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.

 

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.

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.

São Gonçalinho – the art of chucking bread off the church roof

São Gonçalinho festival in Aveiro

Fishing nets ahoy in Aveiro

A month ago, the centre of Aveiro was host to one of its biggest festivals, which celebrates São Gonçalo. Aveiro is broken up into geographical districts, there’s Alboi, Glória, Vera Cruz, Barrocas and each one has its own celebrations, traditions and of course, church or chapel. For the São Gonçalinho festivities, the action takes place in Vera Cruz, right in the centre of town.

São Gonçalo, or São Gonçalinho as he is more commonly known here (inho is diminuitive in Portuguese), was reputed to cure illnesses of the bone and sort out marital problems, but today people pay homage for a variety of reasons personal to them. At the chapel dedicated to him, just next to Praça do Peixe, where the main fish market is, the locals gather with umbrellas, fishing nets and sackloads of a special bread, called cavacas. Cavacas are an oval shaped flat bread that is dusted with icing sugar. They are hard on the outside but soft on the inside, which when it comes hurtling towards you from a church roof, you’d find hard to believe! They’re shaped a little bit like a boat, very apt for this region of Portugal.

São Gonçalinho festival in Aveiro

São Gonçalinho poster for the 2013 festival

São Gonçalinho poster

São Gonçalinho poster for 2014 festival

Local tradition dictates that in throwing the bread from the dome of the church, a prayer will be granted for the year. They call the wishes promessas here, but this sounds strange to the English ear, and so, having had the concept explained to me, I think wish or answered prayer, is a more appropriate translation. Day and night, people file into the chapel with their cavacas, heading up to the dome to stand and throw them at the crowds gathered below. The unique way in which the crowds catch the wishes, though, is what makes this such a fun festival. People are armed for cavacas battle with long fishing nets, metres high, upturned umbrellas, their bare hands and sacks to take them home in… and they’re trained, really trained, for action. It’s normal to see ten fishing nets waving about in the air as people catch the cavacas, with cheers from the crowds, clapping and the necessary dodging of these sweet flying saucers by debutantes like myself.

São Gonçalinho festival in Aveiro

São Gonçalinho festival in Aveiro

It’s not just about the art of throwing the bread, though, this is a festival for everyone. The festival takes place every year in January, on the Sunday which falls nearest to the 10th January, with fireworks every night in the five days running up to the Sunday, concerts and cavacas bread stalls – it’s perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth. They even do selection bags so you can test the waters, as it were, then go back for more.

Costa Nova – a candy striped Portuguese beach resort

Aveiro, Costa Nova, candy stripe

Costa Nova’s candy stripes

Located just fifteen minutes from Aveiro by car, and about 30 minutes if you take the local bus that goes everyyyywhere, is the candy striped town beach town of Costa Nova.  Costa Nova is truly one of the hidden gems of all of the Portuguese beach resorts and it’s a favourite with people who bring their motorhomes, particularly from the Netherlands, Germany and France, year on year.  For me, Costa Nova is a chance to experience a seaside town that’s unspoilt by high rise apartment blocks and trashy shops. It’s charming, has an air of the 1950s about it, and is ever so pretty for a wander, even on a day when the sun hasn’t quite made it out.

candy stripe, Costa Nova, Aveiro

A tiny candy striped painted house

Candy striped wooden buildings of all shapes and sizes line the main avenue through the town, standing out against the traditional tiled buildings that you see across towns and cities in Portugal. The cutest are the tiny ones which look like they’ve been crammed in where there was a tiny patch of land going spare.

There’s cafés and icecream parlours along the main avenue which are always busy.  In summertime, there’s barely room on their terraces to grab a table and even in autumn and winter when the winds and rain pick up here, you’ll find people braving the elements to head to Costa Nova for a wander along the avenue and down to the beach to see the sand dunes and the waves crashing on the shore.

Costa Nova, sunset, Aveiro

Costa Nova, at sunset

Costa Nova has a fantastic little market which sells incredibly fresh fish (you’re metres away from the sea in this place) and bread, fruit, vegetables,hams and cheeses that you can pick up as you arrive then head to the beach for a picnic.

Costa Nova, candy stripes

Cute shutters in Costa Nova

Or, if you want someone else to do the hard work, check out their fish restaurants – they’ve got a great reputation in the area. Fish is normally sold by the kilo so you can choose exactly what you eat. Served with delicious boiled potatoes and a local vegetable mix called migas (cabbage, carrots, beans and tiny chunks of bread), fish here is top of the list for any meal.

Aveiro, where eggs are soft and sweet and boats are made for seaweed

Aveiro, museum

Capitania do Porto de Aveiro building, now a museum

Aveiro is located in the north of Portugal, about 2 hours from Lisbon, and 45 minutes to an hour from Porto. It’s got fantastic transport links to these two major cities, whether it’s by car, coach or train, and I’d highly recommend that anyone heading to Porto for a long weekend should make the one hour trip by train (see http://www.cp.pt for details) to visit this town of waterways, ovos moles and Art Nouveau buildings.

moliceiro, Aveiro

A moliceiro boat along the canal in Aveiro

Aveiro is known as the Venice of Portugal thanks to the canals that run through it.  There’s one main canal that runs through the town, from the former tile factory of Jeronimo Martins past Forum, the main shopping centre, and then past the fabulous Art Nouveau buildings, once the homes and shops of the rich business owners around here.  The canal then heads down towards Cais do São Roque, where you can see the larger lagoon of water that Aveiro is built on and the salt production buildings, before heading out to the Aveiro lagoon – known locally as the Ria, and eventually, out to sea.  Aveiro’s wealth in the early 20th century came from two main things – salt and seaweed, quite a combination!  The boats that take you along the canal are called moliceiros, from the Portuguese for seaweed – moliço. These boats were used to bring seaweed in from the lagoon but today they’re simply used for tourist purposes.

Aveiro, moliceiros

Buildings along Cais do São Roque

Portugal rivals France for its patisserie like goods. There are bakeries every where and it’s heaven for anyone with a sweet tooth, and Aveiro is no different to any other city here.  From macaroons to pineapple upside down cake to meringues, bakeries have them all on display, and trust me they’re good!  One of the specialities from the area, though, is Ovos Moles.  These egg yolks and sugar that are cooked in a flour paste to create shell. They’re shaped into shells, just like Belgian chocolates, or even tiny moliceiros, like the boats that roam the canals. They’re sold on their own or in boxes of 250gr, 1/2 kilo or even a full kilo, and it’s quite common to see people with bags full of the boxes wandering the streets.  My top tip – try them with a glass of Port for the ultimate in sweet toothed indulgence.

Art Nouveau in Aveiro

Art Nouveau buildings along the canal

Finally, if you’re in Aveiro, check out the aforementioned Art Nouveau buildings. They’re marked with a small square plaque on the ground in front of them.  Some are houses, some are shops and one is even a tea room with china cups from one of my favourite local places, Vista Alegre, as well as the original 1920s tiles and beanbags to huddle up in when it’s cold outside and you want to hang out with the coolest kids in town.