Medieval Magic in Obidos, Portugal

Punita Malhotra


Believe it or not, there’s a “Wedding Town” that lies within an easy couple of hours drive from Lisbon. No, it’s not a destination for hopelessly-in-love couples to tie the knot. As a much-loved tradition, Portugal kings have offered this pretty little town as an extravagant bridal gift to their queens since the 13th century! Time seems to be frozen in its quaint cobbled streets bordered by a tangle of whitewashed, red-roof houses, so typically Portuguese. Steep staircases wind up to 1.5 km of ramparts of its medieval castle, beyond which one can sink into endless views of windmills and vineyards. The fairytale is completed with an annual medieval festival when the ancient streets overflow with festivity, flags and costumes. Here are it’s prominent points of interest for your bucket list.

Roman aqueduct from the 16th-century

You know that the medieval will be the theme of the day from the moment you near the parking lot at the town entrance. A grand introduction is made by the arches of a 3km long stone aqueduct. What you cannot see are the additional 3km of underground tunnels that go on to connect to the source of the water.

This marvel of Roman engineering dating back to the 16th-century was funded by the vaults of Queen Catherine. So important was the project for the people of Obidos, that she even sold her surrounding land to fund its construction. It turned out to be money well spent. Even today, the aqueduct is in impeccable condition.

Obidos aqueduct

Credit: Sergey-73

Buzz of the main street

The town proudly proclaims its Portuguese lineage with its main (south) gate. Stop and stare at Porta da Vila, the Azulejo decked Baroque chapel orchestrating the Passion of Christ before stepping straight onto Rua Direita, the main thoroughfare. The warm and welcoming vibe is evident in the row of whitewashed houses, accentuated with canary yellow and azure blue paint trimmings.

Pink bougainvillaea draped walls add an extra flush of vibrancy. All along the street, there are enticing ‘Artesenato Portugues’ stores displaying traditional crafts of lace, cork, ceramic and wood. Hours can slip away hunting for local souvenirs, picking up casual bites and soaking in the cheerful hustle-bustle. But for a curious visitor, there’s always more to explore than meets the eye.  

Horse-drawn cart on the main street

Credit: Magdalena Paluchowska

Back alleys that beckon

For those who seek to go beyond the defined path, avenues are aplenty. Wide painted stone steps and gentle slopes cross the Rua Direita on either side. There are guiding signs or no route maps, just modest, well-maintained alleyways leading to undiscovered, quieter corners.

The pleasing, aimless wander along roofs patched with rough brick tiles, fenced herb gardens, aroma-filled kitchens, delicate lace windows and chunky wood doorways reminds of the pleasures of a simpler, slower life.

If time permits, one can stroll along the entire perimeter of the wall, for 360-degree views of the town, the vineyard-speckled countryside, and the imposing castle. 

Obidos backstreets are numerous

Credit: streetflash

Castle turned Pousada

The Obidos castle is strongly reminiscent of the more popular, and more flamboyant Sintra castle, but is no less impressive. Flaunting a fascinating blend of Manueline and Moorish architectural styles, it is a lovely throwback to the 12th and 14th-centuries, when it was built.

In its current reincarnation as a luxurious Pousada, the hotel has 14 double rooms and 3 suites, 9 of which are inside the original castle and 8 in a newly constructed wing. Dreams of staying in a room with stone walls, a four-poster bed and a chandelier, can be fulfilled right here.

The ultimate fantasy can come to life by reserving a room in one of the ‘tower chambers’. A romantic dinner at the restaurant’s Moon Table or Sunset Table will be the cherry on top.

Castelo de Obidos

Credit: Taromon

Finest morello cherry liqueur

Talking of cherries, Obidos is the go-place to savour on the famous liqueur of the region, Ginjinha (Ginja). The best Ginja in all of Portugal is produced in this tiny town. Informed store owners often share the story of the homemade Ginja tradition. The Morello cherry was first used by a friar to make the liqueur concoction, but the recipe remained secret until the 20th-century until the owner of an antique shop started dishing out free samples with every purchase.

Cut to the present and stock up on Ginja bottles to take home. The delight doubles for dessert-devotees, because Ginja is available in another divine form. Chocolate cups filled with sweet, robust, cherry-flavoured brandy liqueur spell sheer heaven. Sweet flavours of medieval times mean a shopping bag full of Ginja chocolate bars, and Ginja nuggets. 

Shop specialising in the sale of ginjinha

Credit: Pierre-Olivier

Time travel with the Medieval Festival

The ultimate medieval Obidos experience is the annual Medieval Fair and is held in July-August. The ancient streets transform into a fiesta with flags and banners swaying, locals donning medieval costumes and celebrating the faded glory of the past.

From knights in shining armour to noblemen in boots and street performers to games, Obidos replays the bygone era with total merriment. The highlight of the festival is the medieval suppers held on Friday and Saturday. It’s one big party, and everyone is invited.

Obidos' famous medieval festival

Credit: Viach Abein

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