Marvao – 16/12/2018

“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.”

Michael Palin

Marvao is a Portuguese fortress town only 13 kilometers from the Spanish border and is set in the mountains with a 360 degree panorama. with the castle built on a sheer cliff face. The village, with around 120 older inhabitants, is perched at 2,800 feet high and is laid out in several long rows of white-washed stone houses terraced into the hill.

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Although, there is believed to have been Roman settlements in the Marvao area previously, the area as we know it today is the result of Ibn Maruan, who took settlement in the area during a rebellion against Cordoba.  Maruan commenced the construction of the castle due to it’s exceptional location and it has been continually expanded over the last 1000 years.

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It was King Dom Afonso Henriques who took the castle from the Moors and included it as part of the new kingdom of Portugal.  It continued to be a stronghold for many centuries to stop Spanish invasion.  During the 14th century King Dom Dinis further fortified the town by reinforcing the castle and providing fortification around the town.  

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After parking our car we wandered up through the few streets in Marvao admiring the whitewashed houses, although sadly some are now abandoned, before reaching the garden at the base of the castle, opposite the Santa Maria Church.

Once you pay your entrance fee you are free to wander around the castle walls, climb the towers and enjoy the breathtaking view.  Keep in mind that if you are there in winter like us, the wind can be quite strong and chilly, but definitely worth it.

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Surrounding Marvao and the area of Alentejo are both olive and cork oak trees.  Portugal provides about 50% of the world’s cork supply.  Cork can only be harvested when the tree reaches 25 years old and even then it is only harvested once every 9 years, but on the positive side these trees can live as long as 200 years.  On average a cork tree can produce up to 200 kg of cork and this makes approximately 25 000 corks for wine, per harvest.  When the cork is stripped from a tree it is painted and marked with the year number, for example 2018 would be marked with an ‘8’.  I have to say the combination of cork and olive trees as well as sheep, cows and goats makes for a very scenic surroundings.

Tourist Information for Marvao Castle:

Opening Hours: Daily – 10am to 5pm

Entrance Fees: Local residents: Free │ Normal Ticket – € 1.50 │ Children up to 12 years old – Free │ Young card holders, student card, 65 card and pensioner – 50% discount │ Organized groups, with prior appointment, of 20 or more people – 30% discount




Monsaraz Castle and Menhir Outeiro – 17/12/2018

It was a cold and foggy morning so we went back to bed and didn’t get going until after lunch.  After the dry plains of Spain, we have been surprised by the lush green pastures and fields of grape vines, cork, olive,orange and lemon trees.  The place we are staying at has a juicer and a tree filled with lemons, not so drinkable though.  On our drive to our first stop, we passed numerous derelict houses with trees filled with oranges, just waiting to be picked.  Andrew decided oranges were just what we needed, so we made a stop so Max and Ava could collect a few, to make some juice tomorrow morning.  Ava did discover that we were not the first to raid the tree.

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Our first official stop on the tourist trail was Menhir Outeiro, a monolith which is 5.6 m high with a 1 m diameter and is a phallic shape.  Okay, so the kids were not impressed and can’t believe this was a tourist attraction.  

Although my kids were not impressed, it is believed to the be the largest monolith in Portugal and was discovered lying on the ground in 1969 by Henrique Leonor Pina and Jose Pires Goncalves and was classified as a National Monument in 1971.  It is believed to have been sculpted early in the 4th millennia and the middle of the 3rd millenia. So if you are interested in monolith add this one to your list.

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Continuing on our tour of ABC (Another Bloody Castle) we visited Monsaraz Castle. Monsaraz is a fortified hilltop town which has a magnificent view over Alqueva Lake and its surrounding islands. 

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Monsaraz is often described as a living museum, filled with narrow, cobbled streets that are lined with white washed houses.  The small village is home to around 150 permanent residents, who live mostly off tourism.  In fact during our time there we hardly saw any locals and if we did, they were unobtrusively getting on with their lives.

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At the southern end of the town stands a 13th century castle with well preserved towers.  The interesting thing about this castle is that within its walls is a bullring, complete with slate seating at either end and was established around 1830.

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The view from atop the walls and towers sweep over the farmlands of olives and vines and also over the Rio Guadiana (Guadiana River) and Alqueva Lake.

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As it is close to Christmas when we were visiting, the town had been decorated with life size, pink and white nativity scenes, unfortunately they were featureless which made them a little creepy.  See what you think of them?

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Monsaraz is a beautiful and charming, fortified village, well worth a visit.

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Tourist Information:

Monsaraz Castle

Entrance into the Castle is Free and is open 24 hours a day

For further information on the town of Monsaraz follow the link below:


Evora – 18/12/2018

Evora is in the Alentejo region of Portugal, halfway between Lisbon and Spain and is widely considered one of Portugal’s best preserved medieval towns.  Although Evora’s history dates back to Roman times, its golden age is from the 16th century, when the Portuguese Kings lived there. Evora has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.

One of the reasons for us visiting Evora was to see the Igreja de Sao Francisco or the Church of Francisco and its rather macabre past.  The Chapel of Bones or Capela dos Ossos adjoins the original church of Francisco and was planned and constructed under the guidance of three Franciscan friars.  The friars purpose was to convey the message that life is temporary and fragile.  The message is clearly seen by its chilling inscription over the door “Nos Ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” which translates to “We, the bones that are here, await yours.”  I must say I was beginning to wonder about the minds or sanity of Franciscan Monks, as we have seen similar display of bones in both Rome and Peru, however I did read that it was in vogue at the time to create chapels like this.

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The chapel was built in fact built on the monk’s dorm rooms or cells. The chapel has three naves and is lit by natural light.  The walls in the chapel and its 8 pillars have been carefully covered by bones and human skulls in artistic patterns.  The domes are made of bricks, plastered in white and painted with motives and symbols representing death.  There are skulls decorating the doors and cornices.

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At the time of the Chapel of Bones’ was planned and constructed, Evora’s two Franciscan cemeteries were overflowing and so it was decided to exhume some of the remains and use them for decoration in the chapel.  Not only were the bones used to decorate the columns, domes and arches, but the smaller bone fragments were used to form part of the mortar.  It has been estimated that around 5000 bodies were incorporated into the chapel. 


The entrance fee to see the chapel of bones also includes entrance to the Museum and the collection of nativity scenes.  Leaving the Chapel of Bones is a door leading into the Church of Francisco.  The church was constructed between 1480 and 1510 and decorated by royal painters of the times.  In fact that church was built on a previous, much smaller Franciscan Church but King Alfonso V had it rebuilt so he could use it during his stays in Evora. 

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There are of course many churches you can visit like the Se Cathedral and Igreja dos Loios, just to name a few, but if you only visit one, try the Church of Francisco.  We did enjoy a walk around Evora, visiting the Praco do Giraldoright, named after Evora’s liberator, Gerald the Fearless.  The plaza is very simply decorated with a white marble spherical fountain, that apparently replaced an earlier arch, from Caesar’s time, when there was a Roman Forum.  Today the plaza is lined with buildings with beautiful wrought-iron balconies, shops and restaurants.

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From the plaza it is a short walk up the Rua 5 de Outubroright, a narrow, cobblestoned pedestrian street, which is filled with souvenir stores selling products made of cork like mats, hats, bags and jewelry and tile, both very Portuguese products.  The attractive street is also filled with whitewashed houses and leads on to the Se Cathedral and Roman Temple.


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We did not stop at the Se Cathedral, but continued on to the Templo Romano or Roman Temple.  It is believed to have been built in the 1st to 2nd Century AD, although it was largely destroyed during barbarian tribe invasions during the 5th century.  In 1871 the temple was restored to its current state. It can be viewed from the outside.

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Tourist Information:

Igreja de Sao Francisco


  • The ticket gives access to the Bones Chapel, Capela dos Ossos, Museum Centre, Cribs Gallery and Panoramic Terrace.
  • Adults: 4 € │ Senior Citizens and Youth under 25: 3 € │ Family (two adults and two youth: 10 €

Opening Hours:

  • 1st June – 30th September: 9 am – 6:30 pm
  • 1st October – 31st May: 9 am – 5 pm


Castelo de Montemor-o-Nova – 19/12/2018

The Castle de Montemor-o-Nova is a complex of towers and walls, most of which are in ruins.  Would I recommend visiting this site? probably not unless you have run out of things to do.  It has beautiful surroundings and is probably a photographers dream, but it does require a lot of imagination to see how it may have existed.

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There is a small section of walls, near the Torre do Relogio or clock tower, that you can walk along and admire the views of the town below. The clock tower is closed and you can’t access it, unlike the many pigeons who have set up nests there.

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A short walk from the main gate and clock tower is a series of towers that overlook the countryside below.  There is also a small section of walls that you can walk on as well.

If you are looking for something to do while staying in the Evora area, Montemor-o-Nova could easily fill an hour in a serene setting.

Tourist Information for Montemor-o-Nova Castle

Opening Hours: Open during daylight hrs

Price: free

Monsanto – 20/12/2018

After a long drive from Evora, we reached the Village of Monsanto, a place that has stood still since medieval times and is unique to both Portugal and Europe.  Monsanto is set in a landscape among giant stones creating unearthly scenery.  These stones or boulders created by mother nature, have been used in the construction of homes to create a ready-made wall or roof.  It has created a picturesque, solid and inexpensive village.

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Monsanto is set high in the hills among steep roads with very little parking.  In fact we couldn’t get a park anywhere near the town and in the end I went with the kids to explore the town,  while Andrew waited in the car well below the town. Towards the end of our time in Monsanto, enough cars had come down that Andrew was able to get a car-park and explore on his own.  The town itself is a rabbit warren of streets and although there is a tourist office where you can get a map, it was closed during our visit.  So in the end,  Max, Ava and I wandered the streets looking at the homes that have incorporated the boulders into them.

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After King Alfonso I liberated the lands from the Moors, he wanted to preserve and defend them and so he enlisted the help of the Templars by donating the land to them.  The brothers of the Knights Templar built a fortress on the hill overlooking Monsanto, however, after seven years it was given to the Order of Santiago.

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Monsanto Castle did in fact have a glorious war history and was destroyed not through a siege, but rather a gunpowder storage explosion in 1814.  The castle was so severely damaged that it was abandoned, although the military stayed in the area until 1853.

The landscape of scattered boulders sets a beautiful backdrop, which I’m sure photographers would admire and definitely inspires the imagination of trolls from fairy tales living in such houses.  The village looks like a backdrop from a film and is definitely worth a visit, especially if you can get a car-park. 

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I have to say our drive from Monsanto over Portugal’s highest mountain range, Serra da Estrela, to reach the house we were to stay at in Bocado, near Arganil was a white knuckle experience.  The roads, without guard rails were windy, with enough room for one car.  To top that off we had rain in parts, as well as fog, all around the time of sunset.  As Andrew said, “It is the most dangerous driving conditions he has experienced in nearly 30 years”.  I have to say the car was deadly quite throughout the drive, as we all hoped we would reach our destination in one piece.  Definitely not for the faint hearted.

Porto – 22/12/2018

After a relaxing day, we decided it was time to make the 2 hour journey from our hilltop home, through the windy and at times foggy hills, to reach our destination of Porto.

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Porto is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon and is located along the Douro river estuary in Northern Portugal.  Porto’s first known inhabitants were the Celts in 300 BCE, followed by the Romans and Visigoths, Christians and Moors.  In fact the name Porto is believed to have formed the name Portugal.   But possibly Porto’s biggest claim to fame is for being the home to where Port wine is exported from.

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We did our own walking tour in Porto and probably walked about 5 km up and down the hilly terrain.  I had promised Max and Ava that we would not visit any cathedrals during our day trip, so while we didn’t go inside any, we did see the exterior of a few.  Our first stop was Igreja do Carmo.

Igreja do Carmo

Igreja do Carmo has a striking exterior, primarily due to the blue and white azulejos (tiles) that cover the exterior of the cathedral.  Although the church was constructed between 1756 and 1768 in the roco or late Baroque style, the azulejos were not added until 1912.  The tiles were locally made and designed by artist Silvestro Silvestri and depict scenes of the Carmelite Order and Mount Carmel. 

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Another interesting fact about this church is that it actually adjoins another, Igreja das Carmelitas, that was built in the 17th century, not that you can see it from my photo.  Ancient law at the time said that two churches could not share a wall, so in order to get around this, the narrowest residence in Portugal, one meter wide, sits between the two churches.

In our effort to reach the Market, which had been temporarily relocated so the building can receive a much needed face-lift, we stumbled across the next stop on our tour.

Porto Igreja de Santo Ildefonso 

Similar to the previous church, this one also has Azulejo tiles, however the 11 000 tiles cover much more of the facade than the previous one.  The tiles depict the life of Saint Ildefonso and stories from the Gospel and was added in 1932 by Jorge Calaco.  The church was completed in the 18th century on the site of a previous chapel.  The interior can be visited, but the church’s main draw-card is it’s exterior. 

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Although we did visit the market, we didn’t stay long and instead found a pastelaria for lunch, before continuing onto Porto Sao Bento.

Porto Sao Bento

Porto Sao Bento is actually a railway station, why visit it you may ask?  Tourists visit the station not to ride a train, but to see the 20 000 azulejo tiles that were used to give the station a facelift between 1905 – 1916.  The tiles were created by Jorge Colaco, who also did the tiles for Porto Igreja de Santo Ildefonso.

The Azulejo tiled scenes depict Portuguese history ranging from battles, the chronology of transport and wedding celebrations. 

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Our walk took us to Porto’s most famous bridge, the Luis I Bridge.

Luis I Bridge

The Luis I Bridge is a twin-level, metal arched bridge that crosses the steep, rocky banks of the Douro river.  The bridge connects the Port wine houses of Vila Nova de Gaia with the downtown Ribeira district of Porto.  The bridge was opened in 1886 and was conceived by German Engineer, Theophile Seyrig, who co-founded the Eiffel Company and partnered with him in previous projects. 

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The Ponte Dom Luís I is on two levels; one on top of the arch and the other below it. Originally both decks carried road traffic, but today the top level carries the metro trains and pedestrians and the bottom levels motor vehicles.

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I loved crossing the upper level, which sits about 60 meters above the river Douro, although the height may not be for everyone.  The view from the top level is tremendous, giving you a view of the Port Wine Houses, the city of Porto and the boat traffic below. If heights are not your think, you can still cross the bridge on the lower level.

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From the Port Wine Houses there are amazing views across the river of Porto and also of the tourist boats.

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After walking along the river bank it is a bit of a climb to get back up to Porto city, but never fear there is an alternative way, the funicular.

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On our return to the carpark we made a short stop at Livraria Lello and Irmao.

Livraria Lello & Irmao

Livraria Lello & Irmão is a book store housed in a neo-gothic building dating from 1906.  Some believe the bookstore to be one of the most beautiful in Europe and the world.  The shop is decorated in wood, stain glass and covered from floor to ceiling with shelves of books.  My favourite part of the shop was wooden and red staircase in the center of the shop, connecting the two levels.  Also interesting to note was in place of markers to indicate authors names, they had plaster faces of the authors marking where their books are.

J.K. Rowling lived in Porto for a period of time and it is said that she was inspired by the book shop when writing Harry Potter.  While you can certainly imagine the book shop to be the library in Harry Potter, the bookstore does play on this a lot, seen by the 5 euro entrance fee to enter and the plethora of not only books, but displays based on the books.  The kids enjoyed it though.

Tourist Information:

Igreja do Carmo/ Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalcos

Opening Hours:

  • Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 12pm │ 2pm to 5pm
  • Saturdays from 8am to 12pm.


  • free

Porto Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

Opening Hours:

  • Monday 3 pm – 6 pm │ Tuesday – Friday: 9 am – 12 pm/ 3 pm – 6.30 pm │ Saturday:; 9 am – 12 pm 3 pm – 8 pm │ Sunday and Religious Holidays: 9 am – 12.45/ 6 pm – 7.45 pm

Price: free

Livraria Lello & Irmao

Opening Hours:

  • Mondays to Sunday │ 9.30 am to 7 pm


  • 5 euro entrance fee, however if you purchase a book they will deduct the entrance fee off the cost.  The books were overpriced though.

Funicular dos Guindais

Opening Hours:

  • Winter (November – March) │ Sunday to Thursday – 8 am – 8 pm │ Friday to Saturday – 8 am to 10 pm
  • Summer (April – October │ Sunday to Thursday – 8 am – 10 pm │ Friday to Saturday – 8 am – midnight
  • Exceptions: Easter – 8 am – Midnight │ Sao Joao – continous operation June 23rd to 24th │ Christmas – December 24th closes at 7 pm; December 25th – closed │ New Years Eve – continuous operation from December 31st to January 1st


  • €2.50 for a one way journey either up to Rua da Batalha or to the city’s river bank.



Tomar – 26/12/2018

After three days of sitting inside our mountain retreat over Christmas, we decided it was time to get back on the tourist trail again and what better than another ABC.  We undertook another windy, mountainous series of roads, with a brief stop to talk to our eldest kids, (no internet at the house) before continuing on to Tomar, the headquarters of the Knights Templar Order of Portugal.

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The templars were a monastic order of knights founded in 1112 AD, with the purpose to protect pilgrims along the path to Jerusalem.  The templars came to Portugal during the 12th century at the request of Portugal’s first king, D. Afonso Henriques.

King Afonso Henriques donated the region around Tomar to the Knights Templar, where they built a famed round church, which was patterned on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Israel and forms part of the Convento de Cristo Site.  To protect the convent a castelo was built around it, complete with walls and towers, all adorned with the cross of Malta and other secret templar symbols.  At the time the castelo was built it formed part of a horizontal line of castles that stretched along the Tejo River to defend the new nation of Portugal from the Moors.

Although, in 1307 the Knights Templar was dissolved, the Portuguese king D. Dinis made a secret order and created a new religious order, the Order of Christ, which took over all the lands, castles, symbols and power of the Knights Templar.  Under the leadership of Infante D. Henrique, the knights began a new quest on ships carrying their distinctive cross and began the Age of Exploration.

The Age of Exploration led to the riches from the East flowing into the castle of Tomar and resulted in new cloisters being added to the monastery which incorporated symbols of the sea like coral, shells and rope.

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You can easily imagine as you walk through the tall gates and first see the round church, that knights on horseback would have ridden through them in the past.  The church rises majestically above gardens of sculpted hedges, grape vines and trees laden with oranges.  After wandering the gardens and viewing the ornate doorways and exterior of the church we paid the entrance fee to go into the monastery and church itself.

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The site is actually huge there are so many cloisters it is easy to become disorientated.  There are some rooms open that you can go in and see where the monks slept and areas where they carried out their daily duties.


Of course the real attraction is the round church, which does not disappoint.  While I’m not up with the history of the Knights Templar, Andrew, who has read many books on them, enjoyed looking at the church and identifying features and symbols that were specific to the Templars.  The paintings on the walls which were really beautiful were in fact was from the 16th century and from the time of the Order of Christ.  During the templar times the church was actually very plain.  Andrew spent some time talking to a man working there about different features of the site and was able to learn a lot more about both the Templars and the Order of Christ and their relationship to the monarchy.


When you leave the monastery, you actually leave the site and end up in the car park.  I was keen to walk along the castle walls, so we actually went back in the main gates and walked along some of the walls.  From the walls you can see not only the surrounding countryside but the new parts of the city of Tomar. 


During our en-devour to find a view-spot to see both the Castelo and Church. we did end up at a viewpoint for the Aqueduct Dos Pegoes.  The Convent of the Order of Christ needed a water supply and so in the 1590s, a 6 kilometer aqueduct was constructed to chanel water from four springs at Pegoes to the monastery.  The Portuguese crown hired military architect Filipe Terzio to plan the aqueduct, which took 21 years to construct, although he died before its completition. 

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The viewpoint is actually where the aqueduct is most impressive, it crosses the Vale da Ribeira dos Pegoes, with two tiers of arches and reaches a maximum height of 30 metres.  There is actually a small staircase which allows you to climb to the top of the aqueduct and where you get an amazing view of its two tiers.

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Tourist Information:

Convent de Cristo

Opening Hours:

  • October – May │ 9 am – 5.30 pm (last entry at 5 pm)
  • June – September │ 9am – 6.30 pm (last entry at 6 pm)
  • Closed: 1st January, 1st March, Easter Sunday, 1st May, 24th and 25th December


  • Individual Ticket €6
  • World Heritage Ticket (Convento de Cristo, Mosteiro de Alcobaca e Mosteiro de Santa, Maria da Vitoria €15
  • Children up to 12 years – free
  • Students and over 65 year olds – 50% off ticket price
  • Family – 50%

Castelo de Tomar

Opening Hours:

  • October – May │ 9 am – 5.30 pm (last entry at 5 pm)
  • June – September │ 9am – 6.30 pm (last entry at 6 pm)
  • Closed: 1st January, 1st March, Easter Sunday, 1st May, 24th and 25th December


  • It is free to walk around the grounds and walls

Aqueduto Dos Pegões

The aqueduct is well sign posted throughout Tomar and they lead to a small parking area where it is free to climb up and see the aqueduct.


Castelo de Almoural – 27/12/2018

Although we left relatively early this morning, 10 am, we arrived at the boat pier about 2 minutes too late and missed the last boat to Almoural Castle.  The last boat leaves at 12 pm and stops for lunch until 2.30 pm, so it meant we had a long wait in a very small town.

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Almoural Castle sits on a small craggy island, about 310 meters long and 75 meters wide, in the middle of the Tagus River.  Almoural Castle is located in central Portugal, not far from Tomar and about an hour and half from Lisbon.  To reach the castle, you do need to take a short boat trip, only a couple of minutes from the mainland to reach it.

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I have to say that it is a storybook castle, with its crenelated walls and imposing tower which sits on a greenery covered rocky outcrop among the gently flowing river.  In fact, Almourol Castle was the setting for Francisco de Morais’s epic novel Palmeirim of England, about two knights fighting for a princess’s favor.


It is believed that the castle was possibly constructed on a primitive Lusitanian castro, that was conquered by the Romans during the 1st century BCE. It was remodeled by invading forces including the Alans, Visigoths and Moors. The castle was conquered in 1129 as part of the Reconquest of the Portuguese territory and given to the Knights Templar, who rebuilt the structure. This castle along with Tomar, Zezere and Cardiga castles formed part of the defensive line of fortifications along the Tagus River, that prevented attack from the Moors.

When the Knights Templar dissolved in 1312, this castle remained in the hands of the Portuguese Crown until the creation of the Order of Christ in 1319, who then took it over.  The castle was eventually abandoned and then severely damaged in the 1755 earthquake and fell into ruins.  The castle was rebuilt during the 19th century and registered as a National Monument in 1919. During the 1940s and 1950s it became the official residence of the Portuguese Republic. Later becoming a tourist attraction.

While the castle is empty, you can easily spend 40 minutes wandering the grounds, climbing up the castle keep and walking along the walls admiring the beautiful serene views of the river.

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Time your visit to arrive on the hour and during opening times to avoid waiting for the castle to reopen after lunch.  It is a beautiful picturesque setting and a photographers dream.

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Tourist Information:

Opening Hours:

  • 1st of November – 29th of February │ 10 am to 1 pm (last visit to castle at 12.20) │2.30 to 5.30 (last visit to castle at 4.40 pm)
  • 1st of March to 31st of October │ 10 am to1 pm (last entrance at 12.40) │ 2.30 to 7 pm (last entrance at 6.20 pm) 

Boat Trip to Castle from the River Tancos: The boat boards at the pier with D’El King, in Tancos for a visit to the island and castle and return trip. GPS coordinates: 08°23’56.552 W 39°27’31.494 N

Boat Times: Hourly departures

  • 1st November to 28th February │ 10am to 1pm │ 2:30 pm to 5:00 pm 
  • 1st March to 31st October │ 10am to 1pm │ 2:30 pm to 7:00 pm

Boat Price:

  • Boat Price is €2.50 per person

Lisbon – 28/12/2018

We drove into Lisbon today to explore the city and parked close to where tram 28 begins.  Like in San Francisco, Lisbon has similar trams famed for their wooden, rattling trams, with their horns constantly warning both pedestrians and cars out of the way.  The most iconic tram in Lisbon is Tram 28, which carries both tourists and a few locals up the steep, cobbled streets in Lisbon crossing through various picturesque neighborhoods.  The trams date back to the 1930s, although in the 1990s the brakes and electronics were replaced.

P1090249 (532x800)We arrived about 10.30 am in the morning to join the long queue, which took about 45 minutes before we were able to get a seat on the number 28 tram, I hate to imagine what it must be like during the summer season.  We decided after waiting so long to get on the tram, that we would ride the full length of the trip.  Unfortunately it is not a loop, so when you get to the final stop, everybody has to get off the tram and line up again, although it was the same train, we just had to stand up this second time.  

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We continued walking to the Rua Augusta Arch, (Arco da Rua Augusta) a 19th century arch which is a symbol of the recovery from the 1755 earthquake and tsunami for the Portuguese capital. The arch is made up of six columns, which support historical figures who resisted the Roman conquest of Portugal.  At the top of the arch, French sculptor Célestin Anatole Calmels’ colossal figures represent Glory rewarding Valor and Genius.

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Also in the Praca do Comercio is the statue of King Jose I riding his horse.  King Jose I was the Portuguese ruler during the reconstruction of Lisbon after the earthquake and tsunami.

P1090261 (503x800)We continued onto the Santa Justa Lift which opened in 1902 and was originally called the Elevador do Carmo.  Apparently when it first opened the Lisbon people were so excited about being able to travel between the upper and lower Lisbon, that 3 000 tickets were sold on the first day.  The lift was originally powered by steam, but was replaced by an electronic motor in 1907.  The elevator stands at 45 meters and was built by an engineer, Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, an admiror of Gustave Eiffel, who used similar techniques.  Like the tram, the queue was huge, so we decided to admire it from afar and not join the line.

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We did the long uphill hike to visit St Jorge Castle, but like everywhere else, there was a long queue and only a short time until it closed, so we decided to skip it and catch the 28 tram back to the car park.  One thing we did notice on our trip back to the car was the number of tiled buildings.  We had seen the tiled buildings in Brazil and thought it was very unusual, being in Lisbon we can see where the Brazilians got it from.


Tourist Information:

Tram 28

A single ticket can be purchased onboard at a cost of €2.90. A much better option is to purchase the 24-hour public transport ticket, which includes the metro and all tram and bus services. This ticket costs €6.30 but annoyingly can only be purchased from the ticket machines in the metro stations.

Castelo St Jorge


  • Adult: € 8.50 │ Students under 25, people over 65, people with disabilities: € 5 │ Children under 10: free │ Family (2 adults + 2 children): € 20

Opening Hours:

  • Winter (1st November – 28th February): 9 am to 6 pm │ Summer (1st March – 31st October): 9 am – 9 pm
  • Closed 24th, 25th and 31st of December, 1st January, 1st May


Sintra – Palacio de Pena and Castle of the Moors – 29/12/2018

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After lots of reading we had discovered there is very little parking nearby the Palace and Castle and without having to pay extra to catch shuttle buses the other alternative was a very long uphill hike.  Nevertheless we solved this by having an early morning start.  We arrived in Sintra by 9.00 and after driving the winding road uphill we found plenty of carparking between the Palace and the Castle of the Moors, which required no more walking than those who caught the shuttle bus and better yet it was free.

We did purchase tickets to Palacio de Pena the morning of our visit and lined up, one of the first in the queue but I will admit it was very chilly.  After about a 40 minute wait we were first in and did the 500 meter uphill hike to the palace and were the one of the first to arrive.  Arriving early meant there was time to read the signs in the rooms without the crowds and you could get photos without hundreds of people being in them.  I have to say within 45 minutes of us arriving there was a line up to get in, which continued to grow throughout our visit, we were very pleased that we came early.

History of the Palace

This Disney-like castle is a glorious conglomeration of turrets and domes awash in bright redish-brown and ocher. The palace stands on what was once  1503 the Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena which was constructed in 1503, but fell into ruins after the religious order was expelled from Portugal in 1832.

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In 1839, Maria II’s consort, Ferdinand August Franz Anton from Austria of Saxe-Coburg, purchased the ruins.  Ferdinand was inspired by the Bavarian castles of his homeland and commissioned a German architect, Baron Eschwege, to build his castle which incorporated a range of styles from Arabian to Victorian.  The castle was completed in 1885.

When Maria II died, Ferdinand married an opera singer, Elise Hensler, later known as the Countess d’Edla.  Upon Ferdinand’s death Elise, the castle was sold to the state and Elise lived in a chalet on the property until her death.  After the regicide of D. Carlos I and Prince Luis Filipe, the remainder of the royal family went into exile, leaving Manuel II the last king to have inhabited Pena in 1910.

The Palace

As you enter the palace you begin your tour of the ground floor which consists of the 16th century convent which is organised around a small cloister.  The cloister is decorated with Hispanic-Moorish style tiles, elaborate gargoyles and the Moorish style arched windows.  The other notable room on this floor is the Royal families dining room.

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 On the top floor were the rooms used by Queen Amelia and her entourage, which had previously been used by King Fernando and his second wife Countess of Edla. The rooms include Queen Amelia’s bedroom with an exquisitely decorated vaulted ceiling, her ladies in waiting rooms, sitting rooms and others.

From Amelia’s rooms you enter the Queen’s Terrace, which probably offers the best views of the front facade of the palace.  By this stage of our tour the crowds had started to gather.

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There are a series of rooms used for entertainment that can also be explored, as well as a courtyard and walk around the exterior walls, which offers a wonderful view of the Castle of the Moors.

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The exterior of the palace though is probably the real draw-card for a visit.  Not only is it elaborately painted but the middle section is covered in blue tiles with detailed decorations.

We did walk around the gardens some, but being winter the flowers were not in bloom, a lot of the trees were leafless and it was cold and windy.  I imagine along with the vast forested area it would be spectacular in the spring and summer.

After a quick lunch at the cafeteria we continued onto the Moors Castle, just a 10 minute walk from Pena Palace. The castle of the Moors spreads along the cliff face overlooking the town of Sintra and other stately homes on one side and the Atlantic Ocean and Pena Palace on the other.


The original fortification was built during the 10th century after the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Muslims.  When the Christian forces led by Dom AFonso Henriques in 1147 retook Lisban the fortress was handed over to the Knights Templar and it eventually fell into ruins. 

P1090443 (554x800)Ferdinand undertook restoration work to restore it to its 9th century beauty as well as undertaking reforestation around the castle.

The Castle

There is nothing to see inside the castle, however there is a long walk along the walls and towers which give amazing views over Sintra, Pena Palace and the Atlantic Ocean.  The castle towers and wall are pretty amazing in that they follow the contours of the land.  Well worth the walk.


Pena Palace

  • Palace and Gardens: Adult (18 – 64 years) – €14 │ Young ticket (6 to 17 years) – €50 │ Senior ticket (over 65 years old) – €12.50 │ Family ticket (2 adults + 2 young people) – € 49
  • Gardens: Adult (18 – 64 years) – €50 │ Young ticket (6 to 17 years) – €6.50 │ Senior ticket (over 65 years old) – €6.50 │ Family ticket (2 adults + 2 young people) – € 26

Opening Times:

  • 28th October – 31st March: 10 am – 6 pm
  • 1st April – 27th October: Garden: 9 am – 7 pm │ Palace: 9.45 am – 7 pm
  • Closed: December 25th, January 1st

Castle of the Moors


  • Palace and Gardens: Adult (18 – 64 years) – €14 │ Young ticket (6 to 17 years) – €50 │ Senior ticket (over 65 years old) – €12.50 │ Family ticket (2 adults + 2 young people) – € 49
  • Gardens: Adult (18 – 64 years) – €50 │ Young ticket (6 to 17 years) – €6.50 │ Senior ticket (over 65 years old) – €6.50 │ Family ticket (2 adults + 2 young people) – € 26

Opening Times:

  • 28th October – 31st March: 10 am – 6 pm
  • 1st April – 27th October: Garden: 9 am – 7 pm │ Palace: 9.45 am – 7 pm
  • Closed: December 25th, January 1st

The Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors are located on the second highest point of the Serra da Sintra range and is a tough uphill hike from Sintra’s historic center.  We drove and at 9.15 we had a choice of car-parks.  In fact we parked between the Castle of the Moors and the Pena Palace so an easy walk to both.  There are several methods of transportation including the 434 tourist bus, which connects from the train station as well as taxis and tuk tuks.