Mention the village of Tentúgal and if you don’t get a blank stare you’ll certainly get a glimmer of recognition for the pastry the town is famous for. Pastel de Tentúgal is a marvel of a pastry that was born out of the sugar and egg yolk surpluses of Portuguese convent life.
So would you drive the 18km from Coimbra to little Tentúgal to try one? Sure you would. You should. But then what?
There are wonders here you need to see. Strange wonders. Also: the beauty of handmade things like the pipe organ in a box you see on the right, which comes from the convent but is now stored in the Casa da Misericórdia.
So what you do is this. You go to O Afonso, the cafe right on the main highway. You have your morning pastry, your Pastel de Tentúgal. You might not stop there. There are artisinal breads, cheeses and meats galore to try.
O Afonso is run by the affable Olga Alexandre Gonçalves Cavaleiro. She speaks English, as does her husband and some of the workers. You will need her, as she is quite active in the local cultural heritage preservation scene and has volunteered to steer you to the places in this article. If she has time, she might take you to the convent and the two amazing churches we’ll describe next.
Casa da Misericórdia de Tentúgal
This is my favorite place. The altarpiece(s) are made of stone. They’re from the 16th century, and depict scenes from the bible to repeat those stories for the illiterate, which numbered many in those times. Below is a scene showing Jesus in the tomb. Here’s a close-up:
The Misericórdia was a Portuguese charity, founded in Lisbon in 1498. These “houses of mercy” were charged with the task of burying the dead as well as other tasks like marriage, charity, health care and taking in babies whose mothers had died.
Igreja matriz da Assunção —or— Igreja de Santa Maria de Mourão
This is Olga’s favorite church. The altarpiece consists of stone sculptures of the saints—and all but two are women. The second name the church is known by, Igreja de Santa Maria de Mourão, refers to the moors, which Olga says lived in harmony with the Christians in Tentugal.
The chapel on the right is quite curious. Experts can’t seem to figure it out. Let your mind wander over the possibilities.
The church was built in the 14th century, but most of the chapels are built later.
Here’s an overall shot of the church. Nice work, isn’t it?:
Then there’s the convent, Nossa Senhora da Natividade. It is in a bit of a state of disarray, but is getting restored bit by bit. It’s where many women gave up their rights to wander freely amongst society, and there is a rather pervasive sadness about the place. You can see it in some of the artifacts, like the one to the right.
When you’ve seen these things and you’re feeling a bit hungry, now is the time to stroll over to what I think is one of the best traditional restaurants I’ve ever eaten at in Portugal, Restaurante Casa Armenio, which is marked on the map. You see, there’s a special rice grown in these parts, called Carolino. So you really should try the local rice dish arroz de malandrinhos, rice with duck innards and blood, along with the companion dish Pato assado, roast duck with potatoes. You’ll be amazed at the price, considering the quality of the food. The place is a treasure.
Here is one last picture of the organ’s darling keyboard. Below that, the map.
Tentugal Attractions Map
This should get you everywhere. Once you stop at the pastry shop in your car, everything is a walk away except for the B&B in the north west.