Mystery of the elusive gelati
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: [email protected]tralian.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