TRAVEL: Portugal offers places of peace

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Travel typically evokes visions: postcard images of lush landscapes, magnificent monuments, museum masterpieces or flamboyant festivals. When our senses become overwhelmed with the spectacular sights, savory tastes and spicy scents of a foreign journey, it’s important to also take time to simply sit back and become enveloped in quiet “soundscapes.” For lower volumes can impart some serenity, offering a respite from a frenetic journey’s pace.

On an inspiring trip to Portugal, I discovered some hushed places to soak in peaceful, surround-sound experiences — and where you can do so too.

 

Gulbenkian Park in Lisbon

If you need a quiet sanctuary in the midst of the capital city, seek out Gulbenkian Park. There is a campuslike vibe to the 19-acre grounds surrounding the private Gulbenkian Museum and Center for Modern Art perfect for unplugging.

Constructed in the 1960s, Gulbenkian Park hosts ponds that are home to ducks, geese (expectedly honking), turtles, benches in wooded areas that sometimes attract young couples and pathways connecting different parts of this museum haven in Lisbon.

 

Walk the Montemor-o-Novo Castle ruins 

Step back in time as you explore these otherworldly castle ruins, which guidebooks and tourist information centers refer to as “the castle.” It’s a great place for a hilltop panorama of the town — filled with cork trees, farmhouses in the sparsely inhabited countryside and life seemingly moving in slow motion.

View the changing light on the well-weathered stone structures in this peaceful environment dominated by an almost eerie silence, where the soundscape is pierced only by bells from nearby churches mingling with the bells of cattle as they return home and daylight slips away.

 

Connect with ancient megaliths near Evora

Near the World Heritage City of Evora, local history predates even relics such as Stonehenge by 2,000 years. Learn the lingo of the mysterious megaliths while visiting a dolmen, thought to be a burial site; a cromlech, which is a gathering place on the winter and summer solstice as well as for other ancient rituals around a grouping of elliptical, granite stones; and a menhir, a solitary, phallic rock most likely associated with fertility rites.

The natural decibel level here is low, respectfully so for the sacred sites. And in counterpoint to the voice of my excellent guide, Libanio, is the gentle patter of rain.

 

Stargaze in Noudar Park

Explore this expansive park from a quiet electric car or by foot on the many hiking trails. It is so still here that a “major” audio event during our walk is the panting of the dog accompanying us.

At night, stargaze with the aid of their powerful Orion Dobsonian telescope with its 16” mirror located at this eco-conscious, restored estate.

This is an official “Dark Sky”designated area, with periodic astro-photography workshops to assist you in bringing home a picture of the starry night sky. Beyond the dark sky and deep quiet — without light or sound pollution — you may actually hear the music of the “spheres.”

 

Explore endangered folk art

The excellent new museum Centro Interpretativo do Mundo Rural (Interpretation Center for the Rural World), Arraiolos is little known but highly recommended for its pairing of images and sounds.

Each room of the well-curated carpet museum introduces this endangered artisan tradition while connecting it to sounds: In the Arraiolos Rug Interpretation Center exhibit about botanical dyes, you will hear the sounds of water. The tapestries are embroidered with particular stitches, some of which are now lost.

High-tech displays show inspiration and influence of carpets from Turkey, India and Persia accompanied by appropriate music from each land.

 

Revel in royalty for a day at the palace in Sintra

Sintra, a fairytale town and UNESCO World Heritage Site, presents vibrant colors and an unexpected mix of architectural styles at the Pena Palace. In Sintra you can indulge yourself by staying at the Tivoli Seteais Palace, whose rooms offers views of its lush, formal gardens.

At this 18th century palace, lavishly decorated with an ornate piano from centuries past and a writing desk belonging to a queen, it’s easy to feel like a storybook princess. It’s also a great spot to enjoy the much-sought-after regional pastry, a cinnamon-flavored mini-tart called queijadas de Sintra, fashioned from a Renaissance-era recipe.

Preparing a fragrant bubble bath, all the stresses of the day drift away, leaving the sound of the delicate effervescent bubbles gently dissolving, as my whole being unwinds.

For more information on traveling to and within Portugal, go to VisitPortugal.com/en.

Iris Brooks is a cultural writer who has explored all seven continents. Learn more about Ms. Brooks and photographer Jon H. Davis at NLScreativemedia.com.

 

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