We weren’t planning to go that day, but we’re glad we did…
The original plan was to see the town of Caldas da Reinha (kal-dawsh da rrhhain-ya) which is relatively close to the town of Rio Maior (rrhhee-oh-my-ore) where we take Sweet Pea to be groomed by Luis. Before we moved to Portugal, I found Luis by literally Googling “best wire fox terrier groomer in Lisbon.” And he is! He travels the world teaching grooming skills and judging grooming events. He has a particular expertise in, and fondness for, terriers, but especially the wire fox terrier breed, which endears him to my heart. Even though Sweet Pea is not hand-stripped (the required method if you are going to show your dog), he knows the proper shape and look for a wire fox terrier which is why we drive an hour and fifteen minutes each way to to have him groom Sweet Pea every six to eight weeks. We don’t mind the distance because we pair the trip with something else since there is always someplace interesting to see in Portugal.
While Luis is working on beautifying Sweet Pea, we chat and catch up on what’s been happening. He asks us where we’ve been, what we’ve been doing, and where we are planning to go next. We also find out what he’s been up to too. We love talking with him because he’s a wealth of information and always has great suggestions.
We mentioned we were planning to go to Caldas da Rainha that day and he asked us if we had been to see the medieval town of Óbidos. We said no, but it wasn’t because we were unaware of it nor because we hadn’t had the time. Óbidos has been on our list of places to see since well before we left the US. It is legendary for being one of the most picturesque and well-preserved medieval towns in all of Portugal.
Óbidos is fun to visit at any time, but there are specific times of the year when special events are held such as the Seasons of Classical Baroque Music, Harpsichord, and Opera Festival with open air performances during the summer and the Vila Natal, a Christmas program that takes place the entire month of December when entertainment and decorations reflect medieval times and the Christmas season. However, the most well known are the Festival Internacional de Chocolate e Pastelaria (International Chocolate and Pastry Festival) and a two-week fair in July called the Mercado Medival de Obidos (Medieval Market of Óbidos) where they “enchant knights and ladies, nobles and bourgeois, with fire shows, theater, crafts and masters, tournaments and jousts, among other experiences of medieval times.” Unfortunately, both of those events were canceled this year due to the pandemic so we were thinking of holding off going until next year when we could attend at least one of the two. Oh, who am I kidding…forget medieval times! It’s chocolate and pastries all the way!! In the end, we reconsidered and thought now might be a good time to go before it gets super busy again.
Not only did Luis encourage us to visit Óbidos, he also told us about music events that had started again at the Cultural Center of Belem (CCB) much closer to where we live. He said the venue is very large and people are spaced out inside to ensure social distancing. We checked out the CCB website and purchased two tickets to hear the Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra play Cosi Fan Tutte by Mozart on September 5. We paid €5,00 for each ticket. Yup…you read that right, €5. CCB’s schedule includes a wide range of musical events spanning a variety of genres that will take place in the coming weeks and months and we are looking forward to attending more. I mentioned CCB in this blog post about Belém, but we didn’t go inside at the time because we had Sweet Pea with us. Now, we’ll be able to check it out in full.
Here are Sweet Pea’s before, during and after shots.
Now that Sweet Pea was looking great, and not knowing where exactly we needed to go in Óbidos to get lunch, Won entered “Óbidos Castle” into Google navigation assuming it would get us to the town. What we didn’t realize is that because of the configuration of the town with the castle curtain wall surrounding the original medieval village and the location of the castle itself within those walls, Google ended up routing us past several parking areas just outside the main entrance and around the back side of the walled village, through a local neighborhood, down a one-way dirt road (where we were seriously beginning to question Google), past a park, and then up a hill to one of the old gates of the castle! We found a parking space literally next to an entrance. [My sincere apologies for doubting you, Google.] Where we parked, however, meant we didn’t enter through the main town gate, which is the best way to enter the village, but it didn’t matter. We found it anyway.
Before I go any further, I think it is important to know how to pronounce Óbidos. It’s always best to hear a native speaker say the word, but this will get you pretty close: ah-be-dosh. Also, we ended up returning two days later to see more so you will notice a marked difference in the weather in my photos since it was overcast on the second visit.
I also think it’s helpful to understand the lay of the land. Here are a few images I pulled from the Internet that I wouldn’t have been able to take since I don’t have a drone.
Situated on a high point and close to the Atlantic coast, Óbidos had a strategic importance in the region. Human habitation in the area dates back to the neo-paleolithic period. Romans, Moors, and Visigoths all controlled the area at one time leaving their influence on the architecture and development of the town. In 1210 the village became part of the Casa das Rainhas (House of Queens) and benefited from the artistic and religious patronage of the Crown during the next six hundred years. However, the town didn’t gain prominence until King D. Dinis offered it to his wife D. Isabel in the 19th century.
It’s wonderful to roam the maze of cobblestone streets admiring the charming houses painted white with blue and yellow accents and decorated with pretty flower boxes and potted plants. It gives the town a cheerful and welcoming feel. In addition to its well-kept castle, lovely churches, and Roman Aqueduct, the town has multiple restaurants and many shops selling a variety of goods. And, let’s not forget the famous Ginjinha de Óbidos, which we tried when we were in Lisbon. It can be enjoyed in several locations, preferably in a small cup made of chocolate. Due to the current dietary restrictions we are following, we didn’t have any, but next time for sure!!
The main town gate was completed in approximately 1380 and shelters a shrine to the Baroness of Óbidos, Our Lady of Piety. It zig zags presumably to slow down any potential marauders. Here are both sides of the entrance as well as the interior.
Once you enter the town, the main street beckons you with charming shops and colorful banners strung across the small, cobblestone streets. In case you didn’t know, cork is a major export of Portugal and the material is used to make a variety of goods.
There was one shop, in particular, that Won wanted to see. It was a store devoted to fish. Comur was established in 1942 and is committed to conservation, history, and the gourmet experience of canned fish. He purchased a four pack of flavored sardines. Comur has multiple stores across Portugal and each is an experience in and of itself!
The main street was lively and fun, but it was the smaller, quieter streets that beckoned to us. We loved wandering around and allowing ourselves to be drawn up and down and all around. Each time I would spy an ancient set of stairs leading around a corner or a narrow little walkway lined with flowers, or a beautiful door, I’d say, “Ooh!! Let’s go that way!” It’s not like you can get lost in a walled city of just over 3000 inhabitants.
And the views when you are near the castle walls and can look out across the ancient red tile roofs to the lovely countryside are really beautiful!
Before we head to the castle, a visit to the Igreja de Santa Maria, Mãe de Óbidos (Church of Santa Maria, Mother of Óbidos) is a must. The building dates back to the Visigothic period, having been converted to a mosque during the Muslim period and converted to Christianity after Dom Afonoso Henriques conquered the village in 1148, consecrating it to the Marian cult.
It was in this church that, on August 15, 1441, the infant D. Afonso (later King D. Afonso V of Portugal) married his cousin D. Isabel, when he was ten and she was eight years old. In 1571, due to its state of ruin, it was remodeled under the order of Queen D. Catarina of Austria.
Let’s storm the castle!!!
The castle was built by the Moors after their conquest of the area in 713. Then it was re-taken by the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques in 1148. The castle and the walls of Óbidos were rebuilt during the reign of King Dinis when the limestone structure was strengthened. It’s a magnificent sight!
The grounds surrounding the castle, which are separate from the town, have areas where events can take place such as jousting and archery. (Pay particular attention to the woman standing on the wall above the archery lesson in the image below – we took a walk up there which I will talk about momentarily.)
Yes..you can actually walk the castle walls surrounding the village, which we did for a few minutes, but only for a few minutes. The reason? While you have the merloned portion of the battlement wall on one side of the walkway, the other side is completely OPEN. There is nothing. No handrail. No rope. Nothing. Just a sign before you climb any set of stairs leading up that essentially says, Danger. You’re on your own. Ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s at the heart of the message. Plus, once you are up there, it can be a bit breezy as you pass between the crenelated (open) portions of the wall. Won turned back with Sweet Pea, I pressed on for another couple of minutes, but it’s scary when you have to pass other people on, what in many places, is about a 90cm (3′) wide pathway!! My heart was in my mouth most of the time. That aside, the views were amazing!
What a great experience we had. It certainly makes you think about the passage of time and how well-built things were more than 1300 years ago. It would be fun to come back and participate in one of the fun events the town hosts throughout the year. Perhaps Christmas would be a great time to return.
Please stay safe, stay healthy and stay in touch!
From Portugal with love,