The capital of the Beira Baixa region, Castelo Branco, Portugal, is located 155 mi/250 km northeast of Lisbon. It is a relatively modern city surrounding a medieval quarter.
The former Bishop's Palace contains a lovely garden dotted with religious statues, orange trees and manicured hedges. The palace itself has been converted into a museum of religious art and local artifacts. Of special note is its fantastic collection of colchas (embroidered spreads) made by local women over the past three centuries. The embroidery takes the shape of birds, fruits, trees and flowers, each imbued with a bit of local symbolism—two birds around a tree represent lovers, for instance. A group of women associated with the museum continue to make colchas—their work is available for a hefty price.
Castelo Branco is also a good base for visiting Monsanto, an unusual walled city atop a mountain 25 mi/40 km northeast. Tourists flock to Monsanto in the summer, drawn by the stunning views of the surrounding country and Monsanto's atmospheric medieval streets with tiny houses carved into gigantic granite boulders.
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