Azulejos and Tarta de Natas

This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)


Another beautiful part of Portuguese culture and history. These beautiful handmade tiles are a subject that I could fill many pages with because you see them very often here.

Today I will walk you through a piece of the history of these beautiful azulejos and through another episode of the programme “Dream house wanted” (the Dutch version of “A place in the sun”) in Lisbon. At the very end of this story, I have a sweet surprise for you 😉 .

Azulejos is originally an Arabic word meaning “small polished stone” but in contemporary Portuguese the meaning is simply “tile”. These particular handmade tiles are an important part of Portuguese history, its culture and traditions, so let’s start with a bit of history.

Palacio Nacional de Sintra

The first “azulejos” were introduced into Portugal by King Dom Manuel I, who imported them from Spain, specifically Seville. The king saw the tiles for the first time during a visit to the Catholic Kings of Andalucía in 1498. He was so charmed by these tiles with their Spanish and Moorish influences that he decided to bring them back to Portugal. Back home, he decorated the walls of his palace, Palacio Nacional de Sintra, with these tiles, where they can still be admired today.

Why were the tiles in those days mainly a combination of white and blue? Well, for a start simply because these colours were fashionable, inspired by Oriental porcelain and Delft blue porcelain. Maybe the most important reason was the fact that blue was seen at the time as a synonym for power and wealth.

Museo Nacional do Azulejo

During one of the trips with the programme “Droomhuis Gezocht” (A Place in the Sun) we visited Lisbon and its surroundings. (Click here for the link to the episode) This is how I ended up at the “Museo Nacional do Azulejo”. This beautiful museum is not to be missed if you are in Lisbon. During my first visit to this museum, I spent some time (maybe even a bit too much) waiting in the impressive reception hall of this building. To be honest there are worse places to wait 😉 We had asked for permission to film inside and this, of course, had to be approved by the director. The answer took so long that I had already started sweating buckets and with every minute that passed, our hopes faded a little but, those who have seen the episode know that in the end, we managed!

This museum has an enormous collection of antique tiles and tile panels, often with images that represent the history of Portugal. The subject of one of the largest panels is the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755. It´s a very impressive piece of art that covers a few walls. The masterpiece, however, is the chapel that is located in this museum. This chapel is very lavishly decorated with beautiful wood carvings and huge tile pictures.

Capela Museo Nacional do Azulejo

Palacio dos Marqueses de Fronteira.

Our tile adventure with “Droomhuis Gezocht” is not over yet because the museum director gives us the tip to contact the manager of the “Palacio de Fronteira” because there are also such beautiful tiles in this palace.

Well, nobody has to tell us something like that twice, so off we went to the other side of Lisbon! Once we arrived there it turned out that filming in this beautiful palace was not that easy because the manager was not at all keen on it….. .So there I was, for the second time in a day, with sweat running down my back……. The producer was wildly enthusiastic about this palace and really wanted to film here and, quite frankly, we didn’t have enough time left to find an alternative.

Palácio da FronteiraThe palace “Palacio dos Marqueses de Fronteira” is still the residence of “the Marquis” and is privately owned by the Mascarenhas family. It is not a commercial establishment and actually the answer, as far as filming was concerned, was no………

So…. how come we were allowed to film after all? Well, it was just a matter of a little angel on my shoulder 🧚 . I was literally already with one leg in the car when the manager asked, “where exactly do you live in the Algarve?”  When I answered Carvoeiro his face brightened up and soon it turned out that we have very good friends in common. That helped solve the problem, we were allowed to film!

In the early years, Azulejos were mainly used in interiors as only wealthy families could afford them.  Today however you see them everywhere, and not just in and on churches, monasteries and train stations but also in restaurants, bars and the facades of houses. In my beloved city of Porto, you can’t overlook these fantastic Azulejos, they are everywhere!

The São Bento train station is perhaps the best example.

The churches are beautiful too! Here are a few examples from (where else could it be?…..) Porto!

Luckily most of Portuguese azulejos can be seen on the façades of houses. I still feel very happy when I see all those beautiful, colourful, scenes in the streets. There are an infinite number of tiled façadas and I would like to show you a few before we end with the recipe for the famous “Tarta de Natas”


If you would like to know more about the history from the Portugues Azulejos, I recommend the book “Azulejos com História ( 4 talig ) van Objecto Anonimo . Azulejos com História

Tarta de Natas 

This “whipped cream” tart is a real favourite in Portugal. You can’t compare it to an English cream tart, but it is just as tasty! I do not have a sweet tooth myself but even I find this tart delicious. It is very easy to prepare, you don’t even need to use an oven. I haven’t shared this recipe with you before because I was under the impression that sweet condensed milk was not available in other countries -:). But nothing could be further from the truth, so here we go…

Ingredients :

  • 1 tin of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups whipped cream (250ml)
  • 4 leaves of gelatine
  • 1 pack of Maria biscuits + something extra for the topping
  • 90 gr butter
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preparation :

Heat half of the condensed milk au bain-marie and put the other half in a mixing bowl. To heat the condensed milk “au bain-marie” put it in a small bowl and place this over a pan of hot water without the bottom of the bowl touching the water. Bring the water gently to a boil so that the temperature of the water heats the condensed milk without burning it.

Meanwhile, place the gelatine sheets in a bowl of water. Then squeeze the leaves well and add them to the hot condensed milk. Stir this well until all the gelatine has dissolved. Now add this mixture to the cold condensed milk in the mixing bowl and mix well.

Whip your cream with some lemon juice until you see stiff peaks and add this to your condensed milk in small portions. Fold it carefully (do not stir too much).

Crumble the pack of biscuits, not too finely, and mix with the 90 grs melted butter, then process a few more biscuits in the food processor so that you have the consistency of breadcrumbs.

Grease a springform cake tin and spoon the biscuit/butter mixture into it. Press it down well so that you get a completely covered base. Spoon your cream mixture on top and garnish the top with the very fine biscuit crumbs. Cover with cling film and put in the fridge for at least 4 hours to set.

The cake is often eaten as a dessert, but it also goes very well with a cup of coffee!


This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)


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