Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Evora - packaged, shrink wrapped, delightful.

It took us an hour or two to get to like Evora. At first we were assailed by minor irritations. Our arrival was complicated by road closures and diversions which meant driving into the city centre and back out again to get to the campsite which should have been a simple drive around the ring road. The site itself is part of the Orbitur chain, simple, but clean and well managed - it suits us.

The town bus service stops at the campsite gate, it's a circular route so it takes twice as long to get to there than to return. The journey acquainted us with most of Evora's public housing estates. All of them had cobbled streets and hairpin turns. It was only a 15 minute ride but our nerves were frayed by the time we tumbled out of the bus in some anonymous ancient street in the centre.

We planned to find the ruins of the Roman temple mentioned in our guidebook. We found it eventually; it was undergoing restoration and entirely shrink-wrapped. So too was a large building in the main square, it may have been the Museo Religio, but it was too swathed in plastic to tell.

Now we were slightly grumpy tourists and everything began to seem slightly annoying - the tour parties traipsing past the cathedral as if on a school trip, the tacky gift shops selling cork knick-knacks lining the Rua 5 de Outubro, the Mercado Municipal which was restored, but half-closed. Eventually we arrived at the Jardin Publico, a shadowy oasis among the heat of the gleaming white streets. We found a bench and watched the peacocks, took photographs of the handsome bandstand and admired the Moorish ruins. Sanity returned and we began to enjoy ourselves.

We decided we liked Evora after all. Neither discovering the restaurant we fancied for lunch closed for its annual vacation, nor the perilous cobbled alleys made lethal by drivers bowling down them in pursuit of lunch could dampen our spirits.

We had watched the owner of the Choureçaria da Praça placing tables on the pavement when we passed the place a few minutes earlier. We decided to return there as the menu had looked tempting. By now half a dozen small tables had been set stylishly so we sat down, the first customers of the day. This was a risky strategy as how busy a place is with locals can often be an indication of excellence. However, our impromptu choice proved inspired. The waiter was very enthusiastic about what they offered, obviously a foodie himself, he recommended two tapas dishes to share - mushrooms with chorizo and a concoction involving goats cheese, honey and roasted walnuts. Both dishes were good. What raised the place from good to truly memorable were the desserts.

The partially de-constructed chocolate brownie with walnuts was delicious. Star of the show, however, was a pear based dessert. The fruit had been poached in an orange sauce, then glazed to look translucent. There was a hint of mild curry coming through from somewhere, either from the poaching or the intense orange sauce. The dish was decorated with a star anise and small pearls of white chocolate.

We chatted to the waiter about some of the restaurants we had visited on our travels, the difference between Portuguese and Spanish chorizo, the challenges of local olive oil production, the best Pinchos places in Donastia - foodie talk. I think he was pleased to serve appreciative customers, he served us glasses of dessert wine as a gift to go with our puddings - a kind gesture.

Time to head back for the bus. We found the stop eventually down the hill from the central square - Plaça Giraldo. The arcaded streets around here are lovely, full of cafes and bookshops serving the university students and staff I suppose.

Evora took its time to charm us. Off the main tourist trail it is full of unexpectedly delightful corners. We shall remember fondly the town, the stunning pear dessert and the thoughtful civilised waiter . Unassuming, pleasurable moments like these are why we travel.

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