Portugal has many ancient manor houses and palaces built by noble families and wealthy landowners. These houses are expensive to maintain, so in the 20th century many fell into disrepair. The government created a program called “Turismo de Habitação” (home tourism) that subsidized their restoration. In return, the owners agreed to turn them into “bed and breakfasts.”
You can tour the country staying, at very affordable prices, in aristocratic homes, with expansive vistas and warm hospitality.
These proud houses are silent witnesses to centuries of history. When you visit them, you touch the soul of Portugal.
Click here for the Home Tourism web site.
When we walk on the beach on foggy days we always have a sense that something special is about to happen. In the XVI century Portugal had a young king, D. Sebastião, who tried to conquer the north of Africa. He failed with terrible consequences. Much of the country’s elite died in battle or in Moroccan prisons. The king vanished and Portugal lost its independence to Spain. But the Portuguese did not loose hope. They believed that D. Sebastião would return on a foggy day to restore the glory of Portugal. So, if you are walking on the beach on a foggy day, keep an eye on the horizon. This could be the day.
Every morning King D. João V looked in the mirror and told his reflection: you’re magnificent! There was only one cloud in his life: he did not have an heir to the throne. So, he promised that, if Queen D. Maria Ana got pregnant, he would build a magnificent monastery. That is, according to legend, how the Mafra Palace came to be built.
Financed with gold from Brazil, it features sumptuous accommodations for the king and queen, a magnificent Basilica with six pipe organs, and an enormous library. This library has been preserved by a colony of bats that prey on the insects that would otherwise devour the book pages. It is well worth it to visit this 18th century palace built by a vain Portuguese king for an austere Austrian queen, guarded by Franciscan monks and their learned bats.
Imagine that the year is 1282 and that you are king D. Dinis. What wedding present would you choose to impress your bride, Isabel of Aragon?
1) a passionate “cantiga de amor” (a medieval love poem);
2) a state-of-the art ship that can crest ocean waves without capsizing;
3) silk and jewels;
4) a medieval town.
If you guessed 4), you are correct. King Dinis offered Queen Isabel the town of Óbidos. And, while the gift might seem extravagant, Queen Isabel repaid it many times over by helping the poor and maintaining peace in the realm.
Óbidos’ beauty is unique. Inside the castle walls it is easy to imagine we are in the Middle Ages and that we might bump into the “Lidador,” the knight who helped conquer the town in 1148.
If you cannot afford giving your loved one a medieval town, you can settle for the next best thing: a visit to Óbidos.
If you’re in Portugal in July, you might want to visit the Óbidos medieval fair. It features jugglers, jesters, and jousting tournaments, all in the shadow of the majestic Óbidos castle. You can also taste the delicious pork roasted on a spit, a delicacy that, in the Middle Ages, only kings could afford.