When the Sea invites the Land, magic happens.
Formerly known as Estremadura the Atlantic strip West North of Lisbon is a fertile region. Its colorfull landscapes vary with the seasons, and are dominated by thousands of hills with scattered white-painted villages scattered in their interior and the characteristic windmills that symbolize this western part of Portuguese territory. It is a territory bathed intensely by sunlight and blessed with a moderate climate due to the influence of the Atlantic creating a unique harmony between the coast and the interior.
Enogastronomy in the West Coast
We relive in the gastronomy of the West Coast the most diverse historical influences that have been here throughout the centuries. In it we can build a bridge connecting Europe to stories from the Far East; stories of spices and sugar, of victories, conquer, and maritime discoveries. The maritime landscape simultaneously imposing and delicate is home to a cuisine rich in fish and shellfish, sampled in the sunny terraces of cities and small towns. It´s a coast painted in blue. The sea harmonizes the seasoning of dishes with the freshness of its fruits, brought by the hands of fishermen master; fruits that repair our souls with stone drops of salt…
The West (called LISBOA as far as the demarcated wine region is concerned) has a long history in national viticulture. In this demarcated region, we find native grapes and some international varieties that allow the wine producers to create beautiful blends.
Speaking about native grapes in Lisbon´s surroundings we always have to bear in mind 3 main wine regions: Colares, Bucelas, and Alenquer.
Colares wine boasts an incomparable history from the birth of the nation through the writings of various figures such as Eça de Queiroz and Lord Byron. Vines that are planted in sandy soils and maritime climates must be handled with great care and must be cultivated in small-scale vineyards which are worked manually. These vines come from unique native grape varieties such as Ramisco (red) and Malvasia de Colares (white). As a result, when you purchase one bottle you can be sure that it constitutes a very special heritage and is a veritable collector’s item.
Bucelas, located just north of Lisbon is a land of viticulture since Roman times. Historically a white wine, during the Elizabethan age (presumably mentioned by William Shakespeare in the play Henry VI) it was popular among the English as a fortified wine. Following the attempts of Napoleon to invade Portugal, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington discovered the wine (now no fortified) and was so passionate regarding it that he began to import large quantities back to his estate in the United Kingdom, making it a fashionable wine.
Last but not least we have Alenquer; a Portuguese wine region centered around the town of Alenquer. Located in a valley in the district of Lisboa, wine grapes can ripen easily and produce full-bodied red wines that have a spicy, peppery aroma. The white wines tend to be dry with a creamy mouthfeel.
Heritage in the West Coast
The passing of time left in the region of the West Coast is a remarkable track of Medieval Castles, Renaissance Palaces, Manor Houses, Churches, Convents that allow any visitor an encounter with the representations of bygone times.
Fairytale cities and castles
Portugal’s history is easy to find; even in the smallest villages, where the architecture of churches and chapels speak of past grandeur. It is easy for the visitor to combine artistic and cultural itineraries with visits very close to wildly beautiful beaches, such as Ericeira and Santa Cruz.
The countryside of the West Coast is closely connected with the Order of Cister. This monastic order was a crucial ally of the first kings during the Christian reconquest of Portugal. It was Cister back in the Medieval Age that was the main responsible for the settlement, the administrative and legal organization, as well as the agricultural flourishing of this region.
Another 2 highlights of this region are Óbidos and Batalha Monastery. Óbidos is a magnificent Medieval Town surrounded by town walls dating back to the Moorish occupation that astonishes all its visitors. Óbidos is known as the “Town of the Queens”, due to the royal tradition of the Kings giving the town to the Queens as a present on the occasion of their wedding. Óbidos is an enchanting town, with many churches and chapels full of works of art, tiles, paintings, gilt woodcarving, and religious vestments. Every street or alley with its picturesque corners invites visitors to take a peaceful and refreshing walk, displaying the balance and harmony of this little Museum Town. The whitewashed houses with their color bars and adorned with flowers complete the portrait. Before you leave don´t forget to try the famous Ginginha de Óbidos. And again in this case the origins of the recipe are intrinsically connected to the convents.
Not very far from Óbidos lies the Monastery of Batalha. It is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful examples of Portuguese and European architecture.
Like most things in Portugal, its origin has a simple and human reason: it was born from the promise that King D. João I made in case he won Aljubarrota, a mythical battle that in Portugal assured him the throne and guaranteed the kingdom’s independence.
The construction took over 150 years, across various phases. This is the reason why several alterations were made to the initial project, resulting in a vast monastic complex.
This journey across the region’s patrimony ends in Sintra. This world-known mountain attraction reached its peak in the reign of D. Fernando II of the dynasty of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1836-1885). The artist-king established Romanticism here with a splendor that is unique in the Mediterranean regions. The king acquired the Pena Convent, situated on a steep mountain, and transformed it into a fabulous magic romantic palace that is today the main landmark of this small town. So many emotions in a single place…
Nature in the West Coast
Beyond the city of Lisbon, there´s a vast natural world where everything is mildness and even the orography is itself an invitation to stare at the horizon. Here you will find several natural parks, such as Sintra a World Heritage Site and Cultural Landscape (classified by UNESCO) and the Reserva Natural do Paúl do Boquilobo, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The region is dotted with farms and vineyards where small local producers supply the big Lisbon area with fruit, vegetables, and wine.
We Portuguese are lucky to have a place like Sintra so close to Lisbon. Sintra is shrouded in mystery and even the climate is different there. The ubiquitous green offers visitors a shade and reassuring freshness. We feel comfortable when we walk through its winding narrow streets, filled with small shops offering authentic souvenirs such as hand-painted Portuguese tiles or the famous Travesseiros de Sintra, a sweet regional specialty that is hard to eat and not beg for more.
Sintra is also impressive on the landscape side: the Mediterranean and Northern flora were combined here with hundreds of exotic trees and flowers in a truly unique setting of gardens, parks, and forests.
So many things to do? It´s true but if you want to awake your senses and rediscover your inner balance, just keep in mind that the West is also well-known for its spas.
In Caldas da Rainha you can find a strong tradition of earthenware pottery production and artistic and utilitarian pottery. Other important attractions include the magnificent Jurassic sites in Lourinhã and the Lines of Torres Vedras (temporary lines of fortifications), built on the order of the Duke of Wellington to defend Lisbon from Napoleon troops.
Definitely places with history and times with memory…