Ebora cerealis

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If you’re traveling in Alentejo, follow the advice of ancient travelers and spend some time in Évora. The city is included in the Antonine itinerary and is mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History as Ebora Cerealis in reference to the surrounding fields of cereals.

Évora was occupied by Celts, Gauls, Phoenicians, and Persians. But it was Quintus Sertorius, the general who conquered the city in 80 B.C., that gave Évora its architectural jewel: a Roman temple with elegant corinthian columns. Known as the temple of Diana, it is more likely to have been dedicated to Jupiter.

There’s much to see in Evora: a beautiful basilica, elegant university buildings, and peaceful convents. And the food and wine are great everywhere.  You can choose a restaurant blindfolded and have a wonderful meal. If Pliny was writing today, he might call the city Ebora Delicia.

The apple of paradise

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The best apple we’ve ever tried is a Portuguese variety called Bravo de Esmolfe. It was discovered two centuries ago in a small Beira-Alta village called Esmolfe.

You can find prettier apples, but don’t be fooled by the unassuming look of Bravo de Esmolfe. Its taste is a revelation, the perfect combination of sweetness and tartness. And its inside is so full of antioxidants that it makes us feel immortal.

Biting into a Bravo de Esmolfe helps us understand Adam’s temptation and makes us wonder whether the village of Esmolfe was once the Garden of Eden.

If you visit Portugal in Fall or Winter, don’t miss the chance to try Bravo de Esmolfe, an apple that belongs in paradise.

The first sunset

The Romans marked each new year by hammering a nail into the door post of the temple of Jupiter. We prefer to photograph the sunset on the first day of the year, hoping it holds a clue for what the year will bring.

Today, the sun slept all day behind clouds. But at the last moment, it spread its rays and lit the sky, as if to reassure us that there will be many beautiful sunsets in the New Year.  We hope you’ll come to Portugal to share some of these sunsets with us. Happy New Year!

 

The Estrela Basilica

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One of the buildings often found next to a Roman forum is the basilica. It served as a place where people could meet. Basilicas had no statues of Roman gods and had beautiful light that came in through windows near the roof, so they were a favorite gathering place for early Christians.

The plan of the basilica was later adopted for the construction of important churches. Lisbon has an elegant basilica at Estrela, built in 1790 by Queen  Maria I.

Few people seem to know that one can climb the stairs to the roof of the Estrela basilica and enjoy in peaceful silence breathtaking views of the city. It is a perfect place to meet Lisbon.

The rebirth of Lisbon

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One of the most beautiful monuments in Lisbon is a ruin. The Carmo convent, founded in 1389, was destroyed by the earthquake that stroke Lisbon on November 1, 1755. The convent’s gothic arches were left reaching towards the sky, asking questions for which we have no answers.

Today, Carmo is a place of peace and tranquility. For we know that from the ashes of the old city, a new Lisbon was reborn.

The Carmo convent is located in the homonymous Largo do Carmo in Lisbon.

The Alcobaça game

Alcobaça Composite

It can be hard to visit monuments with little kids, so it is always a good idea to engage them in a game. If you visit Alcobaça, a beautiful abbey in the middle of Portugal, you can ask your kids to go on a treasure hunt. They can look for stones with carved initials and photograph them. This game can turn an otherwise boring visit into a memorable one.

Masons often carved their personal marks on stones placed in the parts of the cathedral where they worked. They did it to show pride in their work but also to claim the work as theirs so they could get paid.

Centuries later, these signatures remind us of the humble people whose hard work created a legacy of enduring beauty.

Relaxing in the Gerês pousada

Pousada do Gerês

If words could describe how great it is to stay at the Caniçadas pousada in Gerês, you would not need to drive up the Gerês mountain to find this hotel ensconced in the woods, overlooking the Cávado river. But even poets would have trouble putting into words the feeling of starting the day sitting in the hotel’s veranda, our eyes feasting on the spectacular vistas.

The origins of the hotel go back to 1951, when temporary accommodations were built for a group of engineers working on a dam on the Cávado river. Naturally, the engineers chose a location with an amazing view. In 1968, the building was converted into a hotel and an annex was built to house the chauffeurs of the wealthy patrons who came to Gerês to recharge their energies.

The staff of the pousada gave us wonderful recommendations for what to do in Gerês: trails to hike, rivers to swim, horses to ride, traditional villages to visit, and culinary specialties to try.

We greatly enjoyed these activities, but we also loved returning to the pousada at the end of the day to sit in the veranda and watch the sun bid farewell to the Gerês mountain.

The Caniçadas hotel is part of a network of hotels called pousadas. Click here for the pousadas’ website and here for a large collection of photos of the hotel.

Beach moments

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Life is like a train trip. We eagerly anticipate getting to the next station but, once we’re there, we can’t wait to move on.

Much of life is a blur, like the views from a moving train. We remember the arrivals and departures of those we love. And we remember some of the train stops, when the pace of life slows down.

For us, many of these leisure moments are spent on a Portuguese beach. We recall the beauty of the seaside, the wonderful weather, the delicious food and, most of all, those who shared these happy moments with us.

The third island

Açores 47 - cropedThis year we visited Terceira, an island in Azores. After Madeira and the Canary islands, Azores was the third group of islands discovered by Portuguese navigators. Initially, the Portuguese called the whole archipelago Terceiras (the Portuguese word for thirds), but later they renamed it Azores and reserved the name Terceira for the largest island.

Terceira is a perfect destination for a relaxing vacation. There are many beaches to enjoy and hiking trails to explore. Restaurants serve great food for modest prices. And the traditional architecture makes us feel as if we are in a time gone by, when life was simpler and time was not a luxury.

Vitorino Nemésio, a great poet from Terceira, wrote that here you are “at the very bosom and infinitude of the sea, like the medusas and the fish.”

The green valleys of Terceira compete with the beauty of the sea. For Nemésio, this competition is futile because “The islands are ephemeral and dispensable. Only the sea is eternal and essential.”