Our trip into northern Portugal took us to the very top of the country, to a region that has the Spanish border both to the north (which follows the Minho River) and to the east (marked by the Peneda-Geres National Park). To the west is the Atlantic ocean while the Lima River forms this region’s southern border. Through the middle flows the Vez River from the north until it empties into the Lima River.Continue reading
Well, after a few delays caused by a couple of dreaded the “C” diseases (Cancer and Covid), we have finally been able to venture out of our apartment and do a little exploring once again. It seems that our travels for awhile will be limited to Portugal as the borders in Europe are not all open yet and flying anywhere right now is not only a little risky but downright complicated. So we’re happy to just take this time to get to know Portugal a little better.
Our first trip out from quarantine was only 40 minutes south of Lisbon to the Setubal Peninsula. This region has been formed by the shores and estuaries of the Tejo and Sado Rivers, which then juts out westwardly into the Atlantic Ocean.
This large stretch of land encompasses a number of landmarks that are worth seeing and visiting. The most impressive is the 30 km Caparica Beach that makes up most of the peninsulas’s westerly shore. It’s a long, wide sandy beach that’s perfect for walks, surfing and swimming, and is pocketed with small beach clubs and restaurants.Continue reading
We were in need of a weekend getaway so we decided to head north and visit the town of Obidos that we’d been hearing so much about. And we weren’t let down!
Obidos is a captivating medieval walled town an hour or so north of Lisbon, surrounded by rolling hills covered with orchards and vineyards. It’s set on a hillside, along a narrow ridge, allowing just a couple of streets barely wide enough for a car to run its length, and which are connected by a number of steep alleys and staircases.
The town was a gift by King Afonso II to his wife Urraca of León in the 1200s, and many of the building and monuments found throughout the town were funded by her. It became a custom thereafter for the current reigning king to pass Obidos onto his wife, who became its new benefactor.
One enters the town from the Porta da Villa, a narrow gate that immediately opens up into a Baroque chapel with a high altar decorated in blue azulejos tiles. From here you make a left turn and enter into the town, onto either an upper road (Rua Direita) or lower road (Rua Josefa de Obidos). Direita is the main street, lined with quaint shops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants. Many serve Ginja, a cherry-flavoured liquor that’s a specialty of the region, from their doorways – one euro gets you a small taste.
The town itself is very picturesque with red-tiled roofs, cobble-stoned streets, white-walled homes trimmed with blue or yellow borders, and wherever you go, plenty of creeping vines and colourful bougainvillea.
At the end of Rua Direita is the castle mount, founded by the Moors in the 700s. Over the years it has been added onto, primarily by the queens acquired the town during their reign. The castle is now a posada/hotel and you can actually have a room inside the castle. From here you can also access the ramparts and walk a portion of the walls that at one time defended the town. The walk provides excellent views of all of Obidos and the countryside made up of vineyards and orchards.
What impressed us most is that although Obidos is certainly a tourist attraction, it hasn’t been overdone and lost its charm. The shops and boutiques offer very unique souvenirs and handicrafts, locally made, rather than the run-of-the-mill types too often found at such popular spots. There’s plenty of restaurants, so do make time to have lunch there. The town itself can be walked in less than an hour, but add to it by exploring the delightful shops along the way.
Anyone considering biking in Portugal, there’s an essential tool you must have and that’s the National Cycling Network guidebook, which maps out nearly 5,000 km of routes and includes GPS tracks in KML and GPX file formats, so you can follow the routes on your smartphone. As well, the guide has great photography and descriptions, so you have a really good idea of what your trip will entail before you begin.
The author, Paulo Guerra dos Santos, is an engineer specializing in road project design, so this is right up his alley. This was a huge project and he undertook it basically all on his own. I was fortunate to have some participation in the guide, as after purchasing the English version I quickly realized that his text could use some copy editing. I contacted Paulo and offered my services, for free, and he took me up on it. Worked out very well for me, as it has forced me to get to know Portugal’s biking pathways from north to south, east to west. I feel I now have a good understanding of the terrain and what to expect. I’m more than ready to begin and plan to start biking Portugal sometime this fall.
I had thought once I’d gathered all the necessary paperwork and submitted them, that I would then be shortly be receiving my Portuguese driver’s license. That was back at the beginning of December of last year (2017). It is now nearing mid’ April and I have still not received the license. So upon returning to Lisbon I went and and checked in with the DMV (IMI in Portugal) to discover what may be holding it up. In my broken and very limited Portuguese, and after a few unsuccessful attempts at trying to find the right line I needed to be in, I finally found someone who told me that my original receipt letter that I received was my provisional license. I had a copy of it but she informed me that wasn’t good enough, I needed the original. For 30 euros I could get a new one. So I began to get my wallet out when she informed me that I’d need to go to another line to pay and get the letter.
Each time you get in a line-up, you begin by getting a ticket that is only available downstairs at the entrance. So I went back down, obtained another ticket (now for line “A”), and waited for my turn in the waiting room. Finally my number was called and ended up right beside the woman I had previously dealt with, and fortunately, knowing my situation, she explained it to the gentleman. He then took my money and printed out a new provisional license and then explained to me in good English that it was good for four months. I asked what was taking so long to get the real license. He said they have to check back with the country of origin in order to do the exchange (in this case, Canada), and that can take some time. Plus, he said, there’s so many ex-pat Portuguese who’ve been living in Brazil and who are moving back, that it has caused a 6-8 month backlog. Well, at least I had my provisional – although it was just for four months. Hopefully my original would arrive by then, or back to IMI and out another 30 euros.
We are finding that this is how the bureaucracy is in Portugal – slow. It is also difficult to get clear answers as to how things should be done correctly and in what order. We’ve spent a lot of time in government offices, only to find out that a new form is needed, or we needed something from another office before they could proceed in the one we were currently at.
Portugal’s Atlantic coastal highways are lined with numerous restaurants that specialize in serving fresh seafood. And they are very popular. Like all restaurants, there are good ones and not so good ones. Inexpensive and over the top. There’s so many that it’s hard to find the good ones from the bad.
On a recommendation we discovered a place that is both reasonably priced and exceptionally good. It is called Club Naval and it is situated at the bottom of a steep cliff just outside the small town of Assenta, about 20 minutes north of Ericeira taking highway #247. When you arrive at Assenta, turn right and drive right through it to towards the coast. At the coast you’ll come to a fork in the road, one to a lighthouse (left) and a sign for Club Naval directing you to the right. You’ll have to drive down the cliff on a very narrow road that zigzags back and forth until you reach the restaurant.
There’s nothing much there, other than a small port for local fishing boats, a few fish shacks built into the hillside (with some looking like they are about to slide into the sea), and of course, Club Naval. The restaurant is quite unassuming, with a small entrance with a few tables, but then two adjoining rooms filled with long tables.
The fish caught by the fisherman of this small port is what Club Naval serves each day. Matter of fact that’s all they serve. The menu lists all types of fish, but only that caught fresh will actually be available, sold by the kilo. Upon entering you find out what is fresh and then select what it is you’d like, and how much of it, from the display case.
The fish is exceptional, cooked perfectly every time we’ve been there, in garlic and olive oil, served with potatoes and salad if you so choose. There’s also shrimp and prawns when available, (and they usually are), and a decent wine list – in quality and price.
So if you happen to be exploring around Ericeira, be sure to save this as a place to stop for lunch. And if it happens to be a Sunday, get there early as it fills up fast.
We are back in Europe and recently made a visit to Portugal, a place we keep coming back to and hope to move to in a few months on a more permanent level. We start in Lisbon, but enjoying exploring the areas around the capital.
Less than an hour north and west of Lisbon, along the Atlantic coastline, is the small seaside town of Ericeira. It is extremely popular for surfers with at least seven breaks within the town itself and even more up and down the coast. Steep cliffs meet the ocean, creating ideal viewpoints for watching the surfers below, interspersed with small coves with lovely sand beaches and small seaside restaurants. The surf is great, and so is the fish cuisine, fresh from the sea.
Ericeira reminds me of another town; Sayulita back in Mexico, less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. They both are full of surfers, attract similar visitors, and are rich with great restaurants, bars and nightlife. Both have so far managed to avoid large hotels and and high-rises from being built in the town area, although that may be changing. As it is now, available accommodation is mostly small apartments, hostels and boutique hotels. But, where Sayulita’s streets are mostly dirt, unpaved, and the architecture is rather eclectic, in Ericeira all the streets are paved with white and black stones that can be frequently found throughout Portugal, with inlaid designs. It makes for a very clean town, and most of the buildings are similar in style, with white with blue (usually) trim. And there’s only a few buildings with more than two stories.
We’ve been to Ericeira a few times now and our favorite restaurant has become Tik-Tak – great food and people. Shrimp and prawns are very popular on the menu and the grilled giant prawns are our favorite.
(If you’ve ever had to deal with bureaucratic red tape, you’ll love the short clip above)
We became residents of Portugal in 2017. Initially we purchased a small apartment in the Alfama area, the old town district of Lisbon, and then began the process of establishing everything else that comes with residency – bank accounts, home services, tax accountants, and deciding whether to buy a car/motorcycle or not, or both. We decided on both. And that’s where the fun began.
Having lived in Mexico for the past 30 years, my driver’s license was obviously Mexican, allowing me to drive both a car and a motorcycle (I drove both in Mexico). I had held onto and kept my Canadian one up-to-date, but it only had me down for driving cars.
In early 2016 I had begun to look into what it took to obtain a Portuguese license as a new resident, and I discovered that for EU residents they can use the license of their original country, they just have to register themselves with IMTT (Institution that issues drivers licenses). I also discovered that Portugal has a reciprocal exchange program with some countries, (such as the USA, Australia, and in my case, Canada), but not with Mexico. Meaning if I wanted a Portuguese license and I was showing them my Mexican one I’d have to take the Portuguese driving course and test, as if I were a new driver.
My first initial problem was that my Canadian license isn’t for motorcycles and I needed that. So rather than taking the course in Portugal (and in Portuguese), I decided I’d just go back to Canada and do the motorcycle test there, hoping I could fast track it.
So began the process… Continue reading
I’ve posted what the views are like when walking the cliffs of the Carvoeiro coastline a few times, but after dealing with a paddle board that badly needed patching, winds and strong swells, I finally got the opportunity to explore the coast by water.
One of the most impressive places to launch from is at Benagil where there’s plenty of parking close by and easy access to the beach. But most importantly, because this is where the largest and most impressive cave on the coast can be found close by. It’s impressive not just because of its size (you could hold great concerts here), but also because of how it is lit up, with a small opening in the roof, as well as two arches from outside, that provide a wide range of colors as light reflects off the yellow-toned walls and turquoise waters, different depending on the time of day of your visit.
Further on (going eastward), there are smaller and deeper caves that are accessible by board and fun to explore. But you certainly wouldn’t want to be doing this on a windy day, or especially when swells are happening – you could wreck your board and possibly yourself. Continue reading