The plan for our three days at the seaside in Furadouro was to take a break from travelling and the trains, the drag-bags and the packing and unpacking and to spend some time relaxing on the beach.
Unfortunately our plan was scuppered by the weather because when we woke the next day there was a thick sea mist which would have challenged anything that the North Sea can throw at us back home.
Trying as best we could to be optimistic about the situation we hoped that it would be blown away by the time we had finished breakfast but it was still there like a damp shroud when we left the hotel and ventured onto the streets. By mid morning it was getting even worse and our clothes were getting damp so we finally admitted defeat, took our swimming costumes and towels back to the hotel and tried to think of some alternative entertainment for the day.
Then I remembered that the nice lady in the Tourist Information Office next door had yesterday tried to persuade me to take a walking tour of the nearby city of Ovar on a trail of the ceramic tiles. This didn’t seem too exciting to me at the time but it was now getting rapidly more appealing. It was only €2 each which seemed rather a bargain so we quickly made a return visit to enquire if there were still places available and there were so we signed up.
We considered ourselves fortunate about that because there is only one official tour like this every month and this was the last of the season.
Now we had to make our way to Ovar so being too mean to take a taxi we walked to the bus stop and when it arrived we were glad to be going inland away from the sea mist and we were encouraged to see some welcome brightness in the sky.
To be honest there isn’t a great deal to do in Ovar, at midday the street market was beginning to close down and we didn’t want to explore the streets in case this was the route of the tour and we might spoil it so instead we found a pavement café, ordered a drink and counted down the minutes to the start of the walk.
This seemed to take a long time, the pace of life in Ovar is rather slow, not nearly as fast as our consumption of beer and wine so we had a second drink and then made our way to the assembly point at the Tourist Information Office where we were separated into two groups, those that spoke Portuguese and those who didn’t.
Our guide was proud to begin the tour with an explanation that Ovar is considered to be the City Museum of the Azulejo since it has a rich collection of tiles on the facades of the buildings, more so than anywhere else in Portugal apparently and for this reason the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon has declared Ovar to be a city of historic national importance.
Azulejos first came to Portugal in the fifteenth century, when parts of the Iberian Peninsula remained under Moorish rule. Although many assume the word is a derivation of azul (Portuguese for blue) the word is Arabic in origin and comes from az-zulayj, which roughly translates as ‘polished stone’.
Nowhere in Europe has tiles like Portugal, not even next door Spain, they are everywhere and have become one of the iconic symbols of the country and are used to clad buildings both internally for decoration and externally as an essential component of construction for insulation in winter and for reflecting away the heat of the sun in summer.
It seemed to me that Ovar is a city desperately seeking a tourist identity, every town needs tourists after all and Ovar is exploiting the heritage of the Azulejo. The walk began with a pleasant stroll through the streets of the city centre with frequent stops for information from our tour guide and took forty minutes or so.
I liked Ovar and I hope it succeeds.
Overflowing with unexpected new knowledge we walked now to a ceramic factory on the edge of the city where we were invited to have a stab at painting our own ceramic tile. We applied the paint, tried to remove the smudges (unsuccessfully as it happened) and then left them behind for the oven baking process and a promise that they would be delivered to us later in the day. It was all rather like being back at school.
Now there was a bus trip to the nearby village of Válega and the church there which is a true masterpiece of tile painting art and surely one of the remarkable churches in all of Portugal. A golden temple that sparkles with amazing tiles of many colours especially now that the sky had cleared and the sun was illuminating the towering facade.
Actually I found it to be overly showy and gaudy in its appearance but the tour guides seemed to like it and we spent a few minutes inside and out.
We were beginning to wonder what was happening next on the itinerary when we were driven to an artisan workshop and museum and I began to sense the commercial part of the tour was fast approaching. I was wrong to be sceptical however because this was where the €2 was going and some enthusiastic ladies in traditional costume baked for us and then served up the local specialty of orange loaf bread which was quite nice but to be honest I found a bit stodgy, a touch under baked and rather too much of it.
This was the end of the tour, the coach took us back to Ovar and we caught the bus to Furadouro where the sun was belatedly shining and we hoped for better weather tomorrow so that we could revert to our original beach plan.
Later we went to the Tourist Information Office to collect out painted tiles and were surprised to find that the baking process had seemed to surprisingly improve them. We use them at home now as oversized coasters.