A river on its way to the Atlantic, a city opened to the world
The region that surrounds the Portuguese capital, stretching upstream along the Tagus, is full of secrets, victories and history. It is a true constellation illuminated by the green Sintra Mountain, the blue Tagus River, the white countryside villages and the grey Mafra Convent.
When in 1147 Crusader Osberno arrived at the estuary of Tagus, he marvelled at the river. He said that the Tagus was two thirds water and one third fish. He was also impressed by the beauty of the city, protected by high walls on top of the hills. For months, these walls challenged the common effort of the warriors of D. Afonso Henriques and the free fleet that searched for the Holy Land. This account that survived to present time contains the essential information on Lisbon and the surrounding region: the hills, the relation to the river, the surrounding nature. The only thing that was missing in his report was that special white light penetrating the walls of the houses and mirrored in the Tagus waters, which has impressed movie directors such as Alan Tanner or Wim Wenders.
A diversity of landscapes
The Portuguese capital performs the feat of being a piece of Mediterranean in the Atlantic. Immediately south in the margins of Tagus estuary, Arrábida Mountain is truly Mediterranean, presenting a vegetation of junipers and strawberry trees like the one in Corsica and white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters typical of the Greek archipelagos. However, the Atlantic character of this region can be clearly seen in Cape da Roca - "the place where the land ends and the sea begins" - situated north from Lisbon. Further north, there is a labyrinth of hills and vineyards stretching towards Torres Vedras, the place where in 1810 the 3rd French Invasion was lost, as well as one of Napoleon's best generals.
By tram or by ferry
In an area of 50 km around the Portuguese capital, you can see all kinds of environments and landscapes. From the endless sand areas of Caparica beach to the cliffs of Cape Espichel. From the cosmopolitan Lisbon's downtown to the romantic green scenery of Sintra, classified by UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the monumental grandeur of Mafra Convent that has inspired Literature Nobel Prize winner José Saramago to the small villages, true prodigies of popular architecture, such as Azenhas do Mar or Cheleiros.
Lisbon offers this extraordinary possibility of reaching in a half an hour car journey the endless beaches of Caparica, for instance, or the lavishly green Sintra Mountain, as well as natural zones involved by a paradise-like tranquillity from Albufeira lagoon to Cape Espichel, in contrast with cosmopolitan night life areas, such as Avenue 24 de Julho or Bairro Alto. In order to visit one of these jewels of landscape or heritage, you should take public transport, which can be an advantage. For instance, tram can be a very good option, either the Lisbon trams or the not so famous tram that connects Sintra with Praia das Maçãs. We can not forget the ferries that make the connection between riverside zones of the capital and Almada or the train that circulates in the inferior platform of the elegant floating bridge, connecting both margins of the Tagus since 1965.
Protected areas and other riches
Tagus River has shaped the landscape, crossing Portugal in its width, from the surroundings of Vila Velha de Ródão to Lisbon, bringing the riverside communities together. It is a reference point of a vast region, whose main centres are Abrantes, Tomar, Santarém and Lisbon, of course.
Geographically speaking, there are no big mountains in this region as the ones you will find in the North or in Central Portugal. It is a relatively flat territory with exceptional big banks. That is why most of them are protected areas such as Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, Arrábida Mountain Natural Park and the Protected Area of the Fossil Cliff of Caparica. There are also the Natural Reserves of Tagus and Sado Estuaries, important humid zones.
As far as other cities are concerned, Santarém is considered the Gothic capital. Tomar has a Templar castle and World Heritage Convent of Christ. Abrantes is a crib over the Tagus and Setúbal is surrounded by the Sado River, its greatest highlight. In terms of beaches, Ericeira, Costa da Caparica and Sesimbra are unmissable spots. The charm and history of Estoril coast can not be forgotten, enchanting aristocrats and bankers during the first half of the 20th century. The region of Lisbon and Tagus Valley also includes the tourism centres of Leiria-Fátima and Oeste (west).