Portugal, which emerged from the Christian reconquista against Islam, then struggled against control by its powerful neighbour, Spain. It created the world’s first maritime trade empire. This inspired its unique ‘Manueline’ style. in art and architecture. This rich Renaissance idiom involves forms encrusted with ropes, coral, anchors and other signifiers of a maritime success. The Jerónimos Monastery, in Lisbon’s Belém district, is a Manueline masterpiece. Here also is the Torre de Belém (‘Tower of Bethlehem’), the robust fortress protecting the Tagus River’s mouth. Lisbon has magnificent museums. It has the Maritime Museum, the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga and the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection, one of the world’s finest private collections.
Near Lisbon are the great royal palaces, Quelez and the royal summer retreat, Sintra’s Palácio Nacional (15th–16th century). The latter nestles in the verdant Serra de Sintra. It features two extraordinary conical kitchen chimneys and royal apartments decorated with beautiful azulejos, artesonado and polychrome ceilings and wood panel inlays. These apartments are separated by exquisite small courtyards. Nearby, the Palácio de Pena evolved from an Hieronymite monastery into an extraordinary 19th-century ‘Gothick-Baronial’ architectural fantasy.
Portugal’s picturesque landscapes are dotted with castles like Arraiolos and Templar Almourol. There are fortress towns like Marvão, perched precariously on craggy outcrops. Coimbra has its historic university, Portugal’s first, with a glorious High Baroque Library. Évora, centred on its Roman temple, has wonderful palaces like the 16th-century Casas dos Pintadas, with unusual wall paintings of exotic animals. Great monasteries like Alcobaça and Batalha are graced with intricate Portuguese Flamboyant Gothic tombs and rich tracery. The vast Templar Convento de Cristo at Tomar has six great cloisters and the Charola, the sixteen-sided chapel of the Templars. This was a free imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Along with a fine collection of Flemish paintings and interesting tombs it has a very famous, highly decorated central window.
The northern Porto region, where the Portuguese kingdom first emerged, is noted for its port and wines. The manor house, Solar de Mateus, was made famous by the rosé label. Porto itself has a wonderful old port district with the 14th-century Alfândega Velha (Old Customs House). Here, by popular belief, Henry the Navigator was born. The Stock Exchange Palace (Palácio da Bolsa) has an extraordinary, lustrous Arabian Hall. There are also English port lodges that housed the wine bound for England. Travelers to Portugal may sample its delicious food and wines. They may also stay in its wonderful Pousadas, heritage hotels like the 11th-century Convento de São Paulo, the 13th-century Pousada do Marvão and the 12th-century Mosteiro Guimarães.
Explore Madeira and the volcanic archipelago of the Azores which are a geological hotspot supporting a wealth of flora and fauna including over 25 species of whales and dolphins. Read more
Explore Portugal’s distinctive history while staying in heritage hotels, visiting museums, Renaissance & Baroque palaces & gardens, medieval castles, Roman monuments & the 18th-century Solar de Mateus Read more