Driving Through Portugal

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Driving through Portugal

“Wet or fine the air in Portugal has a natural happiness in it, and the people of the country should be as happy and prosperous as any people in the world.” H.G.Wells

 I love Lisbon and Porto but in addition  Portugal has some of the most beautiful towns, and villages in all of Europe On my last trip I was lucky to include Sintra, Cascais and Estoril. 

This time we have our wonderful tour guide Tiago who took us through these lovely towns. I googled guide to drive from Porto to Lisbon. Sometimes the internet connects  you to just the right person. Tiago was interesting, kind and very knowledgeable about his country. He could change plans in a minute if necessary and made it the perfect itinerary for us. It is a local company which I always prefer  and dealing with them online is easy.  I highly recommend him if you are in Porto. https://www.4u2enjoy.pt/

Amarante is a settlement since the fourth century BC and municipality halfway  between Porto and the Douro Valley. 

A church and monastery sit theatrically beside a rebuilt medieval bridge  over the Rio Tamega.

The scene is spectacular. 

The town enjoys some small degree of fame for being the hometown of São Gonçalo.

He is Portugal’s St Valentine and is the target for lonely hearts who make pilgrimages here in the hope of finding true love.

it is located on one of the original Portuguese routes of the Camino Del Santiago.

Coimbre is a pretty riverside  city with a Unesco World Heritage University that dates back to Roman times.

The oldest part of Coimbra University occupies the former Royal Palace on top of the city’s highest hill. 

Coimbra’s university, founded in 1290, is Portugal’s oldest and most distinguished, and a third of the city’s 35,000-strong population are students.

The Baroque library is quite impressive and a colony of bats is nurtured within it to keep the insect population down.

St Michael’s Chapel is a blend of decorative tiles and sea themed ceiling paintings with a 3,000 pipe organ protruding from the wall.

The large Room of Acts once a throne room with its unique silver and gold paneling and portraits of Portuguese monarchs is where the PHD  students take their exams.

Obidos is a small town in central Portugal. Hiding on a hill behind its medieval fortifications, it forces the modern world to wait outside.

Inside are quaint cobblestone streets, historic houses with yellow and blue stripes  and whitewashed bougainvillea-draped houses. It is easy to wander on the stairs and alleys when you go off the main streets filled with souvenir shops. 

Thought it dates back to the Romans, the fortifications and colors come from the Moors.

When you visit the St James Church you see a bookstore inside because of Obidos commitment to culture and literature.

There are a number of bookshops  in unconventional settings like an organic market and in a wine cellar. 

There’s one local custom worth trying in Obidos. It’s a shot of the local ginja which is a  Portuguese cherry liquor.

The ginja comes in an edible chocolate cup.

.Obidos is actually surrounded by a lot of cherry trees so I believe so the ginja is locally made.

At sunset, we stop in Mafra.

Tiago has arranged for us to meet a luthier who makes Portuguese guitars.

His home overlooks a beautiful beach and a fado singer drops by.

It is a perfect end to the day.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

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Basque Country

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Basque Country

“Everyone who has visited the Basque County longs to return; it is a blessed land.” Victor Hugo

Timeless is perhaps the best way to describe the experience of visiting the Basque Country. It’s the chance to come face to face with the Basques themselves, a people who have lived in Europe longer than any other, and whose language Euskara, predates any of the Indo-European languages that you hear spoken around the rest of the continent. 

 The region’s history with the ETA, the Basque Independence group, is complicated and has been at times, bloody. We saw a protest in Ordizia to send the prisoners in Spain for terrorism back to the Basque country. The ETA has disbanded and most Basque people are willing to share their views.

Our base was in Donostia (Basque for San Sebastian) and we did day trips to both the Spanish and French side.

We arrived on a dark windy and rainy day. Our goal was to see El Peine del Viento, three sculptures in steel  by the artist Eduard Chillida, that are anchored into the rocks at the foot of Monte Igueldo. it is a half hour walk from the  center of San Sebastian along the coast.

Actually it was really cool to see it in the wind and rain. 

We  took the funicular up to the top to see the views (?) and the old amusement park.

There is something very creepy about being in an empty amusement park in the rain. It felt like the beginning of  Law and Order and we were about to find the body.

Many of the places we visited were on the Northern route of the Camino Del Santiago. Religious devotion was once the prime motivator for taking this 800 km long hike to see the relics of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela. 

These days the route is taken by travelers who want to experience Spain in a different way, challenge themselves or are on their own spiritual journey. 

I would recommend joining the trail at some point and enjoying the rolling green hills of the Basque Country. dotted with  monasteries.

We  take the train to Zarautz. Zarautz is a coastal town with a beautiful beach famous for surfing.

We pick up the Camino  in the hills.

The yellow arrow or shell in the ground (in towns)  means you are on the Camino route.

We hike for a few hours passed txakoli  and tomato vineyards, animals and green fields with crazy beautiful views over the Bay of Biscay.

When Imanol our guide almost fell in the creek because of the mud, we went with the fence.  Nobody said there would be climbing.

Getaria is a small seaside town with a picturesque harbor and beautiful beach.

We have lunch at Asador Astillero. It is another best meal on a trip of best meals.

I have never tasted fish this moist and delicious and I cannot believe there is no butter.

They showed us the kitchen. Basque people love to show you how they cook.

We stop at a txakoli vineyard on our way home. Txakoli is the wine of the Basque country. (TX is pronounced CH). The wines are light, bubbly and low in alcohol content.

  The most widely planted grape variety, by far is Zuri meaning white, with a very small amount of the red variety called Beltza.

The word txakoli means farm wine or homemade. It is hard to grow because the climate is cold and wet.

It goes well with the exquisitely fresh fish of Basque cuisine, except that the locals also drink Txakoli with red meat. Why? Because historically it was all that they had.

We had a great time with Imanol who’s knowledge of the the Basque culture, kindness, easy going nature, intelligence and great taste in food made San Sebastian and the Basque Country an unforgettable trip.

Fly safe,

JAZ