The beach at Nazare is amazing.  This small fishing village sits on the Atlantic Ocean, about an hour’s drive north of Lisbon.

Fishermen still haul their catch up onto the beach and spread it out on drying racks. The catch will later be sold to local fishmongers for sale to the public.

The beach also has modern restaurants serving traditional Portuguese cooking, but there is another lesser known fact about the beach. It is one of the stops on the world big wave surfing scene. The Nazaré Canyon lies just off shore and it is said to be the largest in Europe, 5000 metres deep and 230 kilometres long. This canyon produces waves that are more than 75 feet in height. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia – Can you spot the surfer?)

We spent our second day in Nazaré wondering around the beach and exploring the small streets and back alleys. We soon learned that some of the best local restaurants are found off the main drag and up the hill in these lesser traveled spots. A tip, leave the tour buses and funny hats behind and look for the real people and food in the back alleys.

We ate lunch at this sidewalk bistro

with a griller on the outside and fresh seafood and fish in the refrigerated cooler at his side.

We also drank some Vinho Verde.

Later that night we came back to the same area for dinner. Our hosts at Quintas Das Rosas recommended a friend’s restaurant and we happily took their advice. As we were staying up the hill at the Quinta we chose to take the funicular from Sitio down to the beach. It runs every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. to midnight and is the easiest way to get around if you are not staying down by the beach.

We walked to a wonderful, small (14 people) restaurant for a delicious meal of boiled white clams cooked in garlic, butter and olive oil. We also had grilled sardines (honestly, they were the size of trout). A tasty white wine from the Douro River Valley complimented the meal.

After dinner we had a slow walk back to the base of the funicular for the ride back to our car,

And this is what we saw on the ride up the hill.

It was a short and bitter sweet drive back to our B&B as we both knew this would be our last night in Portugal.

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While it was difficult to depart from Porto and put our Douro River adventures behind us, we looked forward to visiting the picturesque seaside village of Nazaré.

On our way to Nazaré, we stopped in Alcobaça

to see the Monastery.

While the facade is weathered, the carving and architecture is remarkable. The interior is majestic.


The town consists of three neighbourhoods: Praia (along the beach), Sítio (an old village, on top of a cliff) and Pederneira (another old village, on a hilltop). Praia and Sítio are linked by the Nazaré Funicular railway. [courtesy of Wikipedia]


We stayed at a Quinta on the cliff overlooking the ocean and Praia.

At the end of the long driveway was the bed and breakfast accommodation that would be our home for the next three days…

Complete with free-range chickens and peacocks.

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There is no getting around it – this region is rife with ancient Cathedrals, Monasteries, Castles and Convents. Within an easy driving distance of Nazaré there are many charming small towns and villages and it seems that each has its own magnificent historical architectural site.

What follows are pictures and descriptions of some of those that we were fortunate to visit in our travels.



Approximately one hour from Nazaré is the town of Tomar. The town was originally born within the walls of the Convento de Cristo, which was constructed in the late 12th Century. In its past, the Convent was connected with the Knights Templar.

Following its construction in the late 12th Century, Tomar was transferred to the control of the Knights Templar and it stood as a primary defense to the invasion of the Moors.In 1983 the Convent was listed as a World Heritage Site.

The famous round church (rotunda) of the castle of Tomar was also built in the second half of the 12th century. The church, like some other templar churches throughout Europe, was modeled after the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which was believed by the crusaders to be a remnant of the Temple of Solomon. [Courtesy of Wikipedia.]


Since the early 20th century, Fátima has been associated with events in which three local children, Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, purportedly saw visions of a woman known as Our Lady of Fátima, since believed by the Catholic Church to be the Virgin Mary. On 13 May 1917, whilst guarding their families’ sheep in the Cova da Iria, the children first claimed to have seen an apparition of a “lady dressed in white” and shining with a bright light.The local bishop investigated the events and determined that the apparitions were worthy of belief. The site was marked by a cross erected by locals. In 1918 they built a small chapel, built from rock and limestone and covered in tile. It was 3.3 metres (11 ft) by 2.8 metres (9.2 ft) length, and 2.85 metres (9.4 ft) height. It became a centre for Marian devotion, receiving names such as a fé de Fátima, cidade da Paz (“the faith of Fátima, City of Peace”), or Terra de Milagres e Aparições(“Land of Miracles and Apparitions”).The chapel has since been enclosed within a large basilica and sanctuary, part of a complex including a hotel and other facilities. In 1930, the statue of Our Lady in the Chapel of Apparitions was crowned by the Vatican. [Wikipedia]


The Batalha Monastery was built to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, fulfilling a promise of KingJohn I of Portugal. The battle put an end to the 1383–85 Crisis.It took over a century to build, starting in 1386 and ending circa 1517, spanning the reign of seven kings. It took the efforts of fifteen architects (Mestre das Obras da Batalha), but for seven of them the title was no more than an honorary title bestowed on them. The construction required an enormous effort, using extraordinary resources of men and material. New techniques and artistic styles, hitherto unknown in Portugal, were deployed. [Wikipedia]

 Our day was long and we walked a great deal in exploring these magnificent buildings and reading up on the rich history of the region.  We both looked forward to returning to Nazaré and our comfortable accommodation at Quinta das Rosas.

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Like port wine we traveled down the Douro River (bad pun eh!) to Porto. However, we took the scenic highways through the countryside.

We were not prepared for the beauty of the riverside development and antiquity in this second largest city in Portugal. I have heard that there is an expression: Porto works, Braga Prays, Coimbra studies, and Lisbon gets the money.

The city has a well-worn feel to it. It is not a shiny new penny, it is proud of its rough-scrabble working class roots. The waterfront is not calm, peaceful or pastoral, it is steep, busy and loud. This is its appeal.

As mentioned in an earlier entry, port wine arrived in this city in casks and was off-loaded in Vila Nova de Gianni, across the river from Porto. There it was put into the lodges of the large wine companies to age and ferment prior to being shipped around the world.

On our first day in Porto, we walked across the pedestrian bridge to Giai and took tours at two of the largest wine lodges, Sandeman and Taylor, Fladgate.

The entrance to Sandeman is situated literally steps from the river to ease the unloading of the kegs of port that have come by boat from upriver.

One problem with locating on the river’s edge is that if it floods you may pay the price. On the side of the main entrance to Sandeman Lodge, you will see markings indicating the water level at each of the 9 floods between 1825 and 2001. Don’t worry about the wine though, the aged oak of the casks or barrels while letting oxygen pass through, is impervious to water. No port was lost during the floods.

We did our part to keep these three glasses of port from the future ravages of flooding.

Taylor Fladgate Lodge is located further up the steep hill. They are not susceptible to flooding. It is a good thing, as their inventory is vast and historic as you will see. for a short video on the history of Taylor’s click on this link.

I have no facts on this but this may be the largest barrel in captivity. To better appreciate its size look at the next picture.

We also walked along the boardwalk on river’s edge in Porto. There is a lively restaurant, market and street performance scene.

University students busk for money to support their Clubs and Scholastic activities.


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Porto is a city for walking. Right outside of our hotel was a lively plaza with many outdoor cafes, street vendors and buskers. But don’t limit your exploration to walking out from your hotel or room.

Taxis are a relatively inexpensive way to access other parts of the city.

We chose to start by visiting the retail district and join the crowd window shopping.

Then we decided to walk to the Rossio Train Station to see the artwork in the main lobby.

Along the way, there was plenty of street art and decorative textile exteriors to admire.


The Rossio Train Station is a wonderfully ornate structure that really does not resemble a train station. The interior lobby and ticket area is a wonder of tiles and historical depictions of Portuguese history. It was certainly worth the effort to walk to this very impressive building to admire the artwork.


Majestic Café is the most beautiful café in Porto. Actually, it’s on the Top 10 of the most beautiful cafés in the world. It dates back to 1921 under the name of The Elite. It is located on Santa Catarina Street, the main pedestrian walkway in the city. You can’t miss it. The façade is gorgeous but as you go inside your mouth opens and the sound “Aaaah” comes out!

In its early days, this café used to be one of the meeting points of the elite of the city. Writers, politicians, artists, thinkers, the elites, met in different cafés around the city to exchange ideas and discuss different topics over a cup of coffee or a glass of absinthe.

Time took its toll and the place was neglected. The glamour of “la belle époque” gave in to carelessness and Majestic Café was no longer majestic! In 1994, the Majestic re-opened after two years of reconstruction work to bring back the glamour from the 20s and give the café back to Porto! [credit localporto.com]

At the end of a long day of walking and exploring what better thing to do than find a wonderful outdoor eatery and sample a local delicacy…. barnacles.

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We had booked two nights accommodation at Quinta De La Rosa, a working Quinta alongside the Douro River. From the photo above you can see that the buildings and accommodation are literally perched on the steep side of the banks. In Portuguese, a Quinta is a wine producing estate, which can be a winery or a vineyard. While other wine classification systems may classify the winery (such as the 1855 Bordeaux classification), the Douro Quinta classification is based upon the physical characteristics of the vineyard.

Our little Renault Cleo was carefully parked for the night on the terrace.

On the second night of our stay, we were lucky enough have a special dinner put on in honour of the first anniversary of the opening of the dining room at the Quinta.

It was a six-course dinner with wine and port parings from the Quinta itself.

We have the glasses to prove we were at the dinner.

As mentioned in an earlier blog this Quinta is the only one that ages its wines on site. We took a one hour tour of the facility on our last day and we learned a good deal more about port wines and their production. The smaller barrels are used to make Ruby port which is a lighter wine with less oxidation. The smaller barrels restrict the contact between the aging wine and the wood of the barrel thereby allowing less contact with the oxygen coming through the wood during the fermenting process. The larger barrels are used to make Tawny port which is oxidized more and has a richer fuller body.

Naturally, there was time to sample the product at the end of the tour.

For hundreds of years, wealthy British families have been instrumental in developing the port wine industry in the Douro River Valley. One curious fact and custom among the British Elite was to gift a child a newly harvested barrel of wine on their christening. Photo shows a barrel that was set aside for Annie Kate Patricia in 2009.

Amazingly baby Claire Feueheerd was given the whole Quinta as a christening present in 1906. You can read more about the history of the Estate here.

NEXT – We take our own journey down the Douro River to Porto.

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It is hard to describe the beauty of the Douro River Valley and the wine and port producing vineyards that line its steep slopes. It is the third-longest river in the Iberian Peninsula after the Tagus and Ebro Rivers. Its total length is 897 kilometers of which only sections of the Portuguese extension below the fall line are navigable by light rivercraft. Here is a link to a Wikipedia article that will give you historical and geographic information about the river itself.

Pinhau is a small town that is about a two-hour drive from the coastal city of Porto. It is in the heart of the famous port wine producing area in Portugal.

The real beauty of this area of the Douro River Valley is difficult to portray in a blog on a small screen. I am going to offer you a link to a YouTube video created for Quinta de La Rosa vineyard, the Quinta where we stayed for two nights. Please excuse the commercial content of the video, it is worth watching for the sheer beauty of the images.

Traditionally grapes for port wine were crushed manually by foot at the vineyards and then transported in large oak casks to Porto at the mouth of the Douro in the Rabelo cargo boats that transported people and goods on the river. The casks were then unloaded at Vila Nova de Gaia, a town across the river from Porto. On arrival, the casks were then stored in the lodges of the various vineyards for aging and fermentation. (More later.)

Today the Rabelo boats are used to take tourists on Douro River tours out of Pinhau.

The Quinta de La Rosa may be the only vineyard to grow its own grapes, crush them and store them on site during the aging and fermentation process. A special license was obtained for this purpose. Refer to the attached video for some details on this.

When we arrived at the Quinta de La Rosa we were told that they had just finished the harvest and we were invited to participate in the crushing process. We politely declined, but after dinner, we did get a chance to see some of the guests taking part in the crushing. There was a small fee for this but if you lasted the 3 hours and completed the crushing process, you got a T-Shirt and the fee was waived. Professional crushers usually handle the bulk of this task.

The following day we took a one hour boat tour on the Douro River. Being on the river provides a totally different perspective and viewpoint. The steep terraced hills are quite an agricultural achievement and a very efficient use of the landscape.

Often the vineyards are planted with olive groves along the flatter river’s edge and then rows of terraced grape vines on the steeper slopes up on the hillsides.

As you can see, these two people on our tour boat were really enjoying themselves.

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We stayed only one night in Coimbra and it was really meant to break up the drive from Lisbon to the Douro River Valley. It turned out to be much more than that and I wish we had another night and day to take a good long look around.

When we awoke after the night spent in our loft accommodation and threw open the shutters this is what greeted us. What a day.

I had found a local cafe online and so we set out for the Cafe Santa Cruz. It sounded like it would have authentic baked goods and good coffee. When we arrive on scene we found that it was located in a square with other notable buildings.

This was our view of the hotel across the square as we enjoyed our breakfast outside on a terrace.

However, the really stunning discovery was this.

Hint – that’s our cafe on the right. On the left, the Santa Cruz Monastery. It is a National Monument in Coimbra, Portugal. Because the first two kings of Portugal are buried in the church it was granted the status of National Pantheon.

Here’s an image courtesy of Wikipedia of the pipe organ inside of the Monastery.

It’s pretty difficult not to be impressed with the antiquity and history in Portugal.

Speaking of which,


These are reputed to be the best preserved Roman ruins in Portugal. To date, only 10% of the site has been excavated. Some of the earliest layers date back to the 9th Century B.C. The Romans arrived in the 2nd Century A.D. and conquered the Celtic inhabitants and began to build a remarkably intricate city, much of which remains intact at present. From the sturdy walls to the delicate tile flooring and the ornate gardens, this excavation and the on-site museum is a wonder to behold.

I don’t have anything witty to say and I will not bore you with a history lesson. Just take a moment and consider the fact that this site remains both beautiful and architecturally significant and enjoy what we saw.

For a short video of the ruins click here.

It was brutally hot at the ruins site, approximately 35 C. We were wilting when we got back in the car to continue our drive to Pinhau in the Douro River Valley.

We had arranged for 3 nights accommodation at the Quinta de La Rosa on the banks of the Douro River. Quinta is a Portuguese term meaning farm or farmhouse. Over the years it has come to mean a large tract of land, often a vineyard. The Quintas of the Douro River Valley in Portugal produce some of the world’s best port wine and some stellar table wines as well.

In the next installment, I will tell you about Pinhau and the Douro River Valley.

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Having sampled the delights and wonders of Lisbon, it was now time to expand our horizons and head north to the smaller towns in northern Portugal. We rented a car and traveled on the tolled highway system. Our car was a Renault Clio, small by North American standards but not unusual in Europe, and some might say a necessity these days. Once out of the city the driving was fairly easy, the car had a transponder that allowed us to cruise through toll booths at about 60 kph. It was equipped with GPS and cruise control and so we were able to relax and enjoy the rural scenery during our two-hour drive to Coimbra.


One of the must-see things in Coimbra is the University. Coimbra offers an outstanding example of an integrated university city with a historic and proud city. Although somewhat smaller than the university in Lisbon, it is generally regarded as the most prestigious university in Portugal. We were fortunate to visit Coimbra when the students were in their first week and registering for classes and activities. Around the university district, you could see them in their distinctive black suits and gowns, obviously proud of their new status. The gowns are worn on campus and in town during ceremonial weeks. It has often been said that this city is similar to Oxford, England in that regard.

The university is divided into eight different faculties (Letters, Law, Medicine, Sciences & Technology, Pharmacy, Economics, Psychology & Education Sciences, and Sports Sciences & Physical Education), comprising about 25,000 students. The Faculty of Sciences and Technology (FCTUC) is the largest by number of professors and students, awards the highest number of academic degrees, and manages more classrooms and research units than any other in the University.

Behind the Iron Gates is a statue of King João III, who based the University permanently in Coimbra.

For a look inside the Iron Gates at one of the main squares of the University click this link. (Remember to maximize the image for the best viewing.)

These two photographs were taken in the interior of the The University’s São Miguel Chapel.

A massive pipe organ.

In the city itself, the sidewalk cafe and tapas bistro scenes are everywhere and the activity lasts well into the night.

More from Coimbra in the next installment.

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The next day we continued our adventure in Lisbon, this time by foot, water, and double-decker bus. First thing in the morning we boarded a boat for a shoreline cruise of the Tagus estuary.

Along the way, we were offered a recorded commentary in both Portuguese and English. One of the interesting things about this tour is that our boat docked at several locations to allow passengers to get on and off and thereby explore many of the waterfront sights on foot.

Lisbon is situated on the estuary at the mouth of the Tagus River. On the banks of the estuary, and visible from the water are many monuments and interesting historical sites.

The statue of Christ the King in Almada is located on the southern shore of the estuary and is easily visible from the water.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Belém Tower is a fortified tower and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the significant role it played in the Portuguese maritime discoveries. The tower was commissioned by King John II to be part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus river and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries) is located along the estuary where ships departed to explore and trade with India and the Orient. A 52-meter-high slab, the design takes the form of the prow of a carvel ship used in early Portuguese exploration. On either side of the slab are ramps that join at the river’s edge, with the figure of Henry the Navigator on its edge. On either side are 16 figures representing significant individuals from Portuguese naval history. [Commentary in part courtesy of Wikipedia.]

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

This bridge is named after the revolution that took place April 25, 1975, when the Carnation Revolution took place that ended the dictatorial regime and returned democracy to Portugal. 25 April is a national holiday, known as Liberation Day to celebrate the event.

Up next… we leave Lisbon and travel by car north to the university city of Coimbra.

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