The Douro Valley, Part One.

I was glad that our things arrived when they did as I was thinking of taking a trip to the Douro valley wine country before the tourist season got underway and the weather got too hot to handle.  I picked up a book on Enotourism in Portugal that runs down the best Quintas (wineries) in every region.  There are 12 wine regions in Portugal, including the island of Madeira.  (Pretty much all of Portugal is a wine region!)  Guia de Enoturismo Portugal, O que provar, O que visitar by Maria João de Almeida:  Enotourism guide to Portugal, where to try and where to visit.  It is a handy reference for visiting wineries in Portugal.  Good thing I’m making headway with my Portuguese because I did not find it in English!  Luckily, it’s pretty easy reading.

I spent some time poring over the Douro section and picked an assortment of wineries that sounded the most interesting.  One can take a day trip to the Douro on a boat or by train, but we decided to rent a car and drive.  It is impossible to realize the scope of the area in only one day, especially when it takes 1.5-2 hours to get there from Porto.  I could spend a month in the Douro valley, but we chose to do three days, two wineries per day.  Sounds reasonable, right?

Our first mistake was bringing Jiver, our dog.  I thought, we have some doggie downers, and it’s only an hour and a half away.  Ha, ha, ha.  Remember that flight from Denver to Porto?  Oh, yeah, enter the incredible shaking, panting, and whining dog.  Ok, it was a bad idea.  Oh, and shedding machine of a dog too.  Of course, our not so smart rental car had a black interior.  Nice.  After half an hour, it had a white dog hair interior!  The only thing worse than Jiver was my husband Joe, who is also a nervous traveler and a back-seat driver.  Ugh.  Again, good thing it was a short road trip!

Google wasn’t much help either.  While the car’s GPS system got us out of Porto, it quit about 20 minutes into the trip.  And, what is it with the use of coordinates to find a place?  We missed the turn off to Villa Real, which takes you to Peso de Régua, our first stop, which cost us about 20 minutes.  When we finally arrived, we used the coordinates given to find our Airbnb.  Joe punched it in with one wrong number, and we drove all over hell and gone before we ended up back where we started!  The Airbnb was right in the center of town!  Damn!  So now, we are late for our first winery tour.  Raios!

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The view from our Airbnb in Peso de Regua with terraced vineyards and the Douro river.
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Peso Da Regua: City of Wine!

Here is an important safety tip:  You must make an appointment to visit Quintas in Portugal.  DO NOT just show up at a winery and expect to take a tour.  These places are small and muito popular!  This is one of the first things the Guide tells you.  (Thank you, Maria!)  Our original plan was to leave Jiver at the Airbnb.  But since we were running so late, we just brought him with us.  Even as a service dog in uniform, he is not allowed in a lot of places.  Portugal is not super dog friendly, sadly.

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Sitting area and vineyards at Quinta da Pacheca.

We arrived at Quinta da Pacheca half an hour late and were told, no dogs at first.  Then, they told us to go ahead up to the winery, and they let us join the group with Jiver after all.  Whew, it was stressful getting there, but once we settled down, it was beautiful!  Jiver made friends instantly with Aqua, the winery dog, and it was all good.  (She was cute, and hey, Jiver is a handsome guy!)

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Wine barrel rooms in the vineyard at Quinta da Pacheca.

Quinta da Pacheca, besides being a fantastically beautiful winery with wonderful wines, has wine barrel rooms where guests can stay!  That’s right folks, for $3-$400 per night, you can stay in a giant wine barrel that has been converted into a room on the property.  While they looked cool, it was a little out of our price range.  We cheaped out on accommodations so that we could buy more wine to take home!  The wines at Pacheca were so good that we bought a mixed case of red and white wines and port.  Hey, they had free shipping within Portugal and, as Joe likes to say, why wouldn’t you?  Keep calm and drink wine.  That’s our motto!

Y’all Ready for This?

Random is the keyword for how things work here in Portugal.  I have been told by locals that how things go in the government offices largely depends upon the mood of the employee with which you’re dealing.  On an international level, it seems that the “rules” can change from minute to minute.  Or maybe, it’s just our interpretation of said rules. 

So, after freaking out about having to get a certificado do bagagem from the consulate in San Francisco, translate the inventory of our things into Portuguese, (which I did) and all the other attendant forms, here’s what happened…

We were at the Arrábida shopping mall here in the Canidelo hood, about to buy a printer/copier so that we could print out and copy everything when my phone rang.  It was Bongers calling to say that our shipment would be delivered next week on Tuesday or Wednesday.  I replied that I was working on getting the requisite forms but, it probably wouldn’t happen that fast.  (San Francisco Portuguese consulate, enough said.)  He said, that’s ok never mind the forms, we can get it through customs for you for 124 Euros without any forms.  At first, I didn’t believe him.  It was a good thing that there was a place to sit down, so I did.  Really?  Says I.  And then I thought, why ever didn’t you tell me that this was an option in the first place?  I said, done. Where do I wire the money? 

It would have cost $200 to Fedex the forms to and from the consulate plus their fee so, 124 euros sounded like a screaming deal at this point.  Our man at Bongers said that he would let me know what day delivery would be by the end of the week.  I said, you are awesome and rang off.  Hal-le-freakin-lu-jah!  One bureaucratic bullet dodged.

I didn’t hear from Bongers and thought, well, they will let me know when our shipment is ready for delivery.  On Monday evening, I was giving an English lesson online when the doorbell rang.  It was the movers.  They were outside with a truckload that contained our worldly goods.  It was a good thing that we were home.  I finished the lesson while Joe received the box parade.

Whoo-hoo!  After nearly three months, I had forgotten what all we shipped.  I was glad to have summer clothes because it is supposed to be in the eighties here on Sunday.  Sadly, the only thing that was broken was Joe’s $400 office chair, the one thing he really needs, of course.  And naturally, the deductible on the moving insurance for breakage is $500.  Figures, ‘eh?

Our favorite Portuguese bubbly to celebrate having fully arrived in Portugal!

But all in all, we are happy to have our things and now feel like we have finally arrived.  I still say that if you are moving to another country, don’t ship anything.  It is not worth the brain damage nor the cost.  Thank you very little, not so Transparent International and, thank you very much, Bongers International.

Love Me Some Porto.

Admittedly, with a two week visit to Portugal, we have barely scratched the surface of places in the country where we would like to be.  But between Lisbon and Porto, we really liked Porto the best.  They even have a few craft breweries.  They remind me of where Denver was with microbreweries 20 years ago.  Cool spots, good beer, and so much potential.  Nortada was our favorite.  It reminded me of The Rock Bottom Brewery when it was new.  Nortada is new, and if you like craft beer you should check it out if you are ever in Porto.  It is located right in the center of the city and not only are the brews good, but the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable.  Portuenese Beer Factory is its formal name, and it is located at 210 Rua de Sa da Bandeira, 4000-427, Porto, Portugal.  Their website is:  https:// loja.fcpornuenese.pt.

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Nortada Portunese beer

Did I mention our criteria for a place to relocate?  Great food, wine, and weather are foremost.  So, we add beer, and we are there in Porto.  But what about the city’s namesake drink?  Port:  it’s not just for after-dinner anymore!  Port is a fortified wine that is amazing in its versatility.  Not just a sweet after-dinner drink, it comes in many forms, and white port is one of them.

We visited Barros port house and got to sample a 30-year-old white port.  Dangerously delicious is a phrase that comes to mind.  A little sweet with a plethora of flavors that go on for days.  Floral peach nose with flavors of caramel and lightly nutty flavors.  Wow, it was so good that even though we were tasting many ports vintage and otherwise we had to drink this one.

Tasting Cellar at Barros Port Winery.

As beverage pros, when one tastes a lot of alcohol, one spits so as not to get deliriously drunk.  And Port is no slouch in the ABV (alcohol by volume) department coming in at 16-20% alcohol.  It is fortified with brandy.  This came about to preserve it on the long trips overseas to Britain, where it became popular in the 1700s.  It is the third oldest protected wine region, after Tokai in Hungary (1730) and Chianti in Italy (1716).  In 1756 the General Company of Viticulture of the Upper Douro or Douro Wine Company was founded to guarantee the quality of the product and fair pricing for consumers.  The making of and history of Port is a study unto itself.  Check it out on that Google thing.  I hear it is catching on.

Back to the drinking part. Dry white port makes an excellent aperitif.  On the rocks, with a twist, it is super refreshing in the summer.  There are plenty of great port cocktails to try as well.  See any good bar book for recipes.

Our VIP tour of Barros was fabulous, fun and informative.  In addition to the white port, we got to try several vintages and single-vineyard ports, all of which were outstanding.  Because they are fortified, a good port will age well for decades.

White Port at Porto Cruz

By the time we finished our tour, it was lunchtime.  Our Uber driver had recommended Porto Cruz as an excellent option.  They have a beautiful 4th floor dining room with a view of the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the river from Porto and is where all the port houses age their wines.  Once we were seated, a server came over with a bottle and asked if we were driving?  We answered no, and he poured us a glass of chilled white Port.  Again, off dry and a perfect aperitif.  Is there no end to the magic deliciousness?  I hope not!

Quinta da Foz Port house boat with view of the bridge to Porto.

Aveleda Winery

Being in the wine biz has its perks, however small.  Thanks to Frank Mc Donald, my new BFF who imports Portuguese wines into Denver, we got to tour the Aveleda Winery in northern Portugal.  It is about an hour train ride outside of Porto and has some of the most beautiful grounds to be seen at a winery.   Founded in 1870, Aveleda has been around for a while and is still family-owned.  They are famous for their Vinho Verde, which means green wine for its freshness and lively flavors.  Sadly, the white and some rose Vinho Verde’s are the only ones that make it to Denver.  The red wines are outstanding, as are the spirits or Aguardente as they call them.  (Brandy or literally fire water to us!)

Aveleda is one of the largest wine producers in Portugal.  As a leader in the Vinho Verde region, it exports more than half of its production to 70 different countries worldwide.  They also make Casal Garcia Vinho Verde, which is the most sold Vinho Verde in the world.  The Casal Garcia arm of the company was established in 1939 when a French oenologist happened to stop by to see the vineyards at Aveleda on his way from the Douro wine region to Porto.  Aveleda’s owner Robert Guedes was very forward-thinking and planted his vines by varietal in the French style.  This caused Mr. Eugenie Helisse to stop and demand to meet the owner of the vineyard.  Long story short, Mr. Guedes hired Mr. Helisse as his new oenologist.  (For more on this story see:  http://www.casalgarcia.com.)

The gardens at Aveleda.

The gardens at Aveleda

We arrived at the train station in Penafiel and were met by the lovely and talented Marling Espejo, who chauffeured us to the winery.  What a beautiful and bucolic place!  We toured the grounds for about an hour and were wowed by the natural beauty of it.  Verde was the operative word with hobbit houses strewn about throughout.  There were chickens, dogs, peacocks (and peahens, of course), and little black goats that had their own three-story hobbit house!  I felt that we might fall down a rabbit hole ala Alice in Wonderland at any moment!  Or maybe see actual hobbits!

Hobbit house for goats!
Spirits barrel room

After seeing the barrel room where the spirits are aged, we went to the main house for lunch.  OMG, this was a luncheon fit for a king or queen.  The three of us sat down to a formally clothed table and were served by a woman who was sure that we should be eating a lot more than we did!  (Which reminded me of my time in Italy.)  The food was outstanding (you seeing a theme here)?!  We started with a vegetable and cheese quiche followed by a fresh cod casserole dish in a mouthwatering sauce served with potatoes, carrots, and green beans.  Yes, there were seconds all around.

Copper pot spirit still.
First run spirit fountain!

Each course was paired with a different wine, and we finished with a glass of 12 year old barrel-aged aguardente paired with port filled chocolates (More about those later.)  Gastronomic bliss, I tell you!  Can you say, stuffed like a Christmas goose?!  Splendiferous is a word that comes to mind.   After lunch, we got to see the distilling room and tasted the first run spirit.  It was dangerously delicious.  One small sip per customer, please!  From the spirits room, we made our way back to the parking lot, and Marling returned us to the train station.  Everyone was so gracious that we can’t wait to return!  And, of course, the wines and spirits are outstanding.  If you are ever in Porto, a trip to the Aveleda winery is a must!

Escher Exhibit/O Prado Take 2

The next day we wandered back down to the river.  We had noticed on our first day out that the Museum of Popular Art had an exhibit of M.C. Escher’s work.  Along with the Tower of Belem, the Museum of Pop Art is on the banks of the Tagus River.  It is a fun dichotomy that the two are almost literally down the street from each other. 16th and 20th centuries pretty much next door to each other in the enchanting city of Lisbon!

Since Joe and I are both big Escher fans, we decided to check it out.  It was amazing to see the man’s work up close and personal, so to speak!  The amount of detail in his drawings is mind-blowing.  There was also a fun interactive piece that let one enter the orb in the Hand with Reflecting Sphere pen and ink drawing.  It was an illusion, of course, but most of this master’s work is an illusion, so totally appropriate! The entire exhibit was entertaining, informative, and awe-inspiring.

After the museum, we had some sangria at a hotel that had a patio on the water.  The weather was beautiful and the scenery equally so.  It was interesting to note that folks were sporting winter, even fur coats in the 60ish degree weather.  Sort of the opposite of what we have in Colorado, where it is common to see people in shorts and flip-flops when it is 30 degrees or colder and snowing!  I have never understood this, having been taught to dress for the weather.  Kind of crazy either way, I guess!

We had dinner at one of the seafood restaurants on the way back from our sunset patio excursion.  There was a gentleman standing outside extolling the virtues of the food inside and, after a couple of suggestions about the menu, I said, “I’m in, let’s do it”!  Holy mother of delectable seafood!  I had horse mackerel with a Spanish sauce, and Joe had a squid and shrimp skewer.  Both were outstanding, as was the white wine we had with it.  All for about 30 Euros.  A meal like that would’ve cost $100-150 stateside.

After dinner, we strolled back toward our Airbnb and decided to stop back in at O Prado for a night- cap.  A nightcap, right.  Clearly, I had no idea who I was dealing with!  We sat at the bar again and were warmly greeted by our new BFFs, Christina and Johnny.  Boy, did we get more than we bargained for!  After a bottle of Cartuxa, an excellent Portuguese red wine, if you ever run across it, I was ready for that nightcap!  So, Johnny pulled out some of their homemade hooches.  Portuguese grappa and brandy, if you will.  Now, I happen to love grappa, and this was wickedly smooth and delicious.  But wait, there was more!  Next, he pulled out a barrel-aged version of the same firewater that was even more delicious than the first!  Then, of course, I had to try some of the Portuguese aguardente, which literally means firewater.  Really, it was Portuguese brandy.  Thankfully, Joe is not a big grappa/brandy fan, so he only had little sips of each.  I, on the other hand, partook fully.  Being the world-class enablers that our hosts were, they sent us home with little samples of the two home- made liquors.  They were cleverly disguised in recycled apple juice bottles!  Love them, mean it!  Our to-to liquor came in handy later in our trip.

I vaguely remember staggering back to our place.  Joe says it was a small miracle that we made it back in the dark after all that drink!  Yes, I was in for a world class hangover, to be sure.

Coach Museum/O Prado, Take 1.

Being older helped us out with the timing of everything we did on this trip.  While the rest of the Portuguese world has lunch around 1pm or later, we were usually hungry by noon.  The same went for dinner.  We usually wanted to eat around 6pm and were the only ones in the dining room at that time.  Restaurants got busy after 7pm, which suited us just fine.

We re-visited the Pasteis de Belem at about 11am in the morning and, guess what?  There was no line!  The place is also much bigger than it looks from the outside and seats around 400.  We ordered coffee and two pasteis de nata, as they are known.  This is the Café du Monde of Lisbon.  They serve delicious little custard tarts in a parchment-like pastry shell.  Not as good as beignets, but still, quite tasty.

After our “breakfast” of custard tarts and coffee, we decided to check out the Coach Museum.  Now, Joe thought, really?  A coach museum, how interesting could it be?  Boy, was he surprised!  As was I.  These were historic coaches built for royalty, and they were amazing, to say the least.  Having been a carriage driver in Denver for many years, I could really appreciate these mobile works of art.  They made our carriages look mighty pedestrian, I’ll say!  Well, look!Coach.1

Coach.2

After being wowed by the antique coaches for royalty, we found O Prado for lunch.  This little gem of a restaurant is on Rua da Junqueira, 474, 1300-341, Lisboa, and if you are ever in Lisboa (Lisbon, to us foreigners!)  you need to dine there.  We sat at the bar and were entertained by the Johnny and Christina show!  These two run the place, and they are awesome, as is the food.  I had a salmon steak that was crazy good, super fresh, and cooked to perfection, that is not overdone, and Joe had a pork dish that melted in the mouth.  We shared a bottle of the house red wine that was a red Vinho Verde.  Why, oh why, do we not get this wine over here?!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not against the white Vinho Verdes, but the red is so perfect with everything!  Beautiful dark red color, a hint of effervescence, light- bodied with dark fruit flavors, and nice and dry on the finish.  Yumilicious, it was.  It reminded me of the dry Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna in Italy.  I wish I could have brought some home.  One of the many reasons we’ll just have to move there!  Seriously, I have traveled a lot, but never have I visited a country where all the food and drink is so consistently good, if not great. 

Given the great fun, food, and drink, we became instant friends with Christina and Johnny and said we’d be back before we left Lisbon.

O Prado house red Vinho Verde.