Brightening up the skies of Agueda

Agueda, Portugal, summer, holidays

Shopping in Agueda has an extra dose of colour in Summer.

SAM_5340The town of Agueda, just twenty minutes away from Aveiro by car, and 30 minutes by train (the journey involves travelling on an an old fashioned single gauge railway line which is pretty different for a start) hosts the annual AgitAgueda festival.  The festival starts in July with two weeks of concerts, craft stalls and food outlets and the installation of hundreds of rainbow coloured umbrellas through the streets of Agueda – providing shade and a splash of colour to Agueda’s shopping streets.

SAM_5347Now in its third year, the festival gets bigger and better as time goes on, with even more people attending each year.  The festival may only last two weeks but the umbrellas are floating on high for three months from July to September.  Known as the Umbrella Sky Project, the umbrellas have featured on blogs and news sites across the world, including the Daily Mail in the UK.

Andy Warhol wall art

This year the festival had a Pop Art theme which was introduced via walls and benches painted with Andy Warhol inspired images.  Lamposts are also painted to match and this year there was even an old Mini decorated and parked at the end of the street which was a real attraction for anyone with a camera. One street had gone one step further with brightly coloured balls floating through the sky.

Agueda's umbrella project

A local grill’s umbrella contribution

Local businesses get involved in a big way, decorating shop fronts and shop windows with umbrellas, both real and hand made.  It’s not just the businesses located on the main streets of the festival that take part – walking from the station the umbrellas dotted around the streets almost guide you to the main part of Agueda.

 

Agueda Umbrella Project

A Warhol inspired bench

The project is on until the end of September and is definitely worth a visit.

 

 

 

A Mini with a definite lick of paint!

Inspired car paint job.

 

Agueda Umbrella Project

Even the port bottles have umbrella price tags!

A recipe for sweet… or savoury delight

food, tripas, aveiro

Tripas de Aveiro

It seems that the typical Aveirense tongue is a sweet one. Alongside Ovos Moles, there’s the fabulous tripas to tempt the tastebuds.  Tripas in Aveiro are not the same as the ones the people of Porto lap up.  No, they’re quite the opposite.  In Porto tripas are tripe, served in a similar way to the tripe in the UK.  But in Aveiro, they’re a crêpe-like taste sensation, filled with just about any condiment, chocolate brand or sauce you like.

TM&M tripas from Aveiro

M&Ms on a chocolate tripa

Tripas are made of pancake batter, but flattened on a waffle iron before being filled or topped with your choice from the menu – so whether you’re a fan of After Eight chocolate, Lion bars, icecream in a plethora of flavours or something a little more savoury like tuna and cheese, there’s definitely a tripa for you. They’re a great afternoon snack or a light dinner when you’ve eaten too much at lunchtime!

 

To make tripas, just follow this recipe:

  • 3 eggs
  • 250 g of flour
  • 500 ml of cold milk
  • 125 g of sugar
  • 60 g unsalted butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • your chosen topping/filling
  • Mix the eggs and flour together.
  • When the mixture is smooth, slowly add the milk and stir continuously.
  • Add the sugar, melted butter and a pinch of salt.
  • Leave the batter to rest for 30 minutes then grease a waffle iron (or similar) and slowly add the batter in a circular format. Once lightly browned on both sides, add the filling to the centre, then fold into a square shape, as if wrapping a present. Add a topping and serve.  A sprinkle of cinnamon is always a good idea.

 

My favourite place for tripas in Aveiro is on the canal, overlooking the moliceiro boats.  It’s a small place called Tê Zero and you can smell it before you get near the door – yes, it’s that good!

Recipe translated from the Aveiro Lovers website which promotes the best of Aveiro. Their Facebook page has some great links, photos and the latest events in Aveiro.  it’s worth checking it out if you’re in town.

 

Images from Alimentavida17 and Cocò Na Fralda blogs.

The majesty of Alcobaça

Alcobaça is another of Portugal’s hidden gems. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s brimming with history. Alcobaça centres around a stunning monastery which can be admired from cafés in the town’s main square or from the old castle, perched about ten minutes walk away.

Acobaça view

A view over Alcobaça

My first visit to Alcobaça coincided nicely with their annual sweet exhibition – the International Conventual Sweet and Liqueur show (Mostra Internacional de Doces e Licores Conventuais). Since 1999 it has taken place every year in November, and has a growing number of international companies taking part.  The show initially focused on cakes, sweets, jams and liqueurs made using traditional processes by nuns and monks. It has grown to include businesses from across Portugal selling sugar infused goodies made the old fashioned way but the nuns are still present with lots of lovely food to try. Top picks include Ovos Moles, Ginja and pão de Ló. Well worth a day’s diversion on any holiday in Portugal, just make sure you take a big shopping bag for the cakes on offer.

2013-11-17 12.12.47

Now that summer is well and truly here in Portugal, the square in front of the monastery is the ideal location to relax in the sun with a slice of cake and  a coffee after exploring the cool interiors of this 12th century Cistercian monastery. Founded in 1153 by the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, it was, along with its church, the first gothic building in Portugal. Containing magnificent carvings, the two most important historic features within it are the tombs of King Pedro I of Portugal and his lover, Ines de Castro, his true love, who was assassinated under orders of his father.  The impressive kitchen includes an awe-inspiring floor to ceiling chimney and the gardens, where the exhibition now takes place, are the perfect place to wander at snail’s pace.

Tickets are €6.00 per person with varying discounts for students, over 65s and families. A combination tickets for monasteries on the Patrimonial Route (three in total are €15 per person). On Sundays and Bank Holidays, entry is free before 2pm.

Dusk

The monastery at dusk

Did someone say chocolate?

chocolate, Obidos, fashion show

One of the chocolate fiends at the festival

Generally speaking around this time of year, chocolate is one of the first things people give up for Lent. In the small walled town of Óbidos, that’s not the case.In Óbidos it’s time to celebrate chocolate in all its gooey, sweet, versatile glory.

For one month, the walled town and castle are taken over by stalls selling anything and everything related to chocolate. Along the main street, Rua Direita, even the local drink, Ginja (or Ginjinha) comes in shot sized cups made of chocolate.

 

chocolate, Obidos, Portugal, castle

Feira do Chocolate, Obidos

This year’s festival was zoo themed with a tie-up with the zoo in Lisbon (Jardim Zoológico) so a team of chocolatiers created works of chocolate animal art, ranging from lions, reindeer and sea lions to flamingoes, giraffes and even an elephant.  The exhibition tent was one of the best areas of the festival and one I’d head back to.

 

 

 

chocolate, festival, Obidos, castle

Obidos Chocolate festival

Stalls at the festival include hot chocolate, marshmallows, fruit bathed in chocolate, cake decorating materials and cakes galores, but the cherry on the top of the celebrations has to be the fashion show that took place on Saturday night.  With an oriental theme, three countries – India, China and Japan, were fashioned in chocolate accessories and sashayed down the catwalk.  From belly dancers to Harijuku girls, the crowd had the challenge of determining exactly which part of the outfit was made from chocolate and which wasn’t.  Sounds easy?  Trust me, it wasn’t!  The chocolate accessories were made on the day and it was no mean feat deciding what was likely to melt under the lights!

Santiago Church bookshop

Converted from a church to a bookshop

The castle walls are in fantastic condition in Óbidos and as a result, should you need to walk off some of those newly added calories, there are steps dotted around to climb up to the walls for a view of the festival and the impressive landscapes which surround the castle.  Two bookshops are also worth a mention.  Both are located on Rua Direita – one, the Mercado Biológico de Óbidos stores its books, mainly second hand, in over one thousand old wooden fruit crates and is also an organic fruit and vegetable shop.  The second, the Livraria de Santiago, is located in the Igreja São Tiago, a converted church along the castle ramparts.  An altar remains, surrounded by books.  Óbidos is an excellent place for a day out, or for a break from the nearby surfing beaches of Nazaré and Peniche, or even en route to Lisbon, as a minor detour.

View from the Casa do Fontanario

Our view

We stayed at the Casa do Fontanario, a restored former plumber’s home just outside the city walls.  The rooms were a good size, spotlessly clean with a good breakfast and even a small bottle of wine on the house waiting for us on arrival.

Vines, Vasco and Viseu

Igreja da Misericordia

Igreja da Misericordia

Like Leiria, Viseu is less well-known outside of Portugal.  Again, it’s a town in the centre of the country with a fabulous history, pleasant squares, a small park and a wine museum – what’s not to like?

Founded in Roman times, the origin of the name means good view, from the Latin,  and that certainly holds true today, both in the surrounding countryside and the town itself. Viseu is located in one of Portugal’s most famous wine regions, the Dão, which produces predominantly red wines (80% of total DOC Dão production) which are medium bodied, often spicy with hints of red berries.   The famous Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional, longstanding, go to Portuguese grapes are used in this region.  The centre of town is the location of the Solar do Vinho do Dão, a museum dedicated to Dão wine

The monorail that heads up to the Cathedral and main church

The monorail that heads up to the Cathedral and main church from Aquilino Ribeiro Park.

The town centre, or centro historico has outgrown its original medieval walls, but they remain intact holding the town’s cobbled streets near the main churches together.  The Igreja da Misericórdia is the most predominant in the town.  Rococo in style, it dates from the 18th century. Across the way is Viseu’s Cathedral.  A visit to the Cathedral for the flowers on the altar alone is worth it, but there’s an added attraction.  The seminary of the Cathedral doubles as a museum to the town’s most famous son, Renaissance painter, Vasco Fernandes, known as Grão Vasco, whose name will be familiar for his art, as well as the Dão wine which now bears his name. The museum, like most Portuguese state museums is free to visit before 2pm on Sunday.

For a break from the bricks and mortar of the town, head to Aquilino Ribeiro Park which has wide open green spaces, plenty of cafés that are the ideal perch for people watching on sunny day.  There’s a fantastic monorail (free to use) that really saves your legs on the way down to the park, and more importantly, on the way back up to the Cathedral. Alternatively, head to the central square, the Praça da República, which has cafés, newsstands and fountains as well as a park with miniature waterways, shaded benches and more people watching opportunities at the far end.  The Praça da República is also home to the Almeida Moreira museum, the former home of a local teacher, art critic and the founder of the Museu Grão Vasco.

Rightly, or wrongly, we didn’t check the guidebook or internet before heading to Viseu for places to eat, having adopted our own approach to eating out in Portugal.  The approach involves us choosing somewhere that looks as homely as possible. We’ve discovered that, quite often, the more traditional a place looks, the better the welcome and, more importantly, the better the food.  Opting for O Hilario, near the Cathedral, this was certainly the case.  A handwritten menu is always a good start, and this place run by a couple who were quite obviously grandparents already, had us smitten.  After a little chat with the owner, the food of choice was decided upon: Bifinhos com cogumelos, essentially, sirloin steak in a creamy, white wine and pepper sauce with lashings and lashings of mushrooms.  The owner presented the dish, prepared by his wife, with extreme pride before we tucked in and he came back to tempt us with handmade cakes, custards and fruit salads, again, the fruit of his wife’s labour.  A simply decorated place, tucked away down an unseeming street, this was an excellent discovery.

There’s a food event on this weekend (15th and 16th February) and next (22nd and 23rd February) with fixed priced menus available including starters, mains, dessert, wine and entertainment at many of the local restaurants. The O Hilario is on page 14 of the brochure.

We caught a bus to Viseu and stayed one night. It’s a small town so it’s probably fairly easy to see everything in one day, but if you prefer to take your time and mosey around, then stay over night.  Accommodation is reasonably priced in Portugal, and an overnight stay is a great excuse to try an extra local restaurant.  We  rocked up on the day and stayed at Pensão Rossio, right in the centre of town.  Their website has some information on rooms and meals they offer. The rooms were simple, clean and the breakfast was perfect to start the day. The owner and her family were pleasant and I’d definitely stay here again.

Viseu pensão

View from the room at the Pensão Rossio

Note:  I don’t get paid for the links I include, but as we try to stay in family run places as much as possible, I like to include direct links to their businesses in the hope that anyone visiting these towns will also book direct and support smaller places.

What’s inside The Barrel?

Restaurante O Barril, traditional Portuguese food

The Barrel’s logo.  Does what it says on the tin

So, I’ve already mentioned a fantastic little place for food in Leiria, and now it’s Aveiro‘s turn. We have a local, and it’s a true local’s place. It’s a little bit away from the town’s main dining areas, but locals do know about it, and frequent it, almost as much as us – with the amazing food here, I simply have to go to the gym to prevent myself growing to the size of a house! The Barrel, as it’s affectionately known by myself and English speaking friends here, is a classic case of don’t judge a book by its cover.

From the outside it looks a little untoward, there’s not a single whiff of haute cuisine or la-di-dah food snobbishness here. What the Barrel contains is a homely atmosphere where real food and friendly service are standard. I’m originally a Yorkshire girl, and we like real food on our plates with a smile to accompany it. I don’t do white plates with a drizzle of sauce, I do real meals with vegetables, fish, meat and good company.

Bife na Pedra in all its glory.

Bife na Pedra in all its glory.

Tucked away down a small street near the theatre in Aveiro, Restaurante O Barril has been on the Aveirense restaurant scene for over fifty years. Its current owners are a family who bought it ten years ago and carried on the tradition of serving home-cooked, freshly made food in epic portions using locally sourced ingredients. As is the norm here, the menu changes daily and includes a wide selection of dishes from fish to meat. There’s always a dish that’s guaranteed to tickle the taste buds, but of all the dishes on the menu, there are two which stand out and that are always available – tiled salmon and steak on a stone.

Salmõ na telha

Prepping the salmon on the tile

Salmão na telha, tiled salmon, consists of salmon, potatoes and onions in olive oil, cooked in a roof tile. The traditional rounded roof tiles of Portugal double up as cooking pots, it seems, and this is one dish that has to be tried. It takes around thirty-five minutes for this fish to gently cook in the oven, just enough time to enjoy fine local cheeses and pâtés. Like the cakes in the bakeries, Portuguese cheeses give the French a run for their money.

Samâ na telha

Ready to eat!

Sizzling steak

Hard to resist, the sizzling steak is hot to trot

As for the steak, well, it’s all about audience participation. Set to sizzle on the stone, the role of the chef reverses and it’s the turn of the diner to do some work! The bife na pedra, or steak on the stone, arrives at the table as a baking hot stone, heated up to around 200°C, straight out of the oven. The steak is served seasoned with local salt, pepper and garlic, but the it’s raw, and like a sizzling platter, you cook it yourself, turning it until it’s oozing with juices, your mouth is watering, and it’s as raw, or as well done as you like it. The wine list is good too, with both a standard and specials list – great for trying something new.

Wines are available by the bottle as well as by the carafe. Even Vinho Verde is available by the carafe here, quite an anomaly in Aveiro.

*As I said in a previous post, I don’t get paid for anything on my blog, but I believe in credit where credit is due. As I’m referring to a local business that someone might miss if they’re in the area, there’s a link in this post to The Barrel’s Facebook page (where these photos came from).

Visions of Vista Alegre

SAM_4228Vista Alegre is a small town which is located  approximately 5miles/8km from Aveiro, in the district of Ilhavo.  The town name means beautiful view and as you can see from the photos, with the river running through it and the masses of grassland along the Aveiro estuary, it’s a particularly apt name

SAM_4231The town itself is probably most famous for the Vista Alegre porcelain factory. The company was established in 1815 by Pinto Basto who saw the success of glass manufacturing in Marinha Grande, a town in the Leiria district, and decided to establish his own firm in Ilhavo.

SAM_4237The original grounds of the Vista Alegre quinta remain today alongside the factory where Vista Alegre’ s high end product are hand crafted from initial mixing off the clay to the varnish that protects the final product. Pinto Bastos purchased Quinta da Ermida, a mansion along the estuary where clay, sands, fuel and pebbles were readily available, to which, at a later date he added the 100 acre estate that is the present day Vista Alegre factory. Granted the title of Royal Factory in 1832 , the company enjoyed a golden era of glass and porcelain production. Fast forward to the present day, and following various restructures, it is still one of Portugal, and indeed, the world’s most well respected porcelain companies.

SAM_4242Today the grounds at Vista Alegre include the original quinta, a family church and the factory itself. The factory’s grounds have a small garden in them which is reminiscent of that often found in an English country house. There’s a museum (currently closed for refurbishment but the displays can be seen elsewhere in the town) which charts the history of the factory, the families involved over time and includes pieces from its finest collection. These collections are a true reflection of how our approach to fine dining, homewares and decoration has changed over time, with each artistic era since 1815 brilliantly represented in porcelain, china and glass. Royal families and presidents of several countries are amongst the lucky ones to have Vista Alegre on their dinner tables.

SAM_4238Nowadays the factory produces the high end pieces for the likes of Christian Lacroix and Eduardo Nery whilst their partner company, Atlantic, is the crystal and glasswear producer.  Tours of the factory are available for anyone who wants to learn more about the production process and marvel at the steady hands of the artists working there. When they say handmade, they really mean it here.  An extensive range of Vista Alegre Atlantis’ products are on sale at the two shops at the Vista Alegre factory, both of which are an absolute dream of a place to visit.  You’ll come away wishing you had ten kitchens and dinings rooms  and that you could entertain every night of the week, just to have an excuse to buy the tea sets, coffee pots and crystal glasses.  My personal favourites are the Vila Verde range, based on a tradition related to handkerchiefs that’s resurged here in Portugal which I’ll write about at a later date.

SAM_4246 In the last week of July of each year, the town pays homage to the local saint, Our Lady of Peñafrancia (Nossa Senhora da Penha de França), and of course, this is an excellent excuse for a party or two.  In the grounds of the factory, a stage is erected alongside several stalls with local food, toys and daily entertainment.  Anyone visiting Porto and especially Aveiro at that time of year should add a visit here to their plans. SAM_4234There’s also a Vista Alegre factory shop sale which is immensly popular and additional (free) tours of the factory take place- bring your car if you want to stock up!  For us, though, one of the highlights of the celebrations was a Fado night organised by the Vista Alegre Sporting Club, a local community organisation on a par with a rugby or cricket club in the UK.  With local wines, food served on Vista Alegre pottery (what else?!) and local Fado singers, the community came out in force to celebrate.  It was a simple affair, but often, it’s best to take it back to basics to enjoy great company, a friendly atmosphere and a local tradition that few foreigners get to see.