Nature

A place with a few secrets

Summer is right around the corner and so is beach season. Unless, of course, you live in Portugal and have by now already dug your feet in the sand at least once this year.

Today I’m showing you a famous beach in the Aveiro area, in Central Portugal. Yes, there are beaches in other regions besides the Algarve.

A fisherman and his family, by the sculptor Alves André.

Praia de Mira is, just for starters, the only beach in the world which has received the Blue Flag certification for 31 years in a row – yes, 31 years.

Like so many other beach areas in Portugal only fishermen used to live here until tourists started to arrive. In an area with no stone available people used wood to build their homes but also… A chapel! Although this is not *on* the sand (unlike another famous beach church in Portugal) it’s close enough. The chapel of Nossa Senhora da Conceição was built in 1843 and is still functioning and being kept by the fishermen and their families.

Enjoy!

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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“I am of the river”

Miranda2Way up in the north of Portugal there’s a region called Trás-os-Montes, which is known for several things: its rough and breathtaking landscape, the Mirandese language, the extreme weather (“nine months of winter and three months of hell”), the wonderful produce, men in skirts (I haven’t talked about that one, yet), the unique costumes (usually associated with Carnival, but also used at other times) and, last but not least, Miranda do Douro.

Miranda3Here, Portugal and Spain are separated only by the river Douro. All along the northern border there are other places where a river makes a natural frontier between the two countries but it seems to me that this is where the river acts more like a unifying force, rather than a dividing one. Maybe because of the harsh circumstances? Some of the areas which are now covered by water were once the spots where the poorest people would grow their food. Eventually they noticed that their produce was actually better: those high cliffs on both sides meant more condensation and, therefore, more humidity, in a place where it can get very dry in those “three months of hell”.

Miranda1We were on a boat cruise when we were there (highly recommend it!) and our guide said something which, to me, sums up very well the relationship between both sides of the river here. She was the daughter of a Portuguese father and a Spanish mother and said: “I don’t see myself as being neither Portuguese nor Spanish; I am of the river”.

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Enjoy! 🙂

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Under your feet

gruta da moeda_4Most people visiting Portugal will want to see the monuments, cities, towns and villages, besides the landscapes. But… did you know Portugal also has caves? In fact, Portugal has lots of caves, but plenty of them can’t be visited because they’re not, well, easy to access.

gruta da moeda_1In the area of Serra de Aire e Candeeiros (not far from Lisbon and close to Fátima) there are several caves that you can visit. Today I’m bringing you some images from Grutas da Moeda (literally, “caves of the coin”).

gruta da moeda_2These caves were discovered in 1971, when two hunters were chasing a fox. The fox eventually hid in a hole in the ground, which they found out to be an entrance to a cave. The two men explored that entrance for almost two months, discovering some of the galleries that you can visit today. gruta da moeda_6The part that you can now visit is about 350 meters long (not very long, but there’s plenty to see!) and there’s a constant temperature of 18ºC all year round.

gruta da moeda_5Obviously, like with so many other places in Portugal, there’s a legend about these caves. Many, many years ago, a wealthy man was passing by the area and he carried with him a bag heavy with coins. A band of thieves tried to rob the man and, in the struggle, he ended up falling down a hole in the ground (the cave, as you probably guessed), taking with him the bag of coins.

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Enjoy!  🙂

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Categories: Activities, History, Legends, Nature, Places | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Snapshots of Nazaré (and a revelation!)

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View from the lighthouse at the Fort of St Michael Archangel.

Nazaré is one of those places that has its own mystique, legends, folk lore and, in more recent decades, tourists and surfers.
In the late 1940’s Nazaré attracted the attention of a then-young photographer called… Stanley Kubrick! He captured bits and pieces of the lives of the people of Nazaré (fishermen and their families, mostly) with their somewhat “exotic” hats and clothes, squinting in the sun and smiling – sometimes.

nazaré4Life by the sea can certainly be hard, particularly when you’re facing giant waves in tiny boats. Ever heard of the “Nazaré canyon“? Probably not, but that’s the phenomenon which caused the famous 100 foot (30 meters) wave surfed by McNamara in 2013, in Praia do Norte.

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Even in Praia do Norte the sea can sometimes be flat – like on this day! Just my luck!

Traditionally, the women of Nazaré wore not one, not two… but seven skirts! Why? Well, there are several theories, but no certainties. Some people say it has to do with the magic usually associated with the number 7 (and, particularly, with the seven waves, since they used to spend a good part of their day near the sea); others claim it was simply because the women used those skirts to cover both their heads and ther legs while they sat in the sand, waiting for the men to come from the day’s fishing activities. Contrary to what some people might think, yes, it does get cold in Portugal and, yes, we have fog, cold drizzle and wind, even on the beach! 😉

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And if you think that Nazaré sounds reaaaaally similar to Nazareth… well, that’s connected to the legend of Nazaré!

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Remember the lighthouse from the first photo? It’s that tiny spot on the left.

There’s a giveaway taking place right now on the blog’s Facebook page. It’s your chance of getting a box full of Portuguese goodies – for free! 😉

P.S.: If you follow the blog you may have noticed that I haven’t posted so often lately. No, I haven’t given up on the blog or the site. It’s just that I have… let’s call it “a new project in the making”! 🙂

coming soon

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Categories: Legends, Nature, People, Places | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Along the coast

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Along the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast you’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal. This area covers most of the Alentejo coast and part of the Algarve, in a total of about 110km of cliffs, unique plants, big waves, rich culture and history and, yes, amazing sunsets. Actually, this is such a special region that it is the only place in the world where storks make their nests in the rocks by the sea – and by rocks I mean cliffs!

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But today I bring you another side to this coast: The town of Vila Nova de Milfontes, in the Alentejo, as seen from the river Mira. No cliffs seen from here, just the peaceful sunset inviting your mind to drift away and relax. There’s a lighthouse at the mouth of the river; you can see some boats and a few of the white houses from the town. The beaches are empty now and every living thing seems to stand still to appreciate the sun going down and the moon coming up.

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Enjoy! 🙂

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Beauty beyond the hills

The region of Trás-os-Montes (literally “behind the hills”), in the Northeast “corner” of Portugal, is often half-forgotten. Seen by many as being “too far away” the fact is the region is rich with traditions, tough hard-working people and gorgeous landscapes.

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Trás-os-Montes is also home to century-old chestnuts, small happy rivers and music that can make your granny dance like she’s 18 again. I’ll be talking about some of those traditions (which include men in skirts) in future posts – today I want to show you some of the happy little rivers.

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Sometimes you get to enjoy their beauty in small, more of less secluded, river beaches and some other times you can only appreciate them from a distance. Either way, it’s always worth it.

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This region is also known for having “nine months of winter and three months of hell” (nove meses de Inverno e três de inferno) because the weather goes to extremes, with very little space left for autumn and spring. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons behind all be beautiful sceneries?
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Enjoy! 🙂

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Once in a lifetime

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When I was a kid several of Sintra’s monuments, which today are crowded with tourists at any time of the year, were kind of my weekend playground.
I remember Capuchos when it was a semi-abandoned place, which I later refused to visit having known it had been vandalized. I also remember the castle and the old man selling entrance tickets, postcards and pots of honey on a stall with cats sunbathing on its roof. But my favourite of these places was, probably, Pena.
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As a kid I was obviously impressed by the outside architectural “layers” and details, in a time when it was all, still, in different shades of dusty grey (the palace was later painted with its original colours). What really had a magic of its own, however, was the park. It was, to me, a piece of forest with mystery around every corner: The stone tables, the well, the metal bridge, the sculpted warrior and the gigantic trees seemed to me to be “extra magical” at a time when there really wasn’t a lot of information around regarding the park. I was always secretly hoping to come across a fairy somewhere – and I could almost swear I caught a glimpse of a pointy red hat once!
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When I read that Parques de Sintra would open the Pena park and palace at night I had a “now or never” kind of feeling. Besides, they were doing it for charity purposes, so what could be better?
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Although it had only been two days after a full moon (which means plenty of moonlight) Sintra did its best to keep up with its reputation and the whole area was surrounded by fog. While it was certainly amazing I really don’t have any good photos of the park that night because of the fog and because most places were, well, almost pitch black – except for the fireflies!
The lakes looked amazing at night with the fog and the Fonte dos Passarinhos, lit by our lanterns, had its own mystique. My good friend, the ginormous Western red cedar, was part of the tour as well, as did the century old ferns.
One of the ferns in this part of the garden was, if I’m not mistaken, planted in 1850, which makes it… 165 years old! Did you know that the ferns in the Feteira da Rainha and the surrounding trees make up an ecosystem of their own? The trees protect the ferns from the harsh Summer sun, but allow for enough sunlight in the Winter, after their leaves fall. This was all part of the king‘s project when he planned the park. This plan was so detailed, in fact, that it even took into account the winds coming from the sea.
When reaching the highest point, near Cruz Alta, the wind transformed the heavy fog into rain, so when our group got to the end of the tour, and we “emerged” into the middle of the crowd near the palace, we all looked like we had actually ran a marathon! 😀
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I didn’t get to visit the inside of the palace this time (too crowded!) but I did get to wander around the terraces a bit. Once again, the fog worked its magic!
The best part of this night? They actually managed to collect a total of about 5 tons of food! Everyone working there, from the five companies and institutions involved, was a volunteer. I can tell you our guide was one enthusiastic volunteer!
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P.S.: I do hope this will not be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and that they repeat it sometime in a not very distant future!

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Apple beach

 

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If you’re staying in Lisbon and plan on going to Sintra for an afternoon there’s a lot you won’t be able to see – like the beach, for example. Most people who visit Sintra focus on the monuments alone, but the fact is there’s a lot more to see. 🙂 Today I’m writing about a beach in Sintra, which also happens to be a true classic.

Praia das Maçãs (yes, Apple Beach) has its own mystique and fan base. Even in winter it’s a lovely place to go for a walk and to breathe in some of that energizing sea air. In the summer it’s one of the most crowded beaches in the area. For many people living in the Lisbon metropolitan area this used to be their go-to place in the summer months, particularly from the 1960’s to, say, the 1990’s. Today, it’s still a place where you’ll find a lot of families, but also surfers and bodyborders.

There’s a (let’s call it “erratic”) tram that can take you from Portela (near the train station in Sintra with the same name) to Praia das Maçãs. If you have the opportunity I highly advise you to take this tram, as you’ll be able to enjoy part of the Colares area.

Trivia tidbit of the day: Legend has it that Praia das Maçãs owes its name to the fact that apples, from orchards located in Colares, would fall from the trees to the stream and eventually end up on this beach.

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There’s a giveaway right now on the blog’s Facebook page which might be interesting if you happen to be visiting Portugal for the next couple of weeks!

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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And now for something completely different

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Some of the wolves I’ve “adopted” through the years.

Today there will be no pretty landscape, no old monument and no trivia tidbit. Instead, I will share something which is very dear to me.
The Iberian wolf, native to the Iberian Peninsula (that’s Portugal and Spain, if you’re curious) is a highly endangered species. Back in 1998 I read an article about an independent NGO called Grupo Lobo and their effort to provide a safe space for this species. Actually, they were doing more than that and were also promoting talks and activities to let people know that wolves are not big bad monsters. A few weeks later I became the proud adoptive “mother” of Lobinho, a wolf which had been found by firefighters during a forest fire and which had lived in an apartment for 2 years, before crossing paths with the CRLI (Iberian Wolf Recovery Centre).
Later, I had the opportunity to visit their space, not far from Lisbon, when they opened the Centre to visitors. I had the privilege of taking a guided tour and of witnessing a professor howl like a wolf – and listening to the wolves howl back!

Sabor, one of the wolves living at the CRLI (Photo credits: http://lobo.fc.ul.pt/)

Today, the people from Grupo Lobo and CRLI do so much more than that and have expanded in several ways, but they also need our help: They need to buy the land in which they’ve built this wolf haven. If they fail to do so the Iberian wolves living in this space will loose this vital safe place for them and will risk dying at the hands of hunters and traps.
Every little bit helps! You can make a donation through their crowdfunding page (and choose a perk) or you can go straight to their website and adopt a wolf, while also learning more about them and their cause. You can also donate any other sum that fits your pocket. If you can’t donate please spread the word! ❤
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Bolota, my adoption for this year (Photo credits: http://lobo.fc.ul.pt/)

I’ve done my bit and hope you’ll help, too! 😉

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Categories: Nature, News about Portugal, Places | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Before the crowds arrive

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Vilar de Mouros

Yep, it’s true: we’re rapidly approaching the most wonderful time of the year! So today I’ll be showing you the location of two famous Portuguese music festivals – before the crowds arrive.

Vilar de Mouros, in the north of Portugal, is home to the oldest music festival in the country. It all started in 1971 and, at the time, the festival attracted thousands of people from other countries as well – much like today, except they had funkier outfits back then! The lineup of the two-day festival consisted mostly of Portuguese bands, but also included Manfred Mann and closed with Elton John. Woho! I found some amateur footage from then which I’m sharing here to spread some 1971 groove… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrXB84e6uXU (Embedding disabled by request. Sorry, not my fault!)
Not far from Vilar de Mouros there’s Paredes de Coura, which also hosts an outdoor summer music festival. Both festivals take place in beautiful natural areas (rivers included!) and if you happen to be nearby – even if it’s not summer – a detour is well worth it!
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A detail in Paredes de Coura.

If you’re planning on coming to a concert, music festival or historical reenactment in Portugal this year you might want to check the website’s page with that info – and with everything neatly organized by dates and location, including links (when available).
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Vilar de Mouros

 Have fun!

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Categories: Activities, Nature, Places | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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