As happenstance would have it, our first visit to Óbidos took place on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Semana Santa, or Holy Week observances leading up to Easter in Portugal.
With my mother visiting for that month of March, we randomly picked the time to venture out from our little beach town and see a place very typically Portuguese. Mom and I had visited other famous hill towns, like San Gimignano in Tuscany, so we were drawn to Óbidos in order to draw comparisons, and show the country’s heart away from the bustle of Lisboa.
We drove up and parked next to the aqueduto—a worthwhile monument with which to start our visit. Noticing the palm fronds decorating the entrance to the walled portion of the old town, we followed worshippers mixed in with tourists through the azulejo-clad archway and into the streets.
Under our feet, sprigs of rosemary mixed with bay laurel and other foliage, sending up a marvelous scent. We ducked into shops, including a marvelous bookstore ripe for photos—and buying a book, whether in Portuguese or other languages—and passed sellers of ginjinha hawking their €1 copos of the elixir in white and dark chocolate. Music came over the town’s audio system, from the Igreja Paroquial São Pedro in the main praça.
The procession winded along the Rua Direita with the priest and his entourage leading the way. The hymns sang out trailing behind with the people walking towards the center of town, where a mass would be held along with the community gathering.
We left the knots of people and found lunch, and considered ourselves fortunate to have happened upon such an event. The next year, we made plans to go again, and we looked up when the proçessão would take place so we’d be sure to see it. That year, we had ice cream, and macarons from a local pasteleria.
This year, we missed the holy week by a few days, but brought more friends to see Óbidos—and this time, for the first time, we spent the night. Our friends tucked into the pestana, which fills the castelo at the apex of the hill. We took a tour with one of the hosts, and looked out over the town from the castle walls. We couldn’t walk the length of the walls surrounding the old town, because of construction, but from the heights of the castle we had more than a taste of it.
For dinner, we ducked into Arco da Cadeira, billed as the oldest restaurant in town. From the thick stone walls to the dusty bottles lined up on the mantels, we believed them. They crafted for us two big plates of mixed queijos e presuntos, with marmelada and other fruits rounding out the spread. We opted for jarros of vinho tinto, and toasted the stories that those rooms had witnessed.
We ran through the spring rain to our little rental apartment just outside of the walls, and listened to it tap on the street’s pavers as we drifted off to sleep. The morning would wake us to freshened flowers and more stories to come.