Visiting the Centre of Portugal – Óbidos Medieval Town

Since we arrived late to Lisbon the previous night, Monday was our first official day to explore. Happy and well fed from the breakfast buffet, we left Dolce CampoReal behind after a truly wonderful stay and headed for the medieval town of Óbidos.

Right before we hopped into the SimplyB mobile (the trusty 7-seater that brought us all around the centre of Portugal that was, in short, a whole lot of fun) Sandra mentioned that despite the hour of the morning, we’d be sampling ginja; to which someone in our gang replied, “Wow, we really are going for the whole Portuguese experience!” As a total Portugal newbie, I have to admit that I had no idea what ginja was. But I loved that about the trip. It was exciting not knowing what was in store, everything was a total surprise.
I’ll get back to the ginja later, so hold that thought. What I will say though *spoiler alert* it was great!

We arrived at Óbidos about half an hour later with the castle watching over us, perched on the hillside*. As soon as you approach Óbidos you’ll arrive at a large carpark, and right beside it is the Tourist Office where you can get maps, organise a guided tour (our tour was excellent, our guide was so lovely and spoke a number of languages) or rent little electric buggies or bikes to cruise along the cobblestone streets. Basically, all the useful stuff you can take advantage of before you start exploring.

Óbidos‘ comes from the Latin word oppidum, meaning ‘citadel’ or ‘fortified city’ and has been nicknamed The Wedding Gift town* as it was a gift from King Dinis to Queen Isabel when they were married in 1282. Throughout the centuries the town has undergone several repairs (post-1755 earthquake, for example) but Óbidos has never lost its medieval charm.
The image above is of Porta da Vila the main entrance to Óbidos complete with that beautiful tiling Portugal is famous for.

*a nickname with zero ring to it but hey, it gets straight to the point.

The morning was a little overcast, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We walked through Porta de Vila sharing delicious roasted chestnuts (castanhas assadas) a Portuguese comfort food classic.
Just as you walk through Porta de Vila, you come to Rua Direita, the town’s picture-perfect main street. The street is lined with whitewash buildings with pops of bright blue and yellow. It’s home to artisan shops, bakeries, cafes, restaurants and sometimes outside you’ll notice little carts selling ginja or souvenirs, like the unofficial symbol of Portugal, the rooster, seen above. Supposedly it brings good luck and happiness.

This intriguing little spot on Rua Direita is The Biological Market, a peculiar bookstore that sells fruits, vegetables, olive olives and other delights as well as an extensive range of books that are nestled on shelves made of old fruit crates. A clever idea; no room for waste here, with over 600 crates working hard in their new found afterlife jobs. 

Look at this other interesting spot along the main street! While I realise this isn’t the greatest shot, this bar was full when we first passed it, and the second time it was empty, so I went to take a shot and wouldn’t be bothering people having their lunch. It’s pretty dark inside, but you get the idea. Anyway, I was first drawn to it by the intoxicating smells wafting through the streets before I even knew what or who was in there.
When I looked in the door, I was met with pure FLAMES! Ok, a tad dramatic, but seriously, you can order sausage here that you roast over an open flame yourself. While you drink Port, or ginja, or whatever the hell you want. That explains the mouthwatering smell, obviously. Bar Ibn Errik Rex (a mouthful for me and possibly you too) is the name of this long-standing Óbidos bar, popular with locals and tourists alike. Probably due to its fire sausage (™), booze and bottles hanging from the ceiling. A quirky little spot I would have loved to visit and hope I will do in the future.

Despite the fact that Óbidos is a tiny town, it’s home to a total of four churches. Four. That pretty impressive, and perhaps a little bit of a nuisance for the locals, considering you have nowhere to run from your ginja-induced sins.
We passed all of them but visited just two, St. Mary’s Church in St. Mary’s Square features above, more images of those beautiful intensely blue trademark Portuguese tiles. Easter processions start from this church and there’s lots of purple (the colour of mourning.) Women song beautiful songs about ‘joyful sadness’ known as saudade, that I’m told makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The Portuguese take Holy Week or ‘Semana Santa’ very seriously, which I’m more than used to with the Spanish.

The second we visited was St. James’ church, which technically isn’t serving as a church at the moment. It’s currently a wonderful bookstore! Those Óbidos folk, eh? They can’t just have normal bookstores. There are wooden structures that now serve as shelving and support for you to weave your way around this fascinating store, in pursuit of the latest bestseller.
On our way back from the super-church-bookstore-hybrid of St. James, we found ourselves back on Rua Direita when Sandra announced that the time had come. It was ginja o’clock!
Ginja or ‘Ginjinha’ is a liqueur made by infusing aguardiente, ginja (sour cherries) and sugar. It is typically drank in a little shot glass complete with sour cherry or in a CHOCOLATE CUP*(!?!) The Portuguese are such clever, clever people. And it gets better – Óbidos is the home of ginja, where the best and well-known brands originated, like this one.

*Speaking of chocolate, the 16th International Chocolate Festival is taking place in Óbidos from February 23rd to March 18th, which is just around the corner! You know what to do.

Our ginja tasting fun took place at Mercearia de Ideias, a tiny shop with all kinds of lovely Portuguese treats. It’s a feast for the eyes, beautifully laid out and inviting.

Some of the gang went for the shots with just the cherry, others went for white chocolate and I went for dark. I ate the cherry, bit a little of the cup, drank the ginja, and when I was done, ate the rest of the cup. The sweetness of the liqueur with the bitter dark chocolate was wonderful. I just had to buy a bottle, obviously. I didn’t buy the chocolate cups though, which was a failing on my part. I guess if I’m desperate I can always shove a square of Lindt and some ginja into my mouth simultaneously.

If you can’t get yourself to Óbidos for whatever reason, you can also try ginja in Lisbon, Porto and most places across Portugal.

Another shot of Rua Direita, where the magic happens. Too pretty not to photograph.


High on life (or possibly ginja) we bid farewell to Óbidos, not before scaling the city wall to take in the view (which can be accessed on the steps to the left just as you pass through Porta de Vila.) You’ll notice the day brightened up for us too! Perfect for our next stop, Nazaré.

As for Óbidos, I’m sure I’ll return someday. In fact, I think I will. I’ll bet two ginjas and a fire sausage on it.

Óbidos is just over an hour from the city of Lisbon, perfect for a day trip. A bus can take you there for €7.70 per person, each way.

Click here for information on Óbidos culture, events, accommodation.

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