Close to the coast, just an hour's drive from Lisbon, Caldas da Rainha has been a health centre since medieval times and has the honor to be home of the very first thermal hospital of Europe, built in 1508. A popular tourist destination in the late 19th century, the town preserves today many fine examples of aArt Bouveau architecture, and a lush spa park full of ponds and fountains surrounding the Medieval hospital, which still can be visited.
Caldas is also home to the Bordallo Pinheiro factory, producer of a glazed ceramic pottery, commmonly resembling fruits and fishes, that is almost an icon of Portugal's culture and folklore and that can be found everywhere in Caldas' bustling shopping district. Visitors shouldn't miss the lively daily produce market, right in the town centre, where plentiy of local produce from the area - known as "Portugal's garden" - is available.
The area is a centre for many outdoor activities including ballooning, water sports and horse-riding, and is close to beautiful beaches, and charming medieval towns and fishing villages.
Many historic document from Middle Ages tell us about the springs of Caldas da Rainha, whose origins go as back as to he 13th century. In 1222, nobleman Zouco of Atouguia, lord of Cornada (today, Tornada) bequathed an important amount of money for the construction of thermal bath upons the mineral springs located in a small area between the noble lands of Alcobaça and Óbidos -today Caldas da Rainha-,and to the local parish. His testament allowed the erection of Caldas' first bath, and hospice and two chapels, ruled by the Benedictine monks from the neighbouring monastery of Saint Mary of Rocamador. Many commoners began to visit the baths from far away and even more prestigious guest, like the bishop of Silves, who travelled to Caldas in 1336 to treat some skin conditions
At the turn of the 15th century, a little village was already settled around Caldas' mineral springs, a thriving area welcoming many visitors who came to the springs. Besides their popularity, the baths felt into ruins by the second half of the century, as the monastery didn't look after them any more. Commoners remained visiting the springs although there was no infraestructure to acommodate them, leaving the sick ones unattended. Word of this situation reached the Court, and in 1484 Queen Leonore - who, according to the legend, visited the place and even healed in the springs - ordered the construction of a thermal hospital, the first of its kind in the continent.
The hospital gave new life to settlement, attracting more and more visitors from all around the country. It was completed in 1508 , next to a chapel built in 1488, both being dedicated to Our Lady of the People. The medieval hospital soon began to combine the water cures with other medical treatments, turning into the first "modern" hospital for the country.
The Hospital, soon known after the Queen's name, remained operating until very recently and turned Caldas da Rainha, granted with the statue of amunicipality in 1511, in a reputed health centre in Portugal. The complex stopped its treatments only a few years ago and today in under a process of renovation.
As the legend goes, at the end of the 15th century Queen Leonore, consort to KIng Joao 2nd, found a group of peasants bathing in foul-smelling waters by the roadside during one of her trips across Portugal. She stopped to inquire about this oddity and was told that the waters possessed curative powers, and so she decided to try them for herself, soon regaing health.
As a consequence, the Queen ordered the construction of a thermal hospital in the area, so others may enjoy the relief that she felt. This medieval thermal hospital, the first of its kind in Europe, and the settlement formed around would soon be named after her.
The waters in Caldas da Rainha are rich in sulphur and flow with a temperature around 35ºC.
They are used to treat arthritis, rheumatisms and traumatisms through bathing therapies, including Vichy and jet showers. Respiratory conditions, like sinusitis, laryngitis, bronchitis and asthma are also treat with a range of tecniques including inhalations, garglings, simple and sonic aerosols, and nose irrigation
Caldas' built heritage is directy linked to its waters, starting at the Hospital itself, which is home to a museum interpreting the development of the thermal hospital and the urban areas that grew up around it.Surrounding the hospital is the spa park Parque Dom Carlos I, designed by architect Rodrigo Berqueó in the late 19th century following a Romantic and Naturalist style. Its artificial lake, located ight in the middle, has held boat races since 1893 and is one of the main entertainment facilities in summertime.
Close to the Hospital district is the impressive garden of Jardim da Água, one of the greatest works of Caldas da Rainha’s artistic performance, This impressive monument built on ceramics, glass and iron it is usually considered to represent the birth of Caldas. It was designed by the prominent ceramic artist Ferreira da Silva and it is intended to allow an artistic swirl of water through various plans, quickened colour and light. It was designed to illustrate the four seasons, but soon was felt that the aquifer represents the birth of the city.
Nearby aqueduct was built in 1748 commanded by King Dom João V and was a key element to supply Caldas with current water, an important episode of the development of the town which can also be traced in Caldas' 18th-century Baroque fountains, the three of them consider cultural assets: Estrada da Foz fountain , initially placed inside the Hospital; Rua Nova fountain, and the Five Bicas fountain, the mostimportant and monumental one.
Caldas da Rainha has a thriving arts culture, with theatre,festivals, concerts, and exhibitions being held all year round, its many museums and is world-famous for its glazed ceramic pottery, produced at the Bordallo Pinheiro factory. It is also a gourmet destination, offering plenty of traditional pastries and dishes: Cavacas, beijinhos, trouxas, lampreia de ovos,etc. In the local countryside, you can enjoy typical dishes of roasted rabbit, grilled mix of meat, and several fish specialities directly cacth in nearby beaches
Park Dom Carlos I, with its beautiful artificial lake, surrounds the medieval thermal hospital of Caldas da Rainha
Original indoors pools of the medieval thermal hospital of Caldas da Rainha
Historical renactment of the visit of Queen Leonor to Caldas da Rainha at the end of the 15th century
Traditional marble pools for thermal treatments at the Hospital
The Chapel of Our Lady of the People was built in 1488 as an annex to the thermal hospital
Surrounded by forests and green hills, Caldas da Rainha is a perfect spot for many outdoor activities
Foz do Arelho, a popular vacational sea resort only 8 km west of Caldas da Rainha.
A modern fountain in Caldas da Rainha, whose frog figures are directly inspired in the ceramics of Bordallo Pinheiro
Caldas da Rainha's main square holds the lively daily produce market, selling local produce and vegetables.