Amazing Week in Portugal
We had planned to spend more time in Portugal, but Queen Elizabeth II passed away a week before our trip and we decided to fly to London for the funeral. We had planned to go to London after visiting Porto and the Douro Valley, but we will have to come back to Portugal for that part of the trip.
We started our journey in Lisbon, where we picked up our rental car at the airport. Most of the cars they rent are station wagons, even if you booked a sedan. The car was nice, but it would have been too big if we had to drive it through the narrow roads of the Douro Valley as we had previously scheduled.
It only took a few minutes to drive from the airport to downtown Lisbon, where our hotel was located. We stayed at the Sheraton Lisbon which had a good central location and a parking garage.
The next day we first drove to the Tower of Belem and then visited the Jeronimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had to wait a few minutes until the end of Sunday mass to visit the church of Santa Maria de Belem, located next door. Afterwards we took our car and parked next to the National Museum of Coaches, which we planned to visit next. When walking down the road we stopped by chance in front of the presidential palace. We took a couple of photos and heard that the president of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, would be arriving soon at the palace. After a couple of minutes, the gate opened, the motorcade arrived and passed by us. The president’s car stopped a few hundred yards away. He waved at us and we reciprocated. To our surprise, he started walking back in our direction. One of the security guards opened the gate and he started talking with us for a few minutes. That was one of the highlights of our trip.
During that afternoon we visited the National Museum of Royal Carriages, which is located in a new building. Afterwards we drove across the bridge to the National Sanctuary of Christ the King, a monument inspired from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. The view of Lisbon is worth the drive. On our way back we further visited the Old Town and spent time in the Baixa and Alfama districts. We had drinks at the Time Out Market, a concept created in 2014. It features 26 restaurants, 8 bars and 12 shops. That evening we had a great meal in an eclectic Thai restaurant named Boa-Bao.
We left Lisbon the next morning and drove the coast to Sintra. We stopped for lunch in Cascais, a fishing town which is now also a resort town. Afterwards, under a monsoon we attempted to visit Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of mainland Europe. We were finally able to get out of the car and take a photo of the cape and the lighthouse. We ended the day in Estoril near Sintra and checked-in at our hotel for the next two nights, the beautiful Penha Longa Resort which is part of the Ritz Carlton portfolio. Besides the usual amenities, the property has a huge park, a monastery, a golf course and two Michelin-starred restaurants. We had dinner there both evenings and also enjoyed the breakfast buffet.
The next day was dedicated to the city of Sintra. We found a parking spot near the train station and hired a taxi to drive us up to the first castle, the National Palace of Pena. Private cars are not allowed to the palace. It was raining again and we missed some of the views, but the building is beautiful by itself. We took a taxi back to the city and we stopped at the Quinta da Regaleira, a Renaissance-style manor that is also classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The place is especially famous for its Initiation Well. We had lunch on the terrace of the Lawrence’s Hotel. Established in 1764, it is the oldest hotel on the Iberian Peninsula. In the afternoon we visited the old town of Sintra and the National Palace.
We left Sintra the next morning after learning that our room in Obidos had been flooded and was unhabitable. We quickly found a room on the coast a few miles from Obidos at a property that turned out to be breathtaking, the Praia D'El Rey Marriott Golf & Beach Resort. We still made a stop in Obidos to visit the old town. On our way from Sintra we also stopped in Mafra to visit Palace and Monastery, which are UNESCO heritage sites. It has a stunning library. Before checking-in at the hotel that afternoon we drove to Nazare, one of the finest beach towns in Portugal, known for having some of the world largest waves.
Our next stop was in Coimbra. We made several stops on our way. We first visited the Monastery of Alcobaça founded in the 12th century by King Alfonso I. It is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Afterwards we visited another impressive UNESCO monastery in the city of Batalha on our way to the pilgrimage town of Fatima, where the Virgin Mary supposably appeared before three shepherd children in 1917. We had one more stop before we reached Coimbra, the Convent of Christ in Tomar. It belonged to the Order of the Templars and was founded in 1160 by Gualdim Pais, grand master of the Knights Templar. It is also a UNESCO site and we would definitely recommend making a stop there when visiting Portugal. It took less than an hour to drive to Coimbra where we stayed at the Quinta das Lágrimas Hotel. It was there that in the 14th-century Prince Pedro and Ines de Castro lived their forbidden love affair. Legend says that Ines cried there for the last time, while being pierced by the daggers of the killers sent by King Afonso, Pedro’s father. Her tears that gave the name to this romantic hotel. We took a tour of the property and had a very nice dinner there.
We toured the city of Coimbra the next day. It is only a few minutes to drive from the hotel and we were lucky enough to find a parking spot in the Old Town. We took a taxi up to the University where the famous Joanine Library is located. It is considered as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Only a few people can visit it at a time, but it is worth the wait. Afterwards we visited the National Museum Machado de Castro and the Old Cathedral. We then drove to the city of Porto where our flight to London was leaving the next day. We had a few hours and we wandered around the Old Town, visiting the cathedral and the famous Lello bookstore. We walked down to the Douro River where the Port wine cellars are located. They have a lot of wonderful restaurants and bars on the banks of the river.
We had a great time in Portugal and we will definitely come back to further discover Porto and visit the Douro Valley.