The train station of Porto is famous for its beautiful tiles. But throughout the length of Lisbon and Porto, called the North Line, along the intermediate stops, the smaller stations are themselves intricately decorated.
Vila Franca de Xira's is the first train station (after Lisbon) where one can see the beautiful tiles adorning the station building, mainly on the side facing the tracks. The tiles painted by Jorge Colaço, were mounted in 1939. There are 20 panels to be found in this building, depicting various rural and countryside scenes, and local activities.
The decorations are striking, and as the train approaches and one descends the train, one can almost feel the charm and glamour that was associated with train travel in the not so distant past. All this relives the days of traveling in style, where arrivals and departures are events, where people linger and stay on, where the building is or houses creations of art to be enjoyed and admired, very much unlike how one feels in most train stations elsewhere today -- a place to get out of as quickly as possible.
This is a market that is special, that is worth a visit -- certainly much more beautiful, prettier if you will, infinitely more interesting than many of the markets much touted in travel guides. And I'm not even talking about what you can find inside. We're talking here of the structure, the building.
Situated in a single block, the market is a single-level, medium-sized structure whose exterior is lavishly but tastefully decorated all over with azulejos, or blue tiles. These handpainted tiles, produced by the Fabrica de Loica de Sacavem in 1930, show figurative panels of various dimensions.
The rectangular-shaped building has an entrance on each side, above of each has a panel representing one of the four seasons. On each top corner of the building is represented a scene from a local activity, with the narrow wall below depicting the various trades and occupation in the Ribatejo region, before the factories were built and changed the local way of life. There are scenes related to river (Tagus) activities such as fishing, and mending of nets. Even washing of laundry. There are scenes related to its rich farming and livestock traditions such as harvesting of wheat, grapepicking, winemaking, and livestock raising. Festivities are also depicted such as the racing of the bulls. In all, there are 24 big-sized panels, complemented by smaller figurative panels running the entire length of the building found on the top end. The total number of tiles found in this building is 15,060.
The market building itself was inaugurated in 1929, and has since been a central point in the life of this once rural village. Between 2000 and 2006, the municipality undertook a project to preserve and maintain the integrity of these tiles.
It is hard to find a prettier market than this.
Vila Franca de Xira a small town close to Lisbon was one of my travel highlights in Portugal. I planned my trip to Portugal in order to participate in the main event in the town which takes place in the first July week. It’s the Festa do Colete Encarnado, or the Red Waistcoat Festival. The event takes its name from the traditional costumes of the campinos, the cowboys who guard the bulls in the pasturelands of the Ribatejo.
For several days there are bullfights and bull runs.
There are also other events like fado concerts or regattas. You can taste local culinary specialities served in the streets or meet people in national and local costumes.
Estrada Nacional 1 - Povos, Vila Franca De Xira, 2
This place was a completely accidental find. And what a nice find it was. We had been disappointed to find out that the town's supposedly best restaurant had closed, so we were going around the main streets trying to look for a good substitute. Not finding any, we decided finally on just a place offering the usual fish and meat fare. Standing in front of the building where the menu was listed, we entered the left door, only to find out once we were seated that it was a completely different place! In any case, we decided to stay on.
The idea is to choose from the menu a set of different dishes, depending on how many you would like, at a set price. We decided on a 3-dish set (you can choose different combinations), and asked the chef his recommendations. For starters, we had phylo sheets with shrimp and curry, and with mushroom spread. Then we had a very good octopus dish, cooked with tomatoes, and accompanied with rice. Then we had a big serving of grilled beef with a sauce of butter and port wine, accompanied with fries. Then dessert of fruits dipped in warm chocolate. And the best part is that all this very well done food and in generous servings, plus the drinks, cost us only 23 euros!
The place just very recently opened, but we're sure that once the word gets around, this place will become a hit. There is nothing fancy about this place, the building is unremarkable, although 2 figurative tile panels on the facade will likely catch one's attention. The place is divided into a bar, and a restaurant.
Favorite Dish: The octopus dish was surely one of the best octopus dishes I've ever had. It was tender but not overly done. We were told by the chef that it took 3-4 hours to soften it in very low fire with herbs, so it came out just perfect. The beef was fantastic too -- this region is known for their good beef, so it was quite expected -- but the way it was grilled, medium rare, and the sauce together was just superb.
Vila Franca is one of the centers of portuguese bull fighting, a thing that is not so big in Portugal.
If you are not aware of it then the bull is not killed in portuguese bull fighting, but just chased around the arena by a bullfighter who is sitting on a horse.
It's killed in a humane way after the show, but so are the bulls and cows at the local meathouse anywhere in the world.
No burger without a dead cow or bull.
Vila Franca has a quite impressive arena for such a small town and they also have bull runs like the famous one in Pamplona where tourists flock from all over the world.
Bull runs are actually faily common in parts of Portugal but mass tourism has chosen Pamplona to watch it because of the Ernest Hemmingway novel.
I personally find it a rather odd tradition, but i'm less opposed to it than to factory farms that produces the meat in most chain restaurants around the world, so i will not be running naked down the street to stop it (but i will probaply run naked after a few drinks with the local girls).