welcome to emmas housethought

day trip: tentúgal

On my return journey from Figueira da Foz on the N111 a while back I caught a fleeting glimpse of the words Doces Conventuais which made me hit the brakes and for the Wookie to bash his head on the dashboard. Where I’m from, Doces Conventuais means Emergency Stop.

tentugal-carts

One might be forgiven for mistaking the cafés on the roadside of the N111 at Tentúgal for ordinary truckie stops. There are about 5 or 6 altogether on a strip of about 500m. A few are plain ordinary looking cafés and the others have slightly fancier facades. All sell the famous Pastéis de Tentúgal but there are two that offer rather more than just that.

casa-armenio

For a start, the first one, A Pousadinha, has 5 different flavours of empada. Wha? An empada is a little pie, and we of Australian-Kiwi-English ancestry love pies. Normally empadas come in chicken flavour only, so to find a variety is really something in itself. None of the flavours is beef, or beef and kidney, or beef and onion, or beef onion bacon and cheese, but let’s not quibble. Let’s be happy there are duck pies, and piglet pies, and seafood pies. Tentúgal discovery number one.

o-afonso

O Afonso

A bit further up the road towards Coimbra there’s a fancier sign with a large parking area for O Afonso, and this place is a revelation. Are we in Greenwich Village? Covent Garden? Double Bay? There is gourmet stuff everywhere: teas, cheeses, local wines, sweet exotica in nice bags with gold labels. The displays, photographic wallpaper and furniture are like, groovy and expensive. Lo and behold, interior design, right here, in the middle of nowhere.

pasteis-de-tentugal

And then, OMG look what’s on offer to eat. I myself am obliged to a Pastel de Tentúgal, but The One has to pace up and down the counter several times umming and ahhing as everything here seems new and original and extraordinarily delicious. Our yummies are served with a proper tea pot and a gorgeous coffee cup and saucer á la Caldas da Rainha.

kitchen

And THEN the empresaria, Dona Margarida, invites me back-stage, to the kitchen. Ya. For the uninitiated, doces conventuais are pastries invented and created by nuns (and brothers) in convents (or monastries), often centuries-old recipes (the Tentúgals come originally from a closed Carmelite convent of the 16th Century). Frequently these recipes are kept secret (in this case because the convent is not open to outsiders, the nuns speak with no one) and they were given as welcoming gifts in honour of visiting bishopry or benefactors, as well as being stashed in the secret cavity of the nun’s bibles for midnight snackage.

The Tentúgals came to prominence in the 19th century, as the convent was running out of money they sold their goodies at the convent gates. They became popular with students at nearby Coimbra university, and I suppose, as the convent closed, the sweets then became commercialised. Pastéis de Tentúgal can be found around the country at the more serious fabrico proprio pastelarias, but for the real experience you have to come here.

raw-pasteis-2

The village of Tentúgal is a turn off the N111, and what a little treasure it is. It’s so cute that it made The One angry. “I want to live here” he said, tearfully. It’s the way little villages should be. What makes it so is that it’s really old, first referred to in print in 980 but then taken under the wing and developed in the 11th century by a dude named Dom Sesnando. A lot of old buildings have stayed. This Sesnando Davides, by the way, built castles at Coimbra, Lousã, Montemor-o-Velho, Penacova and Penela. He’s a guy that got things happening.

I was trying to find the 16th century Carmelite convent – which is tucked away in a little square and distinguishable by a checked hat on its roof. (If you do want to see inside the convent, hot tip, the Dona of Casa Armenio is good to call upon, or else start with Margarida at O Afonso, or even there’s an office opposite the Igreja Misericórdia. Actually it’s hard to find someone who will not want to oblige in Tentúgal). But en route to the convent there are a few very impressive little churches worth looking in at. The first is the Igreja da Misericórdia, built in 1583. The Casa da Misericórdia in Tentúgal, I was told by the local historian, was the second to be established after Lisbon. The Casa is one of the longest running charitable institutions in the world, establish by Queen Leonor in 1498 who recognised the need for someone to look after Lisbon’s orphans, widows, druggies and useless. And they also run Portugal’s national lottery and have a special place in our hearts for the hope they give to all of us.

igreja-misericordia

The church is very simple and the reredos is carved from wood – the figures are quite unsophisticated but still hold some colour: each scene depicts a story from the bible for the illiterate masses.

nossa-senhora-conceicao

Similarly simple and decorated in wood is the Capela Nossa Senhora dos Olivais. It is very cute indeed with naïve and humble statuary.

roast-duck

Now it’s time for dinner. Casa Armenio has something of a reputation for its roast duck and I’m not sure that anyone orders anything else when they come here. The One, who is something of a connoisseur of rissóis de leitão (piglet rissoles, mate) was almost in tears again because Casa Armenio’s are that good. This is a damn fine restaurant. It has atmosphere and conviviality, it’s not pretentious but it feels a bit special, the food is excellent and we had to have three desserts. I’m tempted to say it’s my second favourite restaurant in Portugal (for the first favourite, see Braga). Tentúgal discovery number five.

leite-creme

leite creme at casa armenio

But where’s the gorgeous guesthouse? Anyone?

with thanks to emma and loz for making it all possible 🙂

8 Comments

  1. Andria December 24, 2010 1:55 am Reply

    I’ve been to O Afonso, on my way to Figueira earlier this year. It’s everything you say and more. Of course I ate Pastel de Tentúgal by the half dozen. Delicious, and the surrounding building was equally so. Mmmmmmemories 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

    http://hubpages.com/profile/frogdropping

  2. Jennifer December 24, 2010 8:11 am Reply

    Ola Emma & Significant Other!
    Tentugal looks like a fairytale~
    Fantastic story~Fabulous photos~Incredible architecture, churches e cafes & yummy yum!
    Feliz Natal desde Australia lovelies~
    Jennifer xxx

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  3. Matt December 24, 2010 2:05 pm Reply

    Wonderful as usual Emma. I wish you all a blessed time over Christmas and New Year. Peace.

    [Reply to comment]

  4. Jaime December 26, 2010 11:05 am Reply

    Ola Emma, I think you are better promoting this country than most of the national Tourism Offices. thank you, Obrigado e Boas Festas!

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  5. Nuno H January 3, 2011 8:21 am Reply

    Happy New Year Mrs!

    Lovely photos and descriptions!

    The Leite Creme looks yummy, indeed.

    Thank you. :]

    [Reply to comment]

  6. Décio Matias January 3, 2011 11:44 pm Reply

    Hi, I appreciate very mutch this post, since i’m from Tentúgal, and i have some responsability on politic issue.
    We know there’s a lot of work to do, but the one that allready done, and the opinion about give us the necessary straight to go on.
    Thk for all, and my apologies for my bad english.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 5th, 2011 at 4:04 am

    Thanks for taking the time to have a look, Décio.
    x
    emma

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  7. José Pinto August 3, 2012 9:55 am Reply

    Okay my dear friend Décio,I’m very sorry that I haven’t answered to you early.Facebook insn’t yet on my confort zone, so tonight ( I have drunk some wiskey you know) anyway I was realy delighted to read all the words above,specially from someone who is not from portugal…!
    What a better description for the beauty,history and way of life that you my lucky friend still have the chance of living in your everyday.
    I was really delighted to read all this lines from a foreigner,they pay a tribute to TENTUGAL that any Portuguese that ( I’just can’t remember anyone) have even tried to do so.
    Whell my dear friend I really hoppe next time will be togheter
    that you have the time to show me & teachme about your Lovely village wich name you should be PROUD of…TENTUGAL.
    I think that by this time you are probably in hollidays,well when you are back home to the old routine I’l be glad to cook for you and also for our friends,a portuguese dellicacy—Raia de molho de pitáu.
    Please tell to Raul that I haven’t forget Im,same way I dind’t forget you.Life is sometimes a bit complicated or whe do it so.
    So my dear friend Décio by the way my phone number is now 919032193,and my email is—jose13alberto@yahoo.com.br .
    I really hope to hear from you soon…I know I don’t deserve it.
    but as I told you before FACEBOOK its not yet on my confort zone.

    [Reply to comment]

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