Ribatejo ... A day in the countryside 1/2 hour from Lisbon
At only half an hour from Lisbon by motorway, lies a little-known region of Portugal that offers unsuspected treasures: The Ribatejo, literally, the banks of the Tagus.
Located in the heart of Portugal, this region is a link between the mountains of the North and the great plains of the south. Those who love nature, traditions, and "real things" will not be disappointed.
The most typical landscape of the Ribatejo is the marsh (lezírias) where bulls and horses live freely and rice is grown.
Beyond these marshes, the region presents quite varied landscapes. Around the Tagus, some of them are very green and allow the cultivation of extraordinary fruits and vegetables. Everything grows here and the land is easy to work with. Other landscapes are drier, only planted with olive trees and flooded with a dazzling sun during the summer.
The banks of the river, the few lakes, and the rivers are relaxing landscapes that allow long walks on marked paths through the protected reserves.
The inhabitants of Ribatejo are very attached to their traditions and like to share them with others. There is always a local festival, a craft fair, and animation going on.
Ribatejo is the home of bulls and horses who will perform in the Touradas, bullfights on horseback. No worry, there is no killing and the picador is prohibited!
The Campino is the typical character of the Ribatejo region, it is the one who drives the cattle, especially the bulls. His clothing is very characteristic and consists of a green hat with a red border, a white shirt, a red vest, a red scarf tied at the waist, blue pants, white socks rising to the knee, black shoes with spurs, a jacket that he places on his left shoulder and finally his stick (pampillo) that he uses to drive cattle.
Fandango da Lezíria is the traditional local dance. Danced between two campinos dressed in their most exquisite ceremonial costume. it is a dance of agility in which the man tries to attract female attention.
★ The Royal Falconry of Salvaterra de Magos
Once one of the favourite destinations of the Portuguese court, the village of Salvaterra de Magos has kept a Royal falconry, unique in the Iberian peninsula.
Forget all the performances of hawks you've seen, you're in a real working falconry here. Visits are free (!), you can admire dozens of specimens and you will be guided by a falconer who will answer all your questions. As a bonus, you can attend a quite impressive flight demonstration in the heart of the counstryside.
★ What surprised us
After the screening of an introductory film, you enter the falconry courtyard and discover twenty or more birds of prey waiting for you on their perch. There were only two of us for this visit and we were very surprised to be followed by all those hawks watching our every move. Explanations of the falconer: this is normal behaviour and when there are more visitors, the hawks distract their attention.
The falconry roofs are covered with nests of swallows (andorinhas). How can such small birds coexist with predators such as hawks? In fact, swallows are very agile and quick and are one of the few birds that can escape a falcon attack. Hawks are not interested in their size! They are too small! In fact, the falcon assesses the effort required to reach its target and considers that catching a swallow doesn't worth it. Pigeons, ducks or hares are much more interesting for him!
★ The Rio Maior salt works
In the village of Fonte da Bica, are located the largest saltworks on the Iberian Peninsula, exploited since prehistoric times and first documented in 1177. The salt comes from a large sodium chloride mine with a groundwater well running through it.
The small craft company "O melhor do Ribatejo" knows how to combine the fleur de sel harvested there with the spices or vegetables of the region and offers us extraordinary flavoured salts.
★ Small details
The oranges.... Around the Tagus, in the Benavente region, you cross the countryside, you cross villages... there are orange trees absolutely everywhere: on the roadsides, in the streets of villages.... Stop there, get out of the car, pick an orange, they are excellent and very sweet!
The restaurant Mercearia 18.... Former haberdashery of the village of Salvaterra de Magos, converted into a restaurant by its owner and chef, Manel Pereira, you can taste local specialities at a good price. I recommend the white wine of the region, served on draught(!), a real discovery for me.
I also recommend the "Torricado c/ Bacalhau" with thick slices of garlic and olive oil toasted bread covered with cod... excellent! As well as "Choco a mercearia", a very tender and tasty kind of squid, grilled and served with baked potatoes from the region! To find it, go to the must-see Google website. Here is the link
If you have time, talk to Manel a little and tell him about wooden bikes. He is one of the only craftsmen in the world able to make them. Visit his website, it deserves some publicity.