|Subject: More on Circling Northern Portugal|
More on Circling Northern Portugal#May 2004
Hi, Ziners, friends, and colleagues,
On May 22, I posted on TheTravelzine, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TheTravelzine/ and to specific family, friends, and colleagues, a synopsis of our trip to Portugal from May 3-18, 2004.
Since then, my dreams (yes, I've dreamed about this trip) and my travel companions (wife and long-time friends) have suggested that I left a lot out. Well, the posting was pretty long as it was; but yes, there are other things those contemplating a similar trip might find useful to know. Herewith some of this stuff (if you're hitting this first, I'd suggest going to the original posting and reading that first, then this):
1. Lisbon for two nights (May 4-5), as noted on May 22, plus Castle of S. Jorge overlooking the city and the funicula up another hill to the Institute of Port (tasting and purchase);
2. On May 6, west an hour or so's drive to magical Sintra, the almost rain-forested mountain summer retreat of Portugal's elites for centuries, for one night at the Quinta das Sequoias (buried in, yes, Sequoia trees!), a country house with six guest rooms and breakfast, owned by an elegant lady with a decorator's taste and an impressive penchant for collectibles who advised us against eating at the reputedly nouvelle Lawrence's Hotel in favor of a restaurant in a small nearby village that was pretty good but made us feel we should have trusted our initial advice. Here we explored the fantastic Paco Real, the National Palace of Sintra, with its conical twin kitchen towers and a wonderful self-guided tour through three centuries of added-on rooms with all kinds of stories and decorations to marvel at. We'd go back the Quinta and stay longer in Sintra.
3. The next day north along the coast (Portuguese windmills with rolled furls) through the picturesque but overrun-with-vacation- condos fishing town of Ericiera (nice fish market); by-passing Fatima; by-passing Obidos and Batalha (the attractions of which we'd been advised to see); stopping at Conimbraga to see the "best Roman ruins in Iberia" (which we arrived at too late to explore, but not too late to see the fine little museum there and buy some souvenirs), ending up in Coimbra, the ancient university town (one night). We were in the dowager Hotel Astoria (May 7), with no garage and in small rooms and a restaurant Fodor's said was the best in the city but where I had the trip's worst meal. And, university students caroused in the streets under our windows till 6 am. (see earlier posting).
4. The next morning in Coimbra, exploring the city and the university on the heights (and talking at some length to some of those students, who had recovered faster than we would have). In the afternoon north through seaside Aviero and ending up at Oporto, which seems one vast though picturesque, construction zone for two nights (May 8-9). This was our best meal of the trip at the Bull and Bear (see May 22 posting).
5. May 9 was moderately rainy and we decided to explore north of Oporto by car, to Viana do Castelo, Barcelos, and Guimaraes, the furthest north first, then southeast closer to Oporto. These all had sights worth seeing and the day cleared, but the route and priority was a mistake. Do Guimaraes first and maybe only (unless you are on market day at Barcelos, "one of Portugal's great participatory experiences," sayeth Fodors, which we found generally reliable, the restaurant in Coimbre notwithstanding). Guimaraes is the birthplace of Portugal's first great king, has a perfect hilltop castle and at least three museums worthy of visits (we got there on Sunday, and late and saw only the outsides of all this). Our sense is that Guimaraes is worth a special trip.
6. May 10 we went to Graham's Port Cellars and on to Pinhao and Casa de Casal do Loivos (see May 22), staying there to May 13. This is very much worth your consideration.
7. May 14 was to Braganza (see May 22 posting) and its Pousada. Pousada's are state owned and run hotels, usually historic buildings transformed into nice (and expensive) hotels. Braganza has one of the few that are new construction (though 1960s vintage, we were told, but quite fine). It had easily the trip's most spectacular dining room and bedroom view of a perfectly preserved medieval castle and walled town. Excellent lunch and dinner at La Em restaurant, book-ending a visit to the very fine small Museo fo Abade de Bacal with local ancient and modern architecture and art.
8. May 15 was the trip by Foz Cao, the world's best primitive wall engraving site (see May 22 posting), to Castello Branco and the trip's second best meal in the small, quaint Praca Velha in that town's old section, bypassing a couple of castled and walled mountaintop towns along the way#but stopping at a small Roman bridge across a brook (there are things like this everywhere, it seemed).
9. Then Evora on May 16, reputedly Portugal's most beautiful walled and castled city, close enough to Lisbon to be a playground for that city's residents
10. And, finally, on May 17, back to Lisbon, for the dinner (my first charcoal-grilled octopus, which was terrific) with our zine compatriots described on May 22#and home the next day.
We do hope this additional information is helpful.
Baze Basil J. Whiting Brooklyn, NY