Shopping and travel go hand in hand and certainly Lisbon and Porto offer a great selection of locally owned shops and international retailers- but for some unique hand crafted treasures, explore all of Portugal. The country has a vast variety of local crafts and these towns are worth the trip for their history alone. Here are some of our favorite shopping towns!
The university city of Portugal, Coimbra is set high above the banks of the River Mondego. Its ancient university, museums, and gardens are diverse and inviting but the city has a thriving shopping district and a local treasure that is unique.
Shops line the pedestrian-only Rua Ferreira Borges the city’s main street. It runs from the river to the 12th century Santa Cruz Monastery. But the best values are found in the winding streets (too narrow for cars) of the Baixinha – the maze-like shopping district below the main street. From tiles to lace, from fine leather to hammered copper this old quarter is fun to get lost in, and has numerous affordable eateries. Above the main street rises the Alta, the oldest part of the city, and it is quite an uphill hike from the Moorish Almadinha gate. On the way up to the old cathedral, Sé Velha, there are shops, bars and Fado clubs. The winding Rua do Quebra Costas (Back Breaker) is no misnomer but this is a great place to find Coimbra pottery.
Coimbra may be known as a city of students, but it is also a city of pottery. The refined beauty of Coimbra pottery can be confused with none other. Coimbra pottery is based on museum reproductions dating back to the local school of the 16th-18th centuries. This style is unique to the region, and only made in and around Coimbra.
Oliveira do Hospital (Centro)
Set between Coimbra and the foothills of the Serra de Estrela Mountains, Oliveira do Hospital is surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and pine forests. The odd name dates to the 12th century and the Order of Saint John of Hospital. Come for the cheese or the hiking along the valleys of the Mondego and Alva, but stay for the art. And in Oliveira, the art is all copper and brass. In Oliveira do Hospital metal crafts are expressed in the local manufacturing of articles in copper for this is Copper Country. This profession stands out, and copper-working here pre-dates Portugal. Today, the art of working copper still thrives and stores sell a great variety of unique copper pieces, such as stills, pots, braziers, casseroles, flowerpots, decorative plates, lamps, among others. And, the local wine is pretty good too!
Viana do Castelo (Norte de Portugal)
Viana do Castelo is one of the most beautiful cities in the north of Portugal. Ancient, monumental and seaborne, Viana is a city with a lot to offer. And, it is a city of gold. Viana Filigree jewelry is a metal working technique that is an art that dates back for centuries.
Gold here is no less than 19K, and it is celebrated in the annual Nossa Senhora da Agonia festival by a parade of women adorned in colorful dresses and Viana Filigree. So, no surprise that Viana Filigree is found in many local shops. The Palacete dos Barbosa Maciel decorative arts museum has an impressive collection too. This thorough technique is unique as it takes the skill of an artisan to turn every piece into a single work of art. Most of the pieces based in this technique are representations of styles based in history, nature and culture.
The most famous manifesstation of the art is the Coração de Viana. These hearts have come to represent the warmth of love with golden flames sprouted from the top. They come from the idea of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and symbolize love.
This charming Alentejo town is known for its big wines and colorful pottery. The local hand-made pottery is well known all over Portugal. And, lots of local workshops sell the colorful and bright pottery decorated with floral motifs and popular country scenes. The clay in this region has a special property of being able to withstand great variations in temperature, too. So, if you love the variety, practicality and color of Redondo pottery you should visit this charming town, and don’t miss the pottery museum.
Redondo is also well known for its wines, being a controlled designation of origin (Denominação de Origem Controlada -D.O.C.). Produced in granite soils, the wine is bold and almost as colorful as the pottery.
Rising from the plains of the central Alentejo, Évora is a city of culture that still lives within its walls. Winding streets lead to monumental squares, gardens and churches and the city boasts a Roman temple, excellent museums and a university.
The capital of the Alentejo province, Évora has excellent restaurants, great craft shops and monuments. The heart of Évora is the Praça Giraldo – a huge square, framed by arcaded buildings. Wander the streets that radiate from the square and find all the great products that the Alentejo has to offer. This is cork country, home to the world’s largest cork forests – so look for cork boots, bags, dresses and even umbrellas. Find wool mantas, colorful Alentejo blankets as well as cooper items and leather goods.
Evora’s Avenida 5 de Outubro is the main shopping area with shops offering regional pottery and tiles, clothes, and leather. Also, look for the colorful painted furniture of the region. And Évora has no lack of markets to explore. The Mercado Municipal 1º de Maio offers a vast array of fresh local produce, cheese and meat.
The rugs of Arraiolos (Tapetes de Arraiolos) known for their unique needlework have been made in Arraiolos for centuries. Presently, the town still has it walls, castle, historic squares and is known for its excellent garlic. This market town draws farmers from around the region eager to sell their produce.
But, to this day, the town’s name is associated with its rugs, still hand produced here by locals, and sold by cooperatives. The patterns used, come from three distinct periods: the early eighteenth century, with influence from Persian rugs; the second period, also from the mid- eighteenth century, with locally inspired designs, such as figures or animals; and the third period from the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century with more open stylized patterns.