One of the oldest countries in Europe, Portugal (which became a kingdom in the mid-12th century) doesn’t suffer from a lack of beautiful historic towns. Do you want to see the best historic destinations in Portugal? Keep reading for a few ideas.
If you have a penchant for following the history of the Knights Templar, make a trip to Tomar, a town that was once a sort of headquarters for this mysterious Catholic group. Visit the 12th-century Convento de Cristo (Convent of Christ), a medieval fortress and church where the local branch of the Templars met for religious mass and gatherings. Tomar is also the location of one of the best-preserved synagogues in Portugal in addition to many other Catholic churches dating between the 12th and 15th centuries, the 17th-century Pegões aqueduct, and the stunning park and gardens called National Forest of Seven Hills (a perfect spot for a stroll).
Anyone who has heard of Sintra knows that it’s a lovely town filled with amazing buildings such as the romantic, 19th-century Pena Palace. What they may not know is that it was once where many Portuguese royal family members and aristocrats lived or vacationed, attracted by the forested landscape and mild climate (hence the abundance of fascinating architecture and gardens). Most of the attractions are house-museums inside romantic and eclectic mansions, chalets and palaces. Of course, there is also the medieval fortress, the Castelo dos Mouros, built in the 10th century by the Moors.
In the first century, Roman settlers lived in what is now Chaves, a town close to the border with Spain in the Tras-os-Montes region. Left behind is a well-preserved Roman bridge, connecting the two sides of town across the Tâmega River and which is still used. Early settlers are believed to have been attracted to Chaves for the local springs, which provide hot, natural mineral water. Today, it is a town oozing in tradition and local culture – landmarks include the medieval town square and castle and a 14th-century fortification that has been converted into a hotel.
Ponte de Lima, named after the bridge that crosses the Lima River, is a charming village in the Minho region of Portugal, located north of Porto in northwest Portugal. Downtown is decorated with eye-catching manor homes, ancient yet well-preserved buildings, and stunning gardens. The oldest settlement in Portugal, it is also a town steeped in superstition. The Romans believed the river would cause amnesia in anyone who touched it, leading to the bridge that still stands today. Ponte de Lima is also in the centre of the Vinho Verde wine region, and visiting the local vineyards is a popular activity for visitors.
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