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the best cafés of the beiras

I’ve been researching this post for the last three years and on doctor’s orders, it’s got to stop.

There are just too many cafés in Central Portugal and having to sample all of their coffees and pastries is going to be the end of my arteries and me. I can no longer justify a diet of pasteis, bolos and caffeine for the sake of the blog. Sorry.

In any case the parameters of my research have become blurred. Do I stick to the boundaries of the three Beiras regions or shall we just call it Central Portugal instead? Is it really a post about the best pastelarias in which case does it become a study of fabrico proprio? Is it really just a competition of coffee brands, because I think I’ve developed a preference for Delta. What if I catch a great café on an off day? What if they do the best duchesse in the region and I order a marselhesa by mistake?

duchesse-at-past-rocha

But the main reason to stop is that there are just too many good cafés and a post can only be soooo looong…

So I’ll just tell you about my favourites (so far) and you can tell me yours, ok? Let’s go.

How I judge a place. The coffee has to be good on successive visits, with or without milk, bastante quente (who actually likes their coffee luke warm? I don’t know) and a good café IMhO serves directo whether you ask for it or not (or if you can’t tell the difference, that’s impressive). These things show a respect for coffee.

doces-at-past-penta

Either a good range of pastelaria, or a unique, small range. I look for specialities, or if they do a classic exceptionally well.

And that’s it: this is not about interior design, comfortable chairs, history, fame or even the temper of the staff… it’s just strictly a coffee and cake experience.

There are certainly many good places. What made it to this selection is being exceptionally good, and I do confess that the surprise of their sometimes obscure locations may have influenced their ranking. How do they compare with my favourite cafés of Lisbon? Certainly not well for décor(!), but for the quality of their coffee and cake, yes, I do believe they are as good.

In alphabetical order, we start in Avelar… a funny little town with really nothing much to recommend it except a pretty church, the Casa Farrica hardware shop and this outrageously good pastelaria. When I was new here I thought I was a genius to discover a cute side alley old fashioned little café which then abruptly closed its doors. I felt guilty and unfaithful when I decided to go to the new big modern place, whose pastries were possibly even better… until I realised it was the same place, they had just expanded. Phew!

sonhos-at-rocha

Pastelaria Rocha’s thing is sonhos, and they don’t call them dreams for nothing. Their miniatures are adorable and their savoury things also are great.

Ansião is also nothing much of a place (sorry Ansianense) but it does have Pastelaria Diogo, or two, actually. Massive display of goodies, consistently good coffee.

In Condeixa-a-Nova, conveniently located across from the centro de saude, is O Pote de Mel. It is slightly infamous for turning out more unusual creations, in life threatening sizes. If you’re up for something truly decadent, pop in here for a escrapiada or a delicia. After your blood tests.

bom-forno

Technically still in Condeixa, but tucked away in a bairro they call Urbanização Nova de Conimbriga (it’s off the roundabout that joins the IC3 to the IC2, towards Soure) is a little gem of a café called O Bom Forno. It serves more polite, but no less decadent, cake portions of divine invention.  And they make the cutest baby berlims I’ve seen. Chocolate berlims too. And it’s wookie friendly.

Coimbra has a few good places. There are three close together on Rua de Sofia near Praça 8 Maio. My favourite is the old fashioned stand-up-only Pastelaria Palmeira, whose speciality is the weird-but-yummy pastel de santa clara. Almost next door, Pastelaria Penta has a bigger range of mouth watering sins and arguably better coffee. Across the road, Pastelaria Sirius is also very good.

pasteis-santa-clara

When in Leiria I always go to Martin & Thomas on Praça Rodrigues Lobo. It quite rightly uses “gourmet” in its self description and indeed would not be out of place in any modern foodie location in the world. Great bread. Great everything. I think of Leiria as the Braga of Central Portugal. It’s civilised. It has Zara.

And now to Tentúgal and Vouzela. But these places and their pastelarias are SO good that they deserve their own day trip posts. It’s certainly worth going all the way to Vouzela for a visit to Café Central, and to eat a pastel de Vouzela. But the town itself is such a treasure that it’s a destination in itself. Similarly, at first glance Tentúgal’s pastelarias dos doces conventuais look like a truckies´ stop. But Tentúgal not only has an exceptional café but an unforgettable restaurant and a fascinating historic church as well. It’s not just a lay-by, it’s a lay-day.

pingo-doce

But after visiting hundreds of other cafés, I always come back to my local. Pastelaria Pingo Doce in Figueiró Dos Vinhos, behind the Câmara, is so inconspicuous you’d normally not notice it. The coffee here is just as I like it and while I’m very fond of their bolos de arroz and tigeladas, it’s their pasteis de nata that are by far and away the best in Central Portugal. I’m tempted to say, the best outside of Pastéis de Belém. I know, it’s a big call, but I have tried, I have tested and I have the belly to prove it.

I would like to hear I’ve missed something in Castelo Branco, or that there’s a gem in Guarda (I’ve never been to Guarda). Have I passed on something in Pombal? Fundão? Do you have a favourite in Aveiro? Does Sertã have something hidden? Anything new in Lousã? Let me know. Not for any more serious research, no, just in case I’m passing…

best-pastel-2

innocent and unassuming… and the best pastel in the region


28 Comments

  1. Clive June 13, 2010 8:49 pm Reply

    Thanks for these suggestions, Emma. We’ll try them out gradually!
    My wife Janet likes freshly-baked wholemeal croissants with butter whilst I’m a pasties de nata man. We both take coffee fresh hot and bastante forte like you.
    We also prefer a homely ambience over modern.
    The best café in Lousã was beside the market, always busy, a small family place with three or four staff. However, it changed owners, modernised, and is now less busy. Its energising hectic homely ambience on market day has gone, although its still alright for a short break. Surprisingly, we think the best coffee and cakes are to be had at the café in Intermarché, where they do fresh folhados chocolate in three sizes and the giant size is just great for breakfast! For ambience and breakfast we often use the Pasteleria Nova which is halfway up a small cobbled hill near the newer railway station (no railway lines this year!). Then we buy their speciality, pão de girasol – a yellow maize bread with sunflower seeds in it.
    Our quinta is 30km from both Castelo Branco and Fundão, and we rarely go into Castelo itself. Supermarket shopping near Castelo (A23, hospital junction) gives two choices. The Allegro centre has only one café which is very modern but good. It’s opposite the tenpin bowling alley and near Jumbo. The staff are friendly, the bread is nice, good coffee and lovely wholemeal croissants. Further on and well signposted, Intermarché’s own café again is good. Their cakes are up to snuff but the speciality is a cheese and bacon folhado, baked at breakfast time and still warm at 11am, delicious!
    Fundão is a much smaller place, cobbled high street, no outstanding café although we’ve tried a dozen or more. The better ones are in the old quarter near the igreja matriz. The whole town has ambience, we love it! I’ll do a blog on it soon . . .
    Pampilhosa da Serra, best café is Arco Iris next to the river bridge. Great ambience but no cakes. They have a churrasqueira for making excellent lunch. Cakes in Pampilhosa are found at the paderia in a tiny shopping centre with a loja Chinesa.

    We like our coffee and cakes but prefer researching lunch! (Fundão wins with “A Cave” opposite the bombeiros, Pampilhosa second). Hope this is of use on your travels 

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 14th, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Oh Clive, what superb research you do! I myself rather fancy a freshly baked wholemeal croissant, but I´ve no idea where to find one! Rating intermarche´s cakes is a bit of a worry – but mine somehow makes pretty good pasteis for 25c… and a giant chocolate folhado does indeed sound superb. Love your work, and thanks for taking to time to share your secrets.

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.cliveboden.wordpress.com

  2. Frederico Duarte June 14, 2010 10:09 am Reply

    Hi Emma, great research indeed! Thanks for the link to our site. You’d be happy to know our book will be republished this Autumn, just in time for Christmas… Best, Frederico

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 15th, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Fred we are ALL glad to know that the Fabrico Proprio – Bolos de Portugal book is being republished, in time for CHRISTMAS. Thanks for the visit, come back and remind us some time… 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.fabricoproprio.net

  3. P.Silva June 14, 2010 9:27 pm Reply

    Hi Emma.

    Thanks for another great post and as usual superb photos 🙂

    If some day you go by Oliveira do Hospital, there is a nice café, called “Colcorinho”, that used to have the best “pasteis de nata” after those from Belém 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

  4. Jing June 14, 2010 9:49 pm Reply

    Hi Emma, I was doing some research about Portugal and discover your blog. Will be going to Portugal the very first time at the end of August despite marrying to a Portuguese for 6 years!.lol 😉 I have bookmarked your blog so will be back for many more visits!! ^^

    [Reply to comment]

  5. tNb June 15, 2010 2:57 am Reply

    Still my favourite in Coimbra for ambiance, if not the coffee and pastries: http://www.cafesantacruz.com/

    🙂

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 15th, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    yeah, but it already got a plug in 10 day tour! x

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.atomicdogma.com

  6. Emma June 16, 2010 10:19 pm Reply

    And no mention of the excellent reception you get at Rua da Fonte, 42.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 17th, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Rua da fonte 42. Great cakes, superior tea, wookie tolerant. But best of all is the conversation. Witty, charming, billingual, interesting & intelligent. Why go anywhere else?

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.redboxvirtualoffice.com/blog

  7. sophie June 17, 2010 2:42 am Reply

    ahem … erm … my favourite local pasteis de nata are from tabua ecomarche cafe. IG supermarket in OdH sell two kinds: pastel de nata @ 50c or ‘pastel de nata brasileira’ @ 35c (what’s that all about?) needless to say i’ve only tried the cheap ones, which are yum. for me, the pastry needs to be light and crispy in contrast to thick and creamy filling … mmmm mmmm 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 17th, 2010 at 9:29 am

    @sophie, what´s that all about having great PDNs in a supermarket attached cafe in a mini-mall? Even the supermarket-attached-cafe-in-a-mini-mall takes this stuff seriously! mmm-mmmm… I´m hearing you.

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.pureportugal.co.uk

  8. Pete June 17, 2010 7:06 am Reply

    Not a pasteleria, but the Praça Velha restaurant in Castelo Branco does an amazing three-course set lunch (with wine) for 12.50. One of my favourite restaurants in Portugal.
    http://www.pracavelha.com/

    Across the border, try some of the liqueur-soaked chocolate coated figs from Extremadura… the best chocolate discovery since a neighbour’s hand-made pralines when I lived in Belgium.
    See:
    http://www.guiaextremadura.com/almoharin/fabricantes/productos_la_higuera_s_l_.html

    In Lisbon, best cheesecake is at the Sao Vicente convent cafe. Best desserts in Lisbon at the Sunday brunch at the Estufa Real.

    A friend also bakes cakes for people who live in Lisbon: better than almost all the pastelerias!
    http://www.icanbake.net/

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 17th, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Thank you Pete. Excellent work. Sunday brunch desserts… how civilised. 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

  9. Medeea June 18, 2010 8:12 am Reply

    Hello. My name is Andreea, I`m from Romania ( hell yeah, I know ) and I discovered your site from Lola`s blog 🙂
    I think to move to study in Lisbon because my family is already there. I just have to see if this it`s a suitable long term option for me. Anyway, sorry for offtopic.
    I haven`t browsed ur entire blog content/although I’m going to do this and for this I`m askin` you : where do you live ?

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 20th, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    I hope you really are from romania, andreea, and not a serial killer. I´m in central portugal, the very centre of the country, but be warned I have a vicious dog and a chainsaw… 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

  10. Virginia June 20, 2010 9:58 pm Reply

    Hi Em. Sometime I wish the Portuguese had ‘discovered’ Australia, perhaps then we’d have gorgoeus cafes! I’d give anything to have a Pingo Doce in Gosford!!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 20th, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Yes indeed! I think the porties too would have liked to have “discovered” australia, or at least have known what it was when they did get there in the 1600´s… I fear the aborigines would not have have had an easier time, but at least germany would not beat us 4-0 at soccer. x

    [Reply to comment]

  11. medeea June 21, 2010 1:59 am Reply

    you made my day :))
    I assure you that I`m not a serial killer :))
    I asked you where you live because I hope to meet more people in Portugal this summer. Anyway I’m going to see Sintra, Porto, or to discover the entire Lisbon, who knows? I was about three times before in Lisbon and I’m not getting enough of “Lusitania`s land ” 😀

    [Reply to comment]

  12. Nuno H June 23, 2010 2:42 am Reply

    It’s funny Virginia brought that up, because… Portuguese “discovered” Australia before Captain “Cooky” did it. There was an article that came out a couple of years ago about some Californian collector that had a map of Australia drawn by a Portuguese which was verified to be pre-Cook. So, in name of those Portuguese, you welcome.

    One article on the matter is http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSSYD3449720070321

    [Reply to comment]

  13. Onno de Bruin July 16, 2010 8:04 am Reply

    Dear Emma,
    For quite a long time I’ve been reading this blog now. I enjoy it, the way you write about Portugal and its specialities, the photoghraphs. Many times I learn from it, things I didn’t know yet or I wasn’t sure about.
    I am Dutch, from the city of Gouda (famous for its cheese), and bought a house in Figueiró dos Vinhos three years ago now. I realy love the village, the beauty of its surroundings, the people who live there, the regional kitchen, the sweets. I have to earn my living in Holland, that’s the only reason I’m not in Portugal permanently. But I visit Figueiró 4 or 5 times a year, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends.
    I’ve been in many pastelaria’s but never in Pingo Doce, alhough I exactly know where it is. Next weekend my holiday starts and this Sunday I’ll arrive and stay in Figueiró for one month. And I’m sure that this time I’ll go and visit that pastelaria behind the Câmara, to taste and judge the coffe and of course the pastel de nata.
    I’ll go on reading your blog. Bye from Gouda, from Onno de Bruin.

    [Reply to comment]

    http://onnodebruin.blogspot.com/

  14. elisabete July 21, 2010 7:04 am Reply

    o pastel de nata esta o melhor do mundo1

    [Reply to comment]

  15. Manuel Neto July 22, 2010 1:45 am Reply

    Hi Emma!

    Nice to know that you are such a fan of portuguese pastry! You are not alone! I understand all that travelling just for that specific piece of cake. When I was 10 , used to cicle 20 km just to go to «Periquita» in Sintra. Do you know the «Travesseiros«? «Queijadinhas«? And «Nozes«? Well, its not close to where you live, but Sintra is worthwhile! I believe you got the right view of Portugal. I love to spend my spare time in Central Portugal flying. I believe it is being discovered by the industrialised countries’ reffugees. Being portuguese, I think that it could be a revolution, as long as people are tolerant, well motivated, and like nice cakes, as you seem to do!

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.letsflyportugal.yolasite.com

  16. Mark August 1, 2010 2:41 am Reply

    Well I love coffee but dont have a sweet tooth so cant comment on the cakes. If you like savour treats then there are two places I can reccommend, dont know its name but great cafe next to bombeiros in Figueiro dos vinhos that does chamusa not sure if thats right but triangle of curried chicken, delicious. In Serta my town the cafe by the river does a great mixed meat kebab, really filling and cheap. Will get to try these sweet things later im sure!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: August 2nd, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Yes indeed not bad that one beside the bombeiros, I´ve never had the chumusas there though… and that sounds like a trip to sertã…

    [Reply to comment]

  17. Tiago June 8, 2011 12:08 am Reply

    Hi Emma.
    I’m loving your blog, and as a citizen from Leiria, thank you for the compliment to our city.
    In Alcobaça, in front of the monastery, have you ever tried Alcoa’s Cornucopias?
    They’re out of this world:
    http://www.pastelaria-alcoa.com/index.php

    [Reply to comment]

  18. Vanessa June 28, 2012 4:38 am Reply

    Hello

    I’m portuguese and i live near coimbra. I my opinion one of the best pastries in Coimbra is Moinho, near the city stadium- it has chocolate cakes to die for, with berries…

    [Reply to comment]

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