Olives, wine and cork

These are three products from the fifth generation family business we visited between Fátima (creepy) and Tomar (nice).

The wife, Rita, is the fifth generation of the family and she and her husband welcomed us. They showed us the old steam-operated machinery formerly used to operate the olive press. This job is now done off the farm at a commercial press.

Harvest is in November, but equipment used to harvest was there to show us how it is done. They don’t use machines, but have a willing seasonal workforce of locals. This tree is over 400 years old.

We tasted their olive oils, with bread, cheese, prosciutto and their own wine as accompaniments.

Rita demonstrated the head decoration she carries in the Festa dos Tabuleiros every four years. The men walk beside them to steady the heavy baskets.

We were impressed by the hard work and knowledge of this lovely couple.

They also showed us their wine making operation. There are vats at the back of the barn for treading the grapes. This method still produces the best wine as feet are gentler on the grapes than machinery. The seeds don’t get crushed and add acidity when feet are used. The area has to be well-ventilated during the crushing as the CO2 can give you a headache. It is also a good idea to wash your legs thoroughly after treading, finishing with alcohol, to prevent itching.

If you look closely at this photo, you can see that the roof tiles of the barn are directly on the wooden rafters.

We had a wine tasting and a number of us bought wine. We all thought they needed to increase their prices, particularly for tourists, considering that their profit margin is narrow and the wine is very palatable. We were also impressed by their passion for what they do, the fact that it is a family business and that it is a valuable part of the community in providing work.

You can look at pretty villages and historic monuments and enjoy boutique hotels, but it is people who warm the heart.

This plaque on a barrel caught my attention. It is a humorous Ten Commandments of winemaking.

Cork trees are grown on the estate and the cork is used to make corks for their wine.

They hope that their two daughters will continue the business into the next generation. One of them is particularly keen and works with her grandfather on the farm.


The village was playing up its medieval origins with this greeting from a plague “doctor”:

After that, however, the village was charm everywhere you looked.

A former church is now a bookshop. Here’s the “altar”:

More titles to enjoy de-coding:

Traditional skills still in use: plastering and tiling.

Seen on several doors:

There was a “real” church (several, in fact).

And loads more charm:

And shops. A clothes shop:

A fado shop:

And to bring us back to earth, medieval drainage, still operational, I would think.

Cooking and Nature

Our second hotel has the intriguing name of “Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel” which means it’s about that word, over-used and mis-used in our work place: “wellbeing”.

Our staff would benefit from this place, however.

Each of the 12 rooms has a theme based on a movie which has achieved cult status. Guests receive a little satchel with hotel info and the DVD of the movie which they can watch in their room.

This was my theme, with a room to match:

I quickly took advantage of the pool. It is set among olive trees and old stone walls.

After swimming, we drank green wine (a local specialty, actually a rather sweet white wine) from the patio bar.

Various other lounges were available:

Then, we had a cooking lesson and cooked our own dinner with the guidance of a chef.

I was part of the entree, salad and dessert group. The main course was duck. A glass of wine while we cooked added to the fun.

More quirky and ingenious features in the hotel include its light fittings:

Watering cans and colanders:

Dragonfly lights made from tea strainers:

Lights in the reception area:

There are bookshelves and reading spaces:

The floor is polished concrete and the hand rails reflect the nature theme.

The hotel is out in the countryside. I can hear birds and no traffic.

A couple of other things I spotted were these nesting boxes:

And this bucket shower beside the pool. You pull the rope and, rather than the bucket tipping over to drench you, there is a shower rose in the bottom of it to give you a gentler washing!


I didn’t imagine I’d be blogging about the hotels we are staying in, but the boutique hotels of the Back Roads tours are worth a mention.

The first is the Heritage Hotel Avenida Liberdade, Lisbon.

The hotel has been tastefully restored and refurbished. The staff are wonderful. There’s a doorman in a red jacket.

Rather grand rooms:

Chunky bathroom ware:

Bathrobes behind the door:

In the lobby a greyhound sits by a spiral staircase

which leads to a mezzanine library – with board games you can play.

In the lobby, you can relax and enjoy, free of charge, coffee, tea, juice, snacks (including the famous Portuguese custard tarts), and a choice of Muscatel or Port wine.

These drawers behind the reception desk remain from the days the building was a herbalist’s.

Here’s a cosy corner of the lobby:

The wall tiles are original.

On the theme of “travelling light”, I noticed this discrepancy in luggage sizes as we checked out:

Yes, that’s my wee suitcase, hidden behind the others! At least there are only eight people on our tour, so we have room to spread out in the minibus.

Royal Romanticism

The Portuguese royals liked to spend summer at the coast. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Sintra attracted summer visitors and it is here that King Consort Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, built the Palacio da Pena. “Like his cousin of Prince Albert…he loved art, nature and the new inventions of the time.” (DK Guide.)

Baron Von Eschwege was the architect appointed and many Portuguese craftsmen were employed to create this romantic fantasy palace where royals and invited guests could enjoy the theme park atmosphere.

More symbols than you’d ever want to behold in one glance were used to decorate this entrance and this window:

Each room was themed with elaborate plaster work, trompe-l’oeil and even Ferdinand’s own paintings.

Somehow, hordes of tourists are attracted to this spectacle.

Even the views have a touch of romanticism for the royal 19th century visitors who relished the tales of King Arthur – and don’t we feel their appeal too?

Ferdinand liked to collect stained glass.

The kitchen is refreshingly simple:

Perhaps the best part is the park around the palace. Originally, the landscape was bare, rocky hills, but Ferdinand imported plants from all around the world, including ferns from NZ and eucalyptus from Australia.

Here, some rocks push defiantly through the imported lushness.

No wonder the royals and their aristocratic guests liked to go to nearby Cascais for a breath of fresh seaside air.

In Cascais is a statue of the last Portuguese king, Carlos I.

For visitors today there’s a touch or two of the opulent past.

And there’s a sailing club. I spotted a Hobie Cat and a Laser among these Picos.

For those with their feet on the ground, seeking an enlightened path:

Évora : UNESCO World Heritage Site

It was fun getting lost in Évora (pronounced with a short ‘e’ as in ‘ever’) because, just when I thought I’d seen everything, something would surprise me. It’s an ancient walled city with streets going off in all directions, uphill and down, so easy to get disorientated.

This morning, a couple asked me for directions to Diana’s Garden which I was happy to be able to do, telling them it was my favourite place in Evora – but, first, had they noticed the Manueline window on the house in front of us?

However, just to put me in my place, I promptly got lost again. It’s a small town, but I managed to clock up 10 or more kilometres each day, according to my health app.

Here are some highlights:

At the Jardim Publico:

There was acanthus in abundance too, and that creeping tradescantia of which I’ve been gradually ridding my own garden.

I discovered this amazing church this morning: Sao Joao Evangelista, with its 18th century azulejos (painted tiles).

There was a small hatch open in the floor to reveal this gruesome sight:

Perhaps they’re the bones of the nuns from the former convent next door.

A more happy discovery was an African exhibition in the light and bright Palacio Cardaval which has a lovely climbing plant with papery flowers (bougainvillea) on the terrace,

and stone parquet flooring inside.

Included in the exhibition were these ingenious portraits:

Very appropriate at the moment (World Cup Football). The exhibition was on loan from Paris.

Below is the main square Praça de Giraldo, which has cloisters for shade along one side, and seats where men sit to chew the fat.

And here’s a bookshop which was closed when I discovered it, but it has an intriguing frontage.

I’m pleased I visited Évora. Thanks to Peta Matthias for the recommendation!


Have you seen the cork tree in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens? If not, look for it next time and give its springy bark a pat. It’s on the edge of the archery lawn opposite the herbaceous border. The label just says “Quercus – Cork Oak”.

There were cork plantations most of the way from Lisbon to Évora.

There was agricultural land between with harvesting going on, and sheep and cattle grazing.

In Évora, there is a lot of cork in gift shops. Today I chanced upon a wonderful exhibition of cork models at MADE: Museu do Atesanato e do Design de Évora.

I’ll let them speak for themselves.

This is the artist.

There were all manner of things made of cork in the museum.

Straw panniers for a donkey:

A wool rug:

There was a modern design section.

Imaging lugging these about on your travels:

Kenwood mixers, but not as old as yours, Mum!

A flip-open landline dial phone:

To put our throw-away society into perspective, there was this medieval pot with repairs evident. I imagine it would be unthinkable to throw such a useful container away just because it had a few cracks in it.

And, “A gourd!” For the Monty Python fans among us.

These are cork products for sale in the streets: