Saturday, 30 March 2013

Shuttered Dreams

During our last week in Figuiera dos Vinhos, the weather began to improve warming a little day by day.  The camellias began to bloom in the formal garden, and by the little stone house the lavender was budding and early primroses were peeking out under the trees here and there.
Camellias in bloom, roses leafing out

We saw a lovely old restaurant, abandoned a number of years ago, and peeked through the grubby windows at the lovely azul tiles on the walls.  The restaurant, Cafe Terra Bella, is on the ground floor of a building that stands empty.

 We have seen this sort of thing before in Portugal, a building may need repairs, a new roof, plumbing updates, and if the owner can't afford them he just shutters the building.  If you are able to track down the owner you may find that he is willing to sell, often at a good price.  But to reopen the building means you will have to undertake all the repairs required.  The repairs may be within your budget but the bureacracy involved can be daunting for North Americans.

We simply took pictures, admired the lovely stone-topped tables and wooden chairs and let our imaginations fill the Terra Bella with locals enjoying a good meal and a glass of port.

A few days later, while talking a walk through town we spied another little restaurant no more than a block away from the Cafe Terra Bella.  This one had once been a local pub, with a lovely little terrace.  Situated next to the formal gardens and in summer near the ice cream vendors, it probably has the best location in the village for a small restaurant or pizzeria.

We made enquiries and found out that the building was owned by two different people: one owned the front portion, with the lovely terrace, while another person owned the back of the building, where the kitchen and working areas would be.  Complicated.  Further enquiries led us to a small house on the edge of the village, where an old fellow using an oxygen tank informed us, taking many pauses for oxygen, that he was the agent for the person who owned the front portion of the restaurant.  The person who owned the back portion was away on holidays for another two weeks.

 The location and the pretty terrace were tempting and we discussed the idea several times, but the complexity of dealing with two owners was daunting, and the fact that the restaurant had been closed for years meant that any new operation could take a few years to build a regular clientele. We can only hope that as the European economy slowly improves that people will be able to refurbish and reopened these lovely places. 

The final decision, though was made for us by the weather, which turned cold again, with rain every day.  The damp was seeping into our bones.  One of the reasons we love Portugal is its sunny warmth.  Having endured too many long, cold Canadian winters, we crave the sunshine.  The south was calling to us and after two weeks up north looking at houses and businesses in Figuiera dos Vinhos, Coimbra, Tomar and Miranda do Corvo we decided it was time to visit the Algarve.

Next time...we find a business and a house.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Day trip to Tomar

In late February we took a day trip to the Portuguese town of Tomar, about an hour south of our little house in Figuiera dos Vinhos.  

Tomar, pronounced 'Tu-mar' is a lovely walkable city of about 20,000.  It was originally a Roman town known as Sellium, though any evidence of Roman habitation now lies far beneath the present city.

Most visitors come to Tomar to see the Templar Castle and monastery which was the headquarters of the Templars in Portugal during the eleventh century. Work on the castle continued for 200 years.  Although both men and women could join the Order, only monks were entitled to the rank of Knight. 

Having toured more than our fair share of castles, we stayed in the town square and admired it from afar.  Besides, there was a wicked wind whipping through the streets, and thoughts of a warm lunch, preferably served beside a crackling fire, began to overtake any desire to view the sights.

We had lunch in a pretty restaurant overlooking the river, alas no fireplace, but warm and cosy just the same.

Templar's Castle in Tomar - note the crosses in the stonework

Templare souvenirs of every sort  
Riverside view of the Park - Castle far left background
Town Hall with Castle behind and above
Church of St. John the Baptist

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A County House in Portugal

The little stone house we rented for a few weeks is situated at the end of a country lane, just off a cobbled road that curves through a forest of ecualyptus and pine trees, a few miles outside Figuiera dos Vinhos, a lovely village about 2 hours north of Lisbon.

When we arrived, in the middle of February, it was cool and wet.  A few days before we arrived there are been a terrific storm in the area which had brought down a number of large trees, knocking out the power lines and the phones.

However, by the time we arrived power had been restored and we found a supply of candles and oil lamps in the house in case of any further outages.  We made a light supper of soup, bread and cheese and sat by the fire listening to the wind in the trees.

We arrived at night, and the car's headlights had only revealed the edge of the forest and stone walls, common to this region of Portugal.  It wasn't until the next morning, when we awoke to the sunlight filtering through the shutters and the faint sounds of barking dogs in the distance that the beauty of our location was revealed.  

The house sits at the end of a long drive, surrounded by farmland and orchards of orange, fig and olive trees, well above the village nestled in the valley below. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

More to come...