The city of Coimbra in Portugal is known for its ancient university but it’s also the location for the tragic but true tale of devotion between Pedro and Inês, the Romeo and Juliet of Portugal. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to share their story.
In 1339 Prince Pedro, son of King Afonso IV of Portugal, married Constance of Castile, in an alliance which joined two Iberian powers. However Pedro fell in love with his new wife’s hand-maiden, noblewoman Inês de Castro. The affair was widely known and the pair had four children together. Constance died in childbirth in 1349 but Pedro refused to marry anyone else apart from his beloved Inês who was deemed not suitable to be the future Queen of Portugal.
King Afonso, frustrated at his son’s stubbornness and anxious about the stability of the alliance, arranged for three assassins to go to Coimbra and kill Inês. Pedro, enraged, rebelled against his father and a civil war ensued.
When Pedro was eventually crowned King, he announced that he had already married Inês in secret before she was murdered. He ordered her body to be exhumed and forced the entire court to swear allegiance to her corpse. Two of the assassins were eventually captured and legend has it that Pedro ripped their hearts out with his bare hands because they had torn his heart out when they had murdered his beloved.
Inês’ body was moved to a sarcophagus in the Monastery of Alcobaca. Pedro’s own tomb was placed opposite hers so that, on Judgement Day, they can look upon each other as they rise from their graves.
Our hotel in Coimbra was the exquisite Quinta das Lágrimas (Estate of Tears). It was a former palace built in the gardens of the convent where Inês lived. It was in these grounds that Pedro would send her love letters in small wooden boats along the stream from the Fonte dos Amores (Fountain of Loves) and later, in these woods, where she was brutally killed. It is believed that the tears of Inês, shed as she was attacked, triggered the Fonte das Lágrimas (Fountain of Tears) and that rocks below are stained red with her blood, though in truth it’s most probably caused by a red algae present in the stream.
The gardens of the estate are extensive and quite magical, featuring a number of rare trees. Two sequoias, with the most extraordinary roots, were given as a gift by the Duke of Wellington who stayed at the Quinta during his military campaigns.
Pedro and Inês have been immortalised in plays, poems and ballets in Portugal so it’s no surprise that the hotel should also celebrate the doomed couple. There are a number of books about the pair in the library and even the ceiling in our suite (we were upgraded) featured paintings of them.
We decided to pay tribute to the besotted lovers by choosing the special Pedro and Inês menu in the hotel’s restaurant, Arcadas. Run by chef Albano Lourenço and consultant chef Joachim Koerper (who runs Lisbon’s Michelin-starred Eleven), Arcadas is featured in the Michelin Guide and rightly so. The special lovers meal included an amuse bouche of duck ravioli and starter of octopus and scallops but culminated in separate male and female desserts of a sweet forest and a delicious crème brûlée.
Of course we couldn’t resist trying the special Pedro and Inês wine which combines the strong, masculine Baga grape (to represent Pedro) with the softer, aromatic Alfrocheiro (for Inês) creating a balanced red wine, a tribute to the forbidden lovers.
The ghost of Inês is supposed to walk the gardens and her cries of desperation can be heard in the woods as she searches for her lover, Pedro. We didn’t see any ghosts or hear any cries but we left Coimbra totally captivated by the tragic tale.
This piece was originally written for my weekly column in the Lincolnshire Free Press but I couldn’t resist sharing it with you here…with added photos.
Disclosure: We booked our own holiday with Inntravel but were offered a discount in exchange for a review of the trip. All opinions are my own.
Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk 01653 617000) offers On the Waterfront, a walking and rail discovery of Portugal’s three great cities, Lisbon, Coimbra & Porto from £580pp based on two sharing including 6 nights’ B&B in 4-star hotels, self-guided city walking tours, and rail journeys Lisbon to Coimbra & Coimbra to Porto. Available 2 January-24 December. Flights (cost extra) into Lisbon and out Porto. The holiday can be taken in the opposite direction, flying into Porto and out Lisbon.