Rick StevesSpecial to USA TODAY
With a rich culture, friendly people, affordable prices, and a salty setting on the edge of Europe, Portugal understandably makes a rewarding destination for travelers. Bustling Lisbon and the sunny Algarve coast are well known to tourists (for good reason), but quieter places also offer tantalizing tastes of Portuguese flavor.
About 90 miles northeast of Lisbon, just east of the pilgrimage site of Fátima, is lushly green Tomar – a quaint town of about 20,000 residents, set under a historic fortress. It’s a place with lots of local ambience, yet remarkably untouristed – and well worth a stop.
While there was a settlement here in Roman times, Tomar’s importance started in the 12th century with the construction of a hill-topping castle, the Convento de Cristo. Gualdim Pais, a Grand Master of the Knights Templar religious order, put Tomar on the map by building the castle with Middle Eastern architectural techniques picked up during Crusades to the Holy Land.