Obidos Where the spirit runs wild
Rich in history and architecture with a spirit of celebration that has been concealed from popular tourism, Portugal’s Obidos is a treat for the senses
The beautiful country of Portugal is ideally located to the southwest point of Europe and includes the fabulous Madeira and Azores archipelagos of the Atlantic Ocean. In terms of tourism, Portugal isn't all that popular among Indian travellers yet, but gradually, the Portuguese Ministry of Tourism is waking up to reality, given the purchasing power of the average Indian traveller.
I made a week's trip to this fabulous country as a part of the Tea Board of India delegation. Thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bold initiatives, Portugal is one of India's principal tea importers with both countries sharing a rich bilateral relationship.
Lisbon 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. Lisbon must also be one of the world's greatest historical cities. Also, for a middle-class Indian like me, it is one of the least expensive cities of Western Europe and thus offered me and others in the delegation with much needed purchasing power.
We were put up at the majestic Lapa Palace hotel located in the Rua do Pau da Bandeira neighbourhood. 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 Valencas 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'.
From Lisbon, the entire delegation moved to the beautiful town of Obidos, which is ideally located in the centre of the Western Coastal Region of Portugal. The 80 km drive from Lisbon was beautiful as we passed through the scenic Portuguese countryside.
The Lisbon Chamber of Commerce, as a part of the two way exchange with the Tea Board of India, reciprocated with the kind gesture of inviting us to be honored guests of the magnificent Quintas De Obidos Country Club, which is one of Portugal's most renowned eco-friendly resorts, located on Portugal's famed Silver Coast – a region that happens to be one of Portugal's most beautiful and unspoilt.
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 felt as one of Europe's most preferred holiday destinations. The Quintas De Obidos Country Club has roped in Jessica Kurten – world's number one lady show jumper – 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 seems 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.
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 happy mood that reaches 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 cosy 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 a perfect, stunning and dignified showcase that exudes an aura of ease."
Confronting the challenge of developing an eco-tourism project of this magnitude, it is vital to find a language which would incorporate traditional architecture within the elements of a contemporary construction. I have been fortunate to personally see my California-based aunt, who is a high-profile architect specialising on tribal vernacular architecture, struggle with her pet projects in the northeastern state of Assam. Most architects find the task of incorporating a traditional vernacular architecture into an eco-tourism initiative challenging. The bottomline is to be faithful to the characteristics of traditional architecture, whilst having regard for the link between interior and exterior spaces along with the design brief.
What is so striking about the Quintas De Obidos Country Club is that the landscape for 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."
The beautiful town of Obidos itself is steeped in history. Óbidos is a municipal town with an area of approximately 140 sq km and inhabited by 10,000 inhabitants. The town for 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 also the fact that one of Portugal's most high profile resorts – the Quintas De Obidos Country Club – has established its presence here.
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, as have 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 coloured houses glowing with Geraniums and Bougainvillea, classical Gothic architectural patterns, whitewashed churches and what have you?
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 artefacts dating back to the 15th century, and the majestic Santa Maria Church, which is where the cherubic 10 year old King Afonso V tied his nuptial knot with his eight 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, thoroughly enjoying every minute. They were on a high and on further inquiry, the neighbourhood 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 of 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 for the annual Medieval Fair that essentially recreates the Middle Ages with music, armoured knights, witches and intriguing theatre shows. A sizeable number of tourists from abroad lent the fair a truly international colour.
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.
However, the talking point of the resort is the Jessica Kurten Signature Equestrian Centre. 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 centre'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 the 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 midnight bash. All of us had to drape in white. Liquor flowed freely and the table brimmed 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. Memories of Obidos will linger on for a lifetime.