The BEST 15 Reasons for visiting Portugal

This short film shows everything that Portugal epitomizes in the wonderful variety of attractions that this small country has to offer never ceasing to amaze those who visit here.

  1. The Monuments
  2. Architecture
  3. Artistic Tiles
  4. Culture
  5. World Heritage
  6. Nature
  7. Landscapes
  8. Portuguese Cobblestone
  9. Sun, Sea and Beaches
  10. The Islands
  11. Schist Villages
  12. Historical Villages
  13. The Beauty of Simplicity
  14. The Charming Hotels
  15. The Weather

All wrapped up in this – get a bird’s eye view of what there is out there.  What more could you ask for!

Posted in Portugal, Walking in Portugal | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Portugal’s Forgotten Buildings – Grande Hotel do Parque, Gerês

Portugal is dotted throughout with some very striking and grandiose architecture that covers centuries of history and have, I am sure, some wonderful stories surrounding them.

One example of this fine architecture are the magnificent Portuguese manor houses or country estates, the ‘casa antiga Portuguesa’, that feature mainly in the central/northern part of the country.  These solid yet elegant structures, made from granite blocks, mirror a rich heritage that in many cases is still preserved today.   Some however, either through family differences over inheritance laws or lack of funding have fallen into ruins and are quite a common site today.


Beautiful early XX century advertisement – Courtesy of

One particular building worth mentioning is the Grande Hotel do Parque located in a small spa town of Gerês (Caldas do Gerês) and which today lies sadly abandoned.  Located in the northwest heart of the Peneda-Geres National Park (Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês – UNESCO classified as a World Biosphere Reserve) and surrounded by lakes and mountains, the Gerês spa is considered to be the most famous in the country.   The hotel obviously played an important role in the history of Gerês from the early XX century.

Book Geres

Gerez – Resort for healing, rest and tourism


The thermal baths of Gerês (previously written as Gerez), open from 1st May to 31st October, were and still are highly recommended for liver, gall bladder, obesity, diabetes and hypertension ailments.  They were originally exploited by the Romans and it was only during the reign of the Portuguese King John V (1689-1750) that the first buildings for bathing with warmed granite tanks were built.  The Portuguese Royal family, namely King Ludwig I (1838-1889) and Queen Maria Pia (1847-1911) accompanied by Prince D. Carlos and Queen Amelia of Orleans, were frequent visitors to the Gerês spa.  In 1897 the original buildings were demolished making way for new constructions that included a water catchment.

With the growing popularity of the spa in the late 19th century, the sumptuous Grande Hotel do Parque was purposely built for accommodating the upper class visitor looking for treatments for their ailments.  In her book “O Gerês: De Bouro a Barroso”, the author Dra. Rosa Fernanda Moreira da Silva, describes it as being built from the turn of the century and that the architectural and functional structure of the property was shown as qualitatively different from the other hotels in the town.  The size and refinement of the functional areas offered more features with regard to interior comfort such as the presence of a lift.   The surrounding green space areas were adapted for leisurely activities such as playing tennis and bathing in the spring water swimming pool.

Name of Hotel


Grand Hotel do Parque sealed off today

The hotel was first owned by Vicente Paulino da Silveira and his wife Hortense and from there passed to the Teixeira family.  This enlightening advertisement below, circa 1900, describes exactly what the hotel had to offer:

Circa 1900 - Courtesy of

Circa 1900 – Courtesy of

“This magnificent hotel, purposely built for receiving guests at this choice location in Caldas do Gerez, besides possessing magnificent amenities and fine service, has an excellent park with a garden and forests with shady trees, waterfalls, springs of the finest and the most delicious drinking water and a large recreational room, whereby offering guests enjoyment as no other hotel in the country.

All correspondence should be addressed to the proprietor and director.”


Advertisement 1913 – Courtesy of

Interestingly, within the garden and forest area there existed an enchanting area called ‘Largo do Paraiso’ but it is difficult to pinpoint the exact location of this spot.  An original postcard dated 21st August 1925, with an image of this garden area (from Foto Marques, Braga) can be seen on this very informative blog carris-geres.


Advertisement 1934 – Courtesy of


In 1928, the Parque was acquired by a hotel group but sadly closed from the beginning of XXI century where it has now fallen into a sad state of degradation.  The hotel group did some redevelopment to the interiors and outside area with regard to the tennis courts and swimming pool for the general public’s use.  This article from a 1934 newspaper on Beaches and Spas does say that the hotel was completely renovated but there is other mention that it was.



A further collection of beautiful old black and white photos can be seen on this excellent historical blog Restos de Colecção which show what the hotel looked like inside with its beautiful dining room, billiard room and hallway.  The blog also has a wonderful array of advertisements for the Parque (dated 1943 & 1960 as seen below) both focus on the fact that for those looking for liver treatments should come to Gerês as there are plenty of hotels to stay in.

Advertisment 1943 - Courtesy restosdecoleccao.blogsp      1960-Termas-do-Gerz4

Many buildings in Portugal are covered in exterior tiles not only used ornamentally but with a specific functional capacity such as temperature control.  The four storeyed Parque is an excellent example of this being covered in two different tiled patterns, the major part in an unusual and charming, intricate lilac, chocolate and white pattern whilst the attached building is in a simpler small green and white symmetrical pattern.

image007    image028

There are eye-catching windows and doors all around the building in many beautiful and different styles.  Some remain with their shutters closed and curtains in place whilst others have broken panes showing sad and tattered grey curtains hanging loosely in the breeze.

image036     image002

TorreThe south façade of the building which leads into the original garden area, has an elegant and unique singular tower with beautiful Gothic windows and is painted in a crisp sage green.  Its rooftop bears a broken weather vane.  Although in a different style to the rest of the building, according to old photos this was part of the original construction.  A further selection of beautiful old postcards issued by the hotel (circa 1930’s) can be seen on this excellent blog carris-geres.

The green symmetrical tiled building attached to the tower has an unusual and beautiful eye-catching gable in the same crisp sage green – almost like a Wedgewood china pattern to look at.  Really beautiful.


When I took these photos it was only possible to observe the building from the street outside as a protection barrier has been put up but it is understood that much of the old interiors still remain as they were in its heyday.  I am really hopeful that someone or a hotel group will take on the massive task of restoring the Grande Hotel do Parque to its original glory in Gerês ensuring that future generations can enjoy this beautiful building and its magnificent surroundings.

The slideshow below shows the photos of what is looks like today – enjoy.

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The Intriguing Story of the Senhor d’Além Chapel

When travelling around such a beautiful country as Portugal, one will inevitably encounter monasteries, churches and chapels in the cities, towns and villages and in some cases on private properties.  All are usually well maintained, either by the state or private individuals.

Foto 1One small chapel with a curious yet disputatious history going back centuries, has a story that is well worth telling.   The name of the chapel in question is Capela do Senhor d’Além (Chapel of the Lord of Beyond) located in Rua Cabo Simão, Vila Nova de Gaia and which today sits forlornly, in a fallen state of decay, just above the River Douro on the escarpment leading up to the magnificent Serra de Pilar (classified by UNESCO as World Heritage).

The story begins in 1140 when the then Bishop of Porto, D. Pedro Rabaldes, ordered the construction of a convent ‘Convento Donas Pregaretas de S. Nicolau’ for nuns on the site of the Serra do Pilar (an area originally known as Monte São Nicolau (St. Nicolas), Monte de Meijoeira or Monte de Quebrantões).   At the time, local people worshipped São Nicolau, patron saint of travel, merchants and seamen at a very ancient hermitage on this site.  A small dwelling and water fountain could also be found at the same location providing additional solace for those in need.

Serra de Pilar / Courtesy Manuel Sousa - Wikimedia Commons

Serra de Pilar Monastery and unique circular Church / Courtesy Manuel Sousa – Wikimedia Commons

One day a Crucifix was discovered and it would play an important role in the history of the chapel eventually causing a dispute between the peoples of Porto and Gaia.  Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any documented proof of exactly how, when or where the Crucifix was found but two legends are told.  One mentions that it was discovered on the site of where the convent for nuns was being constructed whilst the other tells of when local fisherman from Guindais (a parish of Porto immediately across the river from the chapel) were fishing for shad in the Douro River, in front of what today is known as Senhor d’Além, when they pulled in their nets and found a Crucifix from the bottom of the river. In both cases the Crucifix ends up being displayed at the small São Nicolau hermitage where it could be admired and venerated by all.


Grijó Monastery / Courtesy Wikipedia

During the four centuries following, two similar situations occurred that would originate the construction of the small Senhor d’Além chapel.  The convent at Serra do Pilar, through a shortage of nuns, had fallen into decay and so, coincidently, had the São Salvador Monastery for Augustinian monks at Grijó (originated in 922, reconstructed in 1142 – located approx. 25 kms south of Porto).   A decision was made by Father Brás from Braga (the appointed reformer of the Order of Canons Regular of St. Augustine) and the Bishop of Porto, D. Baltazar Limpo, under the consent of King John III of Portugal, that a new monastery be constructed on the site of the Serra de Pilar with construction starting in 1538 and concluding in 1670.

During this time as well, the Crucifix’s importance became far more apparent and with the building of the monastery taking place and more space needed to expand the construction, D. Baltazar Limpo ordered that not only the Crucifix but two other statues: São Nicolau (St. Nicholas) and São Bartolomeu (St. Bartholomew), be collected from the now extinct São Nicolau hermitage and placed in the newly constructed Senhor d’Alem chapel (predecessor of the one that is seen today).  This took place on 24th August 1500 in a ceremony accompanied by a procession of boats on the Douro River.

Note:  According to a letter from D. Baltazar Limpo dated June 17th, 1539, the statues of São Nicolau and São Bartolomeu were the property of the convent at the Serra Pilar which confirms that they did not remain at the Senhor d’Além chapel whereas the Crucifix did.

We can presume then that the original Senhor d’Além chapel was built in the late XV century and, as it was strategically close to the pier and a fishing settlement on the Douro River waterfront, it would become part of a rosary of other small chapels that dotted both sides of the river, fulfilling the daily religious needs of people connected to the river and the sea.


Looking out west over the River Douro towards the Senhor d’Além Chapel below the Serra do Pilar

The chapel was administrated by the Porto Council and the Crucifix was revered by all where it would be paraded in ‘Prayer Processions’ by the people of the city of Porto not only in times of drought or floods, but in blessing to give thanks for special occasions.  It would customarily be collected from the chapel and ceremoniously carried back across the river and through the streets of Porto to the Cathedral ().   Its return to the chapel for safekeeping would be performed in solemn procession through the streets of Porto, accompanied by the Chapter and other brotherhoods.

One recorded procession was in 1734, when the city of Porto was experiencing a severe drought and water shortage and a stately procession was held with it travelling on a boat downriver along the bar to the mouth (Foz) and back.  These processions would be made up of richly decorated boats and accompanied by the city’s principal brotherhoods, secular clergy, noblemen and commoners.  Another, according to the minutes of the town meeting which took place on November 18th, 1755 (two weeks after the city of Lisbon was destroyed by a terrible earthquake on November 1st and where Porto had escaped virtually unscathed), the Porto city Prosecutor suggested it would be fair to make a ‘Procession of Thanks’ to the Crucifix for this miraculous escape.

Sé Cathedral, Porto

Sé Cathedral, Porto

Everything went normally until one day the Canons became upset with the Cathedral Chapter when they were asked to participate in one of these processions to return the crucifix to the Chapel.   The Canons were of the opinion that the members of the Chapter did not have the authority to order them to participate in processions!   Their reply was “that they would participate when they felt like it” and they retaliated by refusing to let the Crucifix leave the Cathedral ().   This would be the outset of a conflict between the Porto Council and Cathedral Chapter that would take a long time to be resolved.

The Council aldermen also became offended at this situation as “wasn’t it they who were taking care of the Chapel do Senhor d’Além and the Crucifix“?  They followed up with written request to the Crown Judge asking that as a gesture of goodwill the Crucifix be returned to the chapel as has always happened in the past.  The Cathedral Chapter however not only didn’t allow the Crucifix to leave the Cathedral but did not respond to the Judge’s letter!

Given this surprising behaviour, the Council made a further attempt to try and solve this problem by appealing to a higher court and on November 22nd, 1631, the Palace of Justice sent a favourable decree asking that the Chapter “might allow the Crucifix to be returned  to the chapel but only privately without any form of a procession”.   Unfortunately even more confusion set in as they continued to disobey the order.  The consequences of even further demands by the Council resulted in the Bishop of Porto intervening and stating that as he had not been ‘heard’ by the court that the sentence was invalid.  In the years following to at least 1646, the problem still remained unsolved with the Canons only allowing the Crucifix out when they wished! (extract Jornal de Noticias 2007-05-07 by Historian, Germano Silva)

Santa Marinha Church / Courtesy

Santa Marinha Church / Courtesy

With all that had happened the Gaienses (people of Gaia), felt mocked and betrayed at the Canon’s decision and in retribution devotees had a replica Crucifix made that would be revered in the same way as the original one.  It came to play an important part in the lives of the Gaienses also being used in fluvial processions during droughts, plagues and other calamities where it would board a boat on the small jetty in front of the Senhor d’Além Chapel and travel downriver to S. João da Foz during which time devotees would pray to it from the banks of the river.  At the close of these processions it would be carefully returned to the Chapel never returning their neighbouring town of Porto.



Chapel/Lighthouse São Miguel-o-Anjo Photo Courtesy Wikipedia Commons – Antonio Amen

It is understood that the situation of the Crucifix was eventually resolved for some time between the Council and Cathedral and that it was returned to the chapel of Senhor d’Além.  However to avoid further conflicts, instead of bringing it straight to the Cathedral as was done traditionally, it would be carried in a procession to the S. Miguel-o-Anjo Chapel  in Foz and then down to the city through the Porta (door) de Olival (original entrance from the north of the old city and administered by the Porto Council) eventually passing to the Cathedral.

Sketch of the medieval Porta de Olival/courtesy

The medieval Porta de Olival/courtesy

Today the original Crucifix sits in the Chapterhouse at the Cathedral (Sé) in Porto and the replica sits in the Santa Marinha Church in Vila Nova de Gaia.  It is said that the reason for this is that during a very serious drought (there is no certainty on the date), it was collected and used in a procession through the streets of Porto for locals to pray for rain.   When their prayers were answered and it finally rained, the Canons collected the Crucifix and never allowed it to return to the chapel again.  Still today, devotees place olive oil lamps on the window facing the river towards the chapel of Senhor do Senhor d’Além.


Senhor d’Além Crucifix / Courtesy

In 1877, the original chapel, now in ruins, was demolished and a new chapel with a bell tower and home for the parish priest (the one that can be seen today also now in a state of decay) was built higher up to avoid floodwaters.  The chapel boasted large ornamental gilded carvings on the altar and had a copy of the Crucifix.  Sadly today two of the bells in the tower have been stolen forcing the Parish of Santa Marinha to remove the other two for safe keeping.

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Capela Senhor d’Alem today with walled up entrances

A unique selection of photographs taken by Alexandre Silva are available to see on his blog Monumentos Desaparecidos.  He managed to get inside the chapel, at the invitation of two squatters, and take photos which show what the state of it is today.  Sadly, after relocating the squatters to another residence), the council have recently ‘walled up’ all entrances to avoid unwanted entry and vandalism.

Interestingly in 1738, right alongside the chapel, the first hospice was founded.  On March 5th, 1739 five friars from the Order of the Barefoot Carmelites took over the hospice where it remained open until 1832 after which the State declared the closure of all convents and monasteries.  With its huge leafy trees it was considered a favourite place for picnics and local festas, sometimes subject to floodwaters being so close to the banks of the Douro River.  The Carmelites gave assistance to those in need who disembarked at the small quay close to the chapel.  There was and still is today, an annual festival in honour of Senhor d’Além which occurs on the Sunday following the festivities in honour of Senhora do Pilar, falling on the second last Sunday in August.

Note:  Another excellent article from the blog ‘A Vida em Fotos‘ shows the beautiful trees around the chapel giving us an idea of what it would have looked like.  Sadly all gone today.

In 1834, the hospice building was sold at auction by the State and after some amplification was turned into a ceramics factory producing beautiful tiles and other ceramic articles.  Two very different and beautiful examples of ceramics produced at this factory can still be seen today:  the panel of blue and white tiles, dated 1912, designed by Silvestre Silvestri and painted by Carlos Branco, found on the Igreja do Carmo (church) in Porto and a very beautiful handpainted jug with the coats of arms for Portugal and Brasil (photos below courtesy of Tempo e Historias).

Church 1  Church 2

Jarra Fabrica Sr Alem   Frente    Jarra Fabrica Sr Alem2

DSCN0042It is also very likely that the beautiful yellow and white tiles adorning the outside of the chapel were also produced at this ceramics factory.  This style of tiles come in an array of colours and can be still seen today on many of the old buildings around Porto.

The ceramics factory changed hands three times and today is a shell of what it was but archaeological intervention has shown that it is possible to clearly identify three phases of occupation of the site.  Each corresponded to successive enlargements and adaptations of the buildings:

  1. In the XVI and XVII centuries when it was original hermitage/chapel of São Nicolau (later enlarged and named the chapel of Senhor d’Além).  This is contradictory to the recorded date of 24th August 1500 when the transfer of the three statues from the extinct and ancient hermitage at Monte São Nicolau took place;
  2. The first half of XVIII to the first half of the XIX century whilst a hospice run by the Order of the Barefoot Carmelites;
  3. And finally from the middle of the XIX century until the 1920’s when it was a ceramics factory using the same name as the chapel.

And finally to close, a tribute to the Senhor d’Alem chapel and the area surrounding it in this lovely film by Reporter Ene.  The chapel will forever hold its secrets from us.

Posted in Chapels, History of Portugal, Portugal | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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 , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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Posted in Chapels, History of Portugal | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

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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