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Day 5: Luso and Buçaco

We had an unexpectedly free day in our schedule today, because we'd managed to see Coimbra more quickly than I'd expected.  Originally the plan was to spend Saturday sight-seeing in Coimbra and visit the Roman ruins at Conímbriga on Sunday, but travelling between Porto and Coimbra didn't take as long as I expected and so we managed to see most of the main sights of Coimbra on Friday afternoon and bring everything forward by a day.  Tim spent some time reading the Portugal guidebook last night and came up with the idea of visiting a place called Buçaco, where there is a famous forest. It seemed like it would be possible to get the forest via a nearby station called Luso-Buçaco, so we decided to give it a go.

There are only three trains a day from Coimbra to Luso-Buçaco and the first one isn't until 12.21, so we had a rather relaxed start to the day in Coimbra. When it was finally time to catch the train we found it was very good value at €2.60 each for a journey of around 30 minutes. The station of Luso-Buçaco is - confusingly - neither in Luso or Buçaco, but somewhere in the middle of the surrounding countryside. We had some great views as soon as we stepped off the train.


The guidebook said that the town of Luso was a 15 minute walk away from the station, so we set out to find it.


I expected Luso to be quite a small place, but when we eventually arrived it was larger than I expected and there were some rather grand buildings.


It turns out that it's a popular spa town and that there is some famous mineral water that comes from here.


As we were walking through the town we saw several signs pointing to a lake, so we followed them. We soon found the lake, which seemed rather murky. I hope this isn't where they get the mineral water from!


We did a loop around the lake but still felt a bit underwhelmed by it! It was after 1pm by this point so we decided to make the most of being in Luso by having lunch there. We had passed a restaurant on our way to the lake, so retraced our steps to there. It turned out to be a great find; the food was beautiful and the prices were amazing. €1.20 for a glass of wine and €0.70 for a coffee. Portugal definitely wins the prize for the cheapest country we've visited in western Europe, and prices like this are probably cheaper than some places in central Europe as well!

After lunch, we set off in search of the Buçaco forest. The guidebook had said that it would be a 2km walk steeply uphill from the centre of Luso. After some of the streets we've experienced in Porto and Coimbra, I was dreading finding out what qualified as "steeply" uphill, but actually it turned out not to be too bad :)

We started climbing up above the town and soon had a view of a little square with water fountains. People were parking nearby and emerging from their cars with armfuls of plastic bottles to fill up, so I'm guessing this is where you can get the mineral water from.


From there the road did lead uphill, but we were distracted from the gradient by the rather unusual roadside decorations. For reasons which were unclear, the edges of the road were strewn with a combination of greenery and paper flowers.


Soon we were high enough to have a view of the whole of Luso...


...and then of the surrounding countryside.


Much quicker than I'd expected, we arrived at a sign which suggested we were almost at the Buçaco forest.


The entrance - just around the corner - was very grand.


We passed through the gate and followed a path towards the forest.


The side of the path was lined with cactuses.


We entered the forest and passed by another rather murky lake. Lakes don't seem to be Portugal's strongest point xD


Soon we were deep in the forest. The Buçaco forest has an unusual history because the area was first settled by monks, who built a monastery here and surrounded the forest with high perimeter walls. They took looking after the trees very seriously, threatening in the seventeenth century to excommunicate anyone who was caught harming a tree.


There are hundreds of different species of tree in the forest, many of which were introduced by Portuguese explorers returning from foreign countries. We found some enormous bamboo...


... and also some huge ferns, which lined one of the paths we started climbing up.


I don't know what type of tree this was, but it was so big that we could only fit a fraction of it in the photo.


We emerged at the third murky lake of the day...


... and found another surprising feature. This the Fonte Fria, a cascading water stairway in the middle of the forest.


The stairs looked like hard work, so we continued upwards on a forest path.


We eventually arrived at this very unusual building: the Buçaco palace.


The monasteries in Portugal were dissolved in 1834 and the forest then passed into the hands of the government. Some time after then this palace was built. Initially designed as a royal residence, today it is a luxury hotel.


It's rather a bizarre building, but there are some pretty gardens outside it.


From the hotel we walked into the forest once again.


There was a bad storm in Portugal in 2013 which destroyed a lot of trees in the forest. This particular tree, which came down in that storm, has now been turned into a bridge.


The path we were following began to lead downhill, and we soon found ourselves at the top of the water stairway.


Walking down it felt a lot easier than walking up it would have been!


Soon it was time to retrace our steps back out of the forest.


We enjoyed the views as we walked back into Luso.


The train back was at 18.35, so we still had time to stop at the extremely cheap restaurant for a drink. As we sat down, we heard what sounded like very loud drumming approaching.


It turns out that all the flowers we'd seen in the street earlier were there because there was a festival in Luso today.


As far we understood, it was in honour of the town's saint (but we're not sure which saint that is!). People were carrying banners with pictures of lots of different saints, so it was hard to tell.


I felt sorry for the men who had the job of carrying what looked like a very heavy statue of Our Lady through the streets!


Lots of people had adorned their doors with flowers and some had also scattered flowers and greenery outside their houses. The most confusing element of the celebrations were probably the people hanging tablecloths out of their windows, though!


By the time we had finished our drinks, the procession had passed us and we were just about the start walking to the station when we realised it was coming around the corner again! We followed it for a while, before eventually having to dodge past it or risk missing the evening's only train.


Fortunately we made it to the station on time and were soon on our way back to Coimbra, after what has been a tiring but exciting bonus trip :)


Edited by Clare

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