A Travellerspoint blog


2-4 September 2019

Mon 2 September: Our drive from the Algarve on the south coast to Porto on the North West coast would take us through the centre of Portugal. We’d eyed a few possible places to visit en route and had a few more suggested, so off we went.

Bega was supposed to have an interesting castle, so this was our first stop. But with the temp in the high 30s, it was way too hot to do any serious middle-of the day sightseeing, and the supposed castle didn’t fall into our lap, so we had a brief wander then limited ourselves to a couple of great filled rolls for lunch in the town square.


...and moved on to Evora. We’d scored a lovely room via Air BnB in a magnificent new house with all mod cons, and a lovely host family, in the country-side a bit out of town. Another advantage of travelling independently by car! Big pooch of a dog, pool and ensuite. It seems you can find these places reasonably-priced if you’re prepared to be away from beachfronts and town squares! We arrived about 3pm, decided to leave sightseeing in town until dinner and the cool of the evening. Collapsed into the pool and rested for a couple of hours.

Had a brief wander around the centre, then ate at a guide-book-recommended restaurant; excellent local food, again meat-heavy.

Tues 3: Back into Evora to visit Geraldo Square and the (apparently) famed Sao Francisco church

Quite liked this footwashing painting:


and its adjoining ‘Chapel of the Bones’. We’d read it was designed to help the (medieval?) monks focus in prayer on their mortality. We weren’t sure quite what to expect, maybe the odd skeleton on a glass box. Certainly not this!!


But some amazing tiled stations of the cross on the entranceway wall as we came out.

We realised we'd missed a highly recommended tourist spot: the Castelo del Monsaraz - a lovely little village on a hilltop, still entirely contained by the ancient wall. So we detoured. Just lovely.

Another recommended attraction on route was Tomar, a town dominated by a huge hilltop castle/old convent complex, founded originally as the HQ of the Knights Templar, the archetypical Crusader outfit with the huge red cross on white tunics. Phil had read bits and pieces about the Templars over the years, fiction and otherwise. They almost certainly will have featured in the Da Vinci code and other books about Jesus marrying Mary Magdelen, and other such nonsense, but we wouldn't know!!

Associated with apocryphal secrecy, including the location of the Holy Grail they got too much even for the Vatican. "The secrecy with which they operated and its vast accumulated wealth " lead to a falling out with the then equally-political Vatican and the order was banned and its members imprisoned by Pope Clement V, in 1307! Among the accusations, later conceded under torture (so clearly true) were "denial of Christ and the cross, foreced and consenting homosexuality and adoration of the goat-headed idol Baphomet"!!! Three leaders were burned at the stake, protesting their innocence. This is becoming a common theme :) The Templars were replaced in Portugal, whose King was reluctant to follow the Vatican's lead, by the Order of Christ which seems to have been no more than a re-branding. There was a large convent there most recently; you can see clositers and the refectory in some of the photos. I'm bringing home a little booklet on the history, if anyone's interested in following up.


The we headed to Coimbra (pronounced Queembro), an early Portugeses capital (I think) and a major historic university town.

A map and guide MC picked up contained a, to us, hilarious story. St Isabel, originally Queen Isabel de Arajao, was married to a King or ruling Duke of the area. We're talking early 14th century. She was in the habit of taking bread to the poor in a big basket thing. Apparently hubby disapproved, or something so she was doing this secretly. But one day he came across her in her wicked pursuit and asked her what she had in the basket. "Roses, sir" she said and opened her basket to reveal, not bread, but indeed roses! For this apparently worthy miracle, she was in 1625 canonised!!! Apparently about 20 other saints, incluing St Elizabeth of Hungary did similar things. We'd have thought, if one was to be canonised for such magic tricks, then surely, turning roses into bread for the poor would have been a far more worthy direction :)

To be honest, we were a little underwhelmed by Coimbra. Maybe it was a bad day, maybe we were put off by the disappointing hop-on hop-off tour we did (we stayed on), or maybe it was a rather unhappy check-in experience at the otherwise satisfactory hotel. Or maybe we just didn't get it. Here are some photos anyway :)


And so, on to Porto and a highlight of the trip.

Posted by philandmc 02:59 Archived in Portugal

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