LEIRIA, PORTUGAL — Portugal is the land of light. You step off of the plane and cannot help but to be engulfed by its healing, energizing, centering properties. No matter what region of the country you are visiting, this will be what you take away.
Like California, Portugal runs the gamut on landscape boasting beaches, wine country, island getaways, classic European metropolitan areas, and ages of history coating them all like icing.
Given that Portugal has so many different facets of life, we will visit a handful of locations in an area northwest of Lisbon, the District of Leiria, and an easy day-trip out if your visit focuses on the city itself.
Castles, marinas, beaches for both young and old, vacation spots of the queens, the cities of Obidos, Caldas da Rainha and Foz do Arelho, Sao Martinho, and Nazare make for a great day or two (or week) of sightseeing.
In this area of the country, the landscape forces into the air sheer cliffs, which are infamous for paragliding and the beaches below, achieve a natural seclusion. When driving from Lisbon, the first of these too-fairy-tale-to-be true villages you will arrive upon is Obidos. Literally a castle on a hill, there is still a living village within the walls. Constructed by the Moors in the 8th century, this city is a dive into life behind castle walls minus the typhoid and ugly wenches. Weekend opera performances are a regular occurrence, as is a customary Portuguese sherry, Ginjinha, made from sour cherries. By the end of the Opera, you’re guaranteed to be singing in the aisles.
A little on up the highway is Caldas da Rainha, or “Queen’s Springs”. Local lore states that once upon a 15th century road trip, Queen Leonore and her party came across a foul smell, to be told by a villager that the nearby sulfur springs was the culprit, but also a blessing. The springs were hailed to alleviate a variety of chronic maladies, and a 500 year old hospital stands today as a testament to the springs’ healing properties. Later in history the municipality was also refuge to many Jews escaping Nazism during World War II. True to the words, “there must be something in the water”, Caldas da Rainha has become a Mecca of the arts. In my visit to the city center, street art abounds, as do the museums, street fairs, and a beautiful new cultural center, the Centro Cultural e de Congressos. With traditional entertainment of the bull fights, or Torada, and a hip shopping area, Caldas da Rainha is well rounded and well grounded in history.
Awesome piece! I’ve never been to Portugal, but your description of the more cultured and beautifully landscaped areas reminds me of some coastal Spanish cities and even, for some reason, the atmosphere on some of the Greek islands.