We were in Furadouro in Northern Portugal, we had planned a few beach days but the weather was rather disappointing so we had to find something else to do. Suddenly 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 especially thrilling 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 luckily there were so we immediately signed up.
We considered ourselves fortunate about that because as it turns out there is only one official tour like this every month and she told us that this was the last of the season.
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 persistent 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 is the railway station in Ovar where the bus set us down…
This seemed to take a very long time, the pace of life in Ovar is rather slow, not nearly as fast as our consumption of 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.
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.
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.
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.