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Tomar, The Heart of Portugal

Author: Christine Copeland
Date of Trip: July 2006

Tomar (central Portugal) is in a lovely unspoilt part of the country where tourism is still unobtrusive and so lets you enjoy the real flavour of the culture. It is relaxed and welcoming with an amazing amount of history to wonder at.

The Convento do Cristo, or castle, established in 1160 overlooks the town and needs a whole morning at minimum to explore. It looks down on cobblestone streets and tiny shops with individual styles of bygone years. There are castles, aqueducts, magnificent cathedrals and of course there is the pilgrimage town of Fatima close by. Dinosaur footprints, caves and wine tours bring more variety to the holiday and the food is simple, so very tasty and such a good value that it’s hard to resist making it a gastronomic holiday.

From Tomar you can easily visit both Lisbon and the original capital of Portugal (Coimbra) which is another lovely city on the Mondego river– a university town with lively town life and a fascinating children’s model village using traditional Portuguese houses for their models. Alternatively you can take a trip to the Atlantic coast where the beaches are practically deserted. Or try the lakes and forests for a feast of smell and sight sensations from the pine and eucalyptus trees, plus a swim/ski or canoe in the fresh, clear water.

Already in Tomar they are preparing for 2007 — there will be a massive festival that has been part of its tradition for hundreds of years. Young women parade through the decorated streets wearing headdresses weighing, on average, 22 kilos and at a height equal to their own. There is a week of festivities and activities starting with a procession of young boys, then a competition for the most beautiful decorated street in the town which is judged on the Friday (6th July) and then the whole town celebrates the night away in a riot of colour and light. This is the lead up to the grand procession on Sunday (8th July 2007.) The festival is only held once every four years, so if you miss it there is a long wait for the next one!

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