A return to the Castelo de Almourol

Eleven years after a surreal first visit, it was time for the whole family to retrace their father’s footsteps to a spectacular Portuguese castle.

Eleven years ago we took Child #1 from Luxembourg to Portugal for the first time. He was barely two months old. In retrospect, a 5,000km road trip across Europe with a colicky new-born was probably a bit optimistic and the trip was… memorable (to say the least). But we eventually arrived and settled down to the simple pleasure of catching up with our Portuguese family.

One sunny morning in early autumn I took a break from the traumas of first-time fatherhood to explore the local region, where I had one of the most bizarre – and unforgettable – tourist experiences ever.


In my travel notes at the time, I scribbled the following:

Monday October 3rd, 2005

I had my first real tourist excursion this morninga trip to the Castelo de Almourol. Despite the fact that signposts for the castle stopped once the motorway became a dirt track, I fortunately managed to find it relatively quickly. Perhaps nobody else ever does because I was the only tourist there, giving me every opportunity to peacefully admire the handsome ancient castle perched on top of a rocky island in the Rio Tejo.

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Castelo de Almourol in 2005

Using my very best Portuguese (which Joëlle has since informed me was, in fact, Spanish), I ascertained from nearby construction worker that the castle was open to visitors. I was shepherded towards a huge elderly man in tight tshirt with hooped stripes; he looked to me like a retired pirate (do pirates retire?). The man gestured towards a small boat and asked me for 75 cents, but since he didnt have change for a 1EUR coin, I got my boat trip for the cutpriceand pocketlighteningamount of 67 cents. Bargain! For that, I got half an hour all on my own to find my way through the islands jungle of cactiheroically shoulder charge open the main door to the castle, and explore every nook and cranny of it. It was a magnificent, surreal experience.

When my curiosity was satisfied, my pirate and his boat were patiently waiting to return me to the mainland and the dust track / motorway which took me back home to my wife and son. Tourism at its very best!!!

Eleven years and three more children later, it was time to return; a time for eight little feet to tread where two clumsy oversized sandals had gone before. Predictably, a lot has changed in eleven years, but it still was a great family morning excursion.

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Castelo de Almourol in 2016. Now with added family!

More Game of Thrones brutality than fairy-tale beauty, the 850 year old Castelo de Almourol makes up for its relatively small size by striking a particularly imposing, dominant pose, in sharp contrast to the peaceful meandering river flowing timelessly around it.

Some changes were apparent immediately upon arrival. The dirt track is now a real road (though hardly a main road yet) and the pirate was, regrettably, no longer there. In fact, as we arrived we initially thought – to our horror!! – that a bridge had been built. This would NOT have been good news because the promise of a boat trip was the one thing that motivated the kids into coming (“but we have LOADS of castles in Luxembourg, Daddy…”). Thankfully, we were wrong (it was some sort of pontoon) and very soon a small motor boat came chugging into view from behind the castle in a scene directly from a Tintin story.

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Tintin at the Castelo de Almourol?

Despite being early in the tourist day, a small queue of people had already tentatively formed at the quay, and we were lucky to be able to board without waiting longer (the boatman later told us that there is often serious congestion on August afternoons). Inflation and demand meant that the price had more than tripled to €2.50 per person  but, frankly, this is still pretty good value when compared to other tourist attractions, and in any case our three youngest kids went free.

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On the boat. Note the lack of mollycuddling lifejackets. Portugal we salute you!

Arriving on the island, the cacti were (of course) still there and making valiant efforts to reclaim the island as their own. The temperature was rising rapidly, and the kids loved the novelty of playing in the cool shade of the cacti and bamboo, two plants which are not exactly abundant in the forests of Luxembourg… We almost forgot that we had a castle to visit, but eventually made our way up to the main gate (open; no shoulder charge necessary) inside which a small souvenir stall stood as a tentative response to changing times and the castle’s new status as an upcoming tourist attraction.

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Cacti forest??? This is something new!
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On the lookout

The children’s instinct to play amongst the cacti was probably correct; to be honest there isn’t a lot for kids to see or do inside the castle itself, other than to drink in the magnificent views and partake in a nerve-wracking walk along the battlements (which the eldest kids enjoyed greatly, much to their mother’s distress). Nevertheless, Almourol still stands as a very enjoyable tourist excursion for kids, principally due to its storybook location and the thrill of the boat-only access. But when, inevitably, the big coach tours arrive and the economics for building a bridge finally make sense, Portugal may gain another major tourist attraction, but it will have lost one of its finest tourist experiences, particularly for children.

My advice: bring back the pirate; the kids would love him.

Daisy the bus visited the Castelo de Almourol in early August 2016

(c) 2016 Jonathan Orr

PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR VISITING THE CASTELO DE ALMOUROL

  • The Castelo de Almourol is located in central Portugal, about 1.5 hours north-east of Lisbon and between the towns of Entroncamento and Constância. Take exit 4 or 5 from the A23 and follow the signposts.
  • Arrive early in the day; the boats to the castle are small and queues form at peak times.
  • A combined boat / entrance ticket costs €2.50 per person; kids under 8 (ish…) go free (2016 prices).
  • There is a small bar nearby (not in the castle itself) but, as always for mid-Portugal in summer, it is advisable to bring some drinks with you. It is HOT there!
  • As a suggestion, continue your day out with a trip to nearby Tomar.
the Pigeon Pair and Me
Tin Box traveller

Author: daisythebus

Father-of-four based in Luxembourg. I write about "off the beaten track" travel adventures with my family. Expect to read about nature, outdoor activities, the arts, authenticity, and alternative ways of discovering the world around us.

10 thoughts on “A return to the Castelo de Almourol”

  1. What a gem – no wonder you wanted to return. I’m glad the boat was still there. I wonder what the pirate is doing now? He probably subcontracted to the motor boat guy and is living it up in Lisbon 😊 Thanks so much for linking up with #MondayEscapes

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am glad I read this post because it is the first time I hear about this castle. I am glad you went back and were able to share with your younger kids. To me, it is perfectly fine to speak our best Portuguese when in a Portuguese speaking country (I speak Spanish all the time and they understand me fine). #MondayEscapes

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  3. I love the fact that there were no lifejackets, and that children could play on the battlements. Great that you could see the castle without any hordes of tourists – one of the benefits of there not being lots of entertainment laid on for kids. maybe? Sometimes it’s better for them to make their own fun. Gorgeous post – thanks for sharing your experience, and for joining in with #CulturedKids.

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  4. I love the fact that there were no lifejackets, and that children could play on the battlements. Great that you could see the castle without any hordes of tourists – one of the benefits of there not being lots of entertainment laid on for kids. maybe? Sometimes it’s better for them to make their own fun. Gorgeous post – thanks for sharing your experience, and for joining in with #CulturedKids.

    Like

    1. Thanks for the nice comment. I think there is a certain danger in returning to a place with special memories (in case it is not as you remembered it) but on this occasion we had a great day out. The boat trip is what makes it special, for kids and adults alike!

      Liked by 1 person

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