Coimbra: lessons in spending

Article published on Aug. 23, 2007
community published
Article published on Aug. 23, 2007

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Birthplace of six kings, a 700 year-old university, a haven for bohemian students and a stronghold of humanitarianism and love in Portugal. Coimbra 'is a lesson in dream and tradition where you will learn about saudade'

(Photo: Jrodrigues/ Flickr)

For 6 euros: an art lesson at the University of Coimbra

It’s the summer, but nothing can stifle the desire to return to the university lecture halls. Especially if the university you’re visiting is one of the oldest in Europe. Founded in 1290, the university is the king of Coimbra and it’s easy to reach upon arrival in the town. The ubiquitous arrows will guide you to the various rooms in which have studied intellectuals whose names are globally recognisable. The complete tour includes the Capelos room, the large auditorium, the chapel, the student prison –one of the only well-preserved mediaeval prisons in Portugal and the Joanina library – a treasure trove of European Baroque!

University of Coimbra (Jocusilpa/ Flickr)

For 2 euros: a lesson in love at the Quinta das Lágrimas

Coimbra doesn’t thrive solely on academic learning. There is a whole world, abound with legends to be discovered. The most famous is that of Prince Pedro and Inès de Castro, the handmaid of his wife Princess Constança. They are the protagonists of the most intriguing love story that Portugal has ever seen and the era of the fanciful working-class and an influx of writers- such as Camoes or Henry de Montherlant (La Reine Morte) have perpetuated the legend. Originating from an historic event, the story is set in the park of Quinta das Lágrimas, which was the hiding place at which the lovers used to meet.

It is not for nothing that it is called the park of 'lágrimas' (tears), because it is also here that Inès was assassinated in 1355 by the advisers of King Alphonse IV, Pedro’s father who viewed this liaison as in conflict with the interests of the kingdom. Two years later, Pedro became king. Overwhelmed with rage, he avenged Inès’ death by killing those responsible and exhuming her body and crowning her. He placed the corpse at the throne of Portugal and forced the nobles to kiss her. Today, the two lovers lie opposite one other at the Alcobaça monastery, and the Quinta is close to becoming an antiquated museum with a collection of fountains. It belongs to an eighteenth century palace which has been transformed into a luxury hotel. The water from one of the fountains, called The Lovers', is pigmented red. Legend states that it is the blood that poured from Inès. Spoiler: it is in fact, more mundanely from the plant Hildenbrandia rivularis.

Quinta de lagrimas: (Photo: Monsistex/ Flickr)

For 3 euros: a lesson in classics at Conimbriga

Coimbra owes its origins to the Romans and to its surroundings. You can visit the ruins of Conimbriga, an obligatory route for amateur archaeologists. The site has preserved its ring of walls along with the hot springs, private houses, central heating system and ancient mosaics. This vast legacy is embellished upon at the monographic museum.

For 20 euros: a sports lesson in canoeing

The Mondego, the longest river whose source is in Portugal, is very wide with a constant current making it a favourable spot for an introductory canoeing. There’s nothing like it on a summer’s day in Coimbra and there are plenty of organised descents. Surrounded by verdant scenery, the day promises to be sensational!

For 19 euros: a culinary lesson paying attention to delicacies

If the university is the king of Coimbra, then Fado is the national anthem. 'Again, the enchanting Coimbra makes it harder to say goodbye by the hour'. Equally enchanting are mealtimes and eating in Fado is the icing on the cake! The Trovador restaurant unites this delicious combination. Situated opposite the old cathedral, it offers specialities such as the famed grilled goat dish.

So, the word saudade has once again evaded translation. It is probable that it is related to 'nostalgia' but only a detour to Coimbra can reveal its true sense!

In-text photos: Coimbra (Jrodrigues/ Flickr), University (Jocusilpa/ Flickr), Quinta de lagrimas (Monsistex/ Flickr), Conimbriga (Corto Maltese/ Flickr), Mondego (Paulo Victor/ Flickr), 'Cabrito al horno' (Sindy Nero/ Flickr)