A Portuguese love story for Valentine’s Day

Gardens of Quinta das Lagrimas
Gardens of Quinta das Lagrimas
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TRISH TAKES FIVE: By Trish Burgess

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to share a love story I discovered on our travels in Portugal.

The city of Coimbra 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.

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 captured and legend has it that Pedro ripped their hearts out with his bare hands.

Her 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, Quinta das Lágrimas (Estate of Tears) 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.

Their tale has been immortalised in plays, poems and ballets and the hotel also celebrates the doomed couple. There is a Pedro and Inês menu which Dougie and I chose one evening, culminating in separate male and female desserts of a sweet forest and a delicious crème brûlée.

We also chose a Pedro and Inês wine which combines the strong Baga grape with the softer, aromatic Alfrocheiro, creating a balanced red wine, a tribute to the forbidden lovers.

Walking in the grounds that day, we located the fountains and listened carefully for any sounds. The ghost of Inês is supposed to haunt the gardens and her cries of desperation can be heard in the woods as she searches for her lover, Pedro.

• You can follow Trish on Twitter @mumsgoneto and read her blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk