Caldas da Rainha lies between Óbidos and Alcobaça, only a bit more than 10 kilometres from the Atlantic coast. Roads of the Sloths were circling around it but we finally reached it, and it was a great decision!
A piece of history
The beginning of Caldas da Rainha is clearly marked by the historians and I can't just skip it and deliver the traveling essence. Please read my brief summary and let me know whether it is fascinating also for you as it is for me. But if you are not a history buff, like me, just skip to the next part of the text.
The area in question was of a human interest since ancient times. It was always known for its sulfurous springs. Their waters were appreciated by the Romans who built there baths. The constructions were in return not valued by barbarians invading the territory. Maybe they didn't wash themselves so much? No matter the reason, they destroyed most of them.
In the Middle Ages, the springs were referred to as 'caldas de Óbidos' (baths of Óbidos) due to the close proximity of one of Sloths' favorite Portuguese city. Those days it was the Benedictine order that used the healing properties of the waters for the benefit of the poor and the sick. Their control ended in the XVth century and to the rescue came a coincidence and Rainha Dona Leonor (Queen Leonor). She is credited as the person who planted the town's seed. The story reminded me to some extent the legendary beginnings of Wieliczka but about that I will tell you on a different occasion.
The Queen, by chance, on the way to Batalha, found the springs – those days used basically only by the local peasants – and tried them herself. Happy with the result, her health problems remain a mystery to me, she decided to use her own resources to build a hospital. Around that place grew a settlement which blossomed to a city as we know it these days. Caldas da Rainha, Queen's Baths.
And there's so much more! Not to bore you with details, let me mention one more thing: the clay. The surroundings of springs was always rich with it. That fact led to clay becoming the source of yet another important factor for the city's development, meaning – ceramics. The famous tiles... and cocks. Should I write more?
A piece of reality
Caldas, as it is often called, was in my mind a spa town and since both Sloths are healthy enough we didn't think of it as a destination for us. What a mistake! Contemporary Caldas has so much to offer... much more than the hospital – still important, though – and here is my list of the top 3 things (minus the obvious) to see:
Above all stands for me the Park of Carlos The First (Parque D. Carlos I). It is a large structure in the middle of the city, a fantastic retreat for anyone who wants to just relax and enjoy the coffee or a picnic or rowing a boat or a company of the loved one or... My suggestion would be to first explore the city and only then lose yourself in the park to see its beauty in the afternoon. But, once in Caldas, never forget to save some time only for that place, even the still abandoned pavilions in the center of the park are picturesque.
The second place has for me the art. It is to be found in Caldas around almost every corner. Most of it is enchanted in the architecture, tiles and various ceramic details (giant plants or animals glued to the walls). Some is more related to the street art. I loved the water garden and buildings of the old town, around the Praça da Republica, which every morning is hosting a farmer's market, and beyond. Oh, and the cocks! It is said that the renowned XIXth century artist, Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, started the tradition of making ceramic penises in a response to king's call for a production of 'something more interesting'. Leaving this story aside, Bordalo's factory's shop is worth a visit.
The last but not the least on my list is the vibe. I feel that this word is abused by me and the people in my Portuguese surrounding. Nonetheless, it perfectly describes what I found so charming in Caldas: the welcoming people who created one of the nicest co-working spaces that I ever visited. It is a family place, an apartment transformed into a collaboration marvel. So no matter if you are a startupper, a digital nomad, or a simple traveler, USE it wisely!
To quickly list other attractions: museums, galleries, jazz week, fairs, expos, closeness to Óbidos, Alcobaça, Batalha, Peniche... Do you understand why I can recommend staying there for longer?
A piece of advice
Getting to the Queen's Baths is relatively easy and not only by car as it is the case of so many places in the Oeste region. The city is well connected by bus and if you had chosen to stay in Óbidos or Bombarral (or anywhere along the rails;) you might consider going there by train.
So what is Caldas? A spa? Artistic center? Capital of the Portuguese ceramics? It is all and so much more. Just try it!