|Subject: Travels in Portugal chapter 2 of 3|
This small town in the Douro region is everything we had hoped it would be: picturesque, quiet, with good food and lovely atmosphere. It's very romantic. It doesn't fit my pre-conceived notion of a Portuguese village. There is an almost medieval feeling when you look at the dark stone buildings and the Roman bridge across the River Tamega. There are places along the riverbank to rent little rowing boats, and there is a walkway of stone that passes under lovely arching tree branches. Ducks and geese paddle along and you can hear birdsong and smell the oranges and lemons, which tumble off the trees onto the riverbank. We got good recommendations from Leonardo on where to stay (thanks Leonardo), but ultimately, when we arrived at 9 o'clock at night, the spirit moved us to a different choice. We went to the Albergaria Dona Margaritta (Rua Candido dos Reis), and loved it there. Our room was upstairs at the back, overhanging the river, with a great view of orchards, grapevines and the flowing river. We fell asleep to the sound of the river rushing over rocks downstream. We had lunch several days on our balcony, and just relaxed. Continental breakfast with fresh croissants and homemade marmalade, as well as rolls and cheese and coffee and juice. 8000$00PTE for a double in May, and the lady who runs the place is a sweetheart. I would go back in a flash.
One of the nicest ways to spend a few hours here is at the surprisingly large town market that takes place on Wednesday and Saturday. I still can't believe all the goods that they truck in twice a week for this. Great place to people watch. And pastries to die for!! As far as things to do Amarante is a good place to do little in, but there is a large museum/gallery (exhibiting the work of Portuguese painter Amadeo de Sousa Cardoso) and the monastery is worth visiting.
We never did find out why, but the Hotel and restaurante Ze de Calcada were both closed while we were there. We had a meal at the Estoril that was just so-so, but had good food at a place called Navarras on the opposite side of the street from the Estoril.
The Douro Train Line: From Porto to Amarante and Amarante to Peso da Regua we took this line and it was one of the highlights of the trip! The main route runs inland from Porto, then turns south to the River Douro and continues to Peso da Regua and on to the end of the line at Pocinho. At Livracao, the Tamega line branches off and runs to Amarante. The section between Amarante and Livracao takes about 25 minutes and you are in a tiny single engine diesel car that chugs through absolutely stunning countryside (this leg of the trip cost the equivalent of about $1 Canadian). At Livracao you change trains to head to Regua and there you catch a bus if, like us, you are going to Lamego (the whole Amarante to Lamego journey cost about $8 Canadian each).
Lamego was a pleasant surprise for me. In spite of high recommendations from Don &Linda, I thought it would not compare to Amarante. But it did; it was quite lovely in a bigger way than Amarante (there was considerable variation in the population stats reported in the many guidebooks we read). There is a lot to do in Lamego and you can keep busy people watching, going to the museum and visiting churches. I wasn't quite ready for the 686 stairs to the Igregia de Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, the 18th century church, but I climbed them and lived to tell the tale! Though I am glad that I didn't have to do it on my knees as the pilgrims are said to do each September. On the way up you pass fountains, allegorical statues and beautiful scenes on azulejos tiles.
We stayed at the Albergaria do Cerrado, which is very near the bus station. I was disappointed in the look of the place--no character and an ususual orangy colour paint, but the warmth of the owners made up for the lack of atmosphere. A nice, quiet room, with a balcony was 8500$00 PTE for a double in May. Breakfast was good--meats, cheese, yogourt, cereal etc and coffee &juice. Sadly, we were the only guests, but they treated us very well. We had our own little Port tasting with the owner one night and he showed us videos of the process. I was also quite taken by their son's dog, a corgi named Papoula (Poppy) that they found abandoned as a pup.
The best food we had in Lamego was at the little restaurate behind the Se (cathedral) called Restaurante Tras da Se, roast suckling pig and a lightly breaded white fish, good veggies and salad and wine. Run by a very nice family. But for dessert, try the pastelaria next door, which is quite something!
There is a castelo above the town, but try as we might, it was always locked by the time we made the climb, even when we went because we had seen people up there from below. This became a running gag for us while there.
After Lamego came Coimbra, the university town. We arrived to a fanfare of horns and street partying in honour of a Portuguese soccer team that won some tournament that it had lost for the previous 18 years. They had newscasts with reports of celebrations from all over the country! This would never happen in Canada!
You could spend a lot of time in this city and not see everything and we only stayed for 2 days, but we did our best. There are any number of galleries and museums to haunt, but just walking along the river and up through the university on the hill are interesting ways to spend time. There is an old cathedral and a new (construction started in 1598!) cathedral, but the interesting pottery and craft shops are around the old one. We made sure we went to the university because it was high on our list of interests, but in particular, we wanted to see the Baroque Library, Biblioteca Joanina (my husband is a university librarian; he says it's the first time he's ever seen a line-up to get into a university library!). This was spectacular! Three rooms of ancient books on philosophy, law and theology. Incredible tables made of ebony and rosewood. Apparently there are over 300,000 volumes. We were amused by the large and elegant key that the custodian used to open the door. If you go, be prepared to stand in line because they take a limited number of people in at one time. You must go to the bell tower and buy a ticket and then line up outside the library, where swarms of tour buses unload groups. Takes about 15 minutes for the tour.
The botanical gardens here are well-worth a visit and they are not far from the university.
In Coimbra we stayed in one of the tiniest rooms we've ever been in, at the Pensao Moderna. Good location, spotlessly clean but in need of some renovations (some of which may have been happening while we were there). Continental breakfast. Nice balcony to sit on and rest for a while; in truth, the balcony was bigger than the bathroom, and almost as big as the room. It's a long walk up several flights of stairs with backpacks, but a nice place. 7000$00PTE for a double in May.
There are so many places to eat here, it's easy to just walk and choose one.
continued chapter 3