Portugal 2006: Oliveira do Hospital

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Today was a transition day, as we leave Quinta do Coalhos and journey farther north to the village of Póvoa das Quartas, which is very near the small town (about 6,000) of Oliveira do Hospital. Our total travel time was between three and four hours, interrupted in the middle by a visit to the incredible Roman ruins at Conimbriga.

Conimbriga was a Roman town (dating from the 1st centurey C.E.) built on the road which connected Lisbon with Braga. It is located near the present day city of Coimbra and has very extensive ruins with many wonderful mosaics. We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the site and ended up having our lunch at a picnic spot located there. (The usual – cheese, wine, bread and olives!)

After that we continued our journey to our next spot – more about that later.

Dinner was at a placed called Johnny’s in Oliveira do Hospital. We both had a Brazilian dish called picanha which was very thin, tender slices of grilled beef served with baked potato, rice and black beans. It was very yummy!

A great day (2.5 on the Knowmark Weather Scale) for travelling.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Today was our first full day at Estalagem de Santa Barbara which is near the Serra da Estrela, the highest mountains in Portugal. The hotel is about 35 years old, and was designed by a famous Portuguese architect, Manual Tainha. A quote from the hotel brochure by Arq. José Manuel Rodrigues states: “Interactions of man, landscape and architecture, on the one hand, and the understanding of the need to preserve a cultural architectonic legacy, on the other, are represented here in a unique way.” It is a little worn around the edges but fascinating none-the-less. Our room is large, comfortable and has a fantastic view from the balcony. We are the only guests which feels a bit odd.

The area we are visiting is part of the Dão wine region and today we set out to visit some wineries. However, apparently they operate differently here from what we are used to. We picked up a Rota do Vinho map in Nelas and headed out to a place which was listed on it (and which Steve had researched previously) only to discover that we could not do a tasting and there was only one wine we could buy and that one only by the case! We headed back into Nelas to the Cooperativa Agrícola de Nelas which had a small shop where we purchased two bottles that we had also previously researched (one of which we may open for lunch tomorrow). On Thursday we will try to call before visiting any other wineries.

Part of the day was spent foraging for lunch (what else is new?) This led to an interesting adventure in search of the local cheese, queijo da Serra. We saw a little cheese symbol indicating that there was a licensed cheese maker in Santa Combra so off we went. In the village we asked a young man if he knew where we could buy cheese. He didn’t, but kindly popped into a nearby café to ask for us. He then drew a very detailed map which led us to a place where cheese was made. The entire family proceeded to take part in the attempted transaction which unfortunately did not lead to the purchase of one of their wonderful cheeses as they were so huge we knew we couldn’t possibly eat all of one, and we had nowhere to store it. Eventually we think we managed to communicate (in our virtually non-existent Portuguese) what the situation was and there seemed to be no hard feelings. They did seem to be somewhat amazed that we had found them.

Another part of our day was a visit to Seia which seems to be a lovely old town. There, we managed to buy a smaller version of the local queijo de ovalha curado (the one we picked was quite young and runny inside) to go with wine, olives and bread for lunch, which was eaten in a local park. Dinner tonight was back in Oliveira do Hospital at O Túnel where we had chanfana, which tasted pretty much just like the one Susan has made at home.

A fabulous day, 3.0+ on the Knowmark Weather Scale.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

After a very slow start today, we went into Oliveira da Hospital for a quick café and to buy some good bread. At the same time, we picked up a queijo fresco de ovalha which is a local specialty made daily. We then headed out to try to pick up some wine at a place just past Seia, the Quinta de Pellada. There, a very helpful young man showed us what they had to offer and we ended up buying two bottles.

Yesterday in Seia we learned that they had a very good Museu do Pão (Museum of Bread). Obviously we couldn’t pass that by so we headed up (and it was up!) to the museum where we spent an hour or so looking at the very interesting displays. They showed all the steps involved in the traditional making of bread (starting from sowing seed) but also had a fascinating display on the political and social aspects of bread in Portugal. The museum is part of a large complex that includes a shop and a restaurant which is apparently very popular. We had packed our lunch and decided that a bench near an old mill stream at the museum was a good location to eat it. And it was!

Our route back was through the countryside that we can see from our room. And for much of the way, we could see our hotel in the distance. It was a lovely drive, partly on N231 through São Ramão and Valezim; then on to another road which passed through a number of villages perched on the mountainside, including Sazes da Beira and Corgas.

Back to Johnny’s (in Oliveira do Hospital) again for dinner tonight. We split a large seafood salad and some salmon spaghetti – the spaghetti in particular was excellent. Washed down with a 2001 Nelus, a very nice local Dão wine from Nelas.

Another amazing day, a perfect 3.0 on the Knowmark Weather Scale.