It wasn’t my first time in Portugal at all, but this time was really my favourite! Perhaps because of the breathtaking sunsets on Douro river, or the intricacy of the azulejos walls, or the lost tracks through the orange and magnolia trees, or because of the natas mornings or the Port wine nights. In all cases it was a beautiful adventure beyond any expectations.
We started off in Porto – a wonder on its own. Set on the cost of Douro river, the picturesque city has a true secluded Medieval look mixed up with a buzzing cosmopolitan vibe. Wandering through the little streets without particular direction is an attraction on its own. Make sure you don’t miss the sunsets at the other side of the river – just where all Port distilleries are. No further convincing needed, right!
If you find the blue tiles as admirable as I do, make sure you have a peek in São Bento Railway Station. From landscapes to historic sceneries the walls impress with their intricacy and size.
For the early birds, visit the Bolhão Market for some fresh fruits and veggies, olives or abundance of souvenirs. During the weekend keep an eye for small local markets popping up around the city with different crafts, local produce and often life music.
Food wise, cod fish, tomato rice and the Francesinha are the stars of the show here, however you can easily find all sorts of foods. Of course, for me natas were the ultimate must.
After a day, a night and a morning in Porto, we were already under its spell, wishing to come back soon again and spend more time exploring the sunny colourful streets.
Limited with time, we headed to our next stop – Óbidos. Now a very important note to make here is that there isn’t just one Óbidos in Portugal and oddly they are not too far away from each other. So when you enter Óbidos in your GPS and something very plausible pops south of Porto, double – check it’s the one you need! I believe it’s clear now that we didn’t… Luckily the Portuguese countryside is truly adorable and driving up and down the hills, winding through tiny white housed villages, hiding in between the orange and lemon trees was an enjoyable detour, worth losing an hour or two for.
After concluding that although adorable the lush green field with the fragrant acacia trees is clearly not the popular touristy Óbidos we hit the road again, opposite direction. An hour later we made it to the chocolate & cherry liqueur fortress! Yes, exactly! Intentionally or not, surely this place has picked up the right crafts! Of course setting aside the highly commercial touristy cherry liqueur served in chocolate cups, it is the architecture of this picturesque place that make it worth visiting. Behind the stone walls hide beautiful white houses with yellow and blue lined corners with no exceptions.
Different shops from arty galleries, to chocolate shops (of course), quirky bookshops and bakeries line up the tiny streets. It is an enjoyable walk but make sure you escape the tourist crowds on the side street to fully appreciate the charm of the place. Climb on top of the town walls for a top view of the terracotta roofs and if you fancy a bit of medieval adventure walk around the whole parameter of the walls.
We left Óbidos later than the usual visitors which gave us chance to enjoy a relaxed walk on the previously packed with people main street. We headed west towards the coast for our hotel for the night because how can be so close to the Atlantic coast and not say Hello to the Ocean!
Due to our detours during the day, we didn’t see much of Peniche during the night, but luckily the fish restaurants along the shore were buzzing and even for a no-fish-fan like me, the freshly grilled not-so-long-ago-still-swimming grilled fellow was absolutely delicious!
With an early start the next day we headed to our last stop before Lisbon – Sintra. Making sure we were heading towards the right Sintra we made it before the crowds and to reward ourselves for the fact, nice coffee and fresh natas were the treat. Adding the bright sunshine the morning was a true bliss.
In short, Sintra is a true fairy tale town. Spreading up and down the hills of Sintra mountain, this place impresses with beautiful pastel-coloured castles and lush natural parks. It deserves at least a full day visit to enjoy it fully and not worry about the occasional entrance queues here and there. As we were pretty much on a mission to make a week’s worth trip into just 3 days, we didn’t had the luxury to visit all castles, manors and straw through the tropical gardens but we saw enough to make us want to come back again soon.
Our castle of choice without doubt was the picturesque Palacio de Pena and the pictures below just speak for themselves! This almost surreal castle emerges from the lush greenery on the top of the hill looking down at Sintra from one side and the Atlantic ocean to the other.
Considered as one of Portugal’s wonders the site is also protected by UNESCO and it is easy to see why! The architecture is one of its kind – example of a 19th century Romanticism with Moorish influence they say, a castle I image myself in I add! Coral orange, sandy yellow and ocean blue colour its walls and bohemian towers, while wild orchids and proud birds-of-paradise line the alleys, matching the shades of the magnificent palace. A full day can be spent here and the outside and inside of the castle as well as the gardens and stables are worth seeing.
Along with Palacio de Pena, make the time to visit the National Palace, the Moorish castle and Sintra’s adorable historic centre. We added these on the to-do-list for our next visit.
As Sintra is very close to Lisbon, we found ourselves in the capital very quickly. We caught the last sun rays with a final glass of Portuguese wine on Praça do Comércio, heading for dinner in a tiny hidden restaurant afterwards. Having visited Lisbon in the past, we didn’t look for any attractions or anything special – just the perfect ending of this wonderful trip devoted to those sunshine yellows and azulejos blues.