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A Traveler’s Guide to the Most Amazing Castles and Palaces in Portugal

A country regularly touted as one of the very best in Europe for castle-hunting is Portugal, as the southwestern European nation has no shortage of awe-inspiring structures that have earned their fame. From dreamlike Romantic-era palaces to an impressive collection of medieval fortresses scattered around the country, Portugal has enough fascinating sites to more than justify an extended stay of castle-hopping. Here are some of the most unforgettable castles and palaces worth the trip if you’re circling a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in Portugal.

Belém Tower

When famed King John II decided he needed a staunch defender of the all-important Tagus River, the eventual result was Belém Tower. Finished in the early 16th century by John’s successor, Manuel I, the mysterious Belém Tower appears to rise right out of the river along with its beige-white limestone and ring of domed turrets, creating an undeniable mystique that would cement its status as a national landmark. Appearing like a ship eternally pulling into the harbor, the four-story tower makes up for its smaller size with the perfection of its design. It is an iconic example of the Manueline architecture that dominated Portugal’s past.
Although the Belém Tower didn’t have the most illustrious military history in the early going, years of upgrades and additions helped maintain its status as an important stronghold throughout a tumultuous few centuries of Portuguese history. Once occupied in the short-term by both the Spanish and French, the tower added a level of macabre to its reputation by being used as a military prison for many years. Today, visitors come for the rich history and astonishing architecture along with the panoramic views, which you can glimpse from the wide rooftop overlooking the Tagus River and Lisbon countryside.
For those who fall in love with the Manueline style of architecture, Jerónimos Monastery is another stunning and classic example, and it sits only a brisk walk down the river.

Almourol Castle and Convent of Christ (Tomar Castle)

Only a half-hour away from each other, both Almourol Castle and the Convent of Christ (Tomar Castle) are beautiful windows into Portugal’s medieval past. The more famous of the two, Almourol stoically looms over an islet overlooking the typically calm Tagus River, with its semi-circle battlements and tall square keep looking down over its granite outcropping and neighboring hillsides. Built on a site that dates back to antiquity, Almourol Castle was a Knights Templar stronghold in the 12th century and remains an intimidating force that dominates the surrounding landscape, ensuring its status as a timeless feature of the region.
Its picturesque qualities are also a collaboration of different eras, drawing predominately on its Romanesque, Moorish, and Gothic influences to create one of Portugal’s most renowned castles. Scaling the centuries-old stone staircases on the interior leads to stunning views of the Tagus River and the lower battlements, turning quickly snapped photos into images worthy of a postcard without a great deal of effort.
Not to be outdone, the Convent of Christ and Tomar Castle Complex represent another critical part of Portugal’s medieval history, complete with its own dazzlingly ornate displays of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance traditions. Tomar Castle was also a critical defense point in the 12th century and was steadily expanded in the centuries after the Order of Christ uprooted the Knights Templar. The expansion included an array of Christian artwork and features, including the colorful Gothic nave within the convent that has been a fixture since the 1500s.
In addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the area is most known for, the town of Tomar is an old-world masterpiece filled with beautiful courtyards, a variety of unique religious sites, and a collection of red-roofed buildings hovering over the Nabão River. The wondrous Pegoes Aqueduct is also a must-see for anyone interested in the historical roots of the area.

National Palace of Pena and Castle of the Moors

Colorful Pena Palace is arguably the most famous structure in Portugal, with a rich history, perfected 19th-century Romantic design, and its majestic perch atop a hill overlooking the town of Sintra. It all started with a simple chapel back in the 12th century, marking it as a holy site that drew monarchs to worship during its earliest era. Eventually, it was constructed into a full monastery in the early 1500s and remained a place of peace and solitude for centuries. That is until the devastating Earthquake of 1755 nearly leveled everything. Luckily enough, the original chapel survived along with some of its most important interior artworks, though the rest remained in ruins into the 1800s.
Realizing the potential, however, King Ferdinand II dramatically resurrected the site, building a sprawling complex that soon became the Romantic-era emblem it is today. Gothic, Renaissance, Manueline, and Islamic styles all combined to create a bold statement that outlines Portugal’s unique heritage. Repainted later on to restore the original colors, Pena Palace’s red, yellow, and blue stand out boldly along the approach, dazzling visitors along winding outdoor staircases that seem plucked from a dream.
As a perfect companion to a Pena Palace excursion, the Castle of the Moors is another reason that visitors tend to make their way to Sintra. Built in stages through the 8th and 9th centuries, the Castle of the Moors isn’t quite as breathtaking as Pena Palace but has plenty of charm of its own, with ancient stone walls curling around the hillsides toward the two stone towers at its center. Formerly a symbol of Muslim Iberia, ultimately it was Portuguese Christian forces that would take up the fort, leading to the Chapel of São Pedro becoming one of the complex’s main features. Like Pena Palace, the Castle of the Moors was eventually rehabbed by King Ferdinand II in the 19th century, restoring much of what can be seen today.
Travel tip: Incorporating both Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors, the enormous Sintra-Cascais Natural Park leads all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and offers all kinds of daytrip possibilities. From extremely scenic walking trails and endless picnic spots to an iconic beach (Guincho Beach), taking some time to explore Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is a must if you’re headed to Sintra’s most famous landmarks.

Other castles in Portugal to consider

Another outstanding early-medieval castle, the Castle of Marvão is remarkably well-preserved for being originally built in the 9th century. Complete with twirling stone walls that lead up the hillside and a lush green maze outside the central keep, Marvão Castle is an easy add-on to Pena Palace thanks to being just a 15 to 20-minute drive down the road. Also worth considering is the Guimarães Castle, a 10th-century fort built initially to ward off the Norsemen as they came down from central and northern Europe. With its Romanesque towers and shades of Gothic styles as well, Guimarães Castle is another of Portugal’s masterful architectural blends of different eras.
Thanks to Portugal’s excellent variety of castles that shows off a range of different styles, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a country that has more to offer those searching for remarkable castles and palaces. Though you’ll likely have a hard time narrowing it down to a manageable number of excursions, Portugal’s greatest architectural icons are guaranteed to inspire.

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4 Unforgettable Destinations for Wine Enthusiasts

Unforgettable Wine Destinations

Take an unbelievable journey to these 4 must-see destination’s to experience ancient traditions and cutting-edge techniques that fuse each region’s uniquely charming history into the finest vintage lines to create an unforgettable travel adventure for the oenophile in everyone.

Stellenbosch, South Africa

With over 160 regional wineries to choose from and a historic status as South Africa’s second oldest city, the nearly 350-year-old Stellenbosch lays claim to the country’s first wine route that takes you along the breathtaking Precambrian granite mountains and lush scenic valleys of the Western Cape. The local winemakers’ long-running experience is reflected in their award-winning Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinotage creations, as well as their warm and inviting vibe. Here, mineral-rich, delectable wines are augmented by the deeply rich cultural heritage which includes numerous art galleries and museums, as well as celebrated restaurants that have garnered the district its fitting moniker as “The Gourmet Capital.”


Where to Visit: The historic 1690 Stellenbosch Vineyards feature multi-tiered food and wine fusions that offer a one-of-a-kind dining experience, including a delectable new Chocolate & Wine Pairing. The estate is just 5 minutes from the innovative tasting room of Thandi Wines, the first fair-trade brand in the world. If you’d like some wildlife with your wine, head over to the elegant minimalism of Remhoogte Estate, where the succulent summer tastings overlook a park stocked with zebra, springbok, and wildebeest. Many of the area’s vineyards have their own on-site, full-service restaurants, including Simonsig, Delheim, and Warwick, and the wide array of accommodations feature the most modern hotels mixed in with rustic lodges, quaint cottages, and centuries-old homesteads. The Vine Hopper Tour takes you on an enlightening outing to 15-20 vineyards spread across the northern, southern, and eastern sections of this vibrant region.
Best Time to Go: From September until mid-February you can experience the beautiful spring and summer weather of the southern hemisphere, and the cool, lush autumn season ends around mid-April. Many fun Harvest Season bashes take place from late January until mid-March.

Napa Valley, California

For three days each April, the world-renowned ‘Vineyard to Vintner’ festival in Napa Valley takes travelers inside the homes and inner sanctuaries of the area’s leading winemakers for private tours of the cellars, fun social tastings, celebrated dining experiences, and exclusive access to purchase select varieties from internationally acclaimed vineyards. During these festivities and throughout the year you can learn about the exquisite soils, climate, and geology that make this unique district California’s first American Viticultural Area.

Napa Valley

Where to Go: Napa Valley is home to some of the most exclusive Cabernet Sauvignons in the world, as well as singular berry blends of Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel. Explore the lands on the famed Napa Valley Bike Tours, or board the elegant Napa Valley Wine Train to visit environmentally Gold Certified Cade Estate, enchanting Inglebrook’s 150-year old French heritage, or the 15,000 square foot cave tastings and tours of Failla Winery. The region also has a vibrant arts scene showcased in the annually curated masterpieces of downtown’s Napa Art Walk and a week-long film festival featuring artists from across the globe.
Best Time to Go: Late April for the Vineyard to Vintner Festival, late August through early November for the full grape harvesting experience, November 7-11, 2018 for the Napa Valley Film Festival, and March through May for a less-crowded visit while spring is in full bloom.

Douro Valley, Portugal

“A geological poet. A supreme splendour.” – Portuguese poet Miguel Torga describing Douro Valley
Three distinct regions make up the ancient and awe-inspiring Douro Valley: the western Baixo Corgo is known for its ruby and lighter tawny Ports, the Cima Corgo for high-quality Vintage and LMV Ports, and the archaeologically-inspiring Douro Superior shares a border with Spain and features exceptional dry wines that match its arid climate. The dazzling scenery features magnificently steep terraces that overlook the beautifully tranquil Douro River, and the entire valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the transformative human cultivation of the land over the past 2,000 years.

Douro Valley

Where to Go: Sister cities Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia sit on the opposite banks of the charming river and offer an enticing array of cultural and culinary experiences, such as the celebrated Wine Quay Bar which is situated amidst Porto’s historic monuments and museums and features selections from across the valley. Heading westward, Gaia’s 1751 Ferrarai Porto port house, which was founded by famed Douro matriarch Dona Antónia Adelaide, provides you with fascinating lessons in winemaking as a well as an intriguing journey into the region’s development. The valley itself is home to numerous vineyards and wine houses, including the oldest still-active Port-producing estate, 430-year-old Quinta de Roeda. One of the most unique experiences is found at the Museum of Art and Archeology in Côa, which offers tours of the region’s famous 20,000-year-old rock art followed by select tastings at the on-site restaurant.
Best Time to Go: Most everyone agrees that September through early November is the time to see the phenomenal color scapes that light up the land and to experience the one-of-a-kind harvest celebrations. The region offers a wide array of riverboat, train, hiking, biking, and motorcar tours to take you across this breathtaking and sophisticated valley in style.

Willamette Valley, Pacific Northwest

Spread across a sweeping 5,000 square feet of prime Oregon territory, this region’s tagline of ‘We are Pinot Noir’ makes a bold promise that it delivers on with its 500 internationally esteemed wineries set against stunning Cascade and Coastal Mountain scenery. The local cultivators collectively made Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2016 Wine Region of the Year due to a generation of risk takers who recognized that the mountains, river, sea, and soil of the area all combined to form an ideal atmosphere for growing the perfect grape that bridges the gap between Burgundy and California styles.

Where to Visit: The Carlton Winemakers Studio is Oregon’s first cooperative wine house and features pourings from 15 top-rated ‘indie’ estates in a revolutionary business model that allows small vineyards to thrive. Just down the road, the ever-evolving Red Ridge Farms features 5-generations of toilers who were among the original Oregonians to grow grapes for wine cultivation. They now showcase relaxing Wine Country Retreats and a holistic food and natural product boutique right on sight for a fun shopping excursion. One of the best ways to experience the region is through a cultural wine tour aboard Precision Helicopters: you can fly over the breathtaking panoramas and hear the history, geology, and stories of the people who overcame the naysayers to craft an exclusive array of internationally acclaimed vintages. Social responsibility is also part of the community vibe, and the heartfelt Taste of Community tours offer you the opportunity to experience the valley’s famously eclectic black cherry-herb infused flavors while giving to a local cause.
Best Time to Go: From late September to early November is harvest season highlighted by multiple ‘crush’ lunches, winery concerts, interactive tours, and fun festivals, such as September’s Feast Portland. Summer is more laid back, with the lush Portland landscapes in full bloom and plenty of hiking, biking, art galleries, and resort and spa experiences to keep you entertained.
Ready to kick back with a glass of amazing vintage and a dazzling view into a whole new culture? Then pack your luggage—and your wineskins —today!