One of the joys of living on the coast of Portugal is to wake up and go for a walk on the pristine beach sand, letting the waves bathe our feet. We always thought of these moments as pure indulgence until we read Pablo Casal’s memoir “Joys and Sorrows.”
The great cellist continued to play in his 90s, maintaining a youthful spirit and an amazing creative energy. As we searched his memoir for clues to the source of his longevity, here’s what we found:
“I have always especially loved the sea. Whenever possible, I have lived by the sea… It has long been a custom of mine to walk along the beach each morning before I start to work. True, my walks are shorter than they used to be, but that does not lessen the wonder of the sea. How mysterious and beautiful is the sea! How infinitely variable! It is never the same, never, not from one moment to the next, always in the process of change, always becoming something different and new.”
Sintra has many romantic palaces but each has something unique to offer. One of our favorites is Monserrate, a palace surrounded by luscious gardens built in 1856 by Francis Cook, a famous British art collector.
When the Portuguese government bought the estate in 1949, the palace was in disrepair. The costly restoration work started in 1999 and only finished recently. It was worth the wait. We now have the privilege of seeing how the palace looked when the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen visited it in 1866. Here’s what he wrote:
“Large white bell-flowers hang from one tree; pearl-shaped, rose-colored berries from another, juicy fruits and sun-filled colored flowers grew here. Down over the smooth velvet lawn rippled the clear spring water. Above this fresh green, the castle rose in Moorish style, a fit subject for the Arabian Nights or a romantic fairy picture. The sun sank into the sea, which became rose-colored; the brightness of the sea and sky was reflected magically upon the marble white walls and decorations, filling with light the large mirror-clear window panes. The air was so warm, so still, so penetrated with the perfume of flowers, that one felt carried away from reality.”
Carmelite nuns lived most of their days in silence and solitude. The local peasants offered them agricultural products, including numerous eggs. The nuns used the egg whites to starch their clothes and the egg yolks to make desserts.
One day, the nuns received a bag of the finest, whitest wheat flour they had ever seen. They decided to try to make something special with this gift. The flour was combined with water to create a “virgin dough” that was left to rest. The nuns then stretched the dough and let it rest again. To get the most out of the rare flour, they repeated this stretching-resting cycle until the dough was so thin they could read the bible through it.
The dough was cut into rectangles and used to wrap a delicate mixture of egg yolks and sugar. The nuns used a feather to spread some melted butter over the dough and baked the pastries in the oven. Finally, they dusted them with powdered sugar. The result was so extraordinary that a new tradition was born. Whenever the nuns received fine white flour, they made these unique pastries and offered them to the sick and the poor.
When the religious orders were abolished in Portugal in 1834, the Carmelite nuns shared the recipe for this exquisite pastry with the families that gave them shelter. Two Portuguese towns, Tentúgal and Vouzela have competing versions of the original Carmelite recipe. Each town claims their pastry is the best. They are both extraordinary expressions of the silent inspiration of Carmelite nuns.
The pastries produced in Tentúgal are sold in many coffee and pastry shops throughout Portugal. Vouzela pastries are harder to find, they are mostly sold in Viseu and other locations close to Vouzela. They are well worth a special trip.
“Where did you get that?” people used to ask when they saw someone wearing an interesting piece of clothing or jewelry. This question is now rarely asked. Shopping centers all over the world carry the same goods made by the same brands. In a world of abundance, the thrill of the new has become hard to find.
But you can find it at Embaixada, a new shopping center in Lisbon’s Príncipe Real neighborhood. Housed in a sumptuous palace built in 1857, it features a collection of unique stores that sell original clothing and decorative pieces. Visiting Embaixada is like going on a treasure hunt. Take home a few prized possessions and people will ask: “where did you get that?”
Embaixada is located on Praça do Príncipe Real, n. 26. Click here for their website.
When Oporto residents want to eat fresh fish, they drive to the nearby Matosinhos beach. The town’s main street (Rua Herois de França) and its side alleys are lined up with restaurants.
We usually go to S. Valentim and order rodovalho (turbot). We avoid appetizers so that, when the perfectly-grilled fish arrives at the table, we can give it our undivided apetite.
Each restaurant has a large charcoal grill outside maned by a master griller. This is a person with unbreakable concentration who doesn’t take the eyes off the grill until the fish is perfectly cooked.
Grilling fish is easy, unless you want to do it perfectly, in which case it takes years of experience. It is this perfection that keeps fish lovers coming back to Matosinhos.
S. Valentim is located on Rua Herois de França, 335, Matosinhos, tel. 229379204.