by Bob Samborski
It appears suddenly, just off the A8 motorway an hour north of Lisbon. The ancient wall of Obidós rests like a tiara on a large hill, a geophysical anomaly in the surrounding low farmland. Inside the wall is a jewel waiting to be explored, a perfect mini-adventure in one of Portugal’s most treasured historic villages.
The approach is dramatic: a walk up a cobbled road from a nearby parking area delivers you to the original old stone gateway. Like an ancient time machine, a small entrance vestibule serves as a portal to a bygone era. Inside, large stone steps flank the entryway on both sides providing access to the top of the wall. And there the adventure begins!
A leisurely walk around the ramparts encircling the village takes about an hour, and is a definite “must-do.” Photographers will probably require three hours. The teardrop shaped wall complex offers spectacular views of the main castle and countryside. Looking down into the village, a sea of red tiles parts in places to reveal splashes of vivid blues, yellows and reds against bright white stuccoed walls.
Obidós has a variety of cozy, reasonably priced restaurants. Most menus feature traditional Portuguese fare — fresh fish, octopus and shellfish, grilled beef and pork, hearty soups and stews, and the ubiquitous salted cod.
Village shops contain a variety of quality local handicrafts; unique carved stone and wooden pieces, creative glasswork, and wonderful examples of traditional Portuguese tiles. Several shops feature tiles that are faithful replicas of designs used in the 14th and 15th centuries — many of which appear on the walls and facades of historic structures in Lisbon, Porto and Sintra.
You’ll find great buys in the red and white wines from local area producers, as well as from the famous vineyards in the Douro and Dão river valleys, renowned for their excellent vintages. A bottle of Port wine, available at incredibly low prices in some village shops, also makes a nice souvenir or gift.
Not exactly a secret, Obidós attracts its share of visitors. Tour groups of Britons, Germans, French and quite a few Portuguese visit during the peak hours of the day. It is a convenient one or two hour stop between the palaces of Sintra to the south and the more famous religious pilgrimage cities of Braga and Fatima to the north and east, and most groups quickly move on. But to simply rush down what serves as the main street in this village to see the castle and climb to the top of the wall deprives the visitor of a truly remarkable experience.
Spending the night within the walls will significantly enhance your experience. Options range from a fairly pricy Pousada (one in a chain of beautifully restored castles and manor houses that dot the Portuguese countryside) to pension-style accommodations in smaller privately owned houses.
Once the tour buses and day visitors leave, the place assumes a blissful quiet. There are not many nightlife options in Obidós, but that fits perfectly with its spirit. Unlike many places in Portugal, the restaurants and bars close at 10pm.
Taking an after dinner stroll provides the wonderfully eerie experience of being totally alone in narrow cobbled lanes, the only sound the echo of your footsteps on the stone walls of shops and low buildings close on either side… the only light the occasional soft glow of lamps illuminating lace window coverings.
Completely encased by the ancient stone walls high above, you sense the feeling of security and belonging that villagers here must have treasured for centuries.
If you go:
http://www.travel-in-portugal.com/Obidos/ (General description of Obidos)
http://www.portugalvirtual.pt/pousadas/obidos/index.html (Website of the Castle Hotel Pousada)
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