In the Centro region on the first peak of the Serra de Aire mountain range, Ourém is a town under the watchful eye of a castle and a castle. Controlled by the medieval Earl of Oren, the fortress is located on a high hill that is difficult to conquer even now. The old settlements within the city walls are like movie sets, as are the views of the 15th century palaces and sky fortresses.
Ourém is also the closest major town to the world-famous pilgrimage site of Fatima, within the city that continues to host millions of worshippers each year. If the mountain scenery inspires an adventurous spirit, there are caves and long-distance trails for hikers and mountain bikers just minutes away.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Oren:
1. Ulun Castle
A Portuguese National Monument, the castle of Ourém is almost unparalleled for its beauty and drama.
It was a Moorish base that was demolished and rebuilt during the first years of the Portuguese monarchy in the 12th century.
The castle was besieged during the rebellion of Elizabeth of Aragon, the mother of King Alfonso Henrique, and again during the vacancy of the 1380s.
In these turbulent times, it seems invincible, as even today, driving or walking up this 330-meter steep hill is taxing and often downright terrifying.
In the 1400s, the 4th Count of Ulun turned the fort into a luxury residence in the High Gothic style, when it became the Paço dos Condes (Counts Palace).
2. Ulun Medieval Centre
Almost above the clouds, the medieval village is surrounded by the formidable outer walls of the castle.
Anyone who likes to venture out of old streets, up stairs and under arches will love this place.
It is also an outdoor museum of architectural history, displaying a variety of medieval and early modern styles, including 18th-century Gothic, Mudejar, Manueline, Baroque, and Pombalin.
Remember to wear proper shoes as some parts of the slope are ridiculous, but you’ll get views that will take your breath away.
Stop in a traditional tavern for a glass of ginja, the local sour cherry liqueur.
3. Igreja Colegiada de Ourém
The church was built in the 12th century by Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.
Unfortunately, it was almost completely flattened in the great earthquake of 1755 and almost had to be rebuilt from scratch.
But one thing that survived unscathed is the basement, which is absolutely fascinating.
A staircase leads you from the altar to what appears to be a large hall with a vault supported by six columns carved with geometric and leaf-like patterns.
In the center of the crypt is the tomb of Alfonso, the fourth earl of Ulun, a 15th-century stonework by the sculptor Diogo Pires, o Velho.
When the sun illuminates this mysterious space, try to come at sunrise.
4. Praça Dom Nuno Álvares Pereira III
Also known as Terreiro de Santiago, this square is located on the north side of the castle.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the scene, which could have been set in The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, consists of an open horizontal plaza with stunning views of the countryside from almost every direction.
Stay to enjoy the scenery, then go up and take a closer look at the statue in the center.
You will meet Nuno Alvarez Pereira III, 3rd Count of Ulun, a Carmelite monk by military commander who was canonized in 2009.
5. Oren Torres Novas Natural Monument to Dinosaurs
In the municipality of Ourém, 10 km to the south, in the Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park, there is a kind of prehistory.
In 1994, the quarry here uncovered the footprints of a giant sauropod, and a few years later it was turned into a monument.
At 30 meters long and weighing 70 tons, they are some of the largest beasts to ever walk on Earth.
The site covers 20 hectares with two tracks and 20 footprints.
Along the one-kilometer route, there are snippets of information about the different eras of the place, and what sauropods looked like when they were grazing here.
6. Sanctuary of Fatima
One of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Christendom, Fatima celebrated its centenary in 2017. Even 100 years after the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in the nearby village of Cova da Iria, up to 5 million people still come here every year. The sprawling complex is now 10 minutes from Ulun.
Whether you have something spiritual or not, it’s a dizzying sight if just to gauge the staggering size of this place.
There is a huge plaza, two cathedrals, two Catholic-themed museums and a row of hotel blocks.
7. Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima
Fatima’s fame spread quickly, and Dutch architect Gerardus Samuel van Krieken was invited to design a church where the apparition took place.
The product is a Baroque Revival building comparable to Porto’s iconic Clérigos Church.
As you enter, there is a beautiful mosaic depicting Mary being crowned by the Trinity.
Nearby is a statue of Mary, designed with the help of a description of the apparition by Sister Lucia, one of her children who witnessed it.
Finally, don’t miss the stained glass windows, which tell the story of the ghost.
8. Holy Trinity Cathedral, Fatima
By the 1970s, the number of people who came to Fatima exceeded the capacity of the site, so a new church was proposed.
It wasn’t until 1997 that a design competition was held, won by Greek architect Alexandros Tombazis.
The building, which took ten years to complete, is nothing short of gigantic: it measures 125 meters in diameter and can accommodate 8,500 worshippers.
In 2008, Italian sculptor Vanni Rinaldi contributed Via Lucis and its 14 stations, while the three-meter Marian statue was carved from Carrara marble by Benedetto Pietrogrande.
The tiled panels on the walls are also in the Portuguese style, depicting scenes from the life of St. Peter and St. Paul.
9. Aldeia de Aljustrel
In the same parish, you can stay in the Fatima theme of three villages where the children of the Phantom grew up.
The house of Sister Lúcia, who lived to an advanced age until her death in 2005, was tagged. But you can actually enter the house of her cousins Jacinta and Marto.
They died during the flu epidemics of 1920 and 1919, respectively, and all three are now saints.
In addition to this connection, Aljustrel is also worth a visit for its stone buildings dating back to the 1500s.
10. Museu Municipal de Ourém
The Municipal Museum of Ourém has several branches, but the main one is housed in a 19th-century townhouse known as the Casa do Administrador.
Now complete with a new extension and annex, it hosts temporary exhibitions about the culture and history of the area, updated every few months.
The permanent exhibition recreates the atmosphere of Oren during the Fatima apparitions of the early 1900s, with black-and-white photographs, clothing, toys and farm implements.
Special lectures and seminars are also held to align with international initiatives such as Remembrance Day, Saints’ Day and Museum Day.
11. Praia Fluvial do Agroal
On the coast an hour’s drive from Ulun, the next best place is the river beach.
Agroal’s Blue Flag beaches even have some advantages over the coast.
On the one hand, you can swim in the water because there is no current.
But the coolest thing about Agroal (literally) is that the water comes from a natural spring.
It spewed from the ground in very cold temperatures and poured down from man-made pools.
You’ll be grateful when July and August are in the 30s.
There is a new platform on the water for sunbathers, a snack bar and a restaurant in the complex.
12. Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park
If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, Pia do Urso has a mountain bike center with immediate access to off-road trails, as well as washing and repair facilities at your disposal.
The northern part of the Serra de Aire has a number of display caves, including Mira de Aire and Moeda, which we’ll cover next.
The soft calcareous stones in the range fill the basement and are accessible on guided caving tours.
On the ground, you’ll have 16 officially marked hiking trails, as well as a horse riding center that organizes pony or horse outings.
13. Grutas da Moeda
On the other side of Fatima, arguably the region’s must-have performance cave, is of great significance to the Serra de Aire.
The system was discovered in 1971, when two hunters chased a fox into a hole and stumbled across a seemingly never-ending network of secret rooms.
Due to its proximity to Fatima, most rooms have names that evoke Christian themes, such as Virgem, Presépio (nativity) and Pastor, the first room you enter.
Public access is approximately 350 meters, where you will be dazzled by an abundance of eccentric clay and calcite formations.
14. Vinho Medieval de Ourém
“Vinho Medieval de Ourém” is a name to protect a method of winemaking that began over 800 years ago when Cistercian monks granted them lands in the 12th century by King Afonso Henriques to get started.
For a wine to bear the “Medieval de Ourém” label, it must be hand-picked in certified vineyards that follow strict guidelines.
One is that white wines can only be made from Fernão Pires grapes, while red wines can be made from Trincadeira.
If you like the sound, there are several open wineries in the towns of Divinis and Quita do Montalto.
15. Food and drink
In highland towns far from the ocean, meat and locally grown vegetables take center stage.
Especially cured meats, where sausages such as chouriço, morcela (made with blood or rice) and farinheira can be cooled, fried or added to stews.
The local Queijo de cabra (goat cheese) is made with the milk of goats that graze semi-free in the mountains.
As an appetizer, you can order local vegetable soup, salted cod soup, chicken soup or beef soup.
The old-school main course is migas de broa com couves, leftover bread soaked in cabbage.
A typical casserole would have squash and local smoked sausage, and the lamb stew was delicious.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Orem, Portugal
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