Ever since we met Rui, the Portugese man with his Russian girlfriend in Monsaraz, we’d been looking forward to going to Obidos. We met him during at a wine tasting evening at a Ervideira and got on so well that we ended up having dinner together. Over dinner Rui talked passionately about his country and gave us what we now refer to as ‘Rui’s list’. He gave us a hand written list on a scrappy serviette of his favourite places that he thought we really should visit, so now every time we see a place on the map we say ‘Is it on Rui’s list?’ before whether deciding to visit. The serviette is now slotted into our Portugal guide book for quick reference!
We’d left Castelo de Vide in the afternoon so stopped for the night part way there at the Barragem De Povoa where there are some nice walks around the reservoir. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t good though so apart from getting out for a quick wander down to the water’s edge we gave it a miss and carried on with the quite long drive to Obidos, arriving early evening. Parking wasn’t a problem, there’s a spacious aire by the aqueduct which was 6 euros for 24 hours. It’s the perfect location for visiting the old walled town and just a 5 minute walk to get there.
Obidos is another ancient walled town and you might think it would get boring visiting so many of them but that’s not the case at all. Each one has so much character and charm and being hilltop towns they invariably come with some tremendous views. The inner medieval town of Obidos is completely enclosed in its wall which was partly destroyed in the massive earthquake of 1755 and then restored. Its also much loved by the Portugese and is known as the ‘Wedding city’. Historically it was given as a gift to every new Portugese Queen so it must be something special. In 2015 it was designated a UNESCO city of Literature for its literary heritage so it has several strings to its bow. When we’d got parked up the weather was the best it had been all day so we took the opportunity to get straight out for an initial look around in case it was raining the next day. There were streams of visitors leaving and heading back to coaches when we got there and seeing the streets scattered with bunches of leaves and sprigs of greenery we could tell there had been an event of some sort which we had missed. There was a loud speaker near a shrine chanting something incomprehensible out and several clusters of people around still listening.
Our first impression as we walked through the old stone Porta de Vila gateway was good. There were still quite a few people milling about and we immediately thought the town had a cosy feel to it despite it not being particularly warm. We didn’t want to explore too much and spoil it for the next day so we took a short walk around the outskirts and then onto the road outside the wall. The sky soon started dulling as lamps and lights came on and as the streets cleared of people a quiet calm descended. Apart from a few small restaurants everything closed up until the next day.
We were on our way back to Buzz when we saw lights around a door which was ajar and music playing inside. The sign outside said ‘Beer & Chocolate’ – what a perfect combination! Feeling it would be nice to be sociable rather than going straight back we stepped in, seeing a couple of people already at the bar. What we hadn’t realised was that they were the only people in there and actually the owners just getting ready to go home! It wasn’t a problem though and we were welcomed in, given drinks and peanuts and as the owner poured a beer for himself we started chatting. He explained that he was Belgian and when I asked him about the name he explained with a wink that Belgium is best for three things – Beer, Chocolate and Men!! Julian treated himself to a couple of really good Belgian beers, a hefty 9% triple hopped Duval and an Houblon Chouffe which curiously means ‘midget man of the forest’ while I opted for a couple of glasses of Portugese white wine. A handful of other people came in during the couple of hours we were there and as we were halfway through our second drink the owner suddenly produced a giant sausage on a specially designed dish on the bar and promptly set fire to it, cooking it in front of us, chopping it up and sharing it out. It was slightly spicy, very juicy and very nice and most unexpected.
The next day it was a bit overcast but soon brightened up and was then changeable throughout the day. We stood part way up on the wall before walking down into the heart of the town which gives you a good view of the town below, nestled in with the high wall on one side, sloping down on the other. The beginning of the street splits two ways with little alleyways running off each side. Small bars and restaurants are tucked into the side streets and are quieter than the main street which is awash with small gift and craft shops, galleries, a big book & food shop as well as an interesting bookshop in an old church.
It is very ‘touristy’ and so doesn’t feel very authentic but often it is the only way towns like this can survive. The original population gets old, younger people don’t move in and so tourism becomes the only thing keeping it going. You have to just accept the gimmicks as an inevitability if you want to see what underneath is still an utterly charming place. Despite the crowds, you only have to wander off down the back streets to be virtually alone and get a real feel for the town it used to be.
Many of the buildings are draped in huge purple wisteria, flowering baskets and other plants growing across their whitewashed walls. The edges of the walls are painted either a bright royal blue or a sunny yellow and really brighten up the overall whiteness. There are quite a few quaint little hostels and guesthouses peppered throughout the town and they’d make a great base for a short visit.
There is one problem here though – graffiti. Unfortunately it happens everywhere you go, town, countryside, you name it, some people seem to think it’s okay to scrawl and daub their names all over the place. Here it seems they use a kind of chalky paint which comes off on the hand when you touch it. This has resulted in hand print graffiti being the done thing, or heart and names drawn with a finger dragged through the chalk. There are obviously vague attempts at painting over it and several signs throughout the streets saying ‘no writing on the walls’ that are quite clearly completely ignored.
Back in Lisbon we were introduced to the Portugese liqueur, Ginjinha. It’s made with morello cherries and has an intense cherry flavour which is seriously delicious. Obidos is the real home of the drink though and where it originated. On the drive here we drove through several cherry orchards that were just coming into bloom. Needless to say the drink, popularly known as Ginja, is widely advertised and promoted throughout Obidos and actually the first thing you see when you come through the gate is a Ginja bar. There were about a dozen of them inside the walls, all offering a shot of Ginja with or without a dark chocolate cup. We’d only had it in a glass in Lisbon so were quite happy to give the chocolate cup a go. You don’t go anywhere or sit down on a stool or anything, you just stand there on the street and enjoy it – instant satisfaction! The dark chocolate tasted really good with the slightly sour cherry flavour and it would have been quite easy to have several but we just had the one and went on our way. We’re definitely going to buy a bottle to take home though.
In the centre of the town there’s a wide open plaza which is a social hub, flanked on one side by an attractive arcaded terrace overlooked by a tall pillory on a platform. In 1444 the 10 year old King Afonso V married his 8 year old cousin Isable here in the large Igreja de Santa Maria on the other side – never too early it would seem! On the third side there’s a former town hall which is now the Municipal Museum. We sat on the square enjoying a drink and something to eat, luckily just in time before the clouds thickened and it began to spit with rain. Afterwards we completed our circuit of the wall, taking a few more photos and cursing the sun which had decided to come out and shine just as we were about to leave!
Anyway, we loved it so thanks Rui!