When we travel we love visiting big metropolis, but we love even more the quietness and authenticity of the rural villages that can be found in the middle of nowhere. By driving far from the crowds we have discovered amazing towns in our old continent.
It has been a long time thinking about writing a post on our 5 favourite villages in Europe to spread the word about them. Of course they are our own selection among all the villages that we’ve visited together to date, but there are still plenty of villages awaiting for us to visit them! The order in this post is merely chronological, since we wouldn’t be able to choose among all those little wonders 🙂
Portugal is known for its perfect beaches for surfing, its fantastic food, its cultural heritage… and, unfortunately, also for its wildfires during summer season. We experienced hundreds of wildfires when we visited Portugal two years ago. We remember ourselves crossing black smoke, having fire on the road margins, smelling smoke all day and wondering how far was the fire. One of the worst days was the one we spent in Porto. It was almost impossible to breath and it was raining ash as if a volcano erupted close to us.
The geography of Lisbon has turned it into a city full of hills that are overcome by means of the funiculars, which are an essential part to Lisbon’s mobility. This particular geography, together with certain amazing monuments, brings to visitors lots of opportunities to enjoy great views of the city and to take nice pictures anywhere. We reached Lisbon by car last summer after a short visit to the Alentejo region and we definitely fell in love with that colourful and vibrant city that we could observe from many viewpoints. Those are, in our oppinion, the best places to see Lisbon on your feet.
1. Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Inaugurated in 1960, the Monument of the Discoveries is located in the northern bank of the Tagus River estuary, from where ships used to depart to explore and trade with India and Orient. The monument recalls the Portuguese Age of Discovery (XV and XVI centuries). If you visit the Belém quarter don’t forget to climb up to the top of this monument to have amazing views of the compass rose and mapa mundi (a gift from the South African government) at its feet and the Jerónimos Monastery in the background.
We are used to travel on the weekend or while our (never enough) holidays and thus we try to make the most of our trips with lots of planning and less room for improvisation. But last summer, in Portugal, we had the three things that any traveler needs to decide the destinations along the way: a car, a camping tent and a travel guide.
We had travelled through central Portugal from Lisboa to the medieval jewel of Guimarães and our next stop in our way back home was fixed at Burgos (Spain), a city dominated by its amazing Word Heritage cathedral. But we still had one night and some hours driving to reach Burgos, so we decided to open the guide and look for hotspots in the way back to Barcelona. We had heard about Miranda do Douro, a Portuguese town, belonging to the Braganza district, located in the border with Spain and next to which environmental cruises depart to sail through the international natural park of the Douro river. Moreover, the town has a municipal camping site, so we couldn’t ask for more!
Ferran El Valent (Ferdinand, The Brave) was having a rest under a Cork Oak. It was August in the old Castile, and Ferran had to stop in the midday in the only shadow he found before crossing towards the Kingdom of Portugal. A piece of cheese, a slice of bread and some wine, this was his lunch before falling sleep.
Coming from the capital of the County of Barcelona, part of the Aragon Kingdom, Ferran was looking for new adventures. He heard of a recent land discovery. It was the beginning of XVI century and America had been just discovered by Cristopher Colombus some years before. He had tried to board on a ship in Barcelona, but he was rejected. He had tried the same in Cádiz, in the southern part of the Kingdom of Castile, and the same result was found. He was lame. His disability made him to be one of the best horse riders in the Peninsula because the horse was like a natural extension of his body. However, this was not enough to join a ship towards America. His faith: to cross the Atlantic at the Kingdom of Portugal orders.
Six o’clock in the afternoon. Ferran took his hat, tied off his horse from the Cork Oak tree and started the last part of the journey towards Portugal. More than 40ºC under a yellow, almost orange, sun and riding to the west. Alone. A hope. A new Kingdom for him. Elvas was his first stop in Portugal.