Óbidos – The Wedding Present Town
Few ancient cities and towns retain their complete fortifications and walls. Óbidos is one of them. Remove the tourists and it’s a movie set – a picture postcard locale with a romantic backstory.
Óbidos is known as “the wedding present town.” King Dinis gifted the entire town to his new Queen Isabel on their wedding day in 1282. That quixotic tale makes Óbidos a wedding and honeymoon destination for starry-eyed newlyweds.
As a result of what remains – an entire medieval walled town with a castle dating back to the 12th century – Óbidos has been designated a national monument. Consequently, it is a major year-round tourist destination.
The name Óbidos dates to ancient Roman times and means “walled town.” Perched on a hilltop, the medieval castle walls are 45 feet high. Stand outside and crane your neck for a good look at the sheer height of the intimidating fortifications. Then consider the effort required of Portugal’s King Afonso Henriques and his men who liberated the town from the Moors in 1148. The sneak attack included a band of the King’s men who disguised themselves as trees to reach and breach the town walls.
A visit to Óbidos doesn’t require a sneak attack; however, some advance planning might be useful. To evade the ever-present crowds and busloads of tourists, avoid weekends and arrive early. Better yet, go late in the day when the shops are closing and buses departing. The town is compact so exploring every nook and cranny is quite doable in less than a full day.
Óbidos is a pedestrianized town – you can enter on foot or bicycle. As you pass through the huge, impressive main gate (Porta da Vila) be sure to stop and look for the blue and white tiles depicting scenes from the town’s history. Before the great earthquake of 1755, the entire face of these walls was tile-covered.
Óbidos is a visual delight. Focus your visit on the cobbled streets above and below the main commercial street of Rua Direita. Along these picturesque lanes you will find colorful houses adorned with overflowing pots of vibrant geraniums and bougainvilleas. There are ancient Gothic doorways and windows, bright whitewashed churches, prowling cats and dazzling tile-work. Fragrant wisteria climbs the walls.
Almost all of the tourist shops and many restaurants are on Rua Direita. This small main street leads gently uphill from the Porta da Vila toward Óbidos Castle. The 17-room Pousada de Óbidos provides medieval-themed hotel rooms incorporated into portions of the Castle. The Pousanda’s tiny lobby is a good place for coffee or a glass of wine away from the main tourist trail.
Portugal’s traditional bright yellow and brilliant blue colors found in Óbidos and throughout the country are deliberate choices. Folklore says that yellow repels evil spirits. Blue serves an equally important role by repelling flies and mosquitoes. Whether the yellow actually works may depend on your beliefs; but allegedly there is some scientific truth to the bug-repelling qualities of bright blue.
Ready to walk the walls? Sunset is a favorite time to make the climb. On clear days visitors can see almost to the Atlantic Ocean six miles west. The surrounding countryside is beautiful, and from above you’ll better appreciate the town’s red tile rooftops, whitewashed buildings, and winding cobblestone streets. Make sure to wear your urban trekking shoes. The steps up to the wall-walk are steep and treacherous and there are no handrails along the narrow sentry path hugging the wall. If you fear heights this is not the place for you. But if you’re up to it, the 360-degree views are worth the effort.
From Portugal – A Tale of Small Cities. Now available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com