My Rough Guide: If you need a guaranteed hangover cure, try surfing
MY ROUGH GUIDE
Sunday 31 May 1998
In recent years, the most extensive collection of Palaeolithic art in Europe was discovered along the remote River Coa valley in the north-east of Portugal. The planned construction of a dam would have submerged the drawings and carvings for good but an extraordinary campaign saved the site, now designated the Parque Arqueolgico do Vale de Coa. You can book to see the engravings of horses, deer and other beasties in the nearby village of Vila Nova de Foz Coa.
Best guided tour
Campo Maior forms part of a necklace of historic fortified towns that runs along the Portuguese border. The town's skyline ripples with a sea of terracotta roof-tiles, jutting church spires, TV aerials and the remains of a castle. I am usually averse to guides, but at the castle gates I could not resist the group of six children whose alternative tour revealed a well full of snake skeletons, a tunnel that goes "all the way to Spain", and the spot where one of them had found a used condom.
Most romantic story
The great Cistercian monastery of Alcobaca - whose monks had a stream channelled through the kitchen to supply them with fresh fish - houses the tombs of the ghoulishly romantic Dom Pedro and his lover Ines de Castro. When the pair married in secret, Pedro's father, Afonso IV, had Ines killed, fearing her Spanish ancestry could lead to Spain's interference with the Portuguese throne. In 1357, Pedro became king and exacted his revenge. He had his lover exhumed and forced his court to recognise her by making them kiss the "queen's" decomposed hand.
Most romantic town
Dom Pedro was not the first romantic Portuguese monarch. In 1282, Dom Dinis gave the town of Obidos to his bride, Dona Isabel as a wedding present, and the "Wedding City" became the traditional gift of kings of Portugal to their queens. Obidos is still smoulderingly romantic, a perfectly preserved walled town of whitewashed houses with neat yellow window frames and geranium-filled doorways. You can even stay in the town's castle, now the luxurious Pousada do Castelo - providing it has not been block-booked by Americans.
The Algarve has plenty of lively resorts, but for somewhere typically Portuguese, Ericeira is the place to head for. Just an hour's drive north of Lisbon, this attractive cliff-top town, clustered round sandy bays, attracts the capital's nightclub set at weekends and throughout the summer when there is a party atmosphere till the small hours. And if you need a guaranteed hangover cure, try surfing at Praia da Ribeira d'Ilhas, venue of the World Championships.
Best walking country
Most Portuguese beauty spots attract extended-family picnickers with so much food that they rarely venture far from their cars. So it requires
little effort to find stunning deserted countryside, even in the popular national parks. My own favourite is Serra da Estrela, especially the superb footpaths snaking through pine forests around the village of Manteigas. The park is also home to Torre, Portugal's highest mountain. Trekkers without a picnic will be relieved to find the 2,000-metre summit is crowned with a small shopping centre and restaurant.
Portugal's days as a great trading nation have bequeathed us with some great comestibles such as marmalade, port and even vindaloo. More recent exports are custard pies and milky coffee in a glass, the 'in' thing in many London cafes. For the real thing, head for the Lisbon suburb of Belem, where the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem serves fresh pasteis de nata in a cool, cavernous cafe a stone's throw from the famous Jeronimos monastery.
Places to visit
Guided tours of the Palaeolithic art at Foz Coa can be arranged by the park authorities at Avenida Gago Coutinho 19, Vila Nova de Foz Coa (079 764317), but you will need to take a taxi to the reception centres at Castelo Melhor or Muxagata.
In summer, the monastery in Alcobaca is open daily from 9am-7pm. Entry costs Esc400.
Campo Maior in the Alentejo, is approximately five hours by bus from Lisbon.
Ericeira is 90 minutes from Lisbon by a regular bus service. The World Surfing Championships take place in September.
The number 15 tram from Praca da Figueira in Lisbon stops just beyond the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem in Rua de Belem.
A double room at the Pousada do Castelo in Obidos (062 959105) costs from Esc29,600 in high season.
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