Discover the best of Portugal with all its fine monuments, cities and its wonderful landscapes shaped by man down the centuries.
Make the sites selected by UNESCO as World Heritage become your pretext to visit this country.
The monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaça is a UNESCO World Heritage site. With an immense nave, this monastery is the largest built in Portugal in the Middle Ages.
Here you will find the resting place of Inês de Castro and King Pedro I. The King himself ordered them to be placed opposite one another, so when the day of resurrection arrived he would be facing the woman he loved, who was brutally murdered. Pedro’s tomb is decorated with delicate sculptures, retelling the story of this tragic love affair.
The layout of the monastery follows that of the Cistercian Order founded in France. You can walk through the austere chambers where monks lived for almost 800 years, the refectory, the dormitory, the chapter house, the cloisters, and the monumental kitchen where fish were cooked fresh from the river. On tiles lining the walls of the Kings Room is the story of the founding of the monastery in 1153.
UNESCO includes Angra, in the Azorean island of Terceira, in its list of World Heritage sites. Here you can visit fine monuments that recall a golden age of history. Nine islands in the mid Atlantic form the Azores archipelago. The third one (“Terceira” in Portuguese) discovered became the most important trading post of the Modern Age.
The city became filled with palaces, convents and churches with interiors richly lined with exotic timbers and gold carvings.
From the top of Monte Brazil Mountain, with Angra at its feet, you can see 500 years of history in the architecture of the city. The towers of large churches stand out above the houses. Paulo da Gama, who accompanied his brother, Vasco da Gama, on the first sea voyage to India, is buried in the church of Nossa Senhora da Guia.
The formidable fortress of St. John the Baptist surrounds Monte Brazil. Its walls are four kilometres long and 400 pieces of artillery defended the treasures of a once vast empire from coveting pirates.
UNESCO has included the historic monastery of Batalha on the list of World Heritage sites.
King João I ordered the monastery to be built in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory at the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.
Buried here are King João, his wife Queen Philippa of Lancaster and their son Prince Henry the Navigator.
The Chapter House is famous for its amazing vaulted ceiling. Without any central support, it’s one of the most daring examples in European Gothic architecture. According to legend its architect, Afonso Domingues, slept under it for three days to prove that it would not fall down.
The oldest established wine-producing region in the world is also one of the most beautiful. This is why the Douro Valley has received UNESCO World Heritage status.
Today, three hundred years after the Marquis of Pombal authorised the area’s demarcation for wine production, the wines of the Upper Douro still garner top prizes in international competition.
Over generations of careful viticulture, the terraces have been angled to best catch the sun and ripen the grapes to produce great wines.
There are many ways to tour the region, by land, water or air. A popular choice of transport are the classic steam trains that wind along the river through beautiful natural surroundings.
It has a history more than two thousand years old. Here you will find labyrinthine streets, squares flooded with light, Renaissance fountains, Moorish courtyards and Gothic doorways and turrets.
The Romans created the elegant temple, battlements and baths, and the Moorish “Yeborah” influenced the urban network of the Mouraria district. Conquered in the time of King Afonso Henriques, the city captured the imagination of the kings of Portugal. King João II chose it for the wedding of his successor to the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs. One of the most ostentatious celebrations ever seen in the late Middle Ages. King Manuel I established his court in Évora as did King João III.
It was in this medieval castle that Afonso Henriques was born. Within sight of its high walls, he would defeat the armies of his mother in 1128. Proclaimed heir to the Kingdom of Portucalense by the nobles of the Minho, the Prince, declared of striking beauty in chronicles of the time, would go onto become the first king of Portugal.
In the heart of the city is the Nossa Senhora da Oliveira square where stands the Collegiate Church of Guimarães from where Pedro Hispano set off to Rome to become John 21st, the only Portuguese Pope thus far in the history of the Catholic Church.
UNESCO has classified the monastery, which faces the River Tagus, as a World Heritage site. In the main doorway, you’ll see Our Lady of Belém (Bethlehem), patron saint of seafarers, a beautiful example of 16th Century Portuguese sculpture. In the centre of the monastery is the symbolic figure of Prince Henry the Navigator, grasping a sword. While the work of sculptor Nicolau de Chanterenne stands in the west doorway, a statue of King Manuel I.
Five hundred years ago, the monastery was the site of a modest chapel where departing and arriving seafarers came to pray. King Manuel transformed it into this remarkable monument, a prayer to the Virgin of Belém for the success of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India.
The site is a monument to the great men who spearheaded the Portuguese Discoveries, glorified by Luís de Camões in his epic poem “Os Lusíadas”. The tombs of King Manuel and his descendents are all found here, as well as a symbolic monument to Fernando Pessoa in the royal cloisters, the famous Portuguese poet of the 20th century.
The Laurissilva Forest, on the island of Madeira, is one of the largest and best-preserved forests of its kind in the world. With many different and unique species, it’s been classified by UNESCO as a Human Heritage site.
The Portuguese arrived on the island for the first time in 1419. The discoverers named it “Madeira” (“wood” in Portuguese) because of the large number of trees. This unique forest, practically extinct in other parts of the world, has remained intact in Madeira since the Tertiary Period, long before the appearance of man.
The trees and shrubs never shed their leaves and a luxuriant green covers the slopes and deep valleys in the island’s interior. The extremely plentiful water supply is contained in the “levadas”, channels that irrigate the fields and supply the towns.
Joined by the islands of S. Jorge and Faial, it lies in the centre of the Azorean archipelago.
It took five hundred years of human effort to transform rock into volcanic and fertile soil, creating a unique landscape and wine culture, granted due recognition by UNESCO with its designation as World Heritage.
Each small square division protects vines from the wind so that, warmed by the sun, they can concentrate all their sweetness into bunches of grapes. So many are the walls that if strung out in a line they would circumnavigate the earth. This epic project resulted in the Verdelho wine, perfected down the centuries by the tender care of Franciscan and Carmelite monks.
Back in the 15th century, this was a bustling commercial port home to hundreds of ships and caravels carrying the produce, and particularly the wines, of the Upper Douro, to France, England and Flanders.
Across all Europe, there is no more unique-a-city, the product of centuries of civic culture deriving from a power struggle dating to the Middle Ages when the nobility were prevented from taking up residence by the riverside.
The depth and breadth of the historic city centre, recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage, covers the Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Neo-classic and Industrial periods and now extends to the cutting edge contemporary designs of the Porto School of Architecture.
At the top of the mountain range outside Sintra is Pena Palace, built in the 19th Century by king Fernando of Saxe-Coburg Gotha. In the foothills you’ll find small palaces such as Monserrate and the Quinta da Regaleira, surrounded by exotic parks and estates.
Vale do Côa
In northeast Portugal, amid imposing mountains, you’ll find the banks of the river Côa. A tributary of the Douro, the Côa valley contains 25,000 years of prehistoric art, a legacy of man’s spiritual past which UNESCO has classified a World Heritage site. The Côa valley, now an archaeological park, is an open-air art gallery seventeen kilometres long showing the creativity of our ancestors, from the Upper Palaeolithic Age to the Iron Age. There has also been a modern contribution – figures painted in more recent years by a miller’s child.
For thousands of years, generations of artists have chosen Côa as their inspiration.
Tower of Belém
On the banks of the River Tagus, the Tower of Belém stands as a symbol of the Portuguese Discoveries and the foundation of the Modern Age.
Lisbon was once the capital of an immense maritime empire, symbolized by this monument.
Although commissioned by King Manuel I in the 16th Century, the square tower is reminiscent of old medieval castles. At the time, the fortress was the most modern of designs; with open cannon emplacements at sea level ready for firing at the enemy.
Facing the river at the top of the fortress, you feel like you’re in the bows of a ship, with magnificent views over the Tagus.
Walking through the ancient streets of Tomar or the leafy park by the river, the Templars’ Castle always remains in sight.
Gualdim Pais, Master of the Order of the Temple in Portugal, chose the hill on which to build the fortress in 1160. It was around this time that work began on the Charola or Rotunda (octagonal church,) modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The convent buildings grew up around it when the Order of the Temple was transferred to the Order of the Knights of Christ, which took over all its property. At the same point in history, Prince Henry the Navigator was to lead the Portuguese nation to the maritime Discoveries, taking the Templar Cross to the seven corners of the world.
In the reign of King Manuel I, a new series of art inspired by the sea was created at the monument. The Templars Church is decorated with paintings and sculptures of exceptional quality. The west façade of the chapter house contains an amazing window, depicting waves, ropes, fantastic animals, angels, kings, armillary spheres and the Cross of the Order of Christ, all carved in stone.