Mafra + Obidos

During our recent trip to Portugal, one day was dedicated to a leisurely drive from Lisbon to Coimbra, and the two lovely stops we made along the way, first in Mafra and then in Óbidos.

Mafra is a very cute small town, and its main attraction is the Mafra Palace (Palácio de Mafra), one of Europe’s largest palaces. We arrived there in the morning, easily found parking nearby, and were in awe when the full building came into view.

The palace is certainly monumental, impressing visitors with its size and ornate architecture, sitting proudly on a large square. I read that the front façade extends 250 meters (820 feet) and the bell towers reach over 68 meters (223 feet) in height. It is open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm (closed on Tuesdays and some holidays), and while many areas are not open to visitors, it’s still well worth the visit.

Built between 1717 and 1755, the Mafra Palace is the most important baroque monument in the country. The complex includes a monastery and a beautiful ornate basilica, and also a huge 2-story 90 meters (295 feet) long library containing over 36,000 precious books. It was used as both a convent and a royal hunting residence, and currently restored and furnished with original furniture, it offers a glimpse of the way the royal family and the resident friars lived.

Our favourite areas were the basilica and the library, but I was also very impressed by a lovely exhibit by Portuguese artist Paulo Ossião (from May 19 to Sept 10, 2017), depicting different views of the palace in mesmerizing watercolor paintings, which were displayed in several rooms. The exhibit is part of the celebration of the third centenary of the laying of the foundation stone for the palace’s basilica.

After our visit, we walked across the street and chose a restaurant to enjoy lunch with a view of the palace. There’s plenty of options around or a short walk away. Before leaving Mafra, we had to make a stop for dessert at Fradinho, an adorable café offering delicious traditional “convent-style” pastries, as well as other more contemporary sweet and savoury selections. Highly recommended!

Our next stop was at Óbidos. We arrived in the early afternoon and found parking just outside the city walls (car traffic inside the walls is extremely limited). We saw one paid lot (parking meter), and two other lots across the road which did not require payment at the time, but I’m not sure if these free spots are always available.

The beautiful and historic Óbidos is a trip back in time and its charming medieval features are the main attraction. Just as we entered the town through the “Porta da Vila” (main entry), we had to take a minute to admire the traditional painted tiles surrounding the atrium balcony. Inside the walls, a perfectly maintained and traditional ancient village greeted us. We were captivated by the red tile roofs, the white houses and shops, the narrow cobblestone streets, the castle on the hill, and the solid wide walls all around.

We climbed the steps near the entry (on the left side) to reach the top of the wall and walked around town, enjoying the views and taking pictures, and got down using another set of steps on the other end, near the Óbidos Castle – a 12th-century building that has been converted into a luxury historic hotel. Walking on the wall offers a privileged view, but must be done with caution, and it is not recommended for unaccompanied children or people with limited mobility. We then walked back on the main street, popping in and out of small shops, churches, cafés, etc.

And no visit is complete without trying the traditional Ginja de Óbidos, a strong and sweet cherry liquor produced locally. Many shops along the main street sell samples (about €1) in a small chocolate cup that you can eat after consuming the drink. Bottles of ginja and chocolate cups (or gift sets!) are also available for sale at the shops, as well as many interesting local crafts and souvenirs.

Here are some highlights of the village:

  • Óbidos Aqueduct (visible from outside the town or from the top of the wall)
  • Porta da Vila
  • Town Walls
  • Santa Maria Church
  • Misericordia Church
  • Óbidos Castle

We loved Óbidos and really recommend a visit. Have questions or suggestions for future trips? We’d love to hear from you!

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