Travel #11: On the Trail of the Knights Templars, Portugal: April 2018

April 12, 2020

As I mentioned in my description of travels to Spain, I’ve been interested in the Knights Templars for quite a while. When the opportunity arose to spend three weeks in search of the Templars’ activity in Portugal, I was delighted to join.  Ann Matthews, Rita Roxas, and Tanya Kudar joined as well. Paula Sullivan was my roommate and travel companion again. Yea!

It is more well known that the Templars were active in Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the Middle Ages following the First Crusade. However, the Templars, working with Bernard of Clairvaux and the Portuguese Templar Kings, formed a Kingdom of Conscience in a new nation-state of Portucale. The Templars were known as the guardians of the Grail, and they aimed to create a new kind of Christianity that was not under control of the Catholic Church.

The Templars fought to push the Moors (Muslims) out of Portugal. Many of the castles and forts we visited had been taken over by the Moors, but then were taken back by the Templars. The Templars were interested in agriculture, healing, and new forms of banking. They were held in high esteem by landed nobles, and they were given enormous tracts of land in Portugal.

The Templars were all over Europe, and over time, the Church considered them an enemy. On Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, the Templars in France were arrested and tortured. Those who could fled to Scotland and Portugal where they were protected. King Denis I of Portugal refused to arrest the Knights, and as a compromise their name was eventually changed to the Order of Christ.

We had two outstanding guides who had studied deeply into the history of the Templars, and they were able to bring their insights into our excursions.

Portugal reminded me of California, north-south mountainous landscape, ocean views and sand beaches, winding rivers, broad valleys of fruits and vegetables, poppies. forests, and burned eucalyptus trees from the previous summer’s fire. It has a different feeling from Spain, as it’s a country of workers, fishermen, farmers, and sailors, not as much of aristocracy (at least in Spain’s past). My opinion, obviously. However, I also love Spain.

Making objects out of cork from the forest.

Beach by Sintra.

Poppies in their glory.

Typical street near Tomar.











Lisbon: We walked around Lisbon several times on this trip. Bounded on the West by the Atlantic, this hilly city reminded me of what San Francisco may have looked like in past decades. Neighborhoods with cobblestone streets, narrow passageways, and brightly colored facades were enjoyable to visit. An outstanding museum was dedicated to the Fado, the deeply melancholic songs that began by the wives of sailors missing their husbands. Their haunting melodies are deeply moving.

We devoured many of these pastel maletas, especially with a chocolate -coffee drink with steamed milk.

Many stairs in Lisbon.

Beautiful tiles everywhere.

This was our first day before we had climbed up and up and up.










Sintra: – a neighboring town to Lisbon, Sintra is a beautiful place with mountains, dewy forests, beaches, exotic gardens and palaces. King Consort Ferdinand II and his wife Queen Maria II of Portugal created a fairy tale environment that Lord Byron called the “Glorious Eden.” We participated in an initiation walk at the mysterious Quinta Regaleira, entering an underground labyrinth, tunnels, and a spiral well with nine landings. Our group managed to get separated and some were lost in dark underground passages.

I had a challenging experience when we had to cross a waterway on stepping stones. I don’t have a wide stride, and at one point I was stuck on a stone. The depth of the water was deeper than my walking stick, and I froze in place. Friends were in front of me, and behind. To the rescue came my dear friend Paula who had already made her way over. Ann Matthews was high upon the spiral staircase and took a photo of that moment.





Tomar was the center of our journey, and we stayed there for eight nights, using it as a base for trip. There we became familiar with the Knights Templar Castle and the Convent of Christ. Henry the Navigator, who was a Grand Master of the Templars, had a residence there. The castle has a complicated complex of buildings with fortress and castle rooms, initiation room, and inquisition room. Nearby was the Church of Mary of the Olives, which the Templars used as their main religious center. On the walls and altars were many symbols connected with the Templar beliefs.





Taking a boat to Almourol Castle. I climbed to the top and could see how the Moors were not able to capture the castle. Along the river were towers by which Templars sent messages by smoke or horns.




Visited Monsanto, ancient stone village with ruined Knights Templar castle, with stunning views. Looking up at the castle was daunting, knowing we would walk up the 1000 meter hill, winding lanes, big bounders, houses and streets made from granite until reaching the summit. We ate lunch along the steep pathway, overlooking the panorama of red roofs. Joao explained how the Templars held back the Moors from capturing the fortress. Then we made our way down the hill past the shops.


The beautiful lakeside village of Dornes with a five-sided Knights Templar tower.



Nazare is not only a great place for fishing and fish dinners, but it has one of the best surfs in the world.

Visited Batalha Abbey and Alcobaca monastery, lunch at fishing port of Nazare.


Visited medieval city of Obidos, filled with charm and views. Walking on the fort walls, meandering the cobblestone pathways. Medieval architecture, tiled walls, and archways.

Evera has an aqueduct, Roman temple, cathedral, and Bone Chapel.

Some of us walked seven miles on the Caminho de Santiago.




Stone circles and megaliths in the area known to the Knights Templar.





Simple roast chicken, fries, and salad hit the spot no matter where you are in Portugal.







We were happy to find simple meals.


Tanya and Ann always found the most special restaurants.

This was the beginning of the best meal of our trip. Delicious from beginning to end.














After the tour was over, Paula and I stayed at Quinta Colina, a beautiful B&B run by my former colleague James Robb. He took us around to the beaches and villages. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful vacation. Portugal is a place to return to.

It was nice to cook for ourselves at the Quinta.

Welcome to our cozy room at Quinta Colina.

It was great to reconnect with James after many decades.