Eloquence of a king, etc, etc, etc!!

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Flag of Portugal  , Northern Portugal,
Monday, July 5, 2010

Our itinerary today seemed full with four planned stops so I read up on each location to determine if indeed they were going to be stops for us.  The first town was Lamego with a church located on a hilltop which would be nice to see, however this one had 686 steps to be climbed to reach it.   Both mom and I decided against it, but as we were getting close, we changed our mind and decided to go into town and at least have a look from below.  Yes, you can be brave and climb the beautiful stair case with its multiple levels or even stroll thru the small forest surrounding it.  Or you can be like us, and drive all the way to the top!!!

I would have been disappointed not to have come to Lamego if I were ever to see photographs of the Sanctuary so I am glad we decided to come.  However, I did not have the energy to walk up all those steps.  I did, however walk down (and then back up) a fair number since there was always a good photo just down these next few, and then another angle down another few!!!  Anything for a good picture right!  The last two levels are especially gorgeous with the ceramic tiles at the center of the two-sided stairs, fountains, small chapels, or statues at each side.  I would make for a wonderful walk as the staircase gets more and more lavish the closer you get to the top.

The interior of the Church was simple yet ornate if that makes any sense.  The alters were typical Portuguese Baroque in style while the ceiling was white with plaster relief motives making it quite striking.  As in so many Portuguese churches, the walls are covered in ceramic tiles depicting scenes of the Bible or the life of Saints.

Our drive north took us up and down hills, actually some of Portugal's highest mountains to the area known as the Alto Douro Wine Region.  It is mountain after mountain as far as the eye can see of vineyards planted in magnificent rows, barely hanging to the steep sides of the mountains.  Some are divided into parcels by olive trees.   We made an illegal stop along the freeway to take a couple pictures which does not begin to show the true beauty of this area.  Some of the vineyards are on such steep inclines, that the grapes are nearly laying down.  Now, these people really know what hard work is come picking season!!  It was upon exiting this region that we discovered it had been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and I can easily see why.

Our next stop was in the town of Vila Real, which we drove around for a bit looking for signs directing us to the Palacio de Mateus.   That is the only thing we wanted to see there as we were a little "saturated" with churches and castles but this one sounded interesting.  Although our directions were not the best, we did finally arrive.  (For those of you coming here and wanting to visit the Palacio - you should - it is located off the North exit of Vila Real not the center of town)

The Palacio is located in the small village of Mateus (who would have thought it!) well hidden behind a small forest and away from peeking neighbors!!  As we descended the short path from the entrance gate, we are greeted by a small lake and the Palacio behind it reflecting in the water.  The Palacio is totally different from other castles and palaces we have seen over our journey and extremely beautiful.  We had a little time before our guided tour (the only way to see the inside) so we toured the gardens.  

WOW.  WOW.  WOW.  Yes, that is all I can say.  These are probably the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen.  They are so fine and detailed in their construction.  Each bush carefully trimmed, pruned and perfectly planted.  This was not all.  As we turned the corner, there laid a giant tunnel built entirely of cedar trees.  Yes, a 30 foot tall tunnel extending some 50-60 feet long at the end of the gardens.  What a sight!!   On the other side of the tunnel, were three cement decorative ponds which are now the swimming pools for the family (some of them were playing in them while we visited).  The family owners of the Palacio do still live here.

The visit to the inside of the Palacio was very interesting and our guide was extremely knowledgeable on the family's history and that of the house as well.  For me, the most fascinating room was the library.  It contains thousands of books, all original editions, on every subject imaginable.  Some of them are in Portuguese, French, English, German, Latin, Italian and many other languages.  One of the books is the original print of a required reading for all Portuguese children even today with the original illustration copper plates used.  These images from the 18th century are still the same today.  This book was sent to many kings and other prominent people in its time and letters acknowledging receipt are displayed in the library.  Some of them are: Cardinal Richelieu of France, the Star of Russia and King Louis XIV who addressed his letter to The Marquis of Mateus etc, etc, etc.   The reason for such "familiarity" was that the Marquis had something like 8 or 9 names so this was much easier than trying to remember them all!!  Very interesting.

Our next stop was in the town of Amarante where we did not spend long due to the heat.  We did make it to the center of town and parked the car in a very tight spot.  I could hardly get out of the car on the driver side and the passenger side was about a half inch from a tree but it WAS in the shade!!!  We visited the monastery of San Goncalo with its original painted columns and quaint cloister.   Unlike any other place I have seen, the confessionals were built into the walls of the cloister instead of wooden structures inside the chapel itself.

We got back on the road heading for our last stop and home for the night, Guimaraes another World Heritage classified city.  Despite the heat and the afternoon sun, I headed out to discover the city.  I made it up to the old medieval castle which is very well preserved and walked the short distance to the Palacio dos Duques de Braganca.   Sadly both are closed on Mondays so I was only able to take photos of the outsides.  The city is filled with beautiful gardens and green areas.  The sidewalks are like giant mosaics.  I enjoyed my time in this quaint, historic town.

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