Road Trip through Portugal: (III) The North

After a four beautiful days on the beach in the Algarve it was time for us to be on the road again for a new adventure. We have four days left before we fly back home from Porto so in these four days we have planned to visit Portugal’s main religious site, visit a provincial town, drink some wine in the Duoro region and of course, see and hear some Fado music.

Fatima.

After a trip of around 3 hours we arrived in Fatima. This city is one of the most important Catholic shrines in the world. Fatima’s fame is due to the Apparitions of Mary in 1917 to three local shepherd children: Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. Mary appeared six times, the last time witnessed by a crowd of 60,000 people, known in the Catholic world as “the day the sun danced”. Today Fatima attracts thousand of pilgrims and tourists each day.

The square before the sanctuary is huge and resembles the Saint Peter Square in Vatican City, it is very impressive. It is one of these places whereby if you are not Catholic, you wish you were. Fatima got a large surge in popularity after the visit of Pope John Paul II (the “traveling Polish Pope”) and of course his visit is honored with a statue. We are always pleased to see statues of Jana Pawla as it reminds us of the time we lived in Poland.

Many years ago I visited Lourdes, a town in France where the apparitions of Virgin Mary converted the town into one of the worlds most important sites of pelgrimage and religious tourism. I remember all the tourist shops that were selling holy water and other cheap religious souvenirs. It was good to see that Fatima was different and that it has kept its dignity.

Coimbra

From Fatima we drove one hour north to the town of Coimbra, a medium sized university town. The old town is quaint, with small streets, steep stairs, a very old cathedral (“Se”) and of course the university from the 14th century. It also has a double entree gate into the old town in order to make it even more difficult for intruders.

The university is placed on top of the highest hill in town in order to do justice to the Roman saying “mens sana in corpora sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body). After three days climbing hills in Lisboa, the 136 steps stairs back to the hotel after a day on the beach in the Algarve and now this very steep climb in Coimbra, I start to miss my flat home country. Nevertheless, the university is beautiful and its library looks world class.

On the square in front of the main university building we found a statue of the “look alike” brother of Henry the VIII. The name of this brother king is João III. It is unclear if João was more lucky with love than his english look-a-like brother.

The cathedral in Coimbra is very old, it was built in the 12th century and already in those days the king of Portugal used a French architect to impress his citizens. From the front the cathedral does not look all that great but from the inside it is beautiful, especially the monastery that is build adjacent.

After the visit to Coimbra we headed for our hotel in a small town just outside of the city. We ended up in this horrible storm with thunder, heavy rain and tornado strong winds. It took us a full hour drive to cover the few kilometers and only thanks to some bottles of good Portugese wines we could settle our nerves. What an end to this day.

Douro Valley

When the weather calmed down the next day we had a short and a bit of a challenging drive to the Douro Valley. The last 1 hour drive was on narrow and mountainous roads thereby driving through almost empty villages. The landscape was beautiful and the closer we came to the river Douro the prettier it got.

When we lived in California our good friend Arturo introduced us to Portuguese wine and more specifically to the wines from the Douro Valley. In the beginning we were somewhat skeptical but quickly started to like the wine from this region. Now we live again in Europe and have more access to European wines, we regularly drink and enjoy the wines from Douro valley.

After the difficult drive we were rewarded at the end of the day with this beautiful place where we stayed: Quinta do Outeiro, a wonderfully restored wine farm built around 1800 surrounded by vineyards. The staff of this place was very nice and the manager showed us proudly around. The farm included its own chapel which was at least 200 years old. Moreover, the farm produced its own wine and of course we got to taste it. Certainly the best hotel of our trip, it was just unfortunate that we had to leave again the next day.

Porto

Our final stop in our trip through Portugal: Porto, city of the famous Port wines and our last chance to see and listen to live Fado music. Porto is clearly a city with a big wow-effect, especially when seeing the Dom Luis 1 Bridge. A huge bridge in the middle of town that connects the city with the Gaia district. The bridge’s architect was a Belgian student of Gustav Eiffel, the man who built the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

A bit more inland there is a second metal arch bridge that connects the north and south side of the city: The Maria Pia Bridge. The architect of this railway bridge was the master Gustav Eiffel himself. Unfortunately this bridge is no longer in operation and replaced by a concrete bridge.

The city also has a must see train station. It is not so much the trains that are good looking but it is all about the arrival hall that is beautifully decorated with tiles.

Porto’s must see landmark is the Torre dos Clérigos. The tower dates from 1753 and became the highest bell tower in Portugal which means something as this country is packed with church towers. To get closer to heaven you have to climb all 240 steps. As I still remember that my heart beat went up to over 120 when climbing the cliff-stairs in Albufeira and this was “only” 136 steps, therefore I let this opportunity pass. More of a young people challenge.

Like Lisboa, Porto is also a city full of beautiful churches.

Torre Dos Clerigos
Camara municipal de Porto

Igreja de Santo Lidefonso

We were told that a few of the local dishes are worthwhile trying, so that is what we did. There are three dishes which we show below. First of all the Francesinha which is a sandwich made with wet-cured ham, steak, tomato and egg on a white bread and all of it covered with melted cheese in a beer sauce. On top of that it is served with french fries. It is an experience. We ordered one for lunch and it was enough to fill the two of us for a full day. The literal translation for its name is “little French girl” however, the only thing little about it, is its name.

More elegant food is found in the Cafe Majestic, which stands number six in the list of most beautiful cafes in the world. We had to wait a while before we could get in and it was worth the wait. Carolina had the best French Toast with cinnamon she has ever had and on top of that they serve a mean pudding. The pudding is a well known dessert in all of Portugal, we know this better as Flan.

The famous Fado singer Amália Rodrigues once said “you don’t listen to Fado music, you have to feel it”. We were already ten days in Portugal and had not been to a Fado show. In Lisboa, a Fado concert is always combined with a meal and we were told that the quality of the meals do not correspond with the quality of the music. Luckily in Porto we could just listen to the music at “Casa Da Guitarra”. It was a great experience, in a small theatre we got a great performance and we definitely felt the Fado music. What a nice concert.

So we came to the end of our trip. One final thing to do before we will fly home. We still had not drunk a glass of Port wine. I once had a negative experience with Port wines so was a bit hesitant as we did not want to leave this beautiful pace place on a low. The Brazilian waiter in the restaurant of our last Portuguese dinner made the choice for us and …. we enjoyed it. A great ending to a wonderful trip.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: