A legendary beach

Nazaré is a picturesque fishermen village where women once wore seven layers of brightly-colored petticoats. Its claim to fame comes from two legends, separated by more than eight centuries.

The first legend dates back to 1182. D. Fuas Roupinho, a nobleman, was chasing a dear on a foggy day. He was so engrossed in the hunt that, when the deer suddenly jumped off a cliff, he followed in pursuit. He prayed for his life and his prayer was answered for his horse stopped right at the edge of the cliff.

The second legend is very recent. Nazare’s north beach has one of the largest sea canyons in the world. This canyon produces enormous waves. It was here that, in 2011, the Hawaian Garrett McNamara set a record for the largest wave ever surfed.

McNamara says he will keep coming back to Nazaré. So will many other thrill seekers and beach lovers.

The tower of Belém

The Belém tower, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2011.

Many guidebooks describe the tower of Belém as a chess piece forgotten on the Tagus river. The poet Fernando Pessoa thought that there is much more to the tower than this first impression. In 1925, he wrote an English-language guide to Lisbon, titled “What the Tourist Should See.” This book, discovered only in 1988, was meant to restore Lisbon to its rightful place as one of the great European cities. Here’s what Pessoa writes about the tower of Belém:

“This marvel of oriental architecture was erected in the Restelo beach, famous as the point from which the ships sailed forth for the Great Discoveries, and was meant for the defense of the river and of the Portuguese capital. It was King Manuel I who ordered its erection; its was built within the river, and the project is due to the great master of “laced” architecture, Francisco de Arruda. It was begun in 1515 and completed six years afterwards. Later the river sank away, from that point, leaving the Tower definitely connected with the shore. […]

The Tower of Belem, seen from the outside, is a magnificent stone-jewel, and it is with astonishment and a growing appreciation that the stranger beholds its peculiar beauty. It is lace, and fine lace at that, in its delicate stonework which glimmers white afar, striking at once the sight of those on board ships entering the river. It is no less beautiful inside; and from its balconies and terraces there is a view of the river and of the sea beyond, which is not easily forgotten.”


Berrio: a romantic esplanade

Berrio is the name of a spectacular esplanade in the beach of Parede, 20 km from Lisbon. It is the perfect place to go for coffee on a sunny afternoon. Even though it is located by the “marginal,” the coastal road that connects Lisbon to Cascais, when you are there, you feel like you are on a sea voyage.

If you take a date to Berrio, choose your date very carefully. Swept by the beauty of the sea and sky, you might find yourself speaking words chosen by the waves and whispered by the wind; words like: “You know, Berrio was the first ship from Vasco da Gama’s fleet to come back with news that they had found the seaway to India. It arrived in Cascais, not far from here. I could say that I, too, have been on a journey, and that I found my way in you. But I would never liken a search for cardamom and pepper to my quest for you. How could I compare earthly dust with your ethereal beauty?”

Berrio, Avenida Marginal, Praia da Parede, Tel. 21-457-7356, email: geral@berrio,net. Click here for website.

Coimbra

Coimbra, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2011.

Coimbra is famous for its university, one of the oldest in the world. It is a beautiful city that seduces its visitors slowly, with its winding streets, ancient buildings, and academic traditions. According to an old folk song “Coimbra is most alluring when you try to say goodbye.” Hans Christian Andersen, the author of “The Little Mermaid” and other popular fairytales, visited Coimbra in 1866 and fell under its spell. Here’s what he wrote:

“We drove along the Mondego river whose broad bed displayed more dry sand than running water. Yet, what freshness and forest charm all around! The city rose as the loveliest flower in the whole bouquet. Coimbra rests upon the mountain side, one street higher than another. The streets are narrow, crooked, and rise continually. Shops and bookstores are here in abundance.

From the cloister of Santa Cruz the streets ascend towards the university, an extensive building that occupies the highest site in the city. Up there, through the dilapidated walls of the fortress, one enters the botanical garden, which is rich in rare flowers and trees.

I met some students all in their medieval garb: one went by himself, reading; three others passed in lively conversation with the guitar strung over the shoulder; their wild pranks in these surroundings put me in a cheerful mood; it was as if I lived back in an earlier century.”

Pasteis de Belém

When you land in the Lisbon airport, there’s a heightened anticipation for what comes next. There’s the usual ritual of waiting in line, searching for your luggage, going through customs, all transforming you from in transit to landed. But here, arriving isn’t the best part. You drive out of the airport towards the river Tagus. As you get close, you first see the seagulls. Then, you see the Tower of Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery, monuments to the many “caravelas” that departed from a nearby dock. A marble Henry the Navigator leads a pack of explorers, pointing the way to the new world. But that’s not why you came here. You came here for a small pastry shop just down the road.

In 1834, the government closed down all Portuguese convents and monasteries. The friars of the Jerónimos Monastery needed a source of income. So, like other religious orders in Portugal, they used their ancient recipes to make pastries for sale. The Jerónimos monks made little cups of flaky pastry dough filled with custard and topped with cinnamon. All monastery pastries are delicious, but these “pasteis de Belém” are a piece of heaven. The recipe hasn’t changed since the pastry shop opened in 1837, and everything about it is shrouded in mystery. Only three master patissiers, who prepare the cream and dough in the “Oficina do Segredo” (secret workshop), know the recipe.

These pastries are ephemeral bites of cinnamon and warmth. They must be eaten right away, never saved for later. Every coffee shop in Portugal produces an imitation, but none quite captures the lightness of the dough, the creaminess of the filling. These imitations even bear a different name: “pasteis de nata.” Because there is only one place in the world where you can get “pasteis de Belém.”

Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, Rua de Belém, 84-92, Lisbon. Tel. 21-363-7423. Email: pasteisdebelem@pasteisdebelem.pt. Click here for website.

Arraiolos

Medieval Arraiolos, Maria Rebelo, gelatin silver print, 2003.

Arraiolos is a picturesque Alentejo village with traditional whitewashed houses and an oval-shaped castle built in 1305.

The town is famous for the production of beautiful needlework rugs. It is also known for the story of an indecisive bride. With her wedding about to start, she could not decide what to wear. She kept hesitating while the guests waited … for two weeks! In the end, she chose to wear only a shepherd’s mantle.

It was well worth the wait to see this Arraiolos bride discover that “less is more” centuries before Mies van der Rohe.

America discovers Portugal

Americans discovered France, Italy, and more recently,
Spain, as vacation destinations.  But Portugal has remained terra incognita. That is changing. The New York Times has written a steady stream of articles about Portugal. Most are about Lisbon; about the places to go, the culinary renaissance, the new restaurants, the new museums, the relaxed atmosphere, and the art scene. But the Times has also discovered Cascais and Évora. The Wall Street Journal tells its readers that “In Portugal you can pack seven days worth of castles, clubbing, seafood, shopping and luxury hotels into one perfectly affordable long weekend.” Now, perhaps Woody Allen will consider directing a movie about a writer who comes to Lisbon and discovers that the secret to eternal youth is a daily bath of piri-piri sauce.