T We had just been to marvel 28 TRAVELZONE he egg custard is rich and creamy, the flaky pastry crisp and crackling. We’re having it with a Sagres beer, and we’re surrounded by 200 tourists in the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, the Lisbon cult café where they churn out more than 10 000 such pastries each day. Since the 19th century, this pastry shop has coveted the secret recipe for true pastéis de nata, and although you will find this modest little melktert copied everywhere, nobody else is quite as good at it. at the striking (some say ostentatious) Monument to the Discoveries, near where the Tagus River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Henry the Navigator stands at the head of a caravel, followed by the patron of the first explorers and in third position, Vasco da Gama. Like Bartolomeu Dias, who discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, these are names South Africans grew up with. Our ties with the Portuguese colonies also form part of a collective history: many of us grew up with beach holidays in Mozambique and the Angolan war engaged us first-hand. In recent years, I have travelled to the furthest reaches of both countries. So yes, we were attracted to the small country on the far western side of the Iberian peninsula for historic reasons, to see what has become of this once great seafaring nation. But there were other motivations, too, not the least of which was our interest in the winelands. HISTORIC HIGHLIGHTS Portugal’s tempestuous history saw it captured by Romans, Moors and Spaniards. The country’s sieges and wars started in the Stone Age. On the checklist: Prehistoric megaliths at Almendres near Évora. Situated in an idyllic grove of cork oak trees is an oval of 95 elliptical stones, believed to have been a temple dedicated to a solar cult around 4 000 to 2 000BC. Roman ruins at Citânia de Briteiros, a hilltop settlement founded around the 5th century AD. Still intact is the ancient bathhouse, complete with ducts for a sauna. In Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 2nd century temple is almost all that remains of an important Roman city. You can overnight within the walled town, which was a centre of learning and the arts in the Middle Ages.
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