Possibly one of the prettiest towns in Portugal, medieval Óbidos has existed for centuries tucked inside its fortified walls; a gleaming white-washed spider’s web of alleyways lined with squat houses, all adorned with flower-smothered balconies, vivid blue azulejo tiles and Gothic doorways.
Known as the ‘Wedding Present Town’ due to the tradition of Portuguese kings giving Óbidos to their wives as part of their dowry, the town has benefited from its royal patronage down the centuries. At its heart lies the cobbled main square of Praça de Santa Maria, home to the old town pillory, a majestic fountain and a tiny museum in the town hall. The cluster of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches around Santa Maria square were all founded by various monarchs, as was the Amoreira Aqueduct outside the town walls.
This charming melee of architectural styles is best seen from the vantage point of the vast defense walls encircling Óbidos. Above all this stands the austere, crenelated façade of the 12th-century castle; although it is now a pousada (state-owned hotel), the terraces and gardens are still open to the public for panoramic views across the town and surrounding hills.
Óbidos is packed with wine shops selling the potent local ginjinha liqueur, terraced restaurants serving the traditional fish stew caldeirada and tiny souvenir stores selling cheery ceramics, and makes a wonderful destination for an afternoon’s exploration. Often packed by day – especially in summer – by night most visitors have left; an overnight stay in the castle pousada sees the town revert to its tranquil, romantic best.
Óbidos is an easy hour north of Lisbon by car
up the A8; as the town is a pedestrian-only zone, there are parking
areas for cars outside the walls. It is within striking distance of the
UNESCO-listed monastery at Batalha and the Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary
at Fátima, two of Portugal’s most revered pilgrimage sites.