There are plentiful points of interest to marvel at when rambling through the six municipalities that stretch across the Lines of Torres – Arruda dos Vinhos, Loures, Mafra, Sobral de Monte Agraço, Torres Vedras and Vila Franca de Xira. In addition to the military strongholds, which are part of our national heritage, there are many other examples of natural and architectural heritage that are worth a visit.
Take Loures as your starting point. Once a charming town – the royalty and the nobility sought refuge in local estates when fleeing plague-stricken Lisbon –, it has been extremely mistreated over the last decades and therefore has lost much of its soul. Today, the restoration and preservation of the municipality’s heritage has become a major concern, and has even triggered off the search for a gastronomic identity. Start your walk at Cabeço de Montachique, a place of choice if you are interested in having a bird’s eye view of the entire region; then proceed to Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Assunção and Palácio do Correio-Mor, built, according to all accounts, by Canevari, the Italian architect employed by King João V. Equally imperative, the monumental square of Santo Antão do Tojal is a Baroque-style architectural complex which includes the Palácio dos Arcebispos, the Igreja Matriz de Santo Antão, the Monumental Fountain and the Aqueduct, the latter by Canevari. The palace is one of the finest examples of Portuguese 17th century architecture, and was built under the auspices of Tomás de Almeida to welcome King João V during the monarch’s temporary stays in Mafra while the palace-monastery was being built.
On the way to Arruda dos Vinhos, stop by Bucelas for a taste of the local white wine, made from Arinto grapes, and for a visit to the church of Nossa Senhora da Purificação, built in the second half of the 16th century.
At Arruda dos Vinhos, lose yourself in the streets of the historic core of the town and visit the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Salvação. Not far from the city centre, make a tour of the 18th century Palácio do Morgado and admire the pombaline drinking fountain. Climb to the hilltop to get to know Forte da Carvalha, one of the redoubts of the Lines of Torres and also one of the highest points in the municipality; on a clear day, one can see as far as Palácio da Pena, in the town of Sintra, near Lisbon, Cristo-Rei (Christ the King, the monument of Jesus Christ overlooking Lisbon), Serra da Arrábida and quite a long stretch of the Ribatejo marshlands.
Leave for Sobral de Monte Agraço, a municipality known by its hilly and uneven landscape. Forte de Alqueidão, built on top of one of its highest points, is one of the finest viewpoints in the whole of Estremadura. On the way to Alqueidão stop by Igreja de Santo Quintino, a true tile museum dated from the 16th century, by the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Fé, in Zibreira da Fé, built in the early 17th century, and by Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Purificação, in Sapataria.
In the heart of the town of Sobral, the pombaline-style square Praça Dr. Eugénio Dias, where many fierce and bloody combats were fought during the Peninsular War, is an excellent place to recover your energies. If you are interested in wine-related issues, stop by Núcleo Museológico do Vinho, located in an ancient winery, and learn about the methods and techniques used by local wine growers and wine makers.
It is now time to head toward Vila Franca de Xira. The undulating rural landscape fades behind you as you descend to the vast flatlands intersected and shaped by the course of the Tagus river. Ramble through its viewpoints – Senhor da Boa-Morte, Monte Gordo and Boavista – and through its estates and manor houses; among them are Palácio do Sobralinho, near Alverca, surrounded by beautiful and pleasurable gardens, Quinta da Subserra, built in the 17th century and today city council property, Quinta da Fábrica, in Povos, where, in 1729, the first tannery was established.
The church of São Bartolomeu, in Castanheira do Ribatejo, the Igreja Matriz de Vila Franca de Xira and the Igreja da Misericórdia are some of the finest examples of the architecture and religious heritage of this region. The profane Monument of the Lines of Torres, located in the parish of Alhandra, on top of the hill that overlooks the town, and the pillories of Vila Franca de Xira and Povos, both in Manueline style, are all worthy of attention. Take the opportunity to enjoy a boat trip on the Tagus river on board a varino, a traditional Tagus’ boat. They sail from the quay at Vila Franca and go past the small river islands where one can watch the local fauna and flora.
It is now time to head West, in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean. The municipalities of Torres Vedras and Mafra are in a region where seashore and countryside meet. This is a region bound by a common cultural heritage and with a very strong attachment to land and sea. Start by recovering your energies by the sea, in Ericeira (Mafra), or in Santa Cruz (Torres Vedras) and enjoy the fresh seafood famous all over the region.
In the municipality of Mafra, the Serra do Socorro stands out. This was the location of the main station of the signal system (Semaphore system) set up by the British at the time of the Third French Invasion. The small chapel of Nossa Senhora do Socorro provides an excellent viewpoint for a beautiful panoramic view of the region.
Examples of religious architectural heritage can be found everywhere in the municipality. In Mafra, however, the predominating feature is the monumental complex formed by the Palace, the Monastery and the Basilica, built during the reign of King João V. The Tapada Nacional de Mafra (Mafra Royal Forest) laid out after the building of the monastery is the perfect place for a pleasant walk, during which you may be fortunate enough to catch sight of fallow deers, red deers and wild boars.
In Torres Vedras go see the castle – in its interior you will find the church of Santa Maria do Castelo – ramble through the historic city centre with its narrow medieval streets and taste the famous pastéis de feijão (bean tarts). Find the Chafariz dos Canos and Convento da Graça, founded in the 16th century; part of it now houses the Municipal Museum, where there is a room devoted to the Lines of Torres that is well worth a visit.
The city’s outskirts must also be referenced. The Igreja de S. Pedro, in Dois Portos, the Convento de Santo António, in Varatojo, the Palácio de D. Maria Francisca Benedita, in Runa and the Cucos Spa and Vimeiro Spa are some of the venues that well deserve a visit.
We have come to the end of our tour … There are surely other points of interest worth visiting in these municipalities, so take your chance! You will not regret it!