Ponte de Lima (Norte), Portugal June 2024 (Tour 9)

Ponte de Lima was recommended as a place to visit by one of the owners of the hotel we were staying in, the Hotel Cotto do Gatto.

Situated just a few miles to the west of our hotel, it is one of the more popular stopping points on the Caminho de Santiago (the Portuguese Camino). It is also the oldest chartered town in Portugal although; this and many other places were in existence long before towns started being chartered in Portugal in 1125.

We had no trouble finding a parking spot near the Expolima even though a couple of events were in progress (a small farmers market and some kind of biker’s convention) and from there it was but a short walk to the main focus of this relatively small town, the old bridge across the River Lima.

On the way to the bridge we passed the Capela de Sao Joao. The original Chapel of Saint John in Ponte de Lima was destroyed by a fire, together with most of it’s contents, and was subsequently dismantled. The present octagonal shaped chapel was built in 1867. It’s a pretty little building but our (my) primary interest was the bridge and the town’s medieval centre which is reputedly one of the prettiest in Portugal. I think this may be on account of the large number of public parks and gardens in evidence all over the town. There are no less than 18 formal town gardens.

Ponte de Lima was named after it’s 1st century Roman bridge across the River Lima. Little remains of the original Roman bridge with it’s 5 arches. During the 14th century the bridge was renovated, fortified and considerably extended to 17 arches. Only 14 of these arches remain but the bridge is still an impressive 277 metres long and it makes for a very scenic photograph too with the white Baroque style church of Santo Antonio da Torre Velha at it’s western end.

Pilgrims on the Caminho Santiago (Portuguese Camino) were pausing at a small chapel at the western end of the bridge for many years until it was replaced by the Igrejia de Santo Antonio da Torre Velha during the 18th century. Next to the church is a monument celebrating the efforts of the pilgrims on their way to Santiago.

The inside of the Igreja de Santo Antonio da Torre Velha is quite spartan except for what I think is a very stylish altar. No?

There’s a legend surrounding this part of the river. In 138 BC a Roman army under the General Decimus Junius Brutus was advancing north into what is now Galicia but, upon reaching the River Lima, the legionnaires refused to cross. It seems the area was so enchanting they confused the River Lima with the River Lethe; otherwise known as the River of Forgetfulness. The Lethe is one of five mythical rivers leading to Hades; famous for it’s beauty and it’s capacity to erase the memories of anyone who drank from it or was immersed in it.

The legionnaires’ commanding officer was compelled to cross the river first and then to call out the names of individual soldiers who were to follow him. By such means he was able to demonstrate that it was safe to cross and that he had not lost his mind. The rest of the force slowly followed his example but it was decided there and then that a bridge would be built to expedite future crossings.

This tale explains why there are statues of legionnaires lined up at the eastern end of the bridge, in the car park alongside the town’s main square (the Largo de Camoes Plaza) and; an officer on horseback (Decimus Junius Brutus) at the western end of the bridge.

The River Lima forms one side of the Largo de Camoes Plaza. The other three sides are mostly bars and cafes which face the river. It’s a nice place to sit and enjoy a spot of lunch, which we did. The local wine (vinho verde) and a couple of tapas dishes. The square’s principal features are it’s fountain (the Chafariz Fonte Publica built in 1603) and, at the southern end, an old prison keep which now houses the local tourist office.

Most of the medieval part of the town is to be found behind the square and the old prison keep. This includes the main church, the Igreza Matriz de Ponte Lima and the Camera Municipal (the town hall) which was once a private mansion. It also includes another very pretty chapel towards the north end of the town, the Capela des Pereiras built in 1525 (and initially named the Chapel of Santa Rita de Cassia) but renovated in 1818 (minus the bell tower – I wonder if there ever was one?). This is the chapel to visit for the views towards the mountains and across the town but you’ll not see any of mine – I accidently deleted them.

I wrote earlier that there are 18 formal gardens in Ponte de Lima. I thought to visit a couple while in the town and settled on the Arnado Park (behind the Santo Antonio Church) and the Jardim dos Labirintos Botanical Garden (where the Ponte de Lima International Garden Festival has been held every year since 2005). The Arnado Park was ‘okay’ but, nothing great. The International Garden Festival was a real disappointment. It is described as “a unique initiative.. which relaunched the taste and cult of gardens and gardening”. I’ll let you know. It proved far too intellectual for me. I enjoy gardens that have a focus towards the beautiful brilliant colours of shapes of living plants (and the odd water feature) and not some pretentious plastic or tin interpretation of a garden.

It’s a shame because, by and large, Ponte de Lima is a very pretty place. There are hydrangeas in abundance and they were very wonderful to see but… no, you can keep the pompous, hollow…. enough David!

I’ll leave you with a couple of photos of Beanie in Punte de Lima…

Grovelas (Norte), Portugal June 2024 (Tour 9)

This particular post is very much about the four star Hotel Cotto do Gatto at Grovelas in Ponte da Barca. We used it as an escape from the Van for a couple of days after crossing the border into Norte in north Portugal. That’s normal practise for us. Every 3 weeks or so during a tour, Vanya looks for a special kind of hotel which we can use as a base to explore the surrounding area from but, more important, a place where we can properly chill for two or three days (and colour her hair).

We have visited some wonderful hotels over the last few years and Hotel Cotto do Gatto ranks amongst the best. It totally exceeded our expectations. The owners and staff could not have been more welcoming and attentive to our needs and; our dogs, Nala and Beanie, were pampered beyond measure. This hotel has raised the bar so far as ‘pet friendly’ is concerned.

The hotel is set on a hill in spacious grounds and it is surrounded by spectacular scenery. There are numerous terraces and every bedroom has a sizeable balcony from which the views can be admired and; a nice touch this, all of the balconies face west such that the setting sun can be enjoyed from each bedroom. It really was quite something sitting on our balcony that first afternoon just taking in the views and, on the hour, listening to myriad church bells ringing out their tunes from every direction in the surrounding valley.

I didn’t have time to take many photos of the surrounding area because shortly after our arrival the mother of all electrical storms struck but, more about that later. I did manage some photos from the hotel gardens before and after the storms…

The hotel is relatively new having opened in June 2022. It’s a nice size with just 24 bedrooms and 4 suites and is tastefully furnished throughout (modern and stylish perhaps best describes the place) with all the facilities you need. What they don’t have they will get, as is evidenced by their arranging for a masseuse to visit the hotel after Vanya mentioned that I could do with one. He was bloody good too.

I think there are plans to add a spa area but, for the moment, the outdoor pools suffice. I think this is the first hotel we have ever stayed at where we have been allowed to let the dogs run free around a pool area. There were even pet beds and sun loungers for the dogs to use.

After a little wander around the hotel (with the dogs accompanying us), Vanya went for a lie down in our room while I repaired to the lounge/bar for a beer and to try and catch up with my blog. I did that a few times over the next two days, trying no less than 3 different bottled beers on the way (and failing to complete a single post). My two favourites beers were the Sagres and a Lagunitas (which was originally a Californian craft beer but was sold to Heineken a few years ago) with the Sagres just shading it.

Whichever beer I was served, it came with Portugal’s favourite pastry, a ‘Pastel de Nata’. That’s an egg custard tart to you and me but that description does not do them justice. They are truly scrumptious and, together with a handful of smarties, go perfectly with a cold beer. I’ve had a few of these pastries in Spain but they don’t compare. In 2009 the Guardian newspaper listed the Portuguese Pastel de Nata’s amongst the 50 best things to eat (and there’s me, after at least four previous visits to Portugal, never having eaten one before). Shameful.

Talking of food, the hotel has a really good restaurant, the Sant’Ana. We didn’t actually get to eat in the restaurant because the heavy thunderstorms prevented us getting across to the restaurant building but; we chose from the menu (same as normal) and the excellent and very well priced food was then delivered to us at a made up table in the lounge bar, complete with the appropriate local wines. I was tempted to try the restaurant’s speciality dish, ‘Naco a Terras da Nobrega’ (that’s grilled veal with a chestnut puree, sautees green vegetables with nuts & red fruits and a reduction of the local Vinho Verde wine) but; I simply couldn’t have eaten it on my own. It is huge! It could feed three people at least. Instead, I went for a fillet steak because they were selling that dish in half portions but; even then, I couldn’t quite finish it. It too was humongous! Vanya went for a fish dish which she said was delicious but, she too was served enough to feed two people. There were at least three large fish fillets on her plate with chips, a fresh local salad and a large bowl of rice. Mind you, the hotel served her a lovely local wine – a Papa Figos Vinho Branco 2022 by Cassa Ferreirinha. I helped her with that.

We visited Lebanon a few years ago (Beirut and Byblos) and I recall being mightily impressed by how much the Lebanese people love their food (and partying, of course) and I was overwhelmed by the amount of food I was served throughout our all too short stay. I tell you now, when it comes to food I think the Lebanese may have some competition from the Portuguese.

And breakfast? Breakfast was served in the Breakfast Room down on the ground floor. We were offered a hot breakfast and Vanya opted for freshly cooked bacon and eggs but I went for the cold buffet. The range of food on offer was fabulous. I don’t think I have ever eaten so much cheese and fruit in one sitting. Oh, and a couple of Pastel de Nata’s to finish breakfast off.

We really enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Cotto do Gatto and we will definitely return in the Autumn. Everyone in the hotel went out of their way to make us feel so welcome. In these circumstances it seems inappropriate to single anyone out for particular mention but, I’m going to thank Filipa by name. She kept me well supplied with the Pastel de Nata. Thank you Filipa. Thank you Hotel Cotto do Gatto.

I mentioned previously that we used Grovelas as a base from which we could visit a couple of other places. Whilst there we drove out to Ponte de Lima (which is the oldest chartered town in Portugal and one of the prettiest) and Braga (the country’s third largest city and often referred to as ‘Portuguese Rome’ on account of it’s many ecclesiastical buildings). Both are well worth visiting and they feature as separate entries on this website.

The weather was very kind to us during both these visits which is little short of a miracle given the electrical storms experienced in the area during our stay. Take a look at the ‘screen save’ from Vanya’s Lightning Tracker which identifies the thunder and lightning activity around the hotel on the day of our arrival. The blue dot shows where the Van was parked in the hotel grounds…

I was going to end this particular post talking about Vanya’s navigation skills and how what should have been two relatively short drives from our hotel to first Pont de Lima and then Braga became 50 mile excursions up, over and around some of the hills surrounding Cotto do Gatto (in sometimes horrendous weather conditions) but; instead, I’ll show you a photo of a local cow.

Thank you once again Hotel Cotto do Gatto. Vejo voce em breve!

Garfe, Portugal August 2021 (Tour 4)

Continued north today passing up through Guimaraes and Sao Torcato to a small (and very friendly) family owned campsite in the tiny village of Garfe for a couple of day’s relaxation. We didn’t drive far but the landscape has totally changed to one of rolling wooded hillsides.

On our way to Garfe we paused in the village of Sao Torcato so that I could view the Basilica. We could see the Basilica from quite a way off with it’s two tall, slender granite towers. They started building this church in the 800’s but didn’t finish it until well into the 1900’s with the sanctuary not being consecrated until 2015 and with the church being elevated to the rank of minor basilica by Pope Francis in 2019. Saint Torcato was born into a noble Roman family who grew to become Archbishop of Braga and then Oporto and Dume. Early in the 8th century he was killed by General Muca who had been sent to conquer the Iberian Peninsula and convert the Christians to Islam. Torcato became the first Saint on the Iberian Peninsula and his body is now housed in a glass chamber in the church sanctuary. Inside the church they were preparing for a christening as I arrived and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the craziest fountain with running hot and cold water feeding into the baptismal font.

There was little for us to do in Garfe, just the one cafe bar and the smallest shop and so we all simply chilled.

Back into Spain tomorrow

Costa Nova, Portugal August 2021 (Tour 4)

While Aveiro has no beach of it’s own, the town has two beaches nearby (Barra 9 kms away and Costa Nova 3 kms further on). Vanya wanted to visit Costa Nova to see the colourful beach hut houses which predominate there and this led to us staying overnight.

The village was formed in the 19th century as fishermen, wanting to be closer to their fishing grounds, first extended their brightly coloured wooden storage huts into temporary shelters and then into more permanent dwellings (so that their families could join them). Costa Nova still has a fishing industry but, judging by the crowds that were there when we visited, tourism has fast taken over with the colourful houses being the main attraction.

I was not sufficiently impressed by Costa Nova to recommend it as a place to visit (there’s little there other than a beach and the colourful houses) unless of course you do as we did and combine the stay with a visit to beautiful Aveiro. Having said that, the dogs loved the beach…

Aveiro, Portugal August 2021 (Tour 4)

The weather is far more bearable further north and on the coast (mid twenties during the day and high teens during the night) and our revised route should ensure more of the same. Everyone is happer. The drive today took us towards Costa Nova (Vanya wants to see the beach houses there) and was notable on two counts. First, it took us through Aveiro (a place I was keen to visit) and second, we passed the 4,000 mile mark for this trip.

Known locally as the Portuguese Venice Aveiro is a delightful and very colourful city less than 10 miles from Costa Nova on the Ria de Aveiro lagoon. The place is crisscrossed with canals and they lend the place considerable character but the similarities with Venice end there. Visit Aveiro expecting to see a replica Venice and you will be disappointed. Arrive with a more open mind and, like me, you will love the place.

Aveiro is a city of more than 60,000 people but parking up just outside the older part of the town by the (Terminal Rodoviario de Aveiro) railway station and walking 15 minutes or so through the Parque da Fonte Nova to the canals into the old centre (Vera Cruz) you really wouldn’t believe that. It seems small and cosy.

In some respects it is not hard to see why Portuguese Travel Agents(?) might refer to Aveiro as a Portuguese Venice. There are canals and there are bridges crossing the canals and there are colourful boats but, get a grip, it’s nothing like Venice. The boats are known as Moliceiro and were used to harvest seaweed to fertilise the land. Now they are used to ferry tourists around the city and the adjacent lagoon at a tenth of the price of a Venetian Gondola.

Three very distinct styles of houses are to be found in the old town(Vera Cruz) area. Many of the older buildings that used to house the fishing community are painted in pastel colours not unlike those in Burano (okay so there is another Venice connection) but alongside these are houses adorned with the beautifully painted azulejo tiles and then, perhaps most impressive of all are, the elegant properties built by emigrants returning from Portugal’s colonies (particularly Brazil) with their mixture of colour, ceramic art and ornamental wrought iron balconies. It is quite unlike anywhere else we have seen in Portugal with a wonderful mix of old and new .

Oh, and did I mention shopping? I can’t believe I’m saying this but the shopping here is not at all bad. There is an unusual, largely open air shopping mall (the Forum Aveiro) which has all the shops you would normally expect to find in an Abu Dhabi Mal and more besidesl. It sits by the canal and we passed through it both on the way into Vera Cruz and on the way back (yes, I was with Vanya). I am advised that a large antiques market is held in the shopping centre on the last Sunday of every month which attracts collectors from all over the Iberian Peninsula. Of course that last comment could just be clever marketing by travel agents(?).

I’ve not mentioned food. That is unlike me. The city is of course renowned for it’s sea food (particularly salted cod) but it was the sweet known as Ovos Moles (sweet eggs) which most interested me. Apparently, this sweet is protected and can only be bought in Aveiro. They are made with egg yolks and sugar, wrapped in a crispy wafer in the shape of sea shells. After tasting them, I can report that the initial taste is great (albeit very sweet) but then the sugar gives way to the egg and you are left feeling as if you have been sucking on the yolk of a hard boiled egg. Well, that is my view. I was not impressed with them.

Peniche, Portugal August 2021 (Tour 4)

Having very quickly tired of both the Algarve and the heat (the dogs were really suffering in the 42 centigrade temperature) we decided to move back north. We agreed on the coastal town of Peniche, up near Obidos, which made for a drive of some 240 miles. Good decision. Up at Peniche it was 20 degrees cooler and yet remained pleasantly warm.

Peniche had been recommended to us a couple of weeks ago (while we were staying in Obidos) as a place to visit. It is a beach resort as much as anything and tailor made for surfers but that was fine with us. We were on our way back to Spain and just looking for somewhere cooler to get a good meal and rest up for the night. We struck lucky on that last point too. We found the ASA Peniche Motorhome Park which place is just as the title suggests – it’s a secure area to park the Van but, with clean hot showers and within easy walking distance of the town centre. Moreover, it had a Campervan Cleaning Station. For the first time in nearly 4 years I was able to get to the roof of the Van.

Peniche is simply about the sea and fish. I enjoyed a couple of good cliff walks and then Vanya and I walked into town for a large bowl of lobster, prawn and mussel stew served with a couple of bottles of Planalto (a Douro dry white wine with a bite not unlike that of Gruner Veltliner). Feeling better already.

We were parked on the north side of Peniche, which provides spectacular views of the sea (not least because of the rugged rock formations which fill the north side of the peninsula that the town fills) but, to the south, is the famous Praia dos Supertubos which is revered in the surfing community and is even included amongst Portugal’s top seven natural wonders. A combination of the shallow slope of land into the sea, north winds and the local currents give rise to a tall, perfectly hollow wave that is unique in Europe and the ultimate for surfing and bodyboarding. Every October, the Rip Curl Pro Championships are held here.

We didn’t stay long in Peniche (we are now committed to getting back into Spain) but if I were to return I would make a point of visiting the Berlengas Archipelago which is a group of islands 10 kilometres offshore pg Peniche. There is no permanent settlement on the islands but the largest island has a fort, a former penal colony, which is now a campsite. The leeward side of this island has small beaches with the clearest water. That sounds worth a visit.

Alvor, Portugal August 2021 (Tour 4)

Whilst in Beja, two local people suggested Aljezur as somewhere to visit and so we decided to give it a try. Unfortunately the town was too busy. We were unable to find a decent place to stay and so headed further south to the Algarve and parked up in the small town of Alvor.

We were looking forward to chilling for a couple of days and, from what we read, Alvor looked a quieter, more pleasant place than say nearby Portimao or the Praia da Rocha (where we took our children many years ago). More to the point it read as if there was something about the place that we could enjoy. It wasn’t to be the case.

I’ll not classify Alvor as I might some of the Spanish Costas. It isn’t particularly overdeveloped and/or unsightly; neither is it very overcrowded or messy. It does appear a bit loud and tacky (as do many other places, including Brighton where we now live, but that is never going to be a show stopper with me). No, it is simply a resort with numerous Irish bars (I counted 7 just walking through the main drag), cafes, tourist shops and tours. It is wholly lacking in character and has neither heart nor soul and there is absolutely nothing there of interest to me. I might have felt differently if I were there twenty years ago with young children but, not now. It was time to head back north.

We tried Aljezur again but there would be nowhere decent to park up for a few days and it was far too hot to wild camp for so long.

Beja, Portugal August 2021 (Tour 4)

Beja is fairly large as towns go in the Alentejo Region but during the period we were there it struck me as utterly quiet and almost sleepy. The municipal campsite manager who doubles as a local tourism officer recognises this and attributes it to the summer heat and the fact that a large proportion of locals head for the coast during the August holidays. He loves this time of the year; I kid you not.

There’s been a settlement here since at least the Bronze Age and in the 1st century under the Romans, it became known as the regional capital of Pax Julia, after the peace treaty imposed by Julias Caeser on the Lusitanian tribes who had previously ruled the area. The town grew greatly under Roman and then Moorish occupation and further still when the Portuguese Royal Family moved their court to the Alentejo Region during the 1600’s. This diverse history is reflected in the many archaelogical sites and museums to be found in the area.

Nowadays the town appears to be largely of Medieval origin. The lanes and squares are full of tradional whitewashed Portuguese houses (and just as in nearby Evora they are almost all edged in yellow) and interesting historical buildings and/or monuments which just drag you in.

There are a great many museums to be found in Beja old town including, the Museu Jorge Vieira, Museo Botanico, Museo Episcopal de Beja, Museo Visicotico (in the St Amaro Church) and my favourite (by a long way) the Musea Rainha Dona Leonor – the Queen Leonor Regional Museum.

The ‘Queen Leonor’ was moved to the 15th century Convento da Conceicao (the Convent of the Immaculate Conception) in 1927 although, at least part of the building served as a museum for some considerable time before then. In terms of architecture and furnishings, this museum is truly breath taking. There is a wealth of artistic heritage on display. Particularly stunning is the tiling, some of which dates from when the Convent was first inhabited (i.e. when the first nuns arrived – forgive the pun) in 1473. You have to see this place to fully appreciate azulejos tiles.

One of the nuns who lived in the convent during the 17th century is alleged to have written Cartas Portuguesas (Portuguese Letters), the scandalous 17th century love story about a nun and a French soldier. Not sure about that. The book was supposedly written by Mariana Alcoforado and there was a nun named Mariana Alcoforado living in the convent at that time but … really?

I didn’t have the time to enter all of Beja’s museums but if you are to visit just one, I would recommend the Musea Rainha Dona Leonor.

And then it was on to what at one time was the 4th century Castelo de Beja and it’s beautiful 1310 Keep, the “Torre de Menagem”. The Keep is made entirely of marble and at 40 metres high is the tallest Keep of any across the whole Iberian Peninsula. It’s an impressive tower with views to match (but to enjoy those you first have to negotiate a rather narrow spiral staircase). It is worth it (and entry is free).

From the top of the keep there are excellent views both over the town and the surrounding very flat countryside and this, in part, explains why the castle saw so much conflict in the wars between the Moors and the Christians.

Given how hot the summers are in Beja I was surprised at how fertile the local countryside appears to be. In addition to large olive groves and cork plantations (which are to be expected in this part of the country), there are large vineyards and huge fields of wheat. One or two interesting facts regarding the cork groves that I would share: First, 50% of the worlds entire cork production is harvested in the Alentejo Region. Second, cork trees cannot be harvested until they are at least 25 years old and, as a result, cork groves tend to be superb habitats for wildlife. Third, the extraction of the cork causes absolutely no harm to the tree which continues to grow and actually produces more cork to replace that which is lost. Fourth (and sadly) this self-sustaining crop is under threat because the growth in plastic and screw-top wine stoppers is forcing many farmers to rip up the cork groves for more viable crops (and destroying ancient habitats in the process).

I’m now about two weeks behind with my blog entries and I am therefore going to cut this one short now and simply end with a few more photos which I took when Vanya and I returned to the old town after dinner…

Hey, but I forgot the food and wine. We had a laugh that night; not least because, after enjoying some wonderful Hor d’oeuvres (Serrano Ham, Olives & Garlic Bread) and a very tasty Shrimp Mayonnaise, I ordered what I thought was a (veal) Wiener Schnitzel and received instead a doorstop size veal sandwich. My Portuguese really is bad. No matter, the Port was very good.

Evora, Portugal August 2021 (Tour 4)

Evora is an enchanting world heritage site rich in history, architecture and a great deal besides. It is a compact city almost entirely enclosed within the 14th century castle walls built by King Alfonso IV (although some of the walls are older having been erected by the Moors in 715) but, the day and a half which we allowed ourselves to explore the place was still insufficient. There is so much to see.

On arrival in Evora we saw what looked like a market filling half of the Praca do Rossio. We found a parking spot alongside the market but it was just finishing for the day so instead; we set off into the town for a beer and a quick look at the sights. We passed a couple of beautiful churches, the Igreja de Sao Francisco (Church of Saint Francis) and the Cathedral of Evora on our way to one of the highest points of the city, the Jardim Diana (the Garden of Diana), where we paused to get our bearings and that beer. The Garden of Diana is something of a disappointment being both small and very overgrown but it does sit high up in the centre of the old town, close to both the remains of a Roman Temple and the Cathedral of Evora and it provides great views over the city to the north.

After a short sto on the Jardim Diana, I drove Vanya and the dogs to a campsite on the outskirts of Evora and then walked the 3 kilometres or so back into the old town for a proper look. I don’t know how many miles I eventually covered that day walking to, from and around the town, but I enjoyed every yard of it.

First rising to prominence in Roman times, the city grew further during 500 years of Moorish occupation but, really began to flourish in the 15th century when Portugal’s kings moved there. The old town mostly dates from this latter period and it is a typical medieval maze of cobbled streets and traditional whitewashed houses (almost all of them with yellow edging).

I saw far too many interesting places and took far too many photos to include them all in this particular entry (not least because I am about two weeks behind with the blog now) but, the Igreja de Sao Francisco (the Church of Saint Francis) which was built in the early 1500’s and was the preferred church of resident royalty is perhaps my favourite.

Almost alongside the main entrance to the church and part of the same complex is the sinister Capela dos Ossos (the Chapel of Bones). This chapel was added to the church during the first half of 17th century with Franciscan friars digging up some 5,000 skeletons from 42 local monastic cemeteries and integrating them into the new chapel’s walls, arches and supporting pillars. It’s aim was to both create more space in the burgeoning city and provoke visitors into reflecting on the transitory nature of our lives. At the entrance to the chapel, as if to reinforce this, are the words:- “We the bones that are here for yours we are waiting”

At almost the highest point of the town is the pink granite Cathedral of Evora. Although construction of the cathedral commenced in 1204, it’s development continued over many hundreds of year and the finished product is a jumble of gothic and baroque architecture but, it is still very impressive. Unfortunately I arrived back at the cathedral as it was closing for the day and was denied entry. That was a real shame because the internal cloisters are supposedly very impressive and there are excellent views of the city and surrounding area from the roof top. (which can be accessed for 3.5 euros).

Another impressive church in Evora is the Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Graca (the Church of our Lady of Grace), notable for it’s baroque facade. In certain articles on this church it has been written that the statues on the roof represent Atlas and others like him holding earth in place in heavens. How could this be when in both Roman and Medieval times Earth was presumed to be flat?

Another interesting place to visit and watch the world go by is the square, Praco do Giraldo. It is named after Gerald the Fearless who turfed the Moors out of Evora in 1167. At one end of the square is the renaissance Church of Santa Antao and an attractive marble fountain while at the other is the impressive facade of the Bank of Portugal (now a craft shop showcasing the work of local artisans). In the 15th century, Evora was home to one of Portugal’s courts of the Inquisition (Spain put pressure on Portugal to continue the work of the Spanish Inquisition) and the Praco do Giraldo saw many burnings of so called heretics.

Another place to visit in Evora, if only to take advantage of the shade on a hot day, is the Jardim Publico (the public gardens or park). I popped in on the place on my way back to the Van. Laid out just inside the town walls in 1863, and covering just over 8 acres, it’s main entrance is just down from the Church of St Francis. It’s a pretty enough garden with some unusually interesting features including a fake ruin built as a home for the park’s resident peacocks.

Most interesting are the remains of the once magnificent Royal Palace of King Manuel I. The palace had it’s origins in the Convent & College of San Francisco (when, in the 14th century, King Joao I evicted the resident Franciscans and started the conversion from convent to palace) but it was Manuel I who transformed the place into grandiose renaissance palace. There’s not a great deal left of it now, only the Ladies Gallery which is now a small museum.

That night was about a feast in the Van – We decided upon a cold meal of Iberico Ham and a selection of French and Spanish cheeses (plus olives, prawns, onion pate, picles and the juiciest of tomatoes) served with fresh bread and a fine Albarino wine. It was too hot an evening to consider anything else.

A little bit about Iberico Ham before I finish. To be called iberico, the ham must come from a Black Iberian Pig or a cross breed that is at least 50% iberico. That said, there are four levels of iberico called ‘labels’ – black, red, green and white in descending order of prestige. To qualify for the black label (pata negra or black hoof) the pig must be pure iberico and fed exclusively on acorns – up to 10kg of acorns per day and lots of exercise. Red label is more than 50% cross bred fed and exclusively on acorns . Green is cross bred fed partly on acorns and white is crossbred fed grain (and no acorns). I’m advised that grain fed has a saltier chewier quality. Only other thing worth mentioning is that carving the ham is a real art!

We had the black label and ham will never be the same for me again. To coin a phrase, it is truly scrumptious.

Cascais, Portugal August 2021 (Tour 4)

Although we didn’t drive that far (Cascais is only about 40 miles from Torres Vedras) we packed a fair bit in – stocking up on supplies at a supermarket in Mafra and then walking the National Palace and Grounds and, finally, I had a look-see around Sintra. Although there is much to see and do in Sintra (it is a very pretty town with an abundance of impressive buildings – the Palaces of Pena and Monserrate, the Castelo dos Mouros, the Quinta da Regaleira, the Convento dos Capuchos, etc) the place was packed with tourists (No surprise there; it was a weekend during the height of summer) and I decided it should be left for an out of season visit.

The next morning we were off in the Van to explore the former fishing village of Cascais. On the way, we stopped off just a few miles down the coast at a local attraction, a sea arch known as the Boca do Inferno, the Hell’s Mouth. I’d read a number of blogs on the internet which described the Boca do Inferno in quite glorious terms – “an amazing arch”, sensational location”, “must see site with amazing vantage points”, “dramatic” – Forget it!! The Portuguese coast is full of such sites and this one is barely worth parking the car for.

Now Cascais; that’s a totally different matter. Yes it is touristy and it is quite expensive but it is a pretty place and well worth visiting. I once described the town as “hollow” and, in hindsight, that is both unfair and incorrect. At the time I was comparing Cascais with Portofino in Italy and it is inappropriate to make such comparisons. Cascais is a fair sized town in its own right (much bigger than Portofino). Moreover it is situated in one of Portugal’s most popular tourist areas (perhaps the most popular tourist spot on the west coast) AND it is just outside of the country’s capital city. Come on, with that in mind it could never be as exclusive as little Portofino.

So what is Cascais like? It is a pleasant mix of new and old. There are still traces of the charming old fishing port with it’s narrow lanes and cobbled streets full of whitewashed and/or tiled cottages but, early in the 20th century the town became the preferred holiday resort of the Portuguese royal family and other nobility and as a result a great many far more imposing buildings were added to the town and these now sit side by side with the old cottages.

As the twentieth century progressed Cascais and the neighbouring almost equally fashionable town of Estoril were joined by a wide tree lined promenade and the combined towns then developed into a playground for the rich and famous with beautiful beaches, lively bars and restaurants, expensive designer shops and boutiques, premier international motor racing (the Estoril motor racing track ran the Portuguese Grand Prix between 1984 and 1996) and, let’s not forget, the glamorous and sophisticated Casino Estoril (the largest casino in Europe) which Ian Fleming visited before writing his 1953 James Bond novel, Casino Royale.

Surprisingly, it was easy finding somewhere to park the Van in Cascais and minutes after leaving the Van we were in the largely pedestrianised old town. Be warned however, this is not the easiest town to navigate. My initial objective was the Praca 5 de Outubro and it wasn’t easy to find. Indeed, we gave up on it for a while and made our way down to the beach for a drink and a spot of lunch.

The old town is pretty. Most of the squares and streets in the old town are paved with patchwork mosaics (calcada portuguesa) and many of the houses are adorned with beautiful patterned tiles and thick growths of vibrant pink Bougainvillea… and dotted throughout the old town are some amazing street art.

The beaches in this area are generally very good and the sandy Praia Da Rainha is amongst the best. It is overlooked by cafe bars and restaurants and it was at one of these we enjoyed our lunch.

After lunch we continued our search for the Praca 5 De Outubro, taking in the blue and white lighthouse and, next to it, the Casa de Santa Maria. Both are now museums although the lighthouse is still operational.

Another place turned into a museum is a former property of Manuel Inacio de Castros Guimares which he gifted to the town in his will. This property, which was built by an eccentric Irish tobacco baron in 1910 has been described both as a mock Gothic Castle and a whimsical Revivalist Palace. It is quite unique. The gardens, together with land previously owned by the Viscount Gandarinha, now form the Marechal Carmona Park – a shaded public park with lush green lawns, flowerbeds and various water features. It is one of the noisiest parks I have ever visited with free roaming peacocks, roosters and ducks seemingly vying with each other to be heard.