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.
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.
From our hotel in Obidos it was little more than 20 minutes in the Van to the Buddha Eden Gardens on the Quinta dos Loridos estate outside Bombarral. The Gardens were recommended to us as a place to see and it, truly, is worth a visit although; you need a full day to do the place justice.
The Quinta dos Loridos estate of almost 100 hectares is owned by the Bacalhoa Wine Company. In 2001, in response to the Taliban’s destruction of the giant Bamyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, Jose Berardo (principal share holder of the Bacalhoa Wine Company) set aside some 35 hectares of the estate on which to develop the Buddha Eden Gardens. This programme has seen 6,000 tons of marble and granite Buddhas (and various other Asian and African inspired sculptures) installed within a most beautiful park of landscaped fields and gardens, complete with lakes, streams and fountains.
There are literally hundreds of Buddhas of various shapes and sizes scattered across the gardens, the most impressive of which are the 21 Golden Buddhas located on and around the central staircase.
There are also some 600+ brightly coloured terracotta warriors, replicas of the terracotta army buried in China some 2,200 years ago by the Emperor Qin Shi Huang. To be honest, they look somewhat incongruous.
There’s a great deal more to the gardens than the Buddhas and terracotta soldiers. There are sculptures to suit just about every imaginable taste: a contemporary art section, an animal section, a section devoted to African sculpture artists, etc. Most intriguing are the African sculptures arranged amongst a small forest of palm trees (these are dedicated to the Shona people of Zimbabwe who have carved stone by hand for over a thousand years) but my favourites are to be found within the animal section.
What a wonderful place. We booked into a “hotel” in Obidos for two nights but almost immediately extended our stay to three.
Obidos is known as the Queen’s town. It was gifted to Queen Urraca of Leon by the Portuguese King Alfonso II in 1214, after she visited and fell in love with the place. This became a tradition which lasted until well into the 19th century with all subsequent queens being gifted the town on their wedding day.
Although there has been a settlement here since Roman times and the Visigoths and Moors held sway here for a while, most of the existing Obidos dates from the 13th century and the town is medieval at it’s best. Almost the whole town is enclosed within the castle walls and traditionally coloured (i.e. whitewashed with blue or yellow trim). It has been described as looking like a film set and it does. It is stunning!
From miles away you can see the castle and castle walls which encircle Obidos and I defy anyone not to get increasingly excited as they first approach the town and then pass through the castle gates into it’s incredible interior.
Inside the castle walls the town is wholly pedestrianised (except to residents) but there is ample parking for visitors and deliveries just outside the walls. We left the Van in a designated motorhome aire just two hundred yards or so from the town’s main gate. This main gate (Porta da Vila) is at the southern end of the town and has a tight double elbow entrance (to defy battering rams and cavalry in days of yore but which serve now only to limit entry to all but the smallest vehicles). Just inside the first elbow, well above head height, is a pretty Baroque chapel lined with blue and white Azulejos tiles portraying various religious scenes. It’s quite an entrance.
The second elbow in the main gate opens onto a narrow cobbled street (the Rue Direita) which is the main artery through the length of the town. From Porta da Vila the Rue Direita leads through the main square (Praca de Santa Maria) all the way to the castle. We weren’t to learn this until much later in the day as the directions to our hotel almost immediately took us off into a small alley to our left. Did I say hotel? Our accommodation, like almost all hotel accommodation in the old walled town, is a room within one of the small medieval houses that form Obidos. The only rooms which resemble anything like normal hotel rooms are those inside the old castle, which was transformed into a pousade (heritage hotel) a relatively short while ago.
Rue Direita has a handful of bars and restaurants but is filled mostly with craft & tourist shops selling ceramics, embroideries, wine and especially the local cherry liqueur Ginjinha d’Obidos (more of that later). The side streets and alleys leading off the main street are quite remarkable, often being filled with purple, red or mauve coloured bougainvillea scrambling more than 2 metres up the sides of some of the cottages.
Two thirds of the way down the Rue Direita is a small square (the Praca de Santa Maria) containing the Town Pillory (the Pelourinho de Obidos) where criminals were publicly punished and; the 12th century Santa Maria Church (the Igreja de Santa Maria) which was one of the first buildings to be put up after the town was retaken from the Moors. The inside of this church is spectacular, clad with painted Azulejo tiles which were added some time during the 17th century.
A short walk beyond the Praca de Santa Maria, the Rue Direita ends at an old church, now a bookstore – the Igreja-Livraria de Santiago
Behind the Igreja-Livraria is the castle. Ordinarily at this time of the year (the last week of July and first week of August) the town holds a fair, known as the Mercado Medieval de Obidos, when stalls are laid out in the area immediately surrounding the castle and jesters, dancers and minstrels re-enact life in the middle ages (including jousting on horseback by trained stuntmen). We had chosen the right time to visit but unfortunately Covid halted the festival this year.
With a head for heights it is possible to walk almost a complete circuit of the castle / town walls and the views both inside and outside of the walls are magnificent…
Both Vanya and I liked Obidos best at night (I was going to say first thing in the morning and last thing at night but Vanya hasn’t seen early morning in years); that is, before and after the tourists arrive in numbers (although to be honest, the place was not that busy during our visit – Covid again?).
Oh, and the drinks! We were drinking white wine most of the time during our stay and the local Casa das Gaeiras white proved to be very refreshing and quite tasty. My favourite drink however was not a wine at all but a Cherry Liqueur. Ginjinha d’Obidos is a local sour cherry liqueur which is served in a chocolate cup. You drink the liqueur and then eat the chocolate cup so there is no washing up afterwards. Felicidades!
Staying in Obidos for three days we were able to visit some other places in the area, most notably Bombarral (see next blog entry) but I also really enjoyed almost a whole morning walking just outside the castle walls. The area is full of vineyards and both cherry and pear orchards and there’s a large lagoon to swim in when it gets too hot. Of most interest however is the 3 kilometre long 16th century aqueduct (there are a further 3 km of tunnels underground) which brought water into the centre of Obidos for more than 200 years. Also in the immediate area and of interest is the small 16th century church of Our Lady of Monserrate and the more imposing, if a little run down, 18th century baroque gem the Santuario do Senhor Jesus da Pedra. This latter church is wholly unique with (a) it’s unusual hexagonal interior and; (b), it’s 2nd century stone sculpture of the crucified Christ (it is this sculpture in the altar which gives the church it’s name) and; (c) the little red fire engine parked inside the church – I kid you not!