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Fall 2004

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 reservation.

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 Portugal’s 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 life.

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 romantic estate.

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.

Penedo da Saudade - Coimbra, PortugalBetween 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! What’s 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. New Cathedral - Coimbra, 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 in Coimbra.

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. Linda’s, 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 mixed greens.

The timing between courses was perfect allowing us to slowly digest and discuss the day’s 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 treat. street - Tomar, Portugal

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 it.

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. Synagogue - Tomar, Portugal

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 synagogue’s 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.

Castle and Convento Cristo - Tomar, PortugalThe 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 restaurant’s 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 tomorrow.

Curia Palace Hotel - Curia, PortugalPaulo 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.

Shore - Figueira Da Foz, PortugalA 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.

Woman on cart pulled by donkey - Quirios, PortugalWe 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 cart.

It was photo waiting to be taken. Maria went with Linda to ask the lady’s permission. Maria has a very special way of making friends instantaneously and soon found out that the woman’s 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 taken.

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 nature.

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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Sintra | Cascais | Ericeira | Lisboa

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