The train from Santarém to Tomar was pretty empty and rolled through rich farmlands, interspersed with the occasional vineyard. Listening to the automated station directions, I was able to get a better sense of the Portuguese pronunciation.
I grabbed a cab at the Tomar station for a quick ride to my hotel, Hotel Dos Templarios (pronounced Tem-plar-ee-oosh, with the stress on plar) which was surprisingly large and fancy. Given the prominence of the Knight Templars’ massive Convento de Cristo on the heights above, the whole town echoes the Templar theme. Since I had two hours to kill before the 15:00 check-in, I left my luggage in the care of the front desk and walked up the steep path to the famous Convento.
Founded in 1160, the fortress underwent successive additions through 1587, during the height of the Templars’ power. As I wrote in the Sintra post, they became so powerful that the French Pope Clement IV demanded their disbandment; however, Dom Denis simply changed the Templars’ name to Ordem Cristo, the Order of Christ. They largely funded the Age of Discovery and subsidized Henry the Navigator. They also played the leading role in expelling the Moors from Portugal in the late 15th century.
The place is massive and lavishly decorated. They even built an aqueduct to bring fresh water to the cloisters. In particular, the hexagonal main chapel is unique. It’s said that the knights attended Mass there on horseback. The Convento is the main draw in Tomar. Unlike Santarém, there was a significant tourist presence.
After checking in, I headed to the large outside pool for a swim. Although hot, this area is inland enough to maintain low humidity and dew points, so it’s not uncomfortable at all. After the pool, I popped by the bar for a large sparkling water and struck up a conversation with Francisco, the bartender. He said that the summer wildfires had raged nearby, though there was no evidence of them in the immediate vicinity of Tomar. His last name, Pinha (peen-ya), I found interesting, and he told me that it was a derivative of “pine cone”. The etymology of surnames is an interest of mine, so we talked for a while about Portuguese names. Some common Portuguese names: Silva from blackberry bush; Perreira from pear tree; Figuiera from fig tree; and Pineira from pine tree. He said that some of these names associated with trees and plants derive from the Moorish occupation era. The area just to the north of Tomar marked the limit of the 4-century Moorish conquest. Looking back in time, the earliest settlers were the Lusitani tribe. They were conquered by the Romans, who were eventually displaced in the 4th and 5th centuries by the Visigoths, who Francisco explained were fleeing from Attila the Hun. He said that explains the genetic diversity of the people who range from olive complexions to blond and light-eyed.
For dinner I chose Landeira, a traditional Portuguese restaurant in the charming old town. Since I was the only diner sitting outside at 7:15 (Portuguese eat around 9) I had a chance to chat with the server, Marta, and the manager, Fabio. They suggested I start with the vegetable soup, which was tasty, followed with the chicken cooked in a clay pot. The meat fell off the bone. Fabio used to work in Porto, so he wrote down some suggestions for traditional Francesinha restaurants. That is a regionally well known Portuguese sandwich. After finishing, and as the place started to fill up, I wandered through the cobblestones alleys and enjoyed the suddenly cool air, gazing up at the floodlit Convento above. On the short walk back to the hotel, I passed through a beautifully lit public garden.
At the hotel bar, I asked Francisco for some port recommendations. He had four bottles from the producer Messias. I tried the Tawny followed by the vintage. The after-dinner drinks served as a fitting coda for a most enjoyable day.