Roughly pronounced “ah-bee-doosh,” Ơbidos is a little over an hour’s drive north of Lisbon, Portugal. It is a beautiful medieval walled-town on top of a hill with narrow cobbled streets, white buildings and tiled roofs.
We visited the town on an early transatlantic cruise and had a wonderful experience. On our second visit, in 2015, it lived up to our memories.
We were fortunate to catch it on a beautiful day. Walking near the top of the hill, we exited the wall through an arched gate to a little park with blooming cherry trees and a view over the pastoral valley below.
The area was first settled by Celts and later by Romans then by Visigoths and Moors and finally conquered by the Christian King Alphonso in 1148.
Bits of it have been destroyed and rebuilt many times either by natural forces such as earthquakes and fire or just by people – mostly kings and queens – seeking to remodel. A guide told us the old market porch columns date back to Roman times.
A number of kings gave the town to their queens as wedding gifts. An aqueduct leading to the town was commissioned by Queen Catherine of Austria in the 16th century.
St Mary’s Church was built on the site of a Visigoth temple later followed by a mosque. Many paintings inside were done by a resident noble lady at a time when few women painters were known. The tomb of D. Joāo de Noronha is a very early renaissance sculpture.
The castle at the top of the hill was both fortification and residence for Portuguese royalty. Portugal has turned 45 old classical structures into state-owned inns. The Ơbidos castle, converted in 1950, was the first. We were told it has only six rooms, but they are very fine.
Ơbidos has only 600 inhabitants but is visited by thousands of tourists. The main street is lined with little shops and cafes as well as a few inns, all operated by locals. Their specialty is a cherry liqueur, but in recent years they have had an annual chocolate festival, so the liqueur is often sold with little chocolate cups. They also have regular music and theater festivals to attract visitors.
We arrived in the afternoon, and it was very crowded on the main street. However, we were almost able to get off alone near the wall and on the back streets. The crowd thinned as the day wore on. We were advised by our guide to avoid the early morning when it is packed.
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