After spending a few days in the village we headed due west to the central coast. On the way we stopped off in the beautiful city of Coimbra. This is the ‘Oxford’ of Portugal, being a very old and distinguished university city. It has one of the oldest universities in Europe, the University of Coimbra, as well as it being the oldest in the Portuguese-speaking world, dating back to 1290.
We spent the day just wandering through the streets and along the river Mondego. It was a crisp winters day and the sun was out and Portugal is the most wonderful place to just wander and enjoy the architecture and café culture.
I was privileged to see some traditional calçada guys at work fixing up some broken pavement and some gorgeous Portuguese men sitting on a bench sharing a moment and a laugh. I would love to have known what they were talking about.
We hung around to see sunset across the river and then meet Filipa’s cousin who is studying at the University of Coimbra for a coffee, before we drove on westward to the small coastal town of Figueira da Foz. We were suitably hungry by the time we got there so Filipa took me to the renowned local Forte Santa Catarina restaurant…..renowned because of it’s Rodizio de Marisco, or ‘Never-ending, all-you-can-eat platter of Seafood’ all for 18 Euro ($24) per person.
On the platter were heaps of these strange things called Perceves, otherwise known as Goose Barnacles, thanks to Wikipedia. They basically live on rocks, like most barnacles do, but only really exposed coastal areas as the perceves depend on water motion for feeding. They are widely consumed here and in Spain and considered a delicacy. You squeeze the leathery tube near the shell-like claw and then twist to suck out the flesh. Up close they look rather weird and scary and daunting to eat. Lucky Filipa was with me. The taste was like the sea, very briny, and the texture like a mussel or clam.
The funny thing is the name perceves is very close to another Portuguese word, percebes. Translate the first word to English and it means ‘barnacles’ but translate the second word to English and it means ‘understands’. In some places the locals try and translate their menu into English. If traveling through Portugal, you may just see some “understands” on the menu.
Figuiera da Foz is a gorgeous town and has a giant sandy beach which reminded me a lot of Santa Monica in L.A. but so much more beautiful with no people on it (in winter). In summer, the town turns in to a holiday mecca and surfing destination. The beach here is the largest in Portugal at 3 km in length. It’s also very wide and takes about 5 minutes to reach the water.
We only stayed here one night and one day but I loved it, a beautiful place to visit and we will definitely be back.
Of course, on the way home, more pit-stops for food and coffee. This time at a very famous pastry shop in a very small village, Tentúgal, called A Pousadinha. There are a few famous desserts here, one being the Queijadas de Tentúgal and also the Pastel de Tentúgal. Both use copious amounts of sugar and egg and pastry. Oh my. God.
The amazing and interesting thing about this place is that the recipes date back to the 16th century when these sweet temptations were first made behind the walls of the local convent, Convento do Nosso Senhora do Carmo. The place got the name doce conventuaís, ‘sweet convent’. What do you call a nun with a sweet tooth? A Carmel-like. Sorry!
And because it is coming up to Christmas you also see many Bolo do Rei, or King Cake, throughout Portugal. It is eaten up until the 6 January (the day of Kings – a biblical reference to the Three Kings) and it resembles a crown covered in crystallised dried fruit. Just like the Australian plum pudding, the King Cake used to contain a small ‘prize’ but has now been forbidden due to safety reasons. It also used to contain a ‘bean’ and whoever had the slice with the bean in it had to buy the cake the following year.
Merry Christmas everyone!