Paved with ‘calçadas’, the cobbled stone immediately recognisable as Portugal, in traditional patterns of waves, cheques and stars, towns such as Caldas da Rainha retain all the charms of traditional Portuguese towns, while embracing the progress and momentum that is quietly sweeping Portugal.
Cafes such as Central where coffee and pastries are an accompaniment to the bustle of the market, immaculately dressed ladies of a certain age catch up on local gossip alongside the new generation, who’s vision and energy is breathing new life into the traditions this area is famous for such ceramics and creative arts.
We are regular visitors to Caldas da Rainha and here are our recommendations for places to visit and things to look out for.
Living like a local
The fruit and vegetable market at Caldas da Rainha is a riot of noise and colour with huge displays of fresh flowers, cheeses, meats, nuts, bread, fruit and vegetables. Each stall is a local grower or producer displaying their wears. Nothing beats a hoard of fresh, warm tomatoes, local cheese, local honey and fresh bread for a casual lunch of market produce and the market at Praça da Fruta offers this and all sorts of other tempting, delicious things. We are all so used to picking up groceries at the local supermarket, but nothing is as fun as shopping at the market, and the kids love it too. My two children love pointing out fruit and vegetables they want to try and accepting the little tasters of biscuits and cakes they are frequently offered.
Shopping & Cafes
Traditional grocer, Mercearia Pena has been in business since 1909. It feels a but like you are stepping back in time, with shelves stacked with tinned sardines and jars of pickled vegetables on one side, rows and rows of coffee beans ready to be freshly ground on demand on the other, and the most tempting of all – the vast selection of freshly made biscuits and sweets made each day. My personal favourite are the Broas do mel (honey biscuits) that are just so good, and dangerously, are sold by the kilo!
Pena is famous for its Café D’avo coffee blend (translated as Grandma’s coffee), this is the one we have in our grocery pack, but their selection of cheeses, hams and condiments make this well worth a visit to sample some traditional Portuguese delights.
Businesses like Mercearia Pena make Portugal what it is and as a small business ourselves we believe in supporting others that do so much to make Portugal special. Pena do our grocery packs for us so if you want have a selection of treats waiting for you when you arrive remember to add one to your booking!
Art and Culture in Caldas da Rainha
Caldas da Rainha was once centre of the ceramics industry in Portugal producing huge quantities of dining and home ceramics that then went on to be sold worldwide through stores such as Marks and Spencer. If you bought anything from M&S in the 90s then chances are it was produced in, or not far from Caldas da Rainha. The recession hit the industry very hard with all by one of the ceramics factories closing down. Now a younger generation of artists are picking up where their predecessors left off, reinventing traditional designs with a contemporary feel and creating new trends and designs themselves.
The world famous ceramics manufacturer Bordallo Pinheiro has it’s factory and outlet store in Caldas and it is well worth a visit. Caldas da Rainha is very proud of its history. You just have to look at the street signs – made in beautiful ceramic and glazed in vibrant shades of azure blue, gold and pink to see evidence the pride and artistry that existed, and still exists today. More recently ceramic animals have started appearing dotted around the town as a tribute to Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro. You might spot the black cat on the roof of the car park or the over-sized snails at the top of Praca da Fruta.
The Portuguese Lifestyle
From the market, the park, Parque Dom Carlos I is a short walk away. Tall trees tower over head providing soft dappled shade, very welcome in the summer heat. Wide dusty paths lead you through gardens, to clay tennis courts, lawns and the cafe. There is a large children’s playground catering to toddlers as well as older children which we will inevitably spend half an hour at (probably longer!) where the kids enjoy the slides and swings. The cafe in the park has had a recent upgrade and a toasted sandwich and chilled beer while the kids enjoy an ice cream is a delightful break after the market shopping and the children’s playground.
The park also has a boating lake, but watch out for the family of black swans, they do live up to their bad reputation (take it from personal experience!).