I’d judged Caldas de Rainha from the ring road surrounding it. We’d passed round the town many times before on our road trips. From the ring road, Caldas seems like a town in need of some love, large supermarkets of every brand, petrol forecourts, modern apartment blocks abandoned and large areas of wispy grass gone yellow in the sun.
One day we took a detour from the ring road and into the centre of what is a charming town.
The town (city in fact) was founded in the 15c by Queen Leonor because it has naturally forming hot springs. Around these springs a hospital was built, where patients are still sent by their doctors to take in the natural healing properties of this water. Back in the 15c the queen believed in the healing properties of this stinky egg smelling water so much that she sold her jewels to pay for the hospital.
Like so many Portuguese towns, the historic centre is in need of a bit more love. The 1920s municipal buildings in the city park and next to the hospital are derelict and filled with pigeons.
But they are trying, the area where the fruit market stands has obviously had some funds thrown in to make it a vibrant and useful space. The new fish market with its high ceilings has just opened following a delayed and over budget build!
The surrounding streets are full of shops and cafes, giving the whole centre a vibrancy you normally only find in larger towns. It’s a place where locals, tourists and the new ex-pat community gather to do their shopping and take a coffee.
The daily fruit and veg market would keep me coming back to the town. It’s full of local produce, friendly stall holders and great prices.
Surrounded on all sides by cafes and hardware shops, you can wander up and down four isles of seasonal vegetables and sweet smelling fruits.
June must be the best time to go, with all the local peaches, plums and cherries on display. In the sunshine with the defused light by the different coloured awnings, I cannot think of a better market.
A walk around the edge of the market brings forward a couple of vehicles selling local chorizo, fresh cheese and locally made totally fresh bread.
The Cafe Central by the side of the market was a hotbed for revolutionaries during the Salazar years, and it retains a real 30s feel – you might pay a bit more for you coffee and torrada (toast) but it seems worth it.
Caldas is also home to Bordalo Pinheiro a ceramics manufacturer famous the world over for their crockery based on fruit and vegetables. I have long been a fan of the cabbage lead plate and bowl.
The town is full of ceramic shops, using this design. But for the real thing head for the Bordalo Pinheiro store on the outside of the city park. Head upstairs for the seconds and bag yourself a bargain.
The city park is lovely, with open spaces and tree boulevards.
A museum dedicated to Malhoa (a famous Portuguese artist, who ended up living close to our home of Castinheira de Pera) has some lovely animal sculptures in the courtyard. The lake still has 1930s looking boat house where you can hire a boat to take a turn about the lake.
So, I’ll try not to judge a town by its ring road again! I like it here.