Centro De Portugal
It’s amazing in this day and age that there are still virtually undiscovered areas in Europe. But fashions change through the years.
Portugal’s central area is, at the moment, an area where you can escape from the usual Tourist Trails and enjoy uncrowded places and local food and wine.
We landed in Porto Airport, and drove along almost empty roads with green, unspoilt views, to Viseu.
The town is quite affluent. The streets are clean with no graffiti, and there’s a large variety of shops.
Portugal’s Pousadas are a chain of exclusive hotels, like the Spanish Paradors.
They’re castles, monasteries, or palaces, often with lovely views.
We stayed in the Pousada de Viseu. It used to be a hospital, which sounds a bit off-putting. But it has been wonderfully converted to a very high standard. The rooms are almost solid wood, and it probably has the biggest and highest central lounge area that I’ve ever seen!
In the morning we drove to Penalva do Castelo, around 25kms from Viseu. We were now in a farming area.
The Casa da Insua dates back to the 18th Century, and the Albuquerque family still own it.
Paulo, our driver, expertly squeezed the minibus through the gates with just a Rizla paper to spare on each side.
We were taken to the dairy, where we all helped to make sheeps’ cheese. (Quite erotic!) then we walked round the grounds.
The gardens are absolutely perfect and based on the original designs – except the swimming-pool area.
In the house are the original furniture and ornaments. The family trusts their guests to respect them.
The bedrooms are Manor House quality, and absolutely luxurious!
It’s a wonderful place to stay, offering whatever you want from the holiday.
Guests can become involved, getting up early to spend the morning with the sheep, picking fruit and making jam, harvesting the grapes, or just relaxing in the grounds, where there’s a selection of traditional garden games, and the pool of course.
Transport can be arranged to visit other towns. But quite honestly, I’d rather spend a few days just unwinding in the magnificent surroundings.
We continued our journey to the Sera Da Estrala Natural Park, which means Star Mountain.
On the way up, we all found some of the journey a bit hair-raising, but worth it for the absolutely glorious views. The colours of the heather and mountain plants are an artist’s delight. And there are some amazing rock formations, pushed there by glaciers.
We passed a couple of shops, one of them selling beach balls, which I thought was very funny. And another one selling animal furs.
I doubt if any of the businesses will be retiring with a fortune!
The Casa das Penhas Douradas is a boutique hotel.
I love boutique hotels, with differently-designed rooms and lots of carefully-chosen, colourful bits & bobs to look at everywhere.
The owners have recently bought an old wool mill, but more about that later!
Everywhere is done out in wool. The beds have wool bedspreads, the furniture is upholstered in wool, the mats on the floor are wool, even the pictures are knitted and crocheted!
There is a selection of traditional home-made cakes and pastries for guests to help themselves to, and the drinks in the bar are free all day.
Dotted around the hotel are tea and coffee stations.
There is a spa, with an indoor pool.
We went for a walk across the mountain. The painted markers make sure that no-one can get lost.
The hotel will prepare a picnic early in the morning for keen hikers.
Was that me? You’re joking! With the mountain air and no passing traffic, I slept like a log!
In the morning, we travelled down the mountain to Manteigas, to see the old wool mill. The trade collapsed and the building was abandoned. But the present owners have managed to rescue most of the original old machines and to get them working again.
Burel is a traditional Portuguese fabric made from wool which is washed, spun, woven into cloth, and then pounded and scalded. It’s similar to felt.
It was used to make clothes for mountain dwellers, especially shepherds, because it’s durable, warm and waterproof.
The Manteigas Burrel factory has commissioned young designers to produce modern articles. A cushion takes around four hours to make, and costs around 170 euros.
I was absolutely fascinated by the whole concept. We were allowed to wander around the factory, which would have made British ‘Elf & Safety break down and cry!
Of course, although it’s all romantic now, there must have been terrible accidents there in the past. And the machines are deafening.
The building is going to be a craft centre, and I’m really hoping that I can go back to see it again.
I came away bursting with ideas!
We had to travel up the mountain again, past the hotel, to go back down the other side. But by this time, we were seasoned travelers, and not nervous at all.
At the top we stopped to talk to an old goatherd with his two dogs. Every day he walks four kms up the mountain from his village to spend the day alone with his goats and dogs. He enjoyed chatting to us.
He produced a bag of cherries from his tree in his garden and offered them to us.
I love meeting local people and talking to them, but I’m a bit ashamed to admit that although the cherries looked delicious, the colour of his hands put me off eating them!
Our next stop was Coimbra where we visited the University.
It was founded in 1290 and was once a Medieval palace, and is similar to the Vatican as it’s almost a separate State.
The Academy used to have its own prison. It still has its own police force, and local police aren’t allowed in without the Rector’s invitation.
Pupils still wear the traditional uniform with a long cloak. They’re nicknamed Bats.
We went to visit the ornate library. It was built in 1717. It took 11 years to build. The walls are 3m wide, to control the temperature and protect the valuable books.
A colony of bats lives there behind the bookshelves. They eat any bugs. The valuable tables are covered with leather blankets at night to catch the droppings.
Sometimes concerts are held there, but the bats don’t like music!
Round the corner from the University is the Museo Nacional de Castro.
When they were building it, they discovered an enormous Roman building under the ground. Fascinating!
Above it, the layers of history unravel in front of you. The Medieval religious art is absolutely wonderful.
I won’t bore you with all the details. You must go and see it for yourself.
On we went to Aveiro, known as The Venice of Portugal – and it is, too, complete with canals and motorised gondolas. They aren’t a tourists’ gimmick. They were used to transport salt.
There are 26 Art Nouveau buildings in the town.
We drove to Costa Nova Beach.
The houses are really pretty and seasidey and painted in stripes. They were originally the fishermen’s houses, and on stilts, but the ground’s level has risen through the years. Now they usually stay in the family, passed on through the generations.
I don’t blame them. If I had one, I wouldn’t sell it either!
We caught the ferry across to S. Jacinto, where we had my favourite meal of the whole trip, on the seafront. We sat outside the Peixaria Restaurant, which just means Fish Restaurant.
They brought out a freshly-caught selection of fish to let us choose what we wanted.
I chose an enormous sea bass that they could hardly lift.
No, I didn’t eat it all myself!
While we waited, they brought out tiny shrimps, something that I think was razor clams, and then baby clams in their shells, all served with fresh bread.
The sea bass and mullet arrived on platters, with boiled and roast baby potatoes, and broccoli.
Sometimes the simplest meals are the best. Fresh fish caught a few hours ago a short distance away and perfectly cooked takes a lot of beating.
What a wonderful end to a memorable trip!