion, cucumber and peppers. She likes to get her 5 A Day in one meal.

All this and a good wine by the glass selection (despite all the bottles lining the wall, they only serve by the glass) came to only €57 per couple. Great meal!

We walked off some of the calories only to pack on more with gelato we purchased near the square.

As we strolled along, we passed a number of students in black capes and hats. I thought there might be a Harry Potter convention in town, but Coimbra being a college town, these were students at the University of Coimbra. It is some type of freshman ritual.

Back at the hotel, we settled in for good night’s sleep, however at about 2 a.m. loud singing could be heard coming from all over town. I guess singing is also a tradition for students, however at this hour I surmised that alcohol could be involved. Somehow we managed to get back to sleep, and that’s good because tomorrow would be quite the busy one.

We had 10 a.m. reservations for a tour at the University of Coimbra which would include a visit to one of the most significant archival libraries in the world, a 16th century chapel, a historic Royal palace, the Cabinets of Curiosities and a chemical laboratory. Then we’d hit an art gallery located in a former Bishop’s Palace and a new cathedral.

After lunch we’d walk through Coimbra’s famed tower and revisit Igreja de Santa Cruz, which we found out much to our surprise is also a monastery along with the Pantheon for the first kings of Portugal. What’s a day without a tomb or two? Finally, we’d dine in a ceramics factory where we literally ate inside a chimney.

Chapter Thirteen: Combing Coimbra

Day Thirteen: Agile Breakfast Servers, That First Step Is A Doozy, What Tour?, Bookin’ It, Checking In With Michael, A Curious Room, Lab Rats, Not Manny Machado, Lunch At The Museum, The Giant Gin & Tonic, Tower of Power, Surprise Monastery, That’s Our Parking Lot, Dinner At Pottery Barn and Open The Flue
maitaitom is offline  
Old Feb 5th, 2023, 05:14 PM
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Wow!!! Your report and photos keep getting better and better! Coimbra looks beautiful! The Mosteiro da Batalha is amazing! And you had me in stitches with "Kim and Mary's bed looked like something out of a Hallmark romance movie. The only thing missing was Hugh Hefner's smoking jacket."

Your report really makes me want to return to Portugal! We only had time for Lisbon and Sintra on our first visit. But, wait, I want to return to Greece and Italy! I want to see Australia and New Zealand and Argentina and on and on! Hopefully I will live long enough to do all this!
KarenWoo is online now  
Old Feb 6th, 2023, 01:52 PM
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Thank you for this wonderful trip report!

Following with great interest, as we will be road-tripping in (France and) Portugal in September/October.

Right now - in planning our itinerary, I am figuring out whether to stay in Tomar and explore the surrounding area (including Coimbra) or to stay in Coimbra and explore the surrounding area (including Tomar). I know we could stay in both, as you have, but at this point in our trip, after having moved every two or three days for weeks, I think we will be ready to rent an apartment for about five days and sleep in the same place each night while driving around the countryside to nearby villages and cities during the day.

Tomar sounds more peaceful, but it almost seems that Coimbra deserves at least two days to see the University etc.

If you were choosing - which I know you didn't - what would you suggest?
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Old Feb 7th, 2023, 12:16 PM
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"If you were choosing - which I know you didn't - what would you suggest?"

I was about to give a conviluted answer, but happened to see your other post with much better answers than I could have given. Saved by the Mari-bel
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