top of page

Part Two: Saudade for Portugal

Longing On This Distant Way

Minh Alma; Oh my soul…tell me who I am…tell me where I am bound

Running through the streets of the past,

My Fado is my future…

But I vow that I will make love to my past, without saying where I am bound

When I leave my being,

I am the sea of other lands, of other people who I have never known…Mariza

When Portuguese writer, Nilda Piñon professed, “I was born to love Portugal and described its inhabitants as “a charming people, undefiled or disturbed by everyday violence of the modern world,” our thoughts harmonized. Many see Paris as the “city of lights” but, others, like Nilda, see Portugal’s Lisboa as the “city with the light of precious stones:” Sparkling, joyful, and extraordinary, yet, peaceful, sure, and unscathed.


When I first viewed photos of Pálacio da Pena, “The Fairytale Castle,” I gave myself a personal mandate to visit Sintra to see it one day. Fascinated by its Portuguese Romantic architecture, its colorful façade and mythical island setting, I went again and again and again, and immersed in fantasy, splendor and ingenuity!


When my son, Tristan, and I ventured to ju565, Bairro Alta- Lisboa, for traditional Portuguese cuisine and Fado music, I was in solid accord with the four melodramatic and heart-stirring Fadistas. Within the intimacy of one of the oldest Fado houses, the folklore, passion and soul unequivocally prevailed.


And, when I read the lines of Lisboan Luis Vaz de Camoes’ sonnet, "Mudam-se os temps, mudam-se as vontades" (The times change, the desires change), I paralleled my own personal evolution:


       The times change, the desires change, and who    

       we are, and what we trust keeps changing with them;

       the whole world is composed of change’s rhythm,

       which forever takes on new qualities…


Camoes, and fellow renowned Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, penned emotions that are ingrained within the souls of most of us:  "The feelings that hurt the most, the emotions that sting the most are those that are absurd- the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence."


In search of respite, I’ve ventured far into many cities, islands, and getaways around the world.  Undoubtedly, I’d suffer immeasurably if never to return to the uncommon solace of Portugal.  My saudade is for Portugal. Longing, longing, longing, who showed you this distant way? (Cesaria Evora)  


My third visit to Portugal got underway quickly.  I had in mind, since my trip to Porto (recounted in Part One:  Porto et al), a desired itinerary and activities list for my next trip to Portugal and, now, I had only to put them into action. Situated in my Lisboa-Cascais ocean-view hotel room, I immediately acknowledged being in a perpetually great emotional place, and then headed to Sintra. Jetlag forgotten!


A fantasy-like village, Sintra is mentioned more frequently by writers, poets, voyagers, and historians than any other Portuguese location. With its Serra de Sintra range of hills, picturesque landscapes of chestnut, oak, pine and eucalyptus trees, along with a variety of unique and exquisite flowers and vegetation, Sintra enchants, providing an appropriate setting for Sintra National Palace (known as Queen Marie Francoise’s palace and the prison of King Dom Alfonso VI); the hilltop Castelos dos Mouros (the Castle of the Moors); and, the “fairytale castle,” Palácio da Pena. From the bewitching Pena, atop the “magic mountain,” there are views of the monastery and Moorish castle; a spectacular vantage point from the Queen’s Terrace of the arboretum, transformed from an uncultivable hill into gardens of camellias and azaleas; and, the populated valley below.  The interior rooms feature fantastical interior décor and mastery level craftsmanship of intricate tilework. Named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 and having been constructed by Queen Dona Maria II and King Consort Dom Fernando II in 1826-28 and 1834-53, Palácio da Pena charms and delights, while Sintra endlessly exists as one of the most irresistible places in the world.


Energized, I continued this flawless day, by returning via Carcavelos Beach, where the Rio Tejo opens into the Atlantic Ocean. Being the largest beach in Lisboa, along the Lisboa-Estoril-Cascais coastline, the vast areas of honeyed sand allowed me a stroll by way of an untarnished shoreline, with an unsuppressed view of the Atlantic Ocean and the massive Forte de São Julião da Barra. After returning to the hotel for a quick shower and change, the evening culminated at Casino Estoril’s headlining musical production of “A Volta Ao Mundo Em 80 Minutos” (“Around the World in 80 Minutes”) and dinner, where else but, at the James Bond Estoril locale, the Palácio Hotel!


Now, how about entertaining a wild idea, I thought? Try swimming with the sharks, uh, no-the dolphins of Sado Estuary Nature Reserve. Seriously, I did not actually engage in either activity; however, on the following day I entrusted myself to an exclusive guide who facilitated exploration of areas just south of Lisboa, along the coastline. Here, I obtained my view of the bottle-nosed dolphins, swimming, playing and hunting in the waters of the estuary, as I discovered the Nature Park of Arrábida and surrounding towns of Sesimbra, Setúbal and Palmela, in the Peninsula of Setúbal. Poloyglot João Poiarez, of Wonderful Wines, was a most effective guide, astute in European, particularly Portuguese, history, culture and wines. In these moments, I transitioned, intrinsically, to American-French-Portuguese.


Photos capture only an iota of my experience.  Did you now that:

  • The waters of the bay of the Sado River, stemming from Setúbal- Nossa Senhora da Anunciada, unveil an effervescent and dazzling quality as they flicker across the boulders and rocks imbedded along the shoreline? They induce refreshing feelings of comfort, restoration and calm.

  • 95% of all cork trees are grown in Portugal and to a great degree in this location, supplying winemakers, worldwide?

  • The Serra da Arrábida mountain range extends along the coastline, 30 meters from Setúbal to Sesimbra and, its Serra do Risco, the highest cliff in Portugal, rises 380 meters above the Atlantic Ocean?


In Setúbal, Sesimbra and Palmela, the Manueline styled church, Igreja de São Julião, the battle worn Castelo de Sesimbra and Castelo de Palmela, and the Riberra do Cavalo Beach were noteworthy visits.  At Restuarante Casa Nobre D’Azeitão, in Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, I acquired a taste for Portuguese cheese and grilled black pork rather than the recommended local seafood. A wine tour and tasting at José Maria da Fonseca, the oldest table winery in Portugal (1834) proudly showcased exceptional vineyards; growth and production techniques of its Lancers, and Periquita wines; and, Muscatel de Setúbal aged and reserved for the momentous visits of the rich, royals and family members.   Heaven surely blessed me with this breezy and marvelous dia!


On a following day, in route to Fátima, my guide and I looked in on Óbidos, an agreeable town of 3,100, adorned with cobblestone streets and white-washed houses, trimmed in the mandated blue and yellow paint. Conjointly, a blue azulejo-tiled gate, “Porta da Villa,” extended a welcomed entry into the town.  Strategically situated on a hilltop and encircled by an antiquated stone wall, Óbidos exists as a medieval village, with tiny chocolate, Ginja Liqueur and souvenir shops crammed on its main street, Rua Direita.  Igreja de Santa Maria, renovated several times, was undeniably dignified, with its distinctively painted ceiling and majestic walls of blue azulejos.


Just a bit later, Nazaré appeared and provided a pictorial diversion from our lengthy drive.  Generally overrun with tourists, this fishing village doubles as an Oceanside resort, drawing surfers awed by the phenomenal surfing conditions on Nazaré’s “Praia do Norte” (North Beach).  The largest waves ever surfed were noted in the Guinness Book of Records as being in Nazaré.  And, the colorful “Silver Coast” of Portugal boasts some of the country’s most beautiful coastal views and beaches.  All that we missed were the fishermen’s wives dressed in their usual traditional and colorful costumes, with headscarves and aprons, having been uninspired by the rainy, dreary day.


Pristine was my characterization of Fátima, the fourth largest catholic pilgrimage site in the world.  Overwhelmed by peace and serenity was the effect on my own emotions. Fátima is the site where the three child shepherds, San Franscisco de Jesus Marto (1908-1919), Jacinta de Jesus Marto (1910-1920), and Lúcia dos Santos (1907-2005) witnessed the three apparitions of the Virgin Mary.  In 1917, the children relayed seeing visions of Our Lady of Fátima on the 17th of May, June, July and September, when three secrets about the future were revealed:  1)   Visions of World War I ending and World War II beginning. 2) Rise and fall of Soviet Communism. 3) Vision of a falling bishop in a hail of gunfire (seen as an attempt on the life of Pope Paul II).  Next, on October 13th, Our Lady performed the “Miracle of Fátima” so that “all will believe:” Extraordinary activity of the sun, was noted as the sun “danced” and sped toward earth, emitting incredible, colored light before a crowd of 30,000-40,000.


There are four foci at Fátima: 1) The Tomb of the Little Shepherds- two of which became saints on May 13, 2000; 2) The Chapel of the Apparitions (Cova da Iria) dedicated to the children; 3) Santuário de Fátima; and 4) The Most Holy Church, raised to the status of minor basilica in 2012.  


So apropos, today: “She told us to pray for peace…,” wrote Sister Lúcia, the third of the children and candidate for beatification.


On the return from Fátima, we stopped in Batalha, a Portuguese town of tremendous historic significance.  Located here is the massive, Gothic and early Manueline-styled Monasterio de Santa Maria da Vitória. Unusual to see a structure of this size in such a small town, the monastery was built as a promise to Our Lady for victory over the Castilian army in the Battle of Aljubarrato on August 14, 1385.  Heroically, King João I and General Nuno Álvares Pereira defeated the Castilian army of 31,000, with a Portuguese troop of 6,500, thus, establishing the House of Avis as the newly reigning dynasty. Hmm, would there be a Portugal, today, without this Castilian defeat in Batalha?


This time in Portugal ended with a moment in central Lisboa, renewing my awareness of various monuments and historic places- Belém Tower; Padráo dos Descobrimentos (Monument of Discoveries); 18th century-18 kilometer long aqueducts; Monasterio de Jerónimos (Monastery of the Order of Jerome); Cristo Rei; and, the Palácio Nacional de Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, the one-time residence of the royal family during the reign of King Luis I and his wife, Maria Pia of Savoy.  With a retrospective and disappointing view of this palace from an earlier visit, I was immensely impressed by the exterior sandblasting and other interior restoration activities that had occurred since my first experience there, especially the unique enhancement provided by the artistic flare of Sonia Falcone, whose work adorned each chamber. Back in Cascais by evening, dinner, at downtown Cascias em Fado, preceded my early morning return via Paris, for a three day stop-over, visiting family and friends before heading home.


My longingness inspired Tristan and me to trade our plans for Prague and Budapest for Lisboa, a couple of months later.    Braving extreme outbound weather and delayed flights, our discomfiture gave way to excitement the minute we set foot at our destination. From the riverfront, mosaic-cobblestoned Praca do Comerico, and the shops of main street, Rua Augusta, to Castelo St. Jorge, Belém Tower, and Monasterio de Jerónimos, I enthusiastically introduced my son to the “City of Seven Hills.” The metro, trains and buses facilitated our navigation of the city center and neighborhoods, like the Medina-like Alfama, night-spot Bairro Alto, and cosmopolitan Baixa Chaido.


Reunited with Guide João, our quest to understand the intricate story of the Catholic Military Order, Ordem Cavaleiros de Nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo (The Knights of Templar), was met. Abolished by the Pope in 1312, the Order was reestablished in Portugal as the Ordem Milita de Cristo (Military Order of Christ).  Under King Dinis I, the Order was granted sanctuary in reward for its military assistance during the Reconquista in which Iberian territory was reclaimed from the Moors. Through pouring rain, we came to Castelo de Almoural, which was rebuilt by the Templars to protect the southern border of the new region. Next, continuing in the footprints of the Templars, we were routed to the town of Tomar, where we investigated the unimaginable Castelo de Tomar and the Convento de Tomar.  Both were integral parts of new Portugal’s defense system and recognized as Templar strongholds.


Fadista Aldina Durante wants something that never ends and feels that Fado music is constantly changing. She’s an untraditional artist who sings Fado, hinted with blues, protest and punk rock. After 23 years and six recordings, she has earned the esteem of Lisboa’s scrutinizing Fado community.  There was so much else to learn in the Fado Museo about Amália Rodrigues, Carmo do Carmane, Madredeus, Mariza, Ana Moura, Carminho, Aldina and others. And, oh, outside the museum, so many houses of the genre- Clube do Fado, Café Luso, Senhor Vinho, A Severa…in which to experience the soul.

I’m alive, I’m alive,

Castles, knights and fairy tales, here and there,

History, music and beaches everywhere,

Beautiful people in this distant land,

Feeling as easy as I can.

I’m alive, I’m alive.

My saudade is for Portugal.


Not Fado but, heartfelt, just the same.

bottom of page