A Travellerspoint blog

Portugal

South Portugal 2018

Route: Lisbon – Vila Nova de Milfontes – Lagos – Mertola – Sintra – Setubal - Lisbon

semi-overcast 18 °C

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2018

After a trip to France to catch up with family, and a few organising days in England, we find ourselves in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.

Boat Cruise on the River Saone in Lyon

Boat Cruise on the River Saone in Lyon

Chartreuse Mountains

Chartreuse Mountains

Canut Wall, Trompe l'oeil, Croix Rousse, Lyon

Canut Wall, Trompe l'oeil, Croix Rousse, Lyon

Pont En Royan, Chartreuse Village

Pont En Royan, Chartreuse Village

A morning flight from London Gatwick got us into Lisbon just after mid-day. From the airport we picked up a hire car and headed south, along a fairly empty AutoRoute, before turning towards the coast and our first destination of Vila Nova de Milfontes.

Vila Nova de Milfontes is an attractive small historic fishing village on the Atlantic coast. During the summer high season it is a favourite destination for the Portuguese, who flock to its sandy beaches. However, this time of year it is very much quieter, and apart a handful of tourist we had it to ourselves.
The first of our two-days stay here was spent exploring the village. We started with the Farmers Market, to buy the ingredients for dinner, and then proceeded to explore the cobbled streets that stretch down to the harbour.

Street view at Vila Nova de Milfontes

Street view at Vila Nova de Milfontes

Market a Vila Nova de Milfontes

Market a Vila Nova de Milfontes

Day two was a bit more energetic, as we decided to tackle the Rota Vicentina. Rota Vicentina is a network of interconnecting hiking trails in the south west of Portugal, but at 450km in length we couldn’t walk it in the day that we had allocated. Instead, we choose an 8km circular route, which used part of the famous Fishermen’s Trail. The hike started and finished in the small coastal town of Almograve and first took us along a Pine and Acacia lined track bordered by farmland. The route then turned towards the coast and up onto the Almograve dunes. An atmospheric sea mist and a cool breeze met our arrival at the coast; both were welcomed after the sticky heat inland. However, what was less welcomed was the soft sand of the dunes, which engulfed half a boot with every step and made progress a lot slower. Two and half-hours later we arrived back at the car, knackered but proud of our achievement, and both agreeing that the scenery was worth the pain.

Part of the Rota Vicentina

Part of the Rota Vicentina

Walk on the Rota Vicentina

Walk on the Rota Vicentina

From Vila Nova de Milfontes we travelled south and into the Algarve. Our location for the next three nights was a small village on the outskirts of Lagos. Here we had rented a one-bedroom house with views across the organic farm that it was situated on to the hills in the distance. It was nice to be in the countryside and very different to our town location in Vila Nova de Milfontes.
We didn’t travel directly to Lagos however; our route took a detour via Cape St Vincent. Cape St Vincent is the most south-westerly point in mainland Europe and is renowned for its wild and windy coastline and its lighthouse. True to its reputation, it was blowing a gale when we arrived which only seemed to make the sea and cliffs even more dramatic. Perched on the very tip of land, looking out into the Atlantic was the lighthouse, the most powerful in Europe, with a beam that extends 60km out to sea.

Cape St Vincent the most south-western point in Europe

Cape St Vincent the most south-western point in Europe

Chapel hanging at Cape St Vincent

Chapel hanging at Cape St Vincent

Most powerful light house in Europe

Most powerful light house in Europe

For our first day in Lagos area we took a trip into the Serra de Monchique, a small mountain range about 40km inland from the coast. Here, small villages hung to the hillside overlooking cork valleys and access roads narrowed into single tracks. The scenery was stunning and worth the adventure.

Serra de Monchique in the South of the Algarve region

Serra de Monchique in the South of the Algarve region

Farms in Serra de Monchique

Farms in Serra de Monchique

The following day was a bit different as we visited the historical town of Silves. Located in a valley and next to the river Arade the town is dominated by its ancient castle, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the settlement below. Silves had been an important trading town since Roman times, which continued through the Moors occupation. However, overtime the river became less navigable and the town’s importance faded. We spent an interesting few hours exploring the cobbled streets and castle, where many ancient relics are still visible.

On the Moorish Castle in Silves, view over the countryside

On the Moorish Castle in Silves, view over the countryside

Church Window in Silves

Church Window in Silves

Altar in the Church of Silves

Altar in the Church of Silves

Pink tiles building in Silves

Pink tiles building in Silves

Our time in the Algarve had now come to an end, and our journey now took us northeast, almost to the Spanish border, to the town of Mertola.
Mertola is a small historical town situated on a peninsular at the confluence of two rivers. Its elevated position overlooking the rivers has made it a key stronghold for over 1500 years and was an important settlement for the North African Moors before it was wrestled away from them in the 13th century by the knight of Santiago on behalf of Portugal. The castle sits at the highest point in the town and provides the history we know today, it also allows great views over the surrounding countryside.
In fact a visit to the castle, and neighbouring church, was all that we could manage on our first day, as heavy rain prevented any other activities.

Moorish Castle of Mertola

Moorish Castle of Mertola

Mertola street

Mertola street

View over Mertola from the Moorish Castle

View over Mertola from the Moorish Castle

Fortunately the weather on our second day was much better, and we were able to get out and explore the Park Natural de Vale de Guadiana, which was the main focus of our visit. By luck we picked a beautiful hike. Starting from a small remote village we headed out into the countryside, and were soon on our own. It was so tranquil; the only sound came from the breeze and the bird song, and me puffing on some of steeper hills of course. Our route undulated along tracks marked with animal footprints, before arriving at a steep cliff where the Guadiana River flowed beneath us. Although steep, there was a safe access down the cliff, which we took to get a better view of the river, the valley and the ruins of an old watermill that hadn’t been used for many years. After a spot of lunch we retraced our step back to the car, and agreed it was yet another beautiful spot in southern Portugal.

Hiking in the Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana

Hiking in the Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana

the River Guadiana

the River Guadiana

It was now time to move on once again, this time northwest up to and beyond Lisbon; our destination was the town on Sintra. Sintra is the number one attraction outside of Lisbon, and the crowds that we encountered on our arrival bore witness to this. Now joined by our good friend Rob, we were based right in the heart of historic old town with good access to all the attractions, if not easy parking. The fog that shrouded the town didn’t lift until mid-way through the following day, but while it was present it provided a unique atmosphere that hard to describe.
With so much to see in the town and surrounding area we planned our first day the night before. So bright and early, well 9:30 anyway, we grabbed a taxi and headed up the hill the Palace of Pena. We had heard that the Palace was crazy busy, so getting there early was a must. Even then there was a long queue to get in, and we had bought our tickets in advance. However, once inside the grounds the crowds eased and the enjoyment levels increased. Built in the 19th Century, on top of a ruined monastery, Pena is an amazing place. The architecture is so over the top, you are enthralled from your first sighting, for us, as the building appeared through the trees and mist. The inside is not so wacky, but still quite incredible and very interesting.

Pena Palace

Pena Palace

Pena Palace without the mist

Pena Palace without the mist

Pena Palace, inside is as original as the outside. This is a detail of ceiling and wall which is made of stone but decorated to look like wood

Pena Palace, inside is as original as the outside. This is a detail of ceiling and wall which is made of stone but decorated to look like wood

From Pena, we walked back down through the grounds before climbing back up again to visit the Moorish castle situated on the opposite hill. The castle dates back to the Moors occupation of the region in the 9th century. Although now mostly ruins, the walls and some towers still remain, and provide great views of the surrounding countryside. From the castle we were able to walk back down into Sintra, and to our apartment to rest our legs.

Moorish Castle and Pena Palace

Moorish Castle and Pena Palace

Morrish Castle

Morrish Castle

Moorish Castle

Moorish Castle

The weather on our second day in Sintra was a mixed bag, a warm and bright morning and heavy rain in the afternoon. Fortunately the local weather forecast had warned us of this so we did our outdoor activities in the morning and indoors in the afternoon.
We spent the morning in the incredible gardens of Quinta da Regaleira. Built by a Portuguese millionaire in the early twentieth century, this is another crazy place with over to top buildings, ramparts, towers, lakes, tunnels and so much more to explore. We spent two hours there, recapturing our childhood. Walking along the ramparts, climbing the towers and descending a spiral staircase down into a well then following a labyrinth of tunnels to find our way out, to name but a few of the activities. Great fun, and an absolute must for any visit to Sintra.

Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira

Details of a window at Quinta de Regaleira

Details of a window at Quinta de Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira, a magic place

Quinta da Regaleira, a magic place

The initiation well, Quinta de Regaleira

The initiation well, Quinta de Regaleira

By early afternoon the weather had changed for the worse, so we were glad that we only had a short walk to get to the National Palace of Sintra. An imposing building from the outside with its two massive conical chimneys, and an interesting place on the inside, with its tiled walls and painted ceilings. And with the bonus of staying dry.

Sintra Palace views from above

Sintra Palace views from above

Our final day in Sintra was a mixed bag as far as the weather was concerned, but as we were taking the car to explore outside the town, it didn’t matter so much. First stop was the sea cliffs and lighthouse at Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point on mainland Europe. Having driven through heavy rain, it was a relief to see the sun for our arrival, making the cliff walk much more enjoyable.

Light House of Cabo de Roca, the most western point in Europe

Light House of Cabo de Roca, the most western point in Europe

Next stop was the Convent of Capuchos, but not before a stop a viewpoint. Almost got rained on here, but for a concrete lean-to close on hand. By the time we arrived at the convent the weather had improved again, which was good as much of the interest was outside. The convent was last occupied in the 19th century, and now stands as a historic monument. What makes this convent special is its use of cork and its tiny doors that lead into tiny cells (or bedrooms as the monks called them. Cork had been used on the ceiling, doors, furniture and even the crosses were made of cork, put insulation part decoration. As for the tiny doors, most standing no higher than four foot (1.2m), that’s a mystery.

Chapel at Conventos dos Capuchos

Chapel at Conventos dos Capuchos

Conventos dos Capuchos, aka Cork monastery , a Franciscan monastery built in 1560

Conventos dos Capuchos, aka Cork monastery , a Franciscan monastery built in 1560

It was now time to move on again, to the town of Setubal, 50km south of Lisbon. But before that we called into the statue of “Christ the King”, for view over Lisbon across the River Tejo. The statue is 110m high and from the viewing platform you can see for miles.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

View over Lisbon from the Christ the Redeemer

View over Lisbon from the Christ the Redeemer

Setubal sits on the edge of Parque Natural de Arrabida, and that was our focus for our full day in the area. In the morning we took a scenic drive through the park, stopping off on a number of occasions to admire the view. And in the afternoon we visited the Sado estuary, renowned for its birdlife, but as it was high tide when we arrived there wasn’t much to see, nice place though.

Setubal, bird sanctuary

Setubal, bird sanctuary

Setubal Coastal Drive

Setubal Coastal Drive

So that just left the last stop on our tour, Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. We dropped the car off before venturing into the city, as we planned to use public transport for the next four days.
Lisbon had plenty of sights to keep us busy during the four days, and with our public transport pass, getting to them was easy and convenient. With variable weather forecast, we planned our indoor and outdoor visits accordingly. Therefore, on Friday, with the sun shining, we took the tram out to Belam to visit the Jeronimos Monastery and Belam Tower. The monastery was built in the 15th century with incredible ornate brickwork. It was funded by the state and served as a holy sanctuary for the royals and other important people of the time. However, its main purpose was to provide spiritual guidance for the Portuguese seafarers of the time. In fact Vasco da Gama is buried in the church.

Jeronimo Monastery

Jeronimo Monastery

Courtyard of Jeronimo Monastery

Courtyard of Jeronimo Monastery

Jeronimo Monastery, the dining hall

Jeronimo Monastery, the dining hall

The tower was built in the 16th century as part of Lisbon’s defences. Like the monastery it is very ornate, unlike your usual defensive structure. It sits on a small sand island in Tajo River just off shore and forms a stark contrast to the other structures around it, especially the modern monument dedicated to Portuguese seafaring a bit further down the coast.

The Tower near Jeronimo Monastery

The Tower near Jeronimo Monastery

Padres dos Descobrimentos Monument, dramatic work of art in stone that commemorates Portugal most famous explorers

Padres dos Descobrimentos Monument, dramatic work of art in stone that commemorates Portugal most famous explorers

Our journey back from Belam turned into a self-guided city tour, and allowed us to ride on the city’s vintage trams and funicular. The day was finished with a visit to the Miradouro Santa Justa, for a view over the Lisbon rooftops.

Miradouro Santo Justa

Miradouro Santo Justa

Steps instead of Tram

Steps instead of Tram

Lisbon View

Lisbon View

With rain on and off all day Saturday, our target activity was the Carris Museum, which tells the history of the city’s public transport. Unfortunately it was closed, so we sampled various types the city’s transport system instead. Modern trams, vintage trams and a funicular railway. Finishing off the day we a very tasty late lunch then watching rugby in a local pub.

Some vintage Tram

Some vintage Tram

Tram in Lisbon

Tram in Lisbon

In Lisbon its all up and down and thanks for the tram/feniculaire

In Lisbon its all up and down and thanks for the tram/feniculaire


If Saturdays rain disrupted our activities, the rain on Sunday was so heavy it could have washed them away. However, the weather forecast had warned us in advance, so we had a day of museums planned. Two in fact, the Gulbenkian original and the Gulbenkian modern, with a coffee break between the two. Both were equally interesting, but very different. The original had a bit of everything and mapped Portugal’s history from pre-roman times up to the modern day. On the other hand, the modern was very modern, with some exhibits challenging the viewer perception of art. Sunday was finished off with another very nice meal in a local restaurant.

Voices keep saying YES from this sculpture at the Modern Art Museum

Voices keep saying YES from this sculpture at the Modern Art Museum

A coffin for a dog? tempting all these bones at the Modern Art Museum

A coffin for a dog? tempting all these bones at the Modern Art Museum

Monday, our last day, had much better weather, warm, sunny and clear blue skies. This was good, as we had planned to explore the extensive grounds of Lisbon castle and its nearby Cathedral. The castle sits on a hill overlooking modern day Lisbon, with views that stretch for miles. The castle is steeped in history and the site has been occupied since the Iron Age. The Moors did most of the construction, about 1000 years ago, and then reshaped, repaired and restored over the following centuries. It still has solid and extensive walls, along with numerous towers, all of which we were able to climb on and take in all the different views these vantage points offered us.

View of the Moorish Castle

View of the Moorish Castle

View of Lisbon

View of Lisbon

Several hours at the castle were followed by a brief visit to the cathedral, then a late lunch and off to the airport for flight back to the UK.


Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Portugal
Portugal is a southern European country on the Iberian Peninsula, bordering Spain. Its location on the Atlantic Ocean has influenced many aspects of its culture: salt cod and grilled sardines are national dishes, the Algarve's beaches are a major tourist destination and much of the nation’s architecture dates to the 1500s–1800s, when Portugal had a powerful maritime empire.
It has an area of 92,212 km2 and a population of 10.3million (40% of which live in its capital city Lisbon and second biggest city Porto).

they are shops who sells only sardines, very colourful tins

they are shops who sells only sardines, very colourful tins

Some Portugal specialities

Some Portugal specialities

Lisbon Modern Museum Art piece

Lisbon Modern Museum Art piece

Cork
Portugal, and particularly in the south, is the world largest producer of cork. Cork is harvested from the Quercus suber, otherwise known as the Cork Oak Tree, and is extracted from its bark. If managed correctly and carefully this is a sustainable production process, as a mature tree can regrow its bark provided no damaged is sustained during the removal.
The cork will not be harvested from the tree until it is 25 years old, then further cuts can be made every 10 years. This process allows the bark to grow to a thickness of a least 3cm, thick enough for it’s most common use, that of a wine stopper (although it does have many other uses as well). The average harvesting life of a Cork Oak is 150 years but the oldest have reached 250 years and produced the equivalent of 100,000 bottle stoppers.
On most days during our drive around southern Portugal we would come across signs of cork production, either trees with bark removed or large rolls of cork oak bark sitting in the factory yard waiting to be processed.

Cork bark has to be at least 3cm deep before being harvested, the size of a bottle cork

Cork bark has to be at least 3cm deep before being harvested, the size of a bottle cork

Cork-Oak in the Cork Valley in the Monchique Mountains

Cork-Oak in the Cork Valley in the Monchique Mountains

Cork-oak that has been harvested this summer

Cork-oak that has been harvested this summer


Lorry full of cork bark

Lorry full of cork bark

Day of the Dead
The “Day of the Dead” is the 1st November, known in Mexico as “Dia dos Mortos” (literal translation) and in Portugal as “Dia de Finados”. It is an important day in countries with a predominately catholic faith, who also knows it as “All Saints Day” and will pray to those saints in paradise (Heaven). In Portugal this was a public holiday until in 2013, when the government withdrew its status (for saving public money). This caused outcry, so much so that from 2018 (this year) it has been reinstated.
The 2nd November is “All Souls Day” when people pay respects to their love ones that have passed away, with pray and the decorating of their tombs. However, as the 2nd is not a public holiday, this is often done on the 1st instead.

Posted by MAd4travel 04:52 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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