lower slopes, we passed quintas (country estates) with vineyards before reaching the rugged and blustery coast. Those salty sea dogs who sailed windward in a 15th- century caravel must have been scared out of their wits. We headed north of Lisbon, our next stop Óbidos, one of countless medieval hill towns where time appears to have stopped. Over the next two weeks, we would visit dozens of these, dotted throughout the country, some with stone houses, others whitewashed, all with fortresses and most with intact defence walls. In the countryside, about the only sight as familiar as a hilltop castle is a chain of wind turbines; it is with mixed feelings that you notice the extent to which Portugal has embraced alternative energy. TO THE NORTH The far northern Serra is a remote, lesser-known region, home to Peneda-Gerês, the country’s only national park, seldom visited by foreign tourists. To initiate us into the wilderness of northern Portugal was a grumpy sheepdog defending its flock, presumably from rare wolves and eagles. 31 The climate is unforgiving, even in summer, and we shivered in the woodsmoke-scented air of the quiet valleys. Lack of opportunity has depopulated this untamed land of quiet stone villages and dense green moors. Yet the rural north clings to tradition. We visited a totally off-the-radar smokery where the hams are cured for 24 months, to be enjoyed with cabbage soup and crusty maize bread in winter, when inhabitants of the windswept plains and high granite mountains are warmed by their animals. > TRAVELZONE LEFT: Cured meats on sale can be up to 24 months old. FAR LEFT: The best cheeses hail from the high mountains. OPPOSITE PAGE, TOP: Remote stone village in the Peneda-Gerês, the country’s only national park. Foreigners seldom venture here. ABOVE: Wind turbines seem out of place alongside medieval fortress towns. OPPOSITE BOTTOM LEFT: Navigators who set out to discover the trade routes are commemorated by the Tower of Belém in the Tagus River. RIGHT: Portuguese sheepdogs are shaggy like their flock, to survive bitter high-altitude winters.
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