Posted: 2/26/2009


    What a delightful day it has been. Hot enough in February to need the air-conditioning in Francisco's Mercedes as we have a day of interesting sights in Oeste (the west), and meet great Portuguese people.

    First stop is Obidos, a small medieval walled town and castle with some narrow streets which celebrates 4 major annual festivals: Opera, Christmas, Chocolate and Medieval Week, all inside the walls. They are making preparations for the Chocolate Festival in a week, when thousands of children and families will descend en masse. We stop by Sabores de Portugal, a small shop and meet proprietor Robert Thomas.  They sell the unique drink Ginja D'Obidos, a sour cherry liqueur using the age old traditions of the Cistercian monks. You drink it from a tiny cup made of chocolate, and when you have sipped the liqueur and eaten the cherry you then eat the cup!! I first tried the semi-sweet Vila das Rainhas, honouring the land and it's queens and next the top of the line M.S.R Ginja. Delicious! 

     We drive to the coast and the famous resort and fishing port of Nazare where each summer the beach is packed solid like the local sardines. Fish are drying in the sun and we meet up with former Benfica and FC Porto goalkeeping coach Dan Gaspar and his with Maria. Dan who now coaches at Hartford University has just completed a goalie training camp which attracted 150 people at Carlos Queiroz' coaching academy. Carlos is now national coach and was previously at Real Madrid and Manchester United and in many other countries.

   A local restaurant on the waterfront, Adega Oceano  takes our favour and after a salad we try the various fish. I am used to tiddler size sardines in small cans, but I am brought 3 huge ones and warned that they have a strong taste. NO PROBLEM, I finish them off. Next a plate full of milder Carapau, a close relation of the mackerel, with boiled potatoes, and washed down with a local beer, Super Bock, finishing off the meal with a lemon sorbet.

    There is a funicular up the cliffs to the old town, O Sitio, but we drive up the steep winding mountain road. Algerian, French, English and Dutch pirates raided up until the early 19th Century. At the top is a shrine to the Virgin Mary at the exact spot where on a foggy morning in the 12th Century, Don Fuas Roupino almost rode his horse over the cliff while chasing a deer, but was saved by the sight of the Virgin Mary. You can supposedly see the marks where the trusty stead pulled up in time. There is also a large cross where Vasco da Gama made a visit.

    The local fisherwomen still dress up to this day in their headscarves, embroidered aprons, knee length stripped stockings and 7 flannel skirts in different colours.  On the steps of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazare I take a photo of three of them. We bump into old friends and are dragged towards a local restaurant off the square where a Portuguese American is celebrating his 60th birthday, along with his sons and their wives and children. Soon we have glasses thrust into our hands and Portuguese champagne is poured and toasts are made, then the birthday cake is shared with us.

     Finally at sundown to the important fishing port and resort of Peniche with the 16th C. fortress of Fortaleza,used as a prison during the dark days of the Salazar regime, and now a museum, and then to the great headland with  its historic large lighthouse, and the distinctive rocks that kids love to play on, and a view of the Berlenga Islands as the sun goes down below the horizon. A day with the Portuguese to remember.