Posts Tagged ‘Porto’

More Than Just Port on the Douro

Posted on: July 7th, 2012 by corkyrow No Comments
Pinhão, Portugal | Pinhão River in Pinhão meets the Douro River just beyond the bridge

Pinhão, Portugal | Pinhão River in Pinhão meets the Douro River just beyond the bridge

Sabrosa, Portugal—Outside a of couple of neighborhoods in Lisbon, driving in Portugal is relatively safe and easy. The highways are good—and relatively empty—the city streets are manageable and the road signs are universal. But, it’s the 90-minute drive from Porto along the IP4/A4, up the Douro River valley into the district of  Vila Real—whose winding roads, breathtaking vistas and slightly frightening unguarded drops from the hilltops—that really make driving in Portugal something to talk about.

On the road to a weekend in Sabrosa, at the Quinta do Portal (quinta is Portuguese for farm or vineyard) , one of the things that is of note is that the Portuguese paved routes along the tops of the hills and mountains, instead of  along the bottom in the valleys. The result is a continuous series of expansive views that dangerously catch your eye. But, the precarious route is worth every raced heartbeat. Its amazing how different the geography is in Portugal between places just an hour or two away. Northern Portugal is very green and packed with rolling hills, as compared to the flat and dry southern interior, and of course, it’s wondrous coastline with roaring cliffs and seemingly endless beaches.

It is in this northern region, where one of  Portugal’s most successful ambassador’s was and is born—Port wine. Named after Porto, the city where the fortified wine hits the market, port wine is actually produced about 70 miles inland. Sandeman, Ferreira and all the big names in port are here. Within the region, is Sabrosa, a small quiet town high in the hills above the Douro River. It is home to the vineyard/wine label “Quinta do Portal”. And right in the middle of the vineyards sits Casa das Pipas (pipas is Portuguese for wine barrels), a elegant bread & breakfast, surrounded on all sides by endless rows of red wine producing grapes.

Yes, not all the grapes here are destined for port, but in fact, red wine production here, and throughout most of Portugal is an extremely important part of the culture and economy, for both local and international markets.

Casa das Pipas is a modernly decorated villa, with what could be said are typical rooms for southern Europe—nothing extravagant with hot tubs and flat screens, but certainly elegant and comfortable. The hosts are fantastic. Friendly and genuine—you really feel like their personal guest. The common area is stocked really well with red wine, vinho verde, port, muscatel, Madeira, etc. Just help yourself and pour a glass. It works on the honor system, just sign your name on the list with what you had and pay an extremely modest price at checkout. They had to breakout the calculator for me, but even then the sum was almost negligible. There’s a pool outside, plenty of lounge space, you can work on tan, catch up with some reading by the pool or upstairs in the library, you can hike, there are biking expeditions and you can head into town and visit the house where the famous explorer Magellan was born back in 1480.

You can also visit the winery, and in September, you can see it in action as the grapes are harvested and brought into the winery for crushing and fermenting. You can tour the facility, do some wine tasting, visit the cavernous wine cellar (designed by world-renowned architect Álvaro Siza Viera), which houses countless barrels of wine. And best of all, you can buy a couple of bottles, many of which are international prize winners, and take them home with you.

On the property is also a world-class restaurant, where each night a multi-course dinner is prepared. Each course is designed for pairing with one of  Quinta do Portal’s wines. The food is quite good, and the wine even is better.

Perhaps my favorite part of the stay, is the quiet. There are only a few guests at Casa das Pippas at any one time, and there are few neighbors within walking distance. In a way, the vineyard is filled with more silence than it is grapes. One night, while drinking my favorite vintage of the day, I got startled by the relatively loud sound of a bee flying by—it’s that quiet. That calm. That relaxing. And with no city lights, the night’s stars can barely help you make out the vast expanse in front of you, though you know it’s there. I stayed out until the early morning hours explore the wonders of port.

Also worth the effort, is a short trip down the hill by car—eyes on the road!—to the picturesque town of Pinhão, which sits right on the Douro. It makes for a pleasant stroll, a nice place for lunch and  you can get a boat ride along the Douro and Pinhão Rivers and take in the equally beautiful vistas from sea level.

Casa das Pipas | Tonight you sleep with the grapes

Casa das Pipas | Tonight you sleep with the grapes

Casa das Pipas | An oasis

Casa das Pipas | An oasis

Quinta do Portal | Barrels of wine (pipas in Portuguese) aging in the cellar

Quinta do Portal | Barrels of wine (pipas in Portuguese) aging in the cellar

Quinta do Portal | Production facility

Quinta do Portal | Production facility

Casa das Pipas | View of the pool from the breakfast room

Casa das Pipas | View of the pool from the breakfast room

Quinta do Portal | A favorite pairing

Quinta do Portal | A favorite pairing

 

A Night in Porto

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by corkyrow No Comments
Porto, Portugal | Palácio do Freixe

Porto, Portugal | Palácio do Freixe

Porto, Portugal—Porto, is Portugal’s “second city”. There’s a similar dynamic in Portugal with Porto and Lisbon that you see in Italy with Milan and Rome. The northern city being perhaps the more industrious, and the southern city being the center of attention, tourism and political power.

On the way to a weekend getaway on the Douro, we stayed overnight in Porto at mouth of the river. Port wine may have put this city on the map, but a walk up the hill from the river banks will show you how much more is really going on here.

I lived in Lisbon as a student for about six months, and never once made it to Porto—a mere three hour drive away. Folks would recommend all sorts of little, out of the way aldeias (towns) on the coast or in the interior for weekend trips, but hardly a word about Porto. It was years later that I finally made to this bustling, cosmopolitan city in the north.

On this trip, my friend and I arrived in Porto mid-afternoon on a Friday. We stayed at the Palacio do Freixo, which sits on the banks of the Douro River. In America, we convert factories and warehouses into luxury condos and shopping centers; in Europe, they convert palaces forts into hotels and restaurants—architectural recycling. Here, though, the sleeping accommodations are actually located next door in a converted flour factory. A strange neighbor. The palace features a restaurant, bar and pool, and is furnished with some lovely antiques and modern pieces.  The rooms were quite nice, spacious, keenly decorated and have great views. Service was how I like it—subtle, polite and there when I need it.

The best part of the property for me was sitting in the open air lounge on the hotel’s dock and staring out onto the river. As I took sips of Port and puffs of my cigar, I let all concerns wash down that river, and got my mind clear and ready for a peaceful weekend.

As the sun dipped down beyond the river, we headed out into the city. From the banks, Porto’s quickly rising streets  make the idea walking the city seem like a frightful test of endurance for one’s feet, but actually once you get to the top, it’s a much easier stroll that its rival, Lisbon. And it’s up there that modern Porto begins.

There is a nice balance in Porto between drivability and walkability that most cities do not have; it’s usually one or the other. We drove into town, a quick one minute up the hill, and we walked Avenida dos Aliados to city hall (Câmara Municipal do Porto), then along Rua de Passos Manuel. We stopped at Café Majestic, a gorgeous cafe with beautiful design detail, for a quick espresso. There’s seating inside and out, both great for people watching.

If you’re familiar with European cities, particularly in the south, you know that between 7PM-10PM is gets pretty quiet. Things don’t really start to happen until after 11PM. So, as we made our way back via Rua Formosa for dinner, the streets that had been bustling just moments before had gotten a little sleepy. But our appetites were wide awake, and if you have a big appetite, then Abadia is the spot. They specialize in roasted goat, but that’s just the beginning as the menu is quite extensive and varied. And what I found to be highly unusual for a restaurant in Portugal, the portions assume you have a really big appetite. To start, we had some grilled octupus and a mixed plate of empanada-type pastries filled with either chicken, shrimp or pork. We had braised goat (cabrito) and the grilled fish (robalo grelhado), both really, really good. (Sorry, no pics). And, of course, the wine is amazing. We had a bottle of red, Duas Quintas 2008, a medium bodied red that could stand up to the strong and rich flavors of the goat. But really, there are so many wines, great wines, in this region, that every meal is an opportunity for discovery. Generally, I ask the server or sommelier for a recommendation in whatever price range I’m comfortable spending and I don’t recall ever being disappointed.

We headed back to the palace to relax and get a good night’s rest before our drive up the Douro Valley. I sat for a bit on the dock looking at the flickering reflections of the stars on the river with a glass of Moscatel for company. Later, I made my way to the lounge chairs by the pool. With a cloudless, starry sky above me, barely a sound breaking the drone of  river and the comfor of being blanketed by near-perfect sleeping weather,  I simply dozed off right there.

 

Porto, Portugal | Palácio do Freixe, breakfast room

 

Porto, Portugal | Palácio do Freixe, view of the palace from our room

Porto, Portugal | Palácio do Freixe, view of the palace from our room

Porto, Portugal | Palácio do Freixe, outdoor lounge

Porto, Portugal | Palácio do Freixe, outdoor lounge

 

Porto, Portugal | A walk in Porto

Porto, Portugal | A walk in Porto

Porto, Portugal | These little devils are everywhere

Porto, Portugal | These little devils are everywhere

 

Porto, Portugal | Café Majestic

Porto, Portugal | Café Majestic

Porto, Portugal | Igreja de Santo Ildefonso (built circa 1730)

Porto, Portugal | Igreja de Santo Ildefonso (built circa 1730)