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.

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.

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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.