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Vila do Conde | Guimaraes | Amarante | Porto | Aveiro
Coimbra | Sintra | Cascais | Ericeira | Lisboa
The 09:50 train from Aveiro got us
into Coimbra at 10:30. The conductor asked for our
reservations when we presented our Eurail passes. We had
no idea that a reservation was necessary! He was very
pleasant and indicated that since we had the passes he
would not do anything about us not having a reservation
and allowed us to stay where we were seated in first
class. This was the train we would be taking from Coimbra
to Lisbon so when we arrived in Coimbra we made our
reservation for that segment. There is no charge for the
We have been to and written about
Coimbra many times. We love to come here because we get
to spend time with our dear friends, Paulo (cousin of
Paula in Oporto) and his parents, Maria Antonia and
Francisco. Coimbra is a very special place. It was
Portugals second capital after Guimaraes and the
seat of the oldest University in the country. The
university plays a major role in the economic success of
the city and the students have a major impact on daily
We had arrived at train station
"B". There is a stop in the city center but
this train does not go there. We took a taxi to Quinta das Lagrimas, located across the Rio Mondego opposite
the city center. The Quinta is like an old friend whose
company we always enjoy. Maybe it's because of the
medieval legend of love. In the 14th century Prince Pedro
and Ines de Castro had a forbidden affair here. King
Alfonso sent his killers with their daggers to punish the
perpetrators. Legend has it that a fountain was born from
the last tears Ines shed, and her blood still colors the
stone bed of the fountain that gives the name to this
The Palace has been expanded since
our last visit. In contrast to the romantic charm of days
gone by, a contemporary wing has been added with 14 rooms
(7 over the splendid pool area, 7 with super city views),
spa (treatment rooms, sauna, Turkish bath, fitness room,
and indoor pool), business center and an informal
restaurant (breakfast and lunch). It was tempting to
select one of these rooms with its large balcony,
particularly with the sun shining brightly on the waters
of the large pool. However we come here for old time
romance and decided on room #5, "Rainha Santa Isabel".
As in all rooms in the original house, the furnishings
are a reflection of times past, elegant and comfortable.
Our large window opened to a part of the magnificent
botanical gardens that afforded us total privacy.
Everything was of the finest quality, as one would expect
from a Relais & Chateau property.
The lounges and verandas in and
around the Palace are islands of relaxation. The lovely
library now home to an Internet point, with free use for
guests. Adjacent to the library is the original chapel.
For those so addicted, there is a
golf academy, 9-hole pitch & putt course, driving
range, putting and chipping green, training room and club
house all on the property. There are two golf courses
only 20 minutes away.
We decided to have lunch in the new
dining room. Located poolside, with patio and inside
seating, its name Acqua certainly reflects the ambiance.
It is light, bright and cheerful, a perfect setting for
lunch. The designers refer to it as a pioneer in a "Latin
look". The chef claims the menu is a fusion of
Southern Europe cuisine. Call it what you will, it was
fabulous. A salmon puff with grilled tomato, fried cheese
and red onion won Linda's heart. I was smitten with a
perfectly rare Magret with an oven baked apple and turnip
au gratin tart. Both were served with sides of broccoli,
cauliflower, carrot and green beans - fresh and delicious.
Ice cream and sherbets are house made. We shared
strawberry and chocolate ice cream and kiwi and mango
sherbet served with pineapple; probably the best ice
cream and sherbet of the trip. Dark, dense, creamy
truffles were served with the coffee. The service was
wonderful and the prices surprisingly reasonable.
On previous visits we have seen a good part of the city
including the awesome botanical gardens, every inch of
the university, and the twisting, winding streets of
homes and shops. Time to revisit and discover. The new
Ponte Rainha Santa Isabel led us to a new high growth
area. Contemporary high rise apartment buildings and
homes of all types are have sprung up and the cranes
indicate it is continuing at a rapid pace. The new soccer
stadium constructed for the 2004 games is a dazzling
modern design of glass and steel. All this is in contrast
to the historic and ancient buildings and monuments not
far away. This is happening throughout the country and
fortunately the restoration of the old is going on at the
same time, blending harmoniously.
Between the old and the new is Penedo da
Saudade, a green park on a hill overlooking many parts of
the city. It is a tradition for graduating students to
inscribe stones with their names and graduation dates and
plant these stones along the paths throughout the park.
Largo da Portagem at the riverbank
is the heart of the city. The park area that starts at
the square and runs along the river is a social center
for students activities and family fun. The park
area has been expanded (Parque Verde do Mondego) up to
and beyond the new bridge and a pavilion that had been
constructed for the Hanover, Germany Expo has been moved
here and is used as a convention center.
There are two majestic cathedrals
in Coimbra. The Se Nova in Largo da Se Nova next to the
university has an elegant, elaborate facade. It has been
cleaned since our first viewing and at this moment the
sun was shining directly on the facade, a sight to behold!
Whats in a name? Founded in 1598 it is called the
New Cathedral and for good reason. Construction on Se
Velha, Old Cathedral, began in 1162 and ended in ll84,
that's old. The Se Velha is in the Romanesque style and
its Gothic Cloister is the oldest in Portugal.
Winding down the steps and streets
we came to Patio da Inquisicao, a reminder that Coimbra
was a seat of the 16th C Inquisition. The buildings here
housed the Inquisition boards and some served as prisons
for those awaiting trial.
At the junction of Rua Sargento-Mor,
Rua Gatos and Rue Adro de Cima is the only medieval house
The lower part of Coimbra is the
commercial center spreading out from Praca do Comercio.
Rua de Sofia, Rua Ferreira Borges and a maze of side
streets are lined with shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
Here you will find the famous Coimbra pottery, hand
painted as it was in the 17th and 18th Centuries. (Linda
loves this stuff.) And of course Coimbra is famous for
Fado and throughout these streets on the hillside are
many places to spend a late evening enjoying this music.
When we last dined in the Quinta
Das Lagrimas it was a memorable experience which I am
happy to say was the case again this evening. The low key
gracious dining room is located on the ground level
overlooking the garden. A small bar and pool table are
nearby and behind the bar is a locked wine cellar. The
wine list offers more than 600 vintages of Portuguese
nectars, as well as a few jewels from around the world. (Hint:
guests may visit on request.)
The menu changes seasonally. The
chef uses vegetables and herbs grown organically on the
grounds. Oranges, lemons and avocados are from their own
orchards and raspberries and wild watercress grow all
over the Quinta grounds.
The cover includes bread and an
aperitif, regional sparkling wine, tonight a delicious
Quinta de Cabriz Doa 2002 brut. The bread selection
included rye, wheat, corn and raisin. The house also
presented a small portion of melon soup, marinated
sardine and blood sausage puff. Each looked too pretty to
eat, but we overcame that obstacle quickly.
We had whites with our appetizers.
Lindas, from Quinta de Cabriz-Dao, was light in
color and fruity in flavor. Mine, more full-bodied, was
from Luis Pate, Vinhas Velhas (old vineyard) - Beiras
2000. It was golden in color, rich and hearty.
Linda started with crunchy shrimps
seasoned with saffron filaments, pear from Beira and mild
curry vinaigrette. I had a salad of smoked doe loin
seasoned with truffle olive oil and a brunoise of celery
and chives. The texture was tender and the flavor,
tantalizing. Both were served on large white plates with
The timing between courses was
perfect allowing us to slowly digest and discuss the days
activities. Since we were both having game for our mains,
we switched to a red wine from Quinta da Pellada - Dao.
The flavor was of red fruit with a touch of vanilla and
wood. Fortunately it lingered on the pallet.
Wild boar chops were served with
diced vegetables, fried polenta and a luscious black
grape sauce. The doe medallions had a chestnut crust and
were accompanied by purple cabbage stuffed with roasted
chestnuts and a green pepper sauce. Simply divine!
A house lemon mousse and a choice
of two ports were presented to clear the pallet. Linda
chose the Graham 10 year old tawny and I the Graham late
bottled vintage, 1998. Pallets duly cleared.
The desserts finished us in grand
style. Caramelized banana, curry mousse, banana and
nutmeg ice cream with a dark chocolate sauce was a
delightful marriage, as was a poached pear in a pastry
shell with a warm raspberry sauce and chocolate ice cream.
Well, almost finished us, coffee was served with thin
almond wafers and dark and white truffles. It was not the
time to count calories or euros, just enjoy a special
After a nice buffet breakfast in
Acqua we departed for Tomar with our friends Paulo and
Maria Antonia, his mother. It is about 90km south of
Coimbra. Paulo elected to take the small roads rather
than the highway so that we could enjoy a more
picturesque and interesting ride.
Tomar is the main town of the
northern part of the county of Santarem, in the center of
the country. Our main reasons for coming to Tomar were to
see the synagogue and the castle - Convent of Christ. The
city center of charming, narrow streets was a hub of
activity. We had to drive around and around for 45
minutes to find a parking space. It was more than worth
Tomar was founded in 1160 when the
King of Portugal ordered Gualdim Pais, Master of the
Order of Templars, to build a castle containing the
Convent of Christ, to create a line of defense against
Arab attacks. Tomar became a town in 1884.
The town center is in a grid
pattern and the synagogue is in the middle. The first
Jewish settlement took place in the 14th century. The
Jewish quarter occupied one street, the present day Rua
Dr. Joaquim Jacinto. The synagogue at number 73 remained
in use until the Inquisition in 1496. It was used as a
prison, hay loft, and in 1920 was a grocery warehouse. In
1921 it was classified a National Monument. In 1923
Samuel Schwarz, the eminent Hebraist Engineer, bought the
building and at his own expense ordered the first round
of cleaning and excavation. Beginning in 1933 the local
Tourism Commission sought to acquire the building to
install a Luso-Hebraic Museum. The official creation of
the Museum was ratified in 1939. A study was begun into
the possibility of installing not only a museum of
gravestones and inscriptions but also a history museum
depicting the cultural activities of the ancient
Portuguese Jews worthy of the recognition of the nation.
Now with the help of friends all over the world, an
effort is underway to establish a museum and library on
the history of Jews in all nations of the world.
The synagogue is built to a square
plan. The dome shape ceiling is supported by 4 columns
and brackets on the walls. Clay pots are embedded high in
the four corners of the chamber of worship as part of a
traditional technique for improving the acoustics. The
walls are filled with documents, artifacts, tombstones,
photos, memorabilia etc. that have been collected from
around the country and the world. Many visitors have gone
home and sent relevant items they had in their possession
or purchased for the collection.
In 1985 when the floor of synagogues
outbuilding was razed, the opening of a large vessel
appeared. Further excavation revealed the ancient Mikveh,
the ritual purification bath. The museum is planned for
the second floor of this building.
It was lunch time and as we walked
the streets looking for a restaurant Maria Antonia
stopped a woman to ask her advice. They were quickly
walking arm-in-arm as Maria discovered that the woman's
husband had once worked for a relative of Maria's here in
Tomar. It also turned out that the woman and her husband
own Restaurante A Mo, Rua Pedro Dias, 17, a few steps
away. Leave it to Maria to prove that it's a small world.
A Mo is an unpretentious, squeaky
clean restaurant. The Figueiredo family, affable, kind
people, make their patrons feel right at home. Carlos
made a few recommendations which had much appeal and we
proceeded to have some good home cooking and lots of
conversation. Excellent bread, olives and fresh white
cheese were a fine way to start. Linda enjoyed two thick
grilled whiting filets with boiled potato and mixed salad
and I had an awesome caldeira, a calamari stew with
potato and vegetables prepared and served in a huge pot.
We finished up with sweet melon and coffee.
The Castle and
Convento de Cristo are incredible, one military, one
religious, bound together. The Charola is breathtaking.
It was inspired by Syrian mosques, first seen by the
Knights of the Temple during the crusades. It was built
at the end of the 12th century formed by an octagonal
prism, centered on a 16 face rotunda, consolidated by
simple gigantic buttresses on the vertexes. Another
highlight is the Manueline window. Elaborate maritime
motifs frame the window to celebrate the magnificence of
the Knights over the oceans. The magnificent Manueline
style continues throughout the church and cloisters.
Badly needed renovations are underway. It's a major task.
Tomar is a very worthwhile destination.
Tonight we would have dinner at the
Hotel Astoria whose Restaurant L'Amphitryon came very
well recommended. It was only fitting because we would be
moving here tomorrow since the Quinta had been unable to
accommodate us for our last day. The hotel is part of
Hoteis Alexandre de Almeida, which includes such fine
establishments as Bussaco Palace, Curia Palace (more on
this one later), Hotel Praia Mar, Carcavelos/Estoril
coast. The Astoria is located in the heart of Coimbra, on
the banks of Rio Mondego. L'Amphitryon, as the hotel, is
a classic. Surrounded by large windows, wood paneling and
floors, antique furnishings, subdued lighting and even a
fish tank, there is an aura of times past.
The menu and preparation are of
today. The restaurants fine reputation is well
deserved. We were to have a very refined dinner at a very
reasonable price. Classic gazpacho for Linda and poached
salmon with a delicate strawberry sauce garnished with
sliced strawberries and curly endive for me. Our waitress
recommended a Bucaco Tinto Reserva which went very nicely
with my wild boar steak dressed with a fresh berry sauce
and sided with a marvelous rice, raisin, walnut and
zucchini preparation. Linda had six large grilled shrimp
on a bed of saffron rice. After this auspicious
introduction, we were looking forward to our stay
Paulo and Maria Antonia were right on time
in the morning and at Paulo's suggestion we were off to
Curia, north of Coimbra, to visit the Curia Palace Hotel.
Paulo knew that this was the last day the hotel could be
seen as it is being closed down for two years for major
renovation. This is the heart of the green Bairrada
region and the hotel is surrounded by lush gardens, parks
and vineyards. The art nouveau jewel sits majestically
across the rear of a massive front park. This is truly a
palace. It is easy to see why the rich and famous made
their way here. From the grand entrance hall, to the
antique elevator, to the gracious dining halls, stairways
and balconies it's a "golden twenties" delight.
It was nice to hear that there will be no rebuilding,
only the existing space will be restored and renovated.
The only addition will be a spa and indoor pool carved
out of space now not utilized. The outdoor pool area is
huge and uniquely designed like a ship. It was worth the
trip to Curia to see the Before; we await the After.
Paulo dropped us at the Hotel
Astoria to check-in while he and his mother picked-up
Francisco, his dad, who had invited us for lunch. The
classic style of the hotel dates back to 1926. The
furnishings are reflective of that era. Our room was on
the top floor at the end of the building overlooking the
river, bridge and city. The sun was cooperating so Linda
had her digital clicking away.
A trip to this part of Portugal is never
complete without a meal of leitao assado a Bairrada (roast
pork from Bairrada) and the town of Mealhada is the place.
There are many restaurants from which to choose. Our
friends made reservations, essential on week-ends, at
Restaurante Meta dos Leitoes, 1 Sernadelo, Tel.231209540.
It was wonderful being with Francisco again, a dear, dear
man. We feasted on the most succulent, tender leitao ever!
The traditional, thin sliced fried potatoes and lettuce
and onion salad were perfection. From its own vineyard,
the Casa de Sarmento, the vinho regional Beiras blanc,
semi-sweet with a bit of fizz, is perfect with the roast
suckling pig. Melon to finish and we were off to Figueira
da Foz, a popular beach resort town. The wide curvy beach
and breakers are the major attraction for beach lovers
and surfers. New homes and apartments are sprouting up on
the hills overlooking the coast mainly as second homes
for the summer season. There is a marina and casino for
those so inclined.
We drove above the
town to Serra da Boa Viagem for wonderful views of the
countryside and shoreline. In the cute little village of
Quirios we drove by a woman in black on a donkey driven
It was photo waiting to be taken.
Maria went with Linda to ask the ladys permission.
Maria has a very special way of making friends
instantaneously and soon found out that the womans
husband had died one year ago this day. Maria embraced
and kissed her and I am sure made her grieving just a bit
more tolerable. The lady was pleased to have her picture
Paulo took us to two lagoons, Lagoa
das Bracas and Lagoa da Vela. Both are very peaceful
spots. Vela is the larger of the two and popular for
swimming, boating, fishing, picnics and learning about
Maria Antonia and Francisco invited
us home for dinner where we were joined by their dear
friends, Maria do Carmo and Clara. We gathered around the
dining room table to enjoy fish and pork roasted in the
oven with turnip greens, rice and warm pineapple.
Francisco offered red and white wines, Casa da Insua, Dao
which come from his family village from which he had just
returned. Both were delicious. Maria do Carmo made the
desserts for which she is justly famous: egg whites with
a yolk sauce and crème brûlée. Our days together went
too quickly. We will be back.
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