Tascas of Portugal – Sr. Delfim’s Tasca in Arcos de Valdevez

23-11-2013 _ 19_00_18_wwwThe town of Arcos de Valdevez, boasting nine centuries of history, is located in the Minho region and sits beside the Rio Vez.  It is one place that should not be missed and on a quick stopover at the end of the day there recently, I was taken to a must-do place to see – Delfim’s Tasca.  Portuguese tascas or adegas, as they are sometimes known, are a heritage on their own.  Usually located in very old buildings that have been in existence for decades, they are no-frills bars/eateries where one can mix in with the locals and enjoy food specialties and local wines from the region.  Most of them have a tiny space, few or no tables and chairs, literally just standing room, and of course a bar where on having a petisco (type of tapa) and a glass of wine, you get to meet and indulge in conversation with your neighbour.

23-11-2013 _ 18_54_46_wwwDelfim’s Tasca is a perfect example of this and attracts many people inside its cosy interior.   From the moment one walks through the door and down the steps, one is confronted with an interior jam-packed with everything and anything that is connected to the region or that can be considered a collector’s item.  An array of photos featuring the owner, Sr. Delfim, adorn many of the walls including one with Portugal’s most famous fado singer Amalia Rodrigues.

23-11-2013 _ 18_51_40_wwwOther items on display are photographs that appear to be of Sr. Delfim’s old friends and past customers, obsolete bank notes, pens, paintings, handicrafts, baskets, mugs, plaques with poems – you name it, Sr. Delfim has it!  But what is obviously part of Sr. Delfim’s pride and joy is his magnificent collection of colourful accordions aligning the shelves of his walls.  When we walked in through the doors, one couldn’t help noticing the warm and friendly atmosphere which was topped off with Sr. Delfim jumping up and playing some tunes on his accordion.

One small painting which appropriately caught my eye at the time said:

23-11-2013 _ 18_52_06_wwwAt Delfim’s tasca

It is a treat to go in

There you will see D. Maria sitting

And Delfim playing

Tascas are a tribute to the Portuguese people and although they have always existed some certainly have died out with the closure or remodeling of old buildings but the trend in their popularity has recently risen throughout the country as they represent an old and traditional culture where people can have a hearty meal and a good glass of wine for a lower cost.  Friends of Tascas Assocations now exist with groups of people working to save the typical tasca from dying out by ensuring that they arrange for frequent group dinners and get-togethers at different ones on a rotatory basis.

Newspapers and websites share information on which tascas should be visited and their specialties and what is happening locally.  The people behind the counters are in many cases the owners of these unique establishments and share a joy in serving their new-found clientele of all ages.  We hope that the Portuguese tasca will not die out and that more followers will join in keeping this part of history alive.

The photo selection below of Sr. Delfim’s tasca tells all!  Enjoy….

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Posted in Lunches, Minho, Portuguese Food, Tascas, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Walking the Braga Route from Porto to Santiago Compostela

When local nature walking club, Terra Verde, decided to plan another walk to Santiago but this time passing through a lesser known route via Braga, I decided that I had to join them.  This walk would also take in the Minho region of northern Portugal which I have written about before (see the link here) and that I find is incredibly beautiful and unique.

The route via Braga is not considered to be the traditional one to Santiago de Compostela but it was still used by pilgrims coming from the south-east of the country and eventually linked into the Roman route ‘Via XIX’ from Ponte de Lima up to Santiago.  Beginning in Porto, it passes through Paranhos, S. Mamede, Nogueira de Maia, Silva Escura, S. Mamede do Coronado, Covelas,  Esmeriz, Vila Nova de Familicão, Telhado, BRAGA, Merelim, Goães and finally Ponte de Lima.

Unfortunately the route is not well marked with the traditional yellow arrow of the ‘Caminhos de Santiago’ but with some guidance from locals and a map in hand there is always hope.  Fortunately Terra Verde began marking this route  especially for our walk, pioneering and reopening the way for other pilgrims wishing to take this different route to Santiago.

???????????????????????????????The first sector took us from the Sé Cathedral to Covelas in Trofa – 21 kms through the urban areas of Porto.  This is a fascinating way to discover part of the city and its people whilst observing the beautiful Portuguese architecture some of which is ‘antiga Portuguesa’ (buildings made from granite blocks with large windows and doors framed in granite and traditionally painted in white with dark green extras).  There is a continuous array of old, two or three story, buildings covered in many different coloured tiles with magnificent windows and doors protected by wrought iron railing terraces.

I am totally drawn to the old and worn out colourful, hand painted tiles (azuleijos) which can still be found on the exterior and interior of buildings everywhere and are just a treasure in themselves.  The traditional colours are blue and white but one can encounter many colour mixes with slightly imperfect patterns and it is sad to see them chipped and faded as time goes by.   Azuleijos were originally used ornamentally and as a measure of controlling temperature.  They were put up on major historic buildings where they narrated historical facts of days gone.

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The walk took us out of urban Porto and into villages, where we passed old manor houses with magnificent gates and doors, small chapels and churches with gilded alters, statues and hand painted ceilings – some dating back to the early 1700’s, small town squares with their granite pillory or ‘pelourinho’ posts which were once used for public punishment and humiliation.  The Leça River (Rio Leça) accompanied us some of the way and one place in particular called Silva Escura has a documented history back to the year 920 where a very dense and almost impenetrable forest once existed!  The history of each place is never ending and there is a yearning to stop and just wander to discover some of the treasures that these places have but there isn’t always enough time.

From the small villages we moved into rural farm areas where we followed dirt tracks with green pastures on either side, people working on their farms and an array of lovely pets and farm animals.   We closed the first stage of the walk at the small local church located in the parish of Covelas in Trofa.  Although the start of this walk is rather urban it still gives one a chance to view Portuguese daily life and enjoy what the small towns and local people have to offer.  Slide show of the walk below.

Next sector Covelas to Santiago de Antas in Vila Nova de Familicão.

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The Chapel in the Sea – Senhor da Pedra

There is a small and intriguing little chapel built on the top of a rock situated right on the shoreline of the Atlantic ocean that commands an amazing view both out to sea and to the white sandy beach stretching in front of it .  The place, is Miramar, located in the parish of Gulpilhares, just south of Porto in the north of Portugal.

Chapel Senhor da Pedro

The Chapel, of a hexagonal design, is called Senhor da Pedra (Lord of the Rock) and was built in 1686 and restored in 1996.  Two large blue and white, hand painted tile side panels sit either side of the magnificent wooden, front entrance door, both making mention of the pagan temple that once existed there and the importance of archeological finds also on this spot.

Left Tile Panel  RH side Panel

The origin of worshipping Christ may have originated in the ancient pagan worship which was very frequent among Christian peoples.  It is said a miracle was performed by a saint on this site upon where the Chapel of Senhor da Pedra was built as a form of rememberance.  Strange ceremonies, relating to the pagan worship, still occur today on full moon nights when one can frequently find melted candles left by worshippers on the rocks and sand to the side of the Chapel.

Inside, there is a magnificent high central altar plus two side altars in gilded woodwork of Rococo style all in excellent condition and exhibiting various colourful and beautiful figurines of saints.  A wooden spiral staircase leads up to the upper gallery.

Although open throughout the year for anyone to visit, there is an annual festival held every June in Miramar which is dedicated to Senhor da Pedra and which draws people from far and wide on a pilgrimage to visit the festival and the Chapel.

What is incredibly amazing is the fact that this Chapel has survived close to 350 years on the rough Atlantic ocean front sometimes with huge crashing waves around it and with little or no sign of damage to it.

Check out the brief slide-show below of images of this little Chapel and the views it commands.

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Discovering Beautiful Santiago de Compostela

Once a pilgrim has arrived into Santiago, it is impossible not to get completely engrossed in exploring this marvelous city on foot.  Santiago is the capital of Galicia and the old quarter was nominated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.

DSC08825Day upon day, pilgrims from all over the world instinctively walk, cycle or ride on horseback into the main square ‘ Praza do Obradoiro’ around which there is situated the Cathedral, XIIIV Century Pazo de Raxoi (Raxoi’s Palace, now the city hall) and Hostal dos Reis Católicos, founded in 1492 as a pilgrims’ hospice (converted to a parador in 1954).

The Cathedral itself is surrounded by four squares:-

  • Praza do Obradoiro  –  its name coming from the stonemasons’ workshops set up here whilst the Cathedral was being built.

Praza de la Azabacheria  –  also considered important and only a short walk from the Plaza del Obradoiro.   Once famous for jewellery items made from the black gem stone Jet, the craftsmen who fashioned these stones were called “azabacheros” and it is from them and their trade that the square gets its name.

The passage from Praza de la Asabacheria to Praza de Obradoira can be reached by passing under the arch, ‘Arco de Palacio’ between the cathedral and the ‘Reyes Catolicos‘ Hotel, and then descending some steps.   It is under this arch that, if you are lucky enough, you can encounter musicians, sometimes dressed in medieval costumes, playing or piping music on typical Galician bagpipes to arriving pilgrims coming from the northern route making one’s entrance even more emotional and meaningful!

Praza de la Quintana – can be reached by a variety of routes and faces one of facades of Santiago Cathedral.

Praza de las Platerias  –  a smaller square surrounded by splendid examples of Galician architecture and with an ornate fountain at its centre (the fountain of horses).

Visiting the Cathedral is obviously everyone’s priority and ideally this should be done in the morning to take in the 12H00 Pilgrim’s Mass which is held daily in honour of the pilgrims.   Plan to get there at least an hour before mass begins allowing enough time to have a good look around the Cathedral itself as well as see the Tomb of St. James where there is inevitably a queue of people waiting to give the statue either the traditional hug or a touch as a sign of gratitude for their journey.

Walking into the Cathedral through the ‘Pórtico da Gloria’ (Gate of Glory) is a totally breathtaking sight not only for the size of the Cathedral itself but all its wonderful array of different architectures.  Confessional boxes line the walls of the main aisle with some being wholly dedicated to foreign language pilgrims.

By noon pews and aisles are literally packed and everyone is anxiously awaiting for the service to get underway.  Then a procession follows with the bishop and several priests walking through the crowds from a side entrance to the main central area of the Cathedral.  The bishop leads the service and pilgrim groups are welcomed by having their names read out and where their journey began. Our Terra Verde Group were privileged to be mentioned as one of the largest (almost 100) that they had seen who had walked the Coastal Route via Portugal and Spain.

DSC08729The highlight of the Pilgrims’ Mass is the swinging of the huge and famous ‘Botafumeiro’ (incensory), the largest in the world weighing in at 80 kgs and hanging from ropes pulled by eight priests.  It is a magnificent sight to see as it swings from side to side spreading clouds of its incense smoke all of which coincides with the playing of the beautiful Hymn to Santiago.

All pilgrims who have completed the last 100 kms on foot or horseback or 200 kms by bike are considered to have officially completed the pilgrimage to Santiago.  Pilgrims have always wanted to record their journey and in early days they would carry a scallop shell as a symbol of their arrival at the Tomb of St. James.  In those days it was also used as a water and food vessel.  Then from the 13th Century, due to fraudulency with vendors selling scallop shells at the entrance of the city, a document called the ‘evidential letter’ was issued as a more effective way of recording pilgrimages.

CompostelaToday, modern-day pilgrims carry their ‘credencial’ which has been stamped along the way at churches, coffee shops, general stores, etc. and this is produced as a form of evidence at the ‘Oficina del Peregrino’ in Santiago (located close to the Cathedral) which allows the ‘Oficina’ to issue a ‘Compostela’.   The ‘Compostela’ is a certificate written in Latin where the ‘Oficina’ handwrites the pilgrim’s Latin name on it and is presented in a protective tube.  In early days the ‘Compostela’ was an important document for pilgrims in that it gave them the right to use the hospital (housed in the Hotel Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos in the 16th century), for health needs plus other facilities.   Interestingly the parador continues the tradition of pilgrim hospitality by providing free meals for three days to 10 pilgrims on production of the ‘Compostela’.  With the growth, in the 20th century, of pilgrims and visitors arriving in many forms of transport including cars it was thought that the pilgrimage would disappear and therefore the Cathedral of Santiago decided that a pilgrim should earn his ‘Compostela’ as proof of his trip.

Tarte de Santiago Courtesy of Javier Lastra / Wikimedia
Tarte de Santiago
Courtesy of Javier Lastra / Wikimedia

Don’t miss trying the delicious local gastronomy at the many tapas bars and restaurants all of which can be located on foot.  Pair the food with the famous Albariño wines which are a credit to this beautiful region.  Many restaurants are located in terraced gardens where you need to walk into the building to get to the back area.  A leisurely afternoon can be spent sitting in these gardens under lovely old trees sharing a long lunch with friends.   Another do not miss, is the ‘Tarte de Santiago’ which is the traditional almond tart made from ground almonds, eggs and sugar.  It is finished with sprinkled icing sugar, marked with the cross of the knights of Santiago and fortunately sold everywhere.

There is always so much to see and do in Santiago de Compostela so do allow yourself enough time to see it all as you will find it unforgettable!

To follow this amazing walk from Porto along the entire coast of northern Portugal into Spain and then continuing along the Spanish coast cutting inland to Santiago de Compostela please see the links below:-

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The Coastal Walk from Porto to Santiago Compostela – FINAL Leg

Our final leg for the 12th Sector of our Coastal Walk from Porto to Santiago Compostela had finally come!   In a two day planned weekend, we would do our final walk of 19 kms on Saturday and then Sunday be left to enjoy and discover our own way around Santiago.

With an early start to the day, one could feel the air of excitement with the group as we finally arrived at Padrón where we had last left off.  There was time to visit the parish church for the customary ‘credential’ stamp and take a quick last look at the pedrón, where following the death of the Apostle Saint James, his disciples brought his head and body to Iria from Jerusalem on a boat. They moored the boat to a pedrón (stone) and it is this stone that is displayed at the parish church. The name of the town Padrón being derived from the word pedrón.

Then we were away setting off through the small and narrow streets into the beautiful countryside.  Just on the outskirts of Padrón, we passed a beautiful church and small graveyard where someone quickly called me to point out the gravestone of one of Spain’s most notable Nobel Literature prize winners, Camilo José Cela y Trulock.  This Spanish novelist wrote 14 novels and 60 other volumes and was among Spain’s most celebrated 20th-century writers.

Albariño Vineyards

Moving on, we were met with typical Galician granite buildings and farmlands, where one could observe their tall and beautiful granaries some of which still in use today. Granaries such as these would protect maize husks from rodents and allowed for grain storage during the long and severe winter months.  A friendly wave from our Galician passers-by or short exchange of words made the walk even more interesting with the usual question being asked ‘Where are you from’?  Endless small and carefully tendered Albariño vineyards with their abundant vines supported on tall and beautiful, granite stakes, were a source of shade for those of us needing a quick stop for a snack or drink.  Looking more tree-like than a vine, they are so different from the usual vines seen in other wine districts.

As usual, the path was clearly signposted along the way with the ever familiar concrete pillar and deep blue tile with the yellow scallop shell design on it. Each one showing the exact amount of kms. left to go till reaching Santiago.  Our halfway catch-up point was at a beautiful village church called  where we were able to get see a young girl’s Holy Communion taking place being shared with her family and friends.

Then it we were on our way again, walking past fields carpeted with yellow dandelions, through forest areas and more beautiful little villages.  Lunch was a short break at the village of Teo where some chose to picnic whilst others could try the local food in small restaurants.  Then without delay everyone was away on the final stretch to Santiago.

As we arrived on the outskirts of Santiago we were greeted to a colourful local summer festival in the town square where excited people cheered on cyclists racing through the local streets and whilst we waited for the rest of the group to join us, we sat on park benches quietly observing all the goings-on around us.

Continuing the walk, the group fell silent, passing tall and beautiful buildings, there was a distinct silence over the group as we walked slowly into the main square to come face to face with the magnificent Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.   Our arrival brought tears to some walkers’ eyes whilst others just sat or lay down in the square looking backwards to the cathedral – in silence.    We observed many other individuals also arriving at the same time on foot, on bicycle and in groups or couples – what an incredible feeling it was.

Our friends from Terra Verde had started the walk with just over 100 and finished with a number just under that to become one of the largest groups to arrive together at one time into Santiago!  Everything had been extremely well organized throughout the year’s walk and my grateful thanks to them for this.

Our journey, along the coasts of Portugal’s Costa Verde and Spain’s Costa de Galicia, covered a total of 249 kilometres of little known and amazing windswept beaches, popular resorts, historical sites, typical Portuguese and Galician architecture, coastal farmlands, vineyards and of course the local people who waved or spent a moment to chat wishing us all a safe journey.   It would also be remiss not to mention the gastronomic delights and unforgettable  simple contact with nature and animals during the walk, that provided a realization of peace to one’s mind.   This walk has been something that I will never forget.  View the slideshow of this last leg below.

Follow previous sectors of the coastal walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela on these links below:-

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Posted in Canastros_Espigueiros, History of Portugal, History of Spain, Walk of St. James, Walking in Portugal, Walking in Spain & Portugal | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Portuguese Butter Distinguished by Wallpaper Magazine

Portugal at its best!   Although this was announced late last year in Sept 2011, it is definitely worth a mention, a Portuguese butter called Manteiga Marinhas was distinguished by the well-known U.K. magazine Wallpaper as one of the 13 best artisanal butters in the world.

Artisanal butters from England, France, Italy and the USA were amongst the 13 entries eulogized with Manteiga Marinhas being the only Portuguese butter chosen.  Manteiga Marinhas is produced by a family owned business called Lacticinios das Marinhas under the entrepreneurship of its owner, Berta Castilho.  It is located in Esposende (just over 50 kms north of Porto) and is known for its high quality products which include:-

  • Butters with and without salt
  • Cheeses – cured, cream and flamengo

It seems that artisanal butters are coming into fashion and according to the article one can now choose a butter that comes from “varying breeds, grazing terrains, culturing and churning methods, additional ingredients, etc.”.   Not as well-known for its dairy products, for Portugal this undoubtedly contributes to the sophistication and prestige of the products and wines that this country now produces.

Compared to the standard butters available these days that come in plastic containers, this delicious and unique butter is wrapped in the traditional greaseproof paper and Wallpaper describes Manteiga Marinhas as the “artisanal butter Portuguese-style, perfect ingredient for producing sweet pastries”.

Look out for it!

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The Coastal Walk from Porto to Santiago Compostela – Part 11

Caldas de Reys was the starting point for the 11th sector of our walk organized by our friends at Terra Verde and on arrival some of us just couldn’t go without quickly bathing our feet in the thermal spring waters of the Fonte das Burgas. The water is of an excellent quality and flows from the basin of a hot springs fountain dating to the pre-Roman period. Caldas de Reys has several old and decadent hotels many of which are the remains of the flourishing thermal activity.

For this walk, Terra Verde had arranged for the Lord Mayor of Caldas de Reys, Sr. Juan Manuel Rey, to accompany our group of 85 people and his presence ensured that we were also accompanied along the way by the ‘Protección Civil’.  With a continuous smile on their faces, they gave us priority clearance across major highways as well as standing by to indicate the correct route to our destination of Padrón.  We felt very privileged to have their help in giving information along the way.  Additionally they stamped our ‘credencials’ with their own official rubber stamp as part of the Spanish camiño.

Our walk took us through the old town of Caldas de Reys and out, to once again join the Roman Via XIX path where we were able to enjoy the beautiful Galician countryside. We were met with farmlands and vineyard upon vineyard of Albariño grapes which are used for the Spanish white wine (similar to Portugal’s Vinho Verde).  The grape is noted for its distinctive aromas of apricot and peach producing a very clean flavoured wine.  Curiously this white grape variety can be seen growing up high trained along granite posts around a field allowing for air to circulate underneath the vines.  This provides farmers with an opportunity for polyculture where they can plant crops such as maize and other vegetables throughout the year.

The Spanish camiño on the Via XIX is extremely well signposted providing exact mileage between oneself and Santiago de Compostela.  There was definitely an air of excitement and everyone had a spring in their walk as we quickly moved on through small villages with old churches and broken down buildings, farm animals and beautiful forests until reaching our luncheon stop – a small local café.  An irresistible array of tapas were asked for which included braised mussels, smoked ham, empanada, tortilla, local bread with olives all washed down with local Albariño white wine and beer.  Once lunch was over everyone quickly got on their way to continue through similar surroundings until we finally reached the entrance to our destination – Padrón.

Padrón has a fascinating history being located in the confluence of the rivers Sar and Ulla and on the crossroads to Braga in Portugal and Astorga in León.   Originally known as Iria Flavia, it is said that the Apostle St. James first preached there during his stay in ‘Hispania’ (Roman name for the Iberian Peninsular) and soon after his death that his disciples Theodore and Athanasius brought his head and body to Iria from Jerusalem in a stone boat.  They moored the boat to a ‘pedrón’ (Spanish for big stone) hence the new name that was given to the settlement.  After burying St. James in Compostela they returned to Iria Flavia (now Padrón) to preach.  The legendary ‘pedrón’ can be seen today at the parish church of Santiago de Padrón.

On arriving into Padrón at the end of the day, one cannot help but feel immersed in the history of the town.  Just the huge parkland running adjacent to the Ulla River boasts two statues of important people who lived there.

Camilo José Cela y Trulock, 1st Marquis of Iria Flavia (1916-2002) was a Spanish novelist and short story writer associated with the Generation of ’36 movement.  He was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize for Literature “for a rich and intensive prose, which, with restrained compassion, forms a challenging vision of man’s vulnerability”.

María Rosalía Rita de Castro (1837-1885).   Considered the poet laureate of Spain she was a Galician romanticist writer and poet.  She wrote in the Galician language, after the Séculos Escuros (lit. Dark Centuries), she became an important figure of the Galician romantic movement, known today as the Rexurdimento (“renaissance”).  Her poetry is marked by ‘saudade’, a deep combination of nostalgia, longing and melancholy.

We made our way to the parish church in Padrón to take a glimpse of the ‘stone’ boat which is carefully preserved beneath the main alter.  One must enter the small church carefully and quietly asking permission from the caretaker to see the stone after which he will stamp your credencial.  Many people throw a coin to rock to see if it lands in the middle as a lucky symbol for their walk.

In closing our day we all made our way to the Pulperia Real restaurant to order the delicious selection of tapas which this time included Padrón’s world famous small green peppers (Spanish pimientos de Padrón) from the Capsicum annuum family.  They are fried in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt just before serving.  Best eaten freshly prepared, most of them taste sweet and mild but once in awhile you’ll get a hot and spicy one which can leave you gasping for water!   A perfect close to our walk with one walk to go to reach Santiago!

Follow previous sectors of the coastal walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela on these links below:-

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