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(Portuguese Romance)


By Les Furnanz   December 1, 2011


As he placed the bottle of local Ourem wine before us, our waiter bragged playfully that this was world-best. "It's like the guitar piece you are hearing... soft, warm." He showed us the CD cover and continued, "This music is by our local maestro, Silvino." We nodded as my wife, Rita, avowed her appreciation of wine and music. As we toasted the night, the neighboring couple also raised their glasses to their coastal village of Nazaré and to us visitors. We were soon chatting excitedly. Alfredo was a native of Nazaré and one of Portugal's most renowned Fado singers from the 60's until retiring ten years earlier. His wife, Georgia, and he now lived half the year in Nazaré and the other half in her native Minneapolis, MN. We soon joined tables to share the evening and local seafood meal.

By the end of dinner we felt like long-time friends. Alfredo and Georgia’s story of romance had captured our hearts. They first met in Lisbon in 1967. He was a popular club singer, and she was an American stewardess with a weekly Lisbon stopover. “Truly love at first sight,” he said, nodding at her.

“It was not long before Alfredo proposed marriage to me,” mused Georgia. “I wanted so much to tie the knot; but he could not consider leaving Portugal; I didn't want to leave the U.S. People in Lisbon were afraid to discuss politics for fear of imprisonment under Salazar. In fact, some of the Fado singers’ lyrics were banned… they were hard times. In 1968 my airline route was changed and we parted sadly.”

“We went on with separate lives in our native countries,” said Alfredo. “We did not keep in touch, but we were aware through acquaintances that we had each married and raised families.”

Georgia continued, “…but two years ago I searched Alfredo’s number and called. We found that we had both recently lost our spouses to illness. We decided to meet, here in Nazaré, and the spark of Portuguese love sprang again. We married 40 years to the day after we first met... truly a dream!” she said as she smiled at Alfredo.

This was our last night in Nazaré and we didn't want to bid early goodbye to this romantic couple, so we asked if we could treat them to a drink in a local bar. “Yes, yes!” said Alfredo. “Come with us to our favorite spot… no tourists… we will listen to our local guitarist, incredible Silvino. We want you to have good memories and come back to Nazaré!”

-- [Click here for a two-minute Heart of Portugal video of Lisbon, Évora, and Nazaré] --

            Lisbon's Amalfa Quarter
Lisbons's Amalfa Quarter and the Téjo River
Praca do Comercio
Praḉo do Comércio
Lisbon Streetcar



Our visit to the heart of Portugal started with four days enjoying its capitol, Lisbon, one of the world’s oldest cities. Romans and Moors originally settled here, and its glory days were the 15th and 16th centuries when explorers such as Vasco da Gama brought forth sea-trade routes to Africa, Asia and South America. In 1755 an earthquake destroyed 80% of the city’s structures and killed 15% of its residents. Today’s Lisbon is an electrifying mix of rebuilt 18th-century tiled architecture amidst a setting of hills and ancient neighborhoods that survived the disaster.

Our favorite quarter was Amalfa, a sailor’s neighborhood that survived the quake and dates back to the 6th century. A neighborhood streetcar ride brought us up through narrow winding streets to Largo Santa Luzia, a hilltop square with entrancing views of ancient houses, churches, and lanes descending to the mouth of the Tejo River. The many restaurants and cafes provided a good selection for a rest stop. From here we took an interesting stroll that included the 8th-century Moorish São Jorge castle and a labyrinth of streets, alleys, and public laundries where we lost ourselves in bustle and chatter. Street musicians provided additional sound and color.

We also enjoyed exploring the central Baixa quarter, situated between the hills of Amalfa and Bairro Alta. Baixa was totally rebuilt after the earthquake. It has broad avenues of tiled homes and apartments and the majority of Lisbon’s hotels, stores, and shops. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll southward along pedestrian-only Rua Augusta to riverside square Praça do Comércio. Along the way we enjoyed an entrancing mix of mosaic-decorated buildings, shops, busy shoppers, and the square’s grand arch and statue of King Jose I.

Restaurant Mural, Baixa Quarter

The Bairro Alta quarter is best known for its restaurants and views to Almafa’s Sao Jorge castle. We took the funicular from Baixa’s Praça dos Restauradores up to the highpoint of Bairro Alta. Then we meandered downhill to interesting sites such as the Vatican-constructed and mosaic-adorned St. John Chapel, the earthquake-remnant Gothic arches of Convento do Carmo, and the Art Nouveau coffee-house, Café a Brasileira. Another highlight was the descent via glass elevator down a cliff to Baixa.

The Monastery of Jeronimos was our favorite Lisbon site. It is situated in the Belem district, three miles west along the river from Praça do Comércio. Belem was home to Portuguese royalty and debarkation point for Vasco da Gama and other Golden Age traders. Built in the 1500s, the monastery consists of a grand Manueline church and cloistered square. The unique architecture includes palm-tree columns and sea-motif décor. Other highlights include many sculptures, the Renaissance altar, and Vasco da Gama’s tomb.

  Evora Roman Temple
Évora's Roman Temple


We bused two hours inland from Lisbon past farms and vineyards to Évora, an ancient Roman settlement in the center of Portugal. Here we settled back for a couple of days and enjoyed the peaceful and historic ambiance. The whitewashed town houses a 1st-century Roman temple and square, a 12th-century cathedral, an eerie 13th-century chapel of bones (built as a Christian reminder of life’s transience), and a 15th-century university. The students provided a spirited élan to the town. A major highlight were the excellent restaurants scattered throughout the tightly-knit neighborhoods.

  Nazare Shore
Old-time Nazare Boat Launch
Cliff-top Nazaré Scene
Fishing Boat Shore Launch (1952)


The coastal village of Nazaré was the most relaxing spot of our Heart of Portugal trip. The town’s unique, salty atmosphere maintains much charm from when townsmen launched their boats from the beach, prior to the port’s construction in 1986. Fishing remains Nazaré’s main occupation, while tourism booms in the summer. We bused two hours north from Lisbon and stayed for three nights in a pleasant small apartment (quarto) at only 40 Euros daily. Our sun-filled October visit was without crowds.

Locally Caught Shrimp
Nazaré Residents

We wandered back streets enjoying scenes of white homes with colorful doors and shutters, laundry lines full of drying clothes, chatting women wearing seven petticoats (centuries-old tradition), smoking townsmen wearing fishhook-filled stocking caps, and soccer-playing children in the squares. The inexpensive restaurants provided fantastic seafood meals. The old market pavilion displayed a grand array of fruit, vegetable, and seafood specialties. We lounged on the wide sandy beach, and then took the funicular up to the cliff-top Sitio section with arresting sea and town views and interesting sites such as the small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Nazaré. On our last evening we met Alfredo and Georgia, who’s unique story enhanced our own romance with Portugal and its people.

We have already booked our return to the Heart of Portugal!

        Article, Video, Photos by Les Furnanz


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