One of the great things about the Silver Coast region of Portugal is how unspoilt it is, retaining much of the charm of traditional Portugal. Market towns such as Caldas da Rainha displaying fruit and vegetables on a weekly basis in Praça da Fruta are a world away from the generic high streets that is typical across much of Europe. With local produce, independent boutiques and cafes you can discover the real Portugal on the Silver Coast.
This beautiful, walled medieval town is a must-see. White washed walls edged in azure blue and yellow ochre overflow with the purple flowers of bougainvillea. Centuries of tradition are waiting to greet you round every corner, starting the moment you step through the gates into the town.
For those who don’t suffer from vertigo climbing the town walls is an exciting experience, towering 20 metres and more in some places and with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Take care though, healthy and safety precautions have not reached Obidos!
Taking Rua Direita (meaning Right street, but confusingly the one on the left as you enter the town), leads you up to the castle. The cobbled street is lined with interesting little cafes and boutiques selling linen, lace, ceramics, even handmade chocolates (Obidos hosts the famous chocolate festival). The area is famous for Ginjha, a cherry liquer which you drink from a chocolate cup and you can sample it for a €1 from one of the various bars or street vendors that line the road.
Caldas da Rainha
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 recomendations for place to visit and things to look out for.
The Fruit & Vegetable Market
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.
This traditional grocer, in business since 1909 is like 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!
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. 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. 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.
Parque dom Carlos I
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!).
Peniche is very much an old-style fishing town but is experiencing a bit of a culture-clash as it rapidly because the centre of the surf-scene in Portugal.
Every evening the fishing boats leave harbour and return to port during the early morning with their catches of Sea Bream, Sole, Halibut and of course, sardines. The catches are on sale that day in the big covered market in the centre of Peniche and in the many fish restaurants throughout the town (remember a lot of restaurants in this area are closed on Mondays because the fisherman don’t go out on Sundays, and if it isn’t fresh then it isn’t worth eating!).
Fishing was once the main income for Peniche but increasingly now it is surfing. Peniche hosts the annual Rip Curl Pro-Portugal Surf competition and welcomes the world’s best surfers for two weeks in October to battle it out on the waves at Supertubos and Consolaço beaches.
At Baleal beach, between Praia del Rey and Peniche, miles of golden sand mean you will always have a spot to yourself. There is a relaxed vibe at the various beach bars and restaurants that nestle between the sand dunes. Any one would be the perfect spot for a chilled glass of wine at the end of the day watching one of the stunning sunsets.
Things to do
Surf Lessons! There are a plethora of surf schools to choose.
A day trip fishing or to the Berlengas – you can organize these at the Harbour in Peniche.