Enjoy the magical landscapes of glorious beaches rimmed with golden cliffs, Moorish fortresses, fairytale walled towns, enchanting old fishing villages, baroque palaces and fantastical Manueline architecture. Attend a live fado music performance, tour a Portuguese porcelain factory exhibiting the Moorish patterns, visit the Douro Valley flowing with port wine, and indulge in amazing Portuguese cuisine.
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Portugal's Silver Coast: The Perfect Women-Only Tour
"The food and lodging were just unbelievable," says Jackee Swartz of Pennsylvania, who took the Silver Coast tour. "At Obidos we stayed at the queen's castle. It just had enough rooms for the people on the tour, so we occcupied the entire castle." During each ten-day tour, S&S travelers stay at only two hotels, eliminating the need to pack and unpack. Barnes says staying in a town for four or five days makes visitors feel more familiar with the community. "It feels good when the owner of a small grocery store recognizes you and smiles at you," she says. The castle at Obidos has ten rooms, with balconies or terraces (one is a tower) overlooking the red roofs and white walls of the town."
Imagine this... Soft sandy beaches rimmed by dramatic, burnished-gold cliffs, a touch of breeze on your skin, an icy drink in your hand... The palm trees behind you rustle and coral-colored hibiscus flowers and purple wisteria wrap around centuries old stone walls. You spent the morning in the medieval castle, learning to cook the perfect paella, before an afternoon on the beach watching the rainbow colored boats come and go. Soon it will be time to meet your friends at an intimate, gourmet restaurant before heading out to the fado music performance at a funky bar. Where are you? This is Portugal. Beautiful, blissfully undiscovered destination which offers glorious beaches, fantastic Manueline architecture, mysteries hidden in the pages of its history, superb seafood and amazing wines, elegantly painted ceramic tiles, Moors' castles, convents and monasteries, bewitching grandeur of baroque palaces, fairytale walled towns, warm locals and sunny days with blue skies. When you add the company of sophisticated, like-minded travelers, luxury accommodations and enthusiastic, knowledgeable guides, you get another perfect Sights and Soul Travels tour.
The Silver Coast
The ocean has always had a powerful hold on Portugal. The Portuguese spent a long time looking out to the sea, which inspired their voyages during the Age of Discoveries and the accomplishments of Vasco de Gama and Magellan. Stretching along the Atlantic, the Silver Coast of Portugal is the westernmost coast of continental Europe. Stunningly beautiful and sunny, it is also fantastically diverse: from craggy streaked rocks meeting long beaches, lagoons and serene sandy islands to sophisticated resorts, romantic hideaways, wooded hillsides sliding to the ocean and frozen in time, whitewashed villages nodding over the great blue expanse of the Atlantic. Portuguese beaches bring joy to beach walkers, surfers, sun- worshippers, romantics, nature lovers and everyone in between. Today, this seafaring culture still dominates the country's history, cuisine, economy and leisure time.
Santa Maria de Belém is a parish of Lisbon, Portugal, located 6km west of the present city center and 2km west of the 25th of April Bridge. Its name is derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem. Belém is famous as the place from which the great Portuguese explorers set off on their voyages of discovery. In particular, it is the place from which Vasco da Gama departed for India in 1497. It is also a former royal residence and features the Paço de Ajuda, a palace begun in 1802 but never completed. Belém Tower, or Torre de Belém, is a 5-stories fortified lighthouse.
Cascais started as a small fishing village which attracted writers and artists to its little cottages. In the 1870s, the Portuguese royalty started visiting Cascais for their summer recess and soon the nobility followed. These visitors built Cascais' pastel colored-buildings, maintained their manicured gardens and villas, but todat, even with those stately mansions the place does not feel exclusive. In summer this fashionable suburb of Lisbon becomes the magnet for the trendy Lisboetas, for the large groups of golfers and for convertibles.
Fatima (Fátima) is Portugal's answer to Lourdes and it is an important destination for pilgrimages. Over four million pilgrims visit Fatima every year to see the spot where, on May 13 1917, three of the village's children saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. The three shepherd children, Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta, then saw five further visions on the 13th of every month and an increasingly large number of people came with them. Only the children could see the visions, and only Lúcia heard the message to return every month, so the miracle was understandably greeted with muted enthusiasm at first.
Thanks to its unique light, Lisbon is called "the white city". During the Era of Discoveries, the city's Golden Age in the 15th and 16th centuries, the city gained the reputation as the eighth wonder of the world. Travelers returning from Lisbon talked of its riches rivaling those of Venice. Today, Lisbon is as romantic as Paris, as fun as Madrid and as relaxed as Rome, but it is small compared to other European cities, and its size and ease encourages exploration and personal discovery. The city has a beauty that extends beyond the famed monuments and castles.
The inhabitants of Portugal's most famous fishing village live in a unique, tradition-bound world. Many residents have never left their village, except perhaps to make the pilgrimage to nearby Fátima. The people remain insular, even as their village blossoms into a big summer resort with Portugal's most dramatic beach. The big attractions in Nazaré are the people and their fabled boats. The villagers' clothes are patchwork quilts of sun-faded colors. The rugged men don rough woolen shirts and trousers, patched in kaleidoscopic rainbow hues resembling tartan, as well as long woolen stocking caps, in the dangling ends of which they keep their prized possessions - a favorite pipe or a crucifix.
The town of Obidos looks like a medieval movie set. The high fortified walls encircle narrow lanes of gleaming white houses, decorated with zig-zag blue and yellow patterns. The town overflows with lilac, bougenvilla, camellias and citrus trees and the golden towers and ramparts overlook the rolling hills dotted with stone windmills and valleys full of vineyards. The Moors' Castle of Obidos, with its carefully preserved many towers, battlements and big gates has been converted into a palace in the 16th century and is now a luxurious inn and restaurant.
The coastal city of Porto’s worldwide fame comes from port wine, and it is almost synonymous with this aromatic fortified wine. But there is more… With a burly beauty all its own, Portugal’s second city, built on granite bluffs above the Duoro River, is a tangle of narrow cobbled streets winding steeply down, past merchants’ houses decorated with azulejos tiles and wrought iron balconies filled with potted flowers and romantic cafes to a medieval waterfront. Dramatically straddling the Duoro River are six stately bridges, connecting the Ribeira District with Vila Nova de Gaia...
Sintra and its Serra, more than extremely beautiful, are truly unique. It is upon this singularity that Sintra has been internationally acclaimed by poets, artists and thinkers. Its difference lies in the exceptional link between Nature and its ancient monuments, in addition to the pioneering architectural dreams it inspired in the Romantic period. Portugal has no other location similar to Sintra. It would be a difficult to find a parallel either in Europe, or anywhere else in the world. Sintra's Pena Palace and Monserrate had a major effect on the development of European Romantic architecture in the 19th century.
Nothing else defines the spirit of the Portuguese as the enigmatic fado. Fado, meaning "fate", is a style of Portuguese music which emerged in the 18th century in Lisbon's working-class district of Alfama. Fado songs reflect Portugal's bittersweet relationship with the sea. They talk about sadness, hope and longing and are often interpreted as the Portuguese expression of saudade - the passive, listless desire for something out of reach. These melancholic chants, performed as a set of three songs, each lasting exactly three minutes, have their roots in troubadour songs and in slave songs, and are performed by a female singer accompanied by a Portuguese guitar.
The Golden Age
The Portuguese discoveries brought a Golden Age to Lisbon. The explorers, from Prince Henry the Navigator to Vasco da Gama and others, brought spices: ginger, pepper, cumin, as well as porcelain, silk, rubies and pearls from Asia. More exotic goods: colored woods, diamonds, gold and coffee were coming from Brazil and Africa. These riches allowed for building the intricate Manueline style monuments like Belem Tower or the Jeronimos. The style combines the High Gothic design and Moorish elements with elaborate carvings inspired by the sea: ropes, knots, coral branches, shells but also exotic vegetables: corn, tomatoes, artichokes, found in the New World.
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, commonly known as the Knights Templar or the Order of the Temple, were among the most famous of the Western Christian military orders. Founded in the aftermath of the First Crusade of 1096, the Order's original purpose was to ensure the safety of the many Christians who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem after its conquest. Officially endorsed by the Catholic Church around 1129, the Order became a favored charity throughout Christendom and grew rapidly in membership and power.
From the moment you land at the Lisbon airport, you are surrounded by Portugal's favorite decorative art: polished, hand-painted tiles called azulejos after the Arabic al zulaycha, meaning polished stone. These tiles seem to cover everything in sight, from churches and houses to train stations and shop interiors. It was the Moors who introduced the art, having picked it up from the Persians, but the Portuguese liked it so much that they tiled everything that was flat enough and could support this decoration. Portugal's first 16th century tiles are Moorish, decorated with interlocking geometric or floral pattern.
The Tragic Love of Pedro and Ines
When Constanza of Castile was presented to Pedro I before they were to be married, Pedro noticed a beautiful woman among the ladies-in-waiting, one Inês de Castro. Despite his marriage to Constanza, a marriage of convenience demanded by his father, Alfonso IV, to strengthen relations with powerful Castile, Pedro I fell helplessly in love with the beautiful Inês. Before long they became lovers. Seeing the liaison as a threat to his design on Castile, Alfonso had Inês exiled from the Court. Constanza died in 1345 while giving birth to a third son, Pedro finally believed he was free to pursue his true love, and secretly wed Inês de Coimbra.
Port Wine of the Duoro Valley
he Duoro Valley cradles the Duoro River whose name comes from Rio do Ouro (River of Gold) and which has always been Porto’s lifeblood. The region has long been associated with port producing vineyards, and over the millennia, this otherworldly, ever-changing terrain has been sculptured by hard working wine growers. The sublime landscapes of neat rock terraces wrap around every precipitous hillside, and the whitewashed quintas, port producing estates, dot the valley. Traditionally, the wine was taken downriver in flat-bottom boats called rabelos, to be stored in barrels in cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia...
Despite the lasting influence it has had on food in such far-away places as Macau and Goa, Portuguese cuisine is hugely underrepresented outside Portugal. Often confused with Spanish cooking, it is, in fact, quite distinct. At its best, Portuguese food is simple ingredients impeccably prepared. Based on regional produce, emphasizing fish, meat, olive oil, tomato, and spices, it features hearty soups, homemade bread and cheeses, as well as unexpected combinations in meat and shellfish. For a relatively small nation, Portugal has surprising gastronomic variety. The Estremadura region, with Lisbon is famous for its seafood - the fish market at Cascais, just outside the capital...