Mys­tery of the elu­sive gelati

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - AN­DREA SHOEBRIDGE SOUTH PERTH, WEST­ERN AUSTRALIA

MY friend Ilse and I had been told that a visit to Por­tu­gal would be in­com­plete with­out in­clud­ing in our itin­er­ary Evora, the home of the world’s best gelati.

Ac­cord­ingly, with sev­eral days in Lis­bon be­fore our mag­i­cal cruise through the Douro River’s World Her­itage cul­tural land­scape, we hired a car with driver and headed 130km east to­wards the Span­ish bor­der.

Our driver, Arthur, was a charm­ing, ur­bane man whose en­cy­clopaedic knowl­edge of his coun­try’s his­tory, econ­omy and so­ci­ety was alone worth the cost of the car hire. We sped through the coun­try­side, pass­ing cen­turies-old olive groves and vine­yards, ru­ins of dis­tant cas­tles, and vil­lages bristling with satel­lite tele­vi­sion dishes, with Arthur’s com­men­tary bring­ing the land­scape alive.

Evora, its white­washed pres­ence climb­ing out of the sur­round­ing plains, is an­other of Por­tu­gal’s World Her­itage sites. As Arthur ex­pertly ne­go­ti­ated the nar­row, steep, cob­bled streets, he pointed out at­trac­tions from the city’s past. Th­ese in­cluded the orig­i­nal cas­tle walls and the Tem­ple of Diana, both relics of Ro­man set­tle­ment.

Chris­tian­ity adopted the tem­ple’s site for sub­se­quent devel­op­ment and to­day vis­i­tors stay in the beau­ti­fully re­stored Lois Con­vent, which of­fers bou­tique ho­tel ser­vices. The me­dieval cathe­dral that dom­i­nates the sky­line houses a sculp­ture de­pict­ing a preg­nant Vir­gin Mary to which sup­pli­cants pray for fer­til­ity and suc­cess­ful child­birth, as they would have done to ear­lier rep­re­sen­ta­tions of fe­male fe­cun­dity.

The plan was that Arthur would de­liver us to the an­cient town square, Praca do Gi­raldo, from where we would dis­cover the old city’s at­trac­tions on foot. We would re­unite in the early af­ter­noon for lunch at the O Fialho restau­rant, which is an Evo­ran in­sti­tu­tion. But first, gelati. This was when we dis­cov­ered the hith­erto un­sus­pected lim­its of Arthur’s om­ni­science. Not only was he un­aware of Evora’s in­ter­na­tional gelati rep­u­ta­tion, he had no idea where the prod­uct might be sam­pled.

We turned to what we hoped were Evo­rans go­ing about their busi­ness in the square but, be­fore we had time to truly grasp the in­ad­e­quacy of our few Por­tuguese words to ex­plain our mission, Arthur had re­turned with di­rec­tions. Af­ter a short walk down one of the streets ra­di­at­ing from the square, and a left turn into a nar­rower space, we saw ahead the lit­tle sign above a nar­row door­way that an­nounced we had found Gela­te­ria Zoka.

The ver­dict: wor­thy of world her­itage in its own right. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Columnists re­ceive a pair of qual­ity beach tow­els in bright prints and struc­tured geo­met­rics from popular life­style brand KAS Australia. $119.90 ($59.95 each). More: (02) 8035 2244; kasaus­tralia.com.au

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