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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Highlands – Portuguese style

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Sometimes travel doesn’t have much to do with monuments or with a huge checklist of things you have to do in order to “have fun”.

Sometimes travel is just about soaking up the energies from the place you’re visiting and about collecting memories. Personally, I like to daydream a little.

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When in Castro Laboreiro (which I mentioned before) I couldn’t helpt but get a “Lord of the Rings” kind of feeling. I was sure that at any minute I would see a legion of soldiers (or orcs!) coming from around the mountain.

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Then I remembered my favourite part from the Latin classes I took in college. Despite being fairly technologically advanced Romans were superstitious and, might I add, a little too full of themselves.

Apparently, it took them a long time to enter the area we now call Serra da Estrela because, among other things, they must have thought it was a good idea to bring horses to a mountainous area! Oh, and Viriato played an important role, of course.

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Standing there, with the wind rushing past my face in the grey and cold weather, I wondered if the north of what we today call Portugal had other characters, similar to Viriato. Even if it never did I can only imagine that living here, especially centuries ago without the comfort we now have, made everyone a hero in their own way.

Do you daydream when you travel? 😉

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

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A long, long time ago…

mezio1Before Portugal even existed there were people already living here. Obvious, right? Those people built huge stone monuments, some of which made their way to our day and age more or less intact.

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Today I’m bringing you a couple of examples you can find in the Peneda-Gerês region, particularly in the area called Mezio (near Soajo).

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Not much is known about them, but they’re thought to be approximately 5000 years old. You can find examples of this type of pre-historic monument all over the country, but mostly in the north and in Alentejo (as far as I know).

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Truth be told, they’re not always easy to find, even when they’re mentioned in maps and hiking trails. Sometimes you’ll just have some obscure reference to a dolmen in a particular area and little more information besides that.

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But who doesn’t love exploring around a bit? 😉

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Categories: Activities, History, Places | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

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Dear readers, friends and occasional passers-by, it gives me great pleasure to announce… drum roll, please… Beyond Lisbon – the website! 🙂

Although it is still a work in progress, the truth is, it will always be so. On the website you’ll find some of the things that also exist on the blog, but it will be much more than the blog. It’s also meant to be a database and to provide information which doesn’t really fit the use and purpose of a blog.

On the top right corner of the page you’ll know where to find Beyond Lisbon on social media (don’t forget to add/follow!). Some categories are already online, while others are, well, a work in progress.

I’d like to thank my readers and followers (fellow bloggers and occasional readers included) for your renewed interest and comments on what I share here. I would also like to send a very special “thank you” to my better half for developing the website, for his constant support and for putting up with my doubts, quirks and endless text editing. 🙂

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Youtube profile, as well. There you’ll find beautiful landscapes but also (it’s Youtube, right?) music: Contemporary, traditional, in Portuguese and in English, pop, rock and metal. Feel free to subscribe! 🙂

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Beyond the obvious

tavira4Reputation can be a good thing or a bad thing – a bit like tourism.

In Portugal, the Algarve (in the south part of the country) has a reputation for being one long strip of sand, sea and sun, filled with restaurants, pubs and hotels – a place that becomes overcrowded in August with both Portuguese and foreign tourists, battling for a spot on the beach.

tavira1The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can experience the real Algarve, if you dare to look beyond the obvious. Altough this a region which has beautiful beaches (many of which with very few waves you fraidy cats) it also has castles, old forts, white-washed villages and towns, wonderful cuisine, thermal baths and even a natural park (Ria Formosa).

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Today I’m sharing with you some images taken, just last week, near Tavira, in the Ria Formosa area. You don’t get to see this unless you leave your hotel-with-swimming pool-and-5-bars-in-a-nice-all-inclusive-package.

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Will you dare to step out of your comfort zone? 😉

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