Dragging ourselves reluctantly away from the dreamy Douro we made our way north east to the riverside town of Amarante. Straddling the Rio Tamega, one of the Douro river’s tributaries, it’s a small town popular with weekenders from Porto. The sun came out again for our visit so it was ideal for wandering the streets and exploring on foot. On Campercontact we found a mixed car park on the side of a small park just on the edge of town. As we approached, weaving our way down a cobbled road between cars parked on both sides it seemed on first glance that it was totally full. Undeterred and determined to get in, Julian pulled in to the side of the road, jumped out and walked down to get a closer look, discovering a small, just about Buzz sized space right in the far corner. Luckily for us it was right by the fence on the side of the green space, just how we like it. Squeezed in and happy enough we wasted no time in getting settled in, bringing out the chairs and serving ourselves a nice cold drink which we enjoyed in the dappled sunlight streaking through the trees.
It was very relaxing and quiet sat there so we stayed for a while, following up with a pizza and salad for dinner before having a short evening stroll to get our bearings. The park is small and really just a short walking track with some exercise machines in the centre and a games pitch at the side. There were quite a few joggers and people with dogs, despite the ‘no dogs’ sign but it was peaceful and pleasant. Within 10 minutes we were in the town, walking down the same cobbled street past a lovely little house with a garden full of grapevines, pink and red roses and a thriving vegetable plot that looked like it could keep the whole town fed.
The lights were starting to come on and it all looked very quaint and inviting. There seemed to be dozens of quirky little restaurants with handwritten blackboard menus outside, plenty of pastelerias, cake and chocolate shops (always a good sign) and a very atmospheric, individual feel about it. There was even a popcorn shop selling nothing but popcorn which we’ve never seen before.
In the morning we went back for a better look around. The town’s main attraction is the charming old bridge, the Ponte de São Gonçalo, with a leafy river walk along its banks and the scenic square with its church and fountain. There’s also a smart Relais & Chateaux hotel here, Casada da Calçada, with a fine dining Michelin starred restaurant which looked very appealing. It would have put a bit of a strain on the motorhome moneybags had we gone in though so we had to make do with drooling over the menu. There’s one thing we’v’e always got the budget for though and that’s small treats. It also just happened to be of our favourite times of the week – Monday Bun Day – and as we only have a couple of Mondays left on this trip we had to make the most of it. Portugal is known for it’s conventual sweets made for hundreds of years in convents throughout the country. Here in Amarante every other shop seemed to be laden with temptation and we went in to the Confiteria da Ponte, which has been here since 1930 so it must be doing something right. It’s also situated right on the riverside with a lovely scenic terrace out the back, which was bathed in sunlight so it didn’t take much of a decision to go in.
The counter had a row of 5 different pastries so to keep things simple we just ordered one of each! Now that might sound greedy but in reality they’re quite miniscule , barely 2 or 3 mouthfuls each, and after all we are meant to be enjoying ‘la dolce vita’. It still amazes us how many variations you can make from basically just sugar and eggs. Some of them have very strange and/or funny names though which goes to show that the nuns had a good sense of humour – or perhaps they were named afterwards by the people who ate them, we’re not sure. For example the half moon shaped one is called ‘Angel’s Chin’ but there are others like ‘nun’s bellies’ and ‘bacon of heaven’. There are over 200 types and these 5 although not much different in taste were completely different in texture and shape. 5 down, 195 to go then!
Full of coffee and sugar we set off again, walking the length and breadth of the old part of town. The town has many fine looking buildings and some beautiful architecture dotted around here and there. It’s a fairly quiet place but there was one bit of activity when we saw a group of people all crowded in the street. We thought perhaps something was going on and it was but not in a good way. A poor woman was on sitting on the edge of the pavement, obviously in agony, clutching her leg and a fair few onlookers were gathered around her for a closer look! We’re not sure what had happened but we walked a circuit of the streets and when we came back again the number of spectators had grown and an ambulance had arrived. Somebody must have been selling tickets for front row seats, they were like vultures, peering down at her as she moaned in pain while they tried to move her onto a stretcher.
Moving on, we spotted some market stalls selling even more baked goods. We were quite surprised by what we saw and after a bit of research later found out that town has an unusual and unexpected baking tradition. This particular kind of pastry was a bit of an eye-opener and not what we expected to see on the shelves and market stalls of a sleepy little town! Apparently it’s a fertility symbol and they were everywhere accompanied in many cases by a framed photograph of a smiling baker, obviously very pleased with her achievements!