Torres Vedras is a pleasant if fairly nondescript town, though for a short period during the Peninsular War against the French it was at the forefront of a desperate European struggle. With Lisbon judged to be under threat, the Duke of Wellington ordered the secret construction of the Linhas de Torres, the so-called “Lines of Torres Vedras”. Within a year in 1810, Wellington’s troops, plus gangs of militias and conscripted locals, built an extraordinary network of almost 150 forts and impregnable defensive positions. The British–Portuguese forces then carried out a scorched-earth policy in front of the Lines and sheltered behind them, thwarting the under-supplied French army, which was subsequently forced to retreat to Spain. Wellington’s seemingly desperate tactic was a military triumph – though the cost to the local population was severe.
There’s little evidence of this drama on display in the modern town, bar some surviving fortress ruins nearby. Still, there’s a pleasant kernel of cobbled lanes in the centre, at its best around the central Praça 25 de Abril, where an obelisk commemorates the battles. Otherwise, the castelo is the only notable sight and, after a drink at one of the cafés on the square it’s probably time to move on – Lourinhã or the local beaches to the northwest make a better overnight stop, while Alenquer and the Ribatejo wine country are just a thirty-kilometre drive to the east.