Gérald and Jean Hasser

This is the second in a series of articles on a three week trip on land and sea.

Ahh, Portugal! We felt its charm wash over us as our TAP Air Portugal night flight from SFO flew over the Atlantic coast and the countless red tile roofs of Lisbon on the descent to its international airport.

Arrival and transit at the airport was effortless, our hand luggage on wheels barely slowing passport control – no COVID documents required – all the way to a parking lot to find our Uber car and English speaking driver.

In a few days we would connect to a small group tour with Overseas Adventure Travel, first on land in Portugal, then followed by most of our trip on land and sea, mainly in Spain.

However, we had our own plans before connecting with the group. The first three days included a visit to the magical hilltop village of Sintra, with its palaces and castles and views out to the Atlantic. This was followed by a visit to the beautiful city of Lisbon, barely scratching the surface of what it had to offer while being in awe of the incredibly beautiful and prolific tiling at every turn.

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The small inland town of Évora was also important to us and required an overnight stay to see well. With good directions for one of the many friendly Lisbon locals, we used the metro downtown, near Rossio Square, at Sete Rios bus station. From there we comfortably cruised in a nearly empty bus for about an hour and a half through the countryside, heading east through the Alentejo region to this small town founded by the Romans.

The Romans left their heritage with an aqueduct and with the temple of Diana, built at the highest point of the city; the dozen prominent Corinthian pillars of the ruin still show the imprint of the original. It is easily visible from all sides and sits on one side of a park popular with locals and visitors.

The temple is also very conveniently next to the elegant Pousada de Evora. A 20 minute walk with our bags uphill from Évora bus station and a stroll around parts of Old Town, a World Heritage Site, brought us to the Pousada. Like many pousadas, this is a beautifully restored and refurbished convent or monastery, with all its rooms and public spaces respectfully preserved in beautiful condition, with systems modernized as if by magic. The gods smiled at us at check-in as we were upgraded to one of two wonderful spacious suites at no additional cost, instead of a cozy old cell that a monk lived in centuries ago.

An exploratory walk in the strong early afternoon sun through narrow medieval cobbled lanes eventually led to a small lunch spot, allowing us to continue meandering through the old town, taking in occasional views of the surrounding agricultural area. We mailed several postcards from the local post office to friends and family, and they started arriving in the United States about six weeks later – true postal mail.

Under a sparkling blue sky, the next morning we visited the nearby Gothic cathedral, its altar clad in gold. We climbed up to its accessible roof for a view of the city and surrounding area, and then finally made our way back down to the bus station for a drive back to Lisbon.

The bus took a slightly different route back, crossing the wide Tagus River using the 11-mile-long Vasco da Gama Bridge, the longest in Europe when it was completed in 1998. After another trip in Easy metro to Rossio Square, we settled into the pretty, modern hotel Altis Avenida to join our group. Another lovely evening ended with a light snack and wine at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant overlooking the city lights.

The next morning started with the introductions and familiarization with the group, consisting mostly of couples from all over America, fully vaccinated and tested and happy to travel again. Our tour leader, Clarisa, was joined by a local guide for a morning tour, combining walking and horseback riding, first in the lower part of the old quarter of Alfama with its narrow, cobbled lanes that lead up from the edge of the river. river.

From there, we continued to the riverside district of Belém. One of the main sites is the Torre de Belém, elegantly built in the early 1500s in the narrowest part of the Tagus River to guard the entrance to the port of Lisbon, with elaborate stones depicting images of sailors in ropes, d anchors, flora and fauna.

Nearby is another main site, the Monument to the Discoveries. Completed in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, it is roughly shaped like a caravel, the distinctive Portuguese sailing ship used to explore the world and bring back vast riches during the Age of Discovery. spanning nearly 300 years. The monument faces the sea and is covered with statues of prominent explorers and nobles of the time.

The afternoon included a ride to the ancient outdoor Santa Justa elevator. Built as a free-standing metal tower, it began operating in 1902, its two paneled and elegant cabins majestically transporting passengers across seven floors from the lower town center to the upper district of Baixa, with an observation deck overlooking that town. of views.

We then explored the Bairro Alto district, reaching it from downtown Rossio Square via the short funicular ride up the ancient Elevador da Gloria. These elevators and funiculars, as well as the many small yellow carriages, were built at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries to provide easier connections between the many hilly districts of Lisbon; and are still heavily relied on by locals and visitors.

All over Lisbon and the rest of Portugal, the eye cannot help but be drawn to admiring the endless variety of shapes and designs of the magnificent glazed azulejo tiles. Entire interior and exterior walls, building facades, monuments and furnishings delight the eye wherever you turn. Their origins date back to the Moorish period in the 13th century, and their development and use has flourished over the centuries since.

The next morning we sailed the Tagus River on the Golden Gate-like April 25th Bridge as a Portuguese Navy submarine slid under the bridge. A big difference in the bridges is that the one in Lisbon includes a railway bridge under the road bridge. Our destination was the village of Azeito, for a lesson in the art of traditional tile making by an expert in her small factory, followed by a personal painting of a tile following an outline. These tiles would be baked and then brought to us at the end of the tour in Barcelona.

On our way to Lisbon in the afternoon, we stopped at the giant Christ the King monument on a cliff overlooking the river towards Lisbon for epic views. The monument was inaugurated in 1959 and was inspired by the old monument of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro from 1934. We gazed at the April 25 bridge; its unmistakable and constant buzz.

The next morning started our last day in Portugal, heading south by bus to the Algarve region. The smooth road continued through agricultural areas of oaks, cork oaks, herds of cattle, vineyards and gently rolling orchards, leading us to the small modern wine estate of Quinta dos Vales. A brief tour of the winery was followed by a tasting of several excellent wines produced from the estate’s own grapes while enjoying light snacks and the cool breezes of a beautiful azure day.

The bus then passed through sprawling condominium and golf resort complexes in Vilamoura on the southern Algarve coast, stopping at a marina for a lunch at the quayside restaurant in this area favored by the British and Europeans of the North. Back on the road after lunch, we continued to the nightlife destination of Seville in Spain.

Next – Seville and Cordoba