As its name suggests, Castelo Branco is a quaint little town that's pretty much stark white (branco means white in Portuguese). There were two main attractions we were interested in which prompted our little day trip. One was the famous Jardim do Paço and the other, the Castelo de Castelo Branco. A garden and a castle. You'd think that we'd be bored of both by now, considering every single town we visit offers pretty much the same thing.
But hey, for the sake of exploration... why not?
The train ride from our home to Castelo Branco was approximately 2 hours long although depending on the connecting train, it can take much longer than that. The train ride itself was one of the highlights and certainly one of the most picturesque I've ever taken. For a good part of the journey, the train travels along the Rio Tejo (Tagus River), the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. If you love water as much as I do and vistas of rolling green hills, you'll love it.
Compared to other towns across Portugal - not that I've been to that many - Castelo Branco is really quite unique. Needless to say since we were in the midst of winter when we visited and the colours were fairly muted. Lots of ashy looking plants everywhere. However, there is a brittle icy beauty in all of it which I do appreciate as much as the lush foliage and vibrant colours of spring.
Upon arrival at the train station, we walked towards the central of town. One thing worth noting is that the central of town doesn't feel like an obvious central. Or perhaps we were early and there wasn't a crowd anywhere. Not that crowds gather much in towns unless there's a festival. We wandered around a little and took in the city slowly while admiring the mostly stark white architecture.
Jardim do Paço was more muted that we imagined it to be having seen the photos of vibrant foliage and greenery on Google. Obviously, some colour correcting was involved in those images. I was a tiny bit disappointed due to the disparity to be honest (expectation vs reality and all that jazz). I imagine it will be heaps different in spring. Nonetheless, what the garden lacked in greenery, it did make up for with fantastic landscaping and the gazillion statues and fountains strewn across it.
The garden has a rich history. It was originally created in the 17th century next to the palace of the bishop for his entertainment and is home to a wide variety of plant specimens. If I had a garden like this, I'd be tranquil every single day. Without modern technology to entertain them, I guess people had to resort to fashioning such extravagant forms of entertainment back in the old days. I'm glad it has been so well preserved over the centuries so that we can likewise enjoy them today.
So is the garden worth going to and was it worth the €2 entry fee? Absolutely if you're going during the hotter months. If you do end up going in winter like I did, be prepared for the muted colour scheme. For the artists and photographers, you could spend hours sketching, painting and taking photos there. And if you do it certainly is worth the trip. I took loads of photos but didn't spend much time sketching.
After the garden, we thought we would hike up to the castle. I say "hike" but it really is just an uphill climb on steep roads. Nothing very nature-ish about the walk up except that it was tiring. As usual, I lagged behind and had to pause to catch my breath on occasion. This is usual for me, but I'm slowly getting better at climbing hills.
Castelo de Castelo Branco is like any other castle in most of Portugal in which only the external walls remain. There are a few exceptions to this and one of them is the Convent of Christ, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's in my current hometown of Tomar. We climbed the walls and took in the view, which was magnificent. The wind was howling and almost blew us off the wall which is saying something. Unfortunately, I didn't take many photos of the castle as there was a couple canoodling around the area which seemed to get into every shot I wanted to take. Zzz.
As is a tradition of ours when we visit a new town, we have to head to the shopping area if there is one. Here, it was a shopping mall. We debated about directions on the wall of the castle as is also our usual habit. My sense of direction isn't terribly bad but clearly, in comparison to my companion's, it sucks. That was when the phrase "never trust a girl with a map" came about but that's another story. Anyway, I admitted defeat this time round (the first of many) and we took a long long long Google Maps guided walk to the nearest shopping mall.
Which wasn't near at all, by the way. But the weather was great! The sun was out, wind was blistering cold and the company very pleasant. So despite the distance, it didn't feel like a trek that would never end. We passed a huge lake on the way there and saw some paddle boats in the shape of ducks. We didn't take them for a spin however.
Forum Castelo Branco was decent enough with major brands such as Pull & Bear, Springfield, etc. Miraculously, I didn't walk away with anything although somebody else did. Lunch was fairly simple food court fare. I think I had Burger King if I'm not mistaken. No sushi to be had anywhere, sobz.
We spent the rest of the day walking back to town and wandering around. Nothing terribly exciting transpired with the exception of discovering how close we were to Spain. There's a sign next to the theatre that says "Espanha". We should've just crossed the border, but we didn't have much time and we had work the next day. Ah well. Spain will have to wait.
So... Castelo Branco. Been there, done that. Would I visit it again? Probably not if I had to take public transport. Perhaps if someone were to drive, I just might.