Aveiro in the north is unique: it is criss-crossed by canals grandly embroidered with art nouveau houses and spanned by hump- backed bridges. Here in colourfully painted 'moliceiro' boats, seaweed is gathered in the vast saltwater lagoon. Further inland you can sample the curative waters of the elegant thermal spa towns of Luso and Curia, fashionable since early this century. And in the Bucaco forest nearby, stands the Palace Hotel, resplendent with turrets, arched galleries and an enormous marble staircase: a perfect hideaway for romantics.
The lively University city of Coimbra is a mixture of ancient and modern. Its streets are filled with the chatter of black-caped students and the soulful tones of fado. The university library, one of the best in Europe, is a Baroque fantasy where the rooms each lead into the next creating a telescope-like effect. The old Cathedral is one of the most important examples of Romanesquc architecture in Portugal. In the Marchado de Castro Museum, you'll find religious art treasures and can actually explore the ruins of the Roman crypt over which the museum was built. An even more impressive sight is the nearby Roman city of Conimbriga. On the west coast, the town of Figueira da Foz has vast beaches and a famous casino.
Further south is the charming
town of Leiria with its crenellated walls towering high above an almost
perpendicular rock. From May to October, the roads nearby are lined with
pilgrims - many on foot - visiting the famed shrine of Fatima where
three shepherd children claimed to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary.
Another magical place is the Castle of Almmourol, just south, which stands on a tiny island and is steeped in legends of giants and knights.
Further opulent architecture can he discovered at Batalha in the Santa Maria da Vitoria Monastery, with its flying buttresses, gargoyles, pinnacles and the intricate stonework of its cloisters. Close to this is one of Portugal's most awe-inspiring monuments: the Monastery of Alcobaca, which has been given UNESCO world heritage status. The kitchen, with ovens big enough to roast six oxen at once, even has two streams converging through it into one. The monastery also contains the tombs of King Pedro and Ines de Castro whose passionate love story has inspired writers and poets all over the world. Many of the farming methods and agricultural science of the region introduced by the Cistercian monks are still in evidence today.
The delightful town of Obidos with white houses adorned with bougainvilleas and honeysuckle was captured from the Moors by the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, in 1148. D. Dinis later presented it to his wife, Queen Santa Isabel. From then until 1883, the town of Obidos and the surrounding land was always the property of the queens of Portugal.
Encircled by a ring of medieval walls and crowned by the Moorish castle rebuilt by D. Dinis, which is now a pousada, Obidos is one of the most perfect examples of our medieval fortress. As in olden times, the town is entered through the southern gate of Santa Maria, embellished with eighteenth-century azulejo decoration.
Inside the walls, which at sunset take on a golden colouring, one can sense a cheerful medieval ambience of winding streets, old whitewashed houses bordered with blue or yellow, Manueline embrasures and windows, reminding us that King D. Manuel I (sixteenth century) carried out major works here, and masses of colourful flowers and plants.
Be sure to visit the Igreja Matriz de Santa Maria (Parish Church of Santa Maria), the pretty Capela de Sao Martinho (Chapel of S. Martinho) and, outside the town walls, the Igreja do Senhor da Pedra (Church of the Senhor da Pedra).
Among the events that take place every year in Obidos, the most important are the Holy Week Festivities (recreating the steps on the Way of the Cross), the Ancient Music Festival in October and, for the more gluttinous, the International Chocolate festival in November, which includes an international competition in which the recipes are judged by an international jury of experts.
Fatima - With its origins deep in history, it was during the Arabian occupation that this settlement developed and was named. According to legend, during the Christian Reconquest, the Templar knight Goncalo Hermingues, also known as Bringer-of-Moors, fell in love with Fatima, a Moor captured in the course of an ambush. Reciprocating the love, the young woman converted to Christianity and adopted the name Oureana.
In the sixteenth century, the settlement became a parish in the collegiate church of Ourem within the Diocese of Leiria.
Its subsequent development dates from the events known as the Apparitions of Fatima, in the early part of the twentieth century. It has become one of the key centers for the Cult of the Virgin Mary in Portugal and has been recognised world-wide by the Catholic Church.
The first apparition took place in 1917, in Cova da Iria, at the site of the current Sanctuary. The most important celebrations are held on 13th May (including the Candlelit Procession on the night of the 12th and the Farewell Procession closing the event on the 13th) and 13th October. Furthermore, the 13th of every month between these two dates is also a day of devotion.
For those interested in the historical context of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, visits can be made to the houses of the shepherd witnesses in the village of Aljustrel.
In the gardens of Casa de Lucia, there is a monument commemorating the second apparition of the Angel of Peace and the end of the Via Sacra which begins in the Sanctuary.
Along this route, there are 14 chapels donated by Hungarian Catholic refugees in the West. Of particular note is Valinhos, 400 metres from the village where monuments commemorate the fourth apparition in 1917 as well as the place chosen by the angel. Here, in 1916, the shepherds saw the Angel of Peace for the first and third times.
On the coast is the fishing village of Nazare where you'll find fishermen in knee length plaid trousers, and women in full skirts and seven petticoats, mending nets. The walled town of Obidos should also not he missed, with its narrow streets of brightly white-washed houses and striking towers of the Castle that's now a splendid Pousada. Take just a short trip south and you can explore the active fishing port of Peniche which has a dominating 16th century fort built for protection against marauding pirates. The Costa de Prata is one of the most peaceful and romantic places of all.
Text provided by the PortugueseTourism Information Department