Salt flats, salt marshes and salt soaps

Aveiro is built on a lagoon also known as the ria.  In the 1900s the town’s economy grew, partly as a result of the yields of salt drawn from the canals and salt flats which can still bevisited today.  The beautiful Art Nouveau buildings that line the canal in Aveiro were constructed at this tim, a sure fire sign of the growth in wealth of the city.  Today, they house shops, museums, bars and hotels, but at one point they were homes as well as business headquarters.

Art Nouveau in Aveiro

Art Nouveau buildings along the canal

Salt or salt flower (flor de sal) is still available here and, of course, it’s widely used in cooking.  For me, though, one of the more innovative uses is in the products made by a small local company known as Beleza do Sal (roughly translated this means the Beauty of/from Salt). Of course, their wonderful pink and white candy striped packaging caught my eye immediately. Yes, I’m a big fan of pink.  If it’s not your colour, it shouldn’t put you off their products which I’m now a convert to, as are several friends and family as I buy them before every trip to England and include them in presents at birthdays and Christmas.

Beleza soapsTheir range includes olive oil and salt soaps fragranced with rosemary and lavender, cinnamon and coconut.  The soaps lather up well, last a long time in the bathroom and smell great.  Plus, the olive oil content is great for dry hands.  There’s a stonkingly good face cream which only needs to be applied in small doses (budget friendly and beautifying!) as a little goes a long way.  The fragrance of this facial moisturiser is quite simply divine.  As the sun has come out for the first time this year in Aveiro, it’s reminded me that the summer months are approaching and it’s time to think about getting beach ready.  Beleza do Sal’s exfoliating scrub really gets in under the skin, slewing away the untouched winter dry skin we all loathe.  With its pretty packaging, this range is a wonderful start to summer in Aveiro with time spent on the beaches at Barra and Costa Nova.

03-Creme-Nutritivo-Site1Beleza do Sal’s products are available from their factory shop on Cais São Roque as well as in a number of shops in Aveiro.


Product images from Beleza do Sal’s facebook page.


From Viana Do Castelo to the shores of Canada

SAM_3921The northern town of Viana do Castelo boasts stunning views of beaches, the Atlantic coastline and blue skies as far as the eye can see.  Viewed from the 20th century church of Santa Luzia on a clear day, the town, beaches and bridge across the river make for a picture postcard photo opportunity.

SAM_3955 Viana do Castelo is one of the principal ports from which the discovers (Os Descobridores) set sail in the 16th century as Portugal colonised large parts of South America and India. The port today remains a big employer with naval shipyards constructing and repairing ships. In the last century many Portuguese also went to Canada as cod fishermen, operating in grizzly, bitterly cold conditions, and it’s at Viana do Castelo that you can learn something of their operations aboard the Gil Eannes, a fantastic hospital ship that is gradually being restored.

SAM_3962For the bargain price of €2 you can go back in time and get up close and personal with the workings of a hospital ship.  At €2 I think they’re undercharging for what is a great insight into a past way of life. The ship is in the process of being restored but it still has an edge of grittiness about it There are no beautiful displays onboard, it’s simply quite realistic.  From the original dentist’s chair to the operating theatre (yes, really!) this shows the start realities of life for fishermen working in freezing conditions.  Even the mixing bowl in the super-sized ship’s kitchen is n a giant scale, showing just how many people the ship catered for at any one time.


Santa Luzia, Viana do Castelo

Santa Luzia church.

Viana do Castelo is a great day out from Porto with trains leaving Porto Campanhã and winding through some fabulous scenery until you cross the bridge into Viana do Castelo itself. It’s best to go between March and the end of October before the rains head across the Atlantic from Canada itself.







Espionage in Estoril

Beach view in Estoril Estoril’s famous casino, the place where Ian Fleming rubbed shoulders with the spies of World War 2 before using it as inspiration for his hit novel Casino Royale,  is just one attraction in the picturesque town of Estoril, located just 35 minutes from Lisbon by train. A wonderful coastal run (at a wallet-friendly price), Estoril is a perfect day out from Lisbon for those who fancy a walk on the beach or a night sticking and twisting on the tables.Estoril beach   The train heads out of Lisbon towards the Atlantic and arrives at the station which borders the beach. Tamariz beach is lined with restaurants and in summer there’s a plethora of Caribbean style grass umbrellas to shade you from the sun. This is where Lisbon’s jetset go when they’re not on soap opera sets.  A stunning tower also takes centre stage on the picturesque beach front. It’s also perfect for fitness fanatics, with the promenade adjacent to the beach being the perfect place to run, walk, ride a bike or even Zumba. Free Zumba classes take place here in the summer.


A view over to Cascais If espionage and secret liaisons at the casino aren’t your cup of tea, there’s an adrenaline rush available at Circuito Estoril, Estoril’s motorsport circuit. Home to Le Mans, circuit days and former home of the Portuguese Grand Prix, it’s well worth a visit for any petrolhead.  

Beijinhos from Beja

Beja stationFor many, the south of Portugal holds a special charm. It’s easy to get to from the UK, for example, with daily flights connecting local airports throughout the year.  Most people stay in their resorts to relax (and who wouldn’t?) but if you fancy heading a little further afield, the towns of the Alentejo are a good option, and at this time of year they have a big advantage over their northern counterparts – sunshine!

We headed down to Lisbon for a weekend in search of said sunshine and decided to have a day out in Beja, a town located in the Alentejo, a region that is famous for fantastic food and wines.  We weren’t disappointed on either front but we’ve definitely upped our intake of Alentejo wines as a result of that trip.

House within Beja's wallsBeja welcomes visitors to the town in its azulejo tiled train station, something that’s fairly common in Portugal and an indication of just how popular the railways once were here. Almost every station we’ve been to from the railways’ glory days are a work of art in themselves, just like the beautiful Victorian ones in the UK (think York, St Pancras, Darlington).   Beja takes its name from Pax Julia, Julias Caesar’s name for the town, since 48 BC and if you look closely enough there’s still evidence of the Romans around the town.  A  medieval castle stands proud, with the town’s original walls, built in Roman times and restored in the Middle Ages, still intact. The view from here over the surrounding countryside is worth the climb. It reminds you just how much of Portugal is still lush farmland.


Inside the museumA trip to Beja’s museums are a must.  With an all inclusive ticket (€3 per person) you have access to the Museu da Rainha D. Leonor  and the brand new Nucleo.  The Museu is housed in a Manueline and Gothic convent with a mix of artwork on display once you pass through the wonderfully tiled halls.  Tastefully decorated and in immaculate condition, the azulejo walls and Baroque church are a  At the Nucleo Museologico you have the opportunity to walk over the remains of a section of a Roman bath house.  With reinforced glass just metres away from the bricks and mortar themselves and clearly marked maps, this is a fantastic insight into the Roman world.


I would recommend a day to Beja for anyone passing through from the Algarve or en route from Evora. It’s quite a small town but with a visit to the museums and a long lunch, it’s esy to spend a day here.


SAM_5812SAM_5816Town square in Beja

Art at the adega

Aliança underground logoTucked away in the small town of Sangalhos is the Aliança winery. Not such a surprise perhaps, given that Portugal is the 12th largest wine producer on the planet.  But what is surprising is that the Aliança winery is more than just a wine production site and shop.  Hidden, literally underneath the winery is the Aliança Underground museum.  A tour of the museum takes you from Africa to Portugal, via the ageing cellars and back out for a complementary wine tasting at the end.

Sparkling wine ageingA little bit about Aliança first.  Aliança Vinhos de Portugal is the second biggest wine group in Portugal with both wineries and quintas contributing to its range of wines.  Aliança use indigenous grapes from each region, producing DOP wines and IGP wines from the Dão, Douro, Alentejo, Beiras and Bairrada as well as brandies and sparkling wines.



African artefactsThe museum itself is part of the Berardo Collection, a collection of art put together over many years by José Berardo.   Other collections from the Berardo Collection can be found in Lisbon and at at the BuddhaGarden in Bombarral.




African statuesAt 20 metres underground, the tour starts with a map of the Aliança underground with each ‘station’ on the stop relating to a particular collection or junction in between a collection.  The first stop is Africa where archaeological phallic burial pots and offerings to gods of fertility are displayed alongside weapons, chairs and handcarved goods.  Africa plays  large role in the collection given that Mr Berardo has spent a significant part of his life on that continent.

Photo0321Another stop on the underground tour is the mineral room.  Shaped very much like a mine tunnel and lit appropriately, this is a fine collection of minerals of all shapes and sizes in their raw form.  From quartz to lapiz lazuli, there are minerals from all over the world here including Brazil and Africa. The impressive use of light makes the display even more interesting as the minerals look so different from one angle to the next.  Moving on from the mineral collection is the equally impressive fossil collection which includes fossils from Scotland, England and France.  There’s even a dinosaur jaw there for authenticity.

The Pink Room As the underground tour moves on the wine element increases with the process of barrel ageing of aguardientes and brandies explained and a treat for the eyes in the Pink Room.  The Pink Room is a former ageing cellar for the group’s sparkling wine.





A fine collection of minerals

Finally, the tour takes you through the tile rooms, also known as azulejos.  With rescued frescos from Portuguese hotels, churches and pottery by the world famous Bordalo Pinheiro, there is even more to whet your appetite and ready you for the wine tasting at the end.  Aliança’s rose sparkling wine and a low-alcohol summer drink are included on the tasting and can be bought in the shop.  If you simply want to buy wine in the shop, you can pop in at any time.  For a visit to the museum, you need to pre-book by email.  The museum tour is just €3.50 and well worth every cent.  This was my second visit to the museum and I will definitely go again.

Porto São Bento, the tiled gateway to the city of Porto

São Bento station

São Bento’s tiled entrance hall

The main railway station in Porto is famous for its tiled walls. Dating back to 1896 (although the official opening was in 1916), the station reminds me of Brighton station every time I arrive there.  It’s full of light, colour and immediately take you back to the times when rail travel was more than just about getting from A to B.

Unlike a standard train station, the platforms aren’t the busiest area. The entrance halls with display boards actually has the largest number of people milling around, and most of them are tourists taking photos of the blue and white azulejo tiles which adorn the walls.  Telling stories of major events in Portuguese history, these were designed to educate even those who could not read at a time when transport and travel became more accessible for all classes.

Photo0246The grand entrance hall has been modernised with LCD screens indicating departure times but overall it still has an old-world feel.  As well as an old clock in the stained glass window, there are original signs which indicate arrivals and departures and the roof in the platform area brings in much needed light on a rainy day.



There are 20,000 tiles on the walls of São Bento train station and every single one is tin-glazed.  Tiles are a famous Portuguese export and much like the pottery and glassware made at Vista Alegre, the Portuguese still maintain their high quality levels and are famed for their production, holding strong against cheaper imports from other countries.

The tiles were painted in 1905 and 1906 by the artist Jorge Colaço, known at the time as the best producer of azulejo tiles in Portugal.  Needless to say, given that this is a must-see place for anyone visiting Porto, his toil was well worth it.

One of the platforms in São Bento

One of the platforms in São Bento

The main cross country and inter-country (trains to Spain and beyond up through France) leave from Porto Campanhã so if you’re just passing through and you have the time, it’s definitely worth catching the train to São Bento (3 minute journey) to see the tiled walls, Victorian ironwork and the sun glinting through the roof windows.

Monday is market day!

Just one of many fantastic fruit and vegetable stalls at Espinho market

Just one of many fantastic fruit and vegetable stalls at Espinho market

Cheese choices

Cheese choices

Espinho market dates back to 1864 when it took place twice a month.  Due to growing demand, the council agreed it could be held once a week and so fast forward to 2014 and anyone in the area will know that Monday is very much market day.  After just one visit I’m addicted!  I popped along yesterday for the third time in less than a month after coming to the realisation that I have been missing out big time on fantastic food in general, fabric, and every household item under the sun since I got here!

Cured meats are the norm

Cured meats are the norm

That’s not to say that we haven’t eaten well here in Aveiro – not on your life! The restaurants, cafés and shops do a great job at serving up amazing meat, fish and our local supermarket, Paradi, is somewhere that I’m forever nipping to for our food shopping. That said, there really is nothing quite like a market to get the blood pumping for a bargain or even just to try new food.

Garden and allotment plants for sale

Garden and allotment plants for sale

So, I headed there again yesterday having sussed out the best time to go.  The locals get there early and come back laden down with shopping carts (you know the ones, the grandma-style ones that are pulled along and are dangerous if in the wrong pair of hands!) and the tourists head there later on when it has calmed down a little. I’m definitely one of the afternoon visitors, arriving around 3pm.


Traditional Barcelos pottery

Traditional Barcelos pottery

The market stretches covers over a km of ground.  Thanks to Portugal’s textile production, which, despite the crisis, still takes place, stalls selling high quality towels, kitchen linen fabric and other sewing materials abound.  There’s also a great section for clothes, shoes and bags whilst the household section has everything from plastic buckets to Barcelos pottery (Barcelos is a town in the north of Portugal, famed for its brown pottery and also its en masse market) and ducks, chickens and hens ready  to head home to someone’s garden for egg laying.

Locally made biscuits

Locally made biscuits

My shopping list now consists of cheeses, hams, fabric (including these fab vintage style prints) and even the odd top for pottering around in.  And the best thing about Espinho is that after all of that hard work shopping you can head to the beach and have a paddle to refresh those aching toes!




Cheeselover’s dream

Fabric choices

Fabric choices

Dotty fabric choices

Dotty fabric choices