Obidos – Where The Spirit Runs Free

The beautiful country of Portugal is ideally located to the southwest point of Europe and includes the fabulous Madeira and Azores archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean. In terms of Tourism, Portugal isn’t all that popular among Indian travelers yet, but gradually, the Portuguese Ministry of Tourism is waking up to reality, given the purchasing power of the average Indian traveler.

Recently I made a week’s trip to this fabulous country as part of the Tea Board of India delegation. Let me tell you, Portugal is one of India’s principal Tea importers and India and Portugal share a rich bilateral relationship. There is considerable demand for Indian tea and we undertook this trip to gauge the level of awareness about Indian Tea and to do some promotions in the marvelous capital city of Lisbon.

Obidos – Where The Spirit Runs Free

Lisbon itself is a captivating city. Endless recreational pursuits await you at Lisbon ranging from sightseeing fairytale palaces to balmy beaches and climbing picture-perfect hills to riding the classy turn-of-the-century trams. I have visited other European cities like London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, and Amsterdam, but in terms of culture, Lisbon must be one of the world’s greatest historical cities.

Also, for a middle-class Indian like me, it’s one of the least expensive cities of Western Europe and thus offered me and others in the delegation the much-needed purchasing power.

We were put up at the majestic Lapa Palace hotel located in the Rua do Pau da Bandeira neighborhood. This gracious hotel has quite a bit of history and in the days of yore, it used to serve as the royal residence of Count Valencias till the end of the 19th century. Since the year 1992 the Lapa Palace was converted into a luxurious hotel and today this magnificent hotel is a proud member of the “Leading Hotels of the World”.

Given the hotel’s strategic location and state-of-the-art Conference facilities, we were able to conduct very fruitful meetings with the Lisbon Chamber of Commerce as well as private Portuguese tea export houses.

From Lisbon, the entire delegation moved to the beautiful town of Obidos, which is ideally located in the center of the Western Coastal Region of Portugal. The 80 Kms. drive from Lisbon was beautiful as we passed through the scenic Portuguese countryside.

Obidos – Where The Spirit Runs Free

The Lisbon Chamber of Commerce as part of the two way exchange with the Tea Board of India reciprocated with the kind gesture of being honored guests of the magnificent Quintas De Obidos Country Club, which is one of Portugal’s most renowned eco-friendly resorts, located in Portugal’s famed Silver Coast – a region that happens to be one of Portugal’s most beautiful and unspoiled.

If ever there was an Eden on Earth, it had to be the Quintas De Obidos Country Club. In all, there are 79 outstanding villas spread over an area of 140 acres in a natural lake setting. This one-of-its-kind resort has truly redefined eco-tourism in Portugal.

The Silver Coast is beginning to make its presence feel like one of Europe’s most preferred holiday destinations. The Quintas De Obidos Country Club has roped in Jessica Kurten – the world’s number one lady showjumper as their brand ambassador. And why not?

The unprejudiced eye of the architect echoes in every nook and corner of the resort. Here at the Quintas De Obidos Country Club, the virtually impossible seem graceful and easy and I think that’s what architecture is all about. The resort is a supreme adjustment to opportunity and local conditions. All attention has been concentrated on, not collecting art, but on creating art, like one beautiful picture.

Obidos – Where The Spirit Runs Free

Surrounded by innovative designs, designs that are unusual and minimalist, designs that celebrate, which do not necessarily conform to any set pattern, finishes that are playful – is the joy that this resort breathes into her spaces. Be it the floors, walls, ceilings, doors or even the simple framed windows, the resort manages to evoke in the most mundane things a vibrancy and a happy mood, that reach out to greet you the moment you step inside.

We were lucky to meet master architects – Miguel Saraiva and Costa Lima at the resort. None of us had ever seen a resort of this magnitude before and in course of our dinner with the lights dimmed, the candles aglow, a cozy dinner served, Miguel emotionally remarked –

“I feel architects tend to design interiors that are austere – decorators, on the other hand, produce interiors that are dramatic, often with no sense of discipline. Here though, the synthesis has been perfect, stunning and dignified showcase that exudes an aura of ease”.

Obidos – Where The Spirit Runs Free

Confronting the challenge of developing an eco-tourism project of this magnitude, it is vital to find a language, which would incorporate the traditional architecture within the elements of contemporary construction. I have been fortunate to personally see my California-based aunt who is a high-profile architect specializing in tribal vernacular architecture struggle with her pet projects in the North Eastern state of Assam.

Most architects find the task of incorporating traditional vernacular architecture into an eco-tourism initiative challenges. The bottom line is to be faithful to the characteristics of traditional architecture, whilst having regard for the link between interior and exterior spaces and the design brief.

What is so striking about the Quintas De Obidos Country Club is that the landscape for the most part is of undulating terrain, which is more prominent in certain areas. And the eye of the architect here has been to incorporate the various plots with diverse possibilities of orientation. As architect Miguel candidly admits – “Opting for an architecture clearly rooted in a traditional Portuguese style was really a challenge”.

Obidos – Where The Spirit Runs Free

The beautiful town of Obidos itself is steeped in history. Óbidos is a municipal town with an area of approximately 140 Sq. Kms. and inhabited by 10,000 inhabitants. The town for the most part is rural and the Municipality of Óbidos is one of the oldest in Portugal. The local economy is agriculture based and it is one of the principal fruit-growing regions of Portugal.

Of late, Tourism has become a very attractive proposition largely due to the town’s scenic location and the fact that one of Portugal’s most high profile resorts – the Quintas De Obidos Country Club having established its presence here has given the region’s tourism a much-needed fillip.

The town is perched on a hill and is still bounded by a fortified wall. The meandering streets still have that well-preserved medieval look. So too are the town’s principal squares and the magnificent castle.

Obidos is popularly referred to as the “Wedding Present Town” because according to local beliefs, Kind Dinis presented this town to Queen Isabel on their wedding day way back in 1282. This place exudes a romance that is very infectious – medieval village hutments, unusual cobblestone streets bordered by vibrantly colored houses glowing with Geraniums and Bougainvillea, classical Gothic architectural patterns, whitewashed churches, and what have you?

Obidos – Where The Spirit Runs Free

The town’s principal street – “Rua Direita” extends all the way from the 18th-century old town gate to the main square – the elegant “Praça de Santa Maria”. This part of the town has a gorgeous fountain, a 15th-century old pillory, the Town Museum where you will find artifacts dating back to the 15th century, and the majestic Santa Maria Church, which is where the cherubic10-year-old King Afonso V tied his nuptial knot with his 8-year-old cousin Isabel way back in 1444.

As we strolled in the town’s main square, we came across a group of Canadian tourists seated in a medieval pub and enjoying every minute. They were on a high and on further inquiry, the neighborhood roadside pavement vendor informed us that it was the magical local brew – “Ginjinha” that was the cause of all that fun. Just like the locally brewed “Fenny” in Goa, Obidos is renowned for its local “Ginjinha” which is made of Cherry.

We were fortunate to be visiting this part of the world in the month of July as the town was all decked up for the annual “Medieval Fair” that essentially recreates the Middle Ages with music, armored knights, witches, and intriguing theatre shows. A sizeable number of tourists from abroad gave the Fair a truly international color.

With its extensive coastline, the region is much preferred by water sport enthusiasts and we were offered an exclusive coach from the resort that would take us to the town’s coast to indulge in Sailing, Windsurfing, Scuba Diving, etc…., but since most members of the touring party were well past their prime, none of us had the guts to splash in the waters. Instead, we opted for some light fishing and the fishing kits provided to us were superb.

Obidos – Where The Spirit Runs Free

However, the talking point of the resort is the Jessica Kurten signature Equestrian center. This one-of-its-kind Equestrian Centre is among the best in Europe. Through Jessica’s role as a brand ambassador of the resort and as a consultant – this Equestrian Centre has already become a Centre of Excellence.

The center’s facilities include a VIP Lounge, International standard show jumping and dressage arenas, indoor school, 13 x 13 feet Boxes, Paddocks, Lounging Circle, Tack Shop, Farrier, Competition Stabling, and an exclusive Parking zone. The extent to which the Equestrian Centre goes for the care and well-being of the horses, through a full-time professional team handpicked by the great equestrian champion herself was admirable.

On a penultimate night, the resident chef Nicolas was basting a butterfly-boned leg of a lamb on the barbecue, with his secret marinade as we climbed the lawn. Thrilled by our adventure we planned some action that night and approached the resort’s management for a mid-night bash. All of us had to drape in white. Liquor flowed freely and the table brimming with goodies. Local dancers performed a dance to the percussion beat of native Portugal.

A starlit dinner was exactly what the doctor ordered to finish off a truly memorable trip.

Early next morning after having our breakfast, we headed for Lisbon International Airport. Silhouetted against the rising sun, a hot air balloon rose into the sky on its aerial safari. As we drove along the highway, drinking in the sights and sounds of the Portuguese countryside, we came to realize that Obidos is more than a tourist attraction. It is one of the few places where nature dictates the code of life.

Obidos – Where The Spirit Runs Free

Memories of Obidos will linger on for a lifetime.

Traveler’s Fact File

Getting There

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal is well served by routine International flights from key international cities.

Flight Times From Europe’s Main Cities

Amsterdam – 2 hours 50 minutes, London – 2 hours 30 minutes, Dublin – 2 hours 40 minutes, Madrid – 1 hour, Frankfurt – 2hour 55 minutes, Paris – 2 hours 20 minutes.

From Lisbon Airport, hired cabs and buses can be readily hired. The distance from Lisbon Airport to Obidos is 80 Kms. and the journey can be covered in 50 minutes. You need to take the A8 Motorway from Lisbon to Obidos and you will have to pay a toll fee for using the Motorway.

Subhasish Chakraborty

Travel Journalist

Subhasish Chakraborty has been working as a Travel Journalist for the past two decades and has been editorially involved with numerous international In-Flight magazines of renowned airlines like Cathy Pacific, Dragon Air, Bhutan Airlines, Air Asia, Airport Authority of India and many more. He was also involved with the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) as a Consultant.