A PORTUGUESE PORT PALETTE
The southern coastal Algarve region beckons for those seeking the land of navigators, history buffs, seafood lovers, sunseekers and more recently long stay visitors. One thinks of Florida, Arizona and the Caribbean for long stay and snowbird visitors. Think Portugal too.
I raise my glass and breathe in the tantalizing aroma swirling around and prepare for a velvety smooth and rich taste sensation – a vintage port from the famous Douro wine region of Portugal.
The first sip of the dark coloured and full bodied vintage port evoked memories of more than two decades before when I was in Macau – then a Portuguese territory before reverting to Special Administrative Region status of China in 1999. Today however, I am not in a former territory of Portugal but the country itself. My palette, just like an artist’s, was filled with an array of visual delights in my journey through Portugal. Portugal never held “must visit before I die” designation on my travel bucket list. It always was a destination of interest but not burning desire.
But sometimes the ones not on your bucket list surprise you. Portugal certainly did. PORTUGUESE SITES & STLYES I wasn’t expecting the panoramic diversity I viewed through my camera lens – terraced vines along the Douro River on hilly and sometimes rocky crests where Portugal’s finest grapes call home. Or the shimmering cliffs and imposing rock formations along the Algarve coast like Ponta da Piedade which to me resembled the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road in Australia.
Lisbon, a cultural gem for centuries, had to be rebuilt after a trifecta of catastrophic events decimated the city in 1755 – an earthquake followed by a tsunami and then fires that raged throughout the city. Portugal has emerged as a country with more than 10 million proud people. Portugal pride is reflected in its architecture, cuisine, wine-making, music and cultural life. You can see it etched in the faces from the tuna fishermen bringing in their catch or the expert cork tree removers slicing off cork - one of Portugal’s major exports. Portugal has a very colourful history and its lands have been inhabited by the Romans, Moors and many other cultures. These influences are absorbed in its architecture – castles, churches, ruins and other historical buildings reflect Romanesque, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque, Pombaline, and more modern styles from acclaimed Portuguese architects such as Alvaro Siza and Fernando Tavora.
RED RED WINE The Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its wine could be considered a world heritage taste. There are many options getting to the Douro Valley – by a scenic river cruise along the famed Douro River, by train, by car, or if you have the big bucks even by helicopter.
It’s only a two hour drive from the historic city of Porto. A scenic drive for sure but driver and passenger beware. If you have a desire for hairpin turns, rollercoaster style up and down winding mountain and hillside roads, various sections where only one lane exists then this route will provide all the visuals and thrills you need. Pack your driver skill, motion sickness pills if prone to it, taste buds and your camera – the Douro Valley is an enchanting region filled not only with top producing wineries but picturesque tiny hillside villages where time has stood still. Whether you visit just for the day or stay a night or more, the Quinta Nova Nossa Senhora do Carmo is both a culinary, oenophile and cultural experience wrapped into one. The winery is one of the oldest in the Douro region and dates back to 1764.
They still separate the grapes by hand. Wine tours are available but guests can just relax as they overlook the landscape painting before them – the Douro Valley. In 2005 they added the quinta (inn) and offer many tailor made packages for guests who come from all around the world. Oh yes they offer some outstanding wine and port too! AGELESS ALGARVE The southern coastal Algarve region beckons for those seeking the land of navigators, history buffs, seafood lovers, sunseekers and more recently long stay visitors. One thinks of Florida, Arizona and the Caribbean for long stay and snowbird visitors. Think Portugal too. The Algarve combines Roman ruins in historic towns like Tavira where to this day they are excavating relics of its Roman past. Or visit the trendy Vilamoura area - perhaps you will run into soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and other celebrities. Dozens of sandy beaches bookended by majestic golden cliffs frame your pictures and your beach holiday. My taste buds get a treat and a fresh one at that – villages and towns all along the coast serve up daily the freshest seafood around. In the village of Santa Luzia fishermen come in with freshly caught octopus and have it weighed. Across the street restaurants and their diners await the daily catch. Now that’s fresh! Beach lovers can relax or indulge in a range of activities from parasailing, wake boarding, surfing, diving, deep sea fishing or venture out with Dream Wave Algarve on a thrilling speedboat ride into the Atlantic looking for playful dolphins and fascinating caverns along the coast. An activity-filled day requires a relaxing sleep at night. Accommodations range from luxury 5-star hotels like the Conrad Algarve with its Michelin star restaurant Gusto or the Monte da Quinta Resort, a 5-star all-suite resort – both are located in Almancil to intimate inn and farm stays. Transat Holidays offers both weekly and long-stay Algarve packages as well as other packages throughout Portugal. GETTING THERE From Toronto Air Transat offers year-round service to Lisbon as well as seasonal service to Faro (Algarve Region) and Porto. Portugal’s culture and people resonated with my spirit and soul. One of my fondest memories was in a simple shack with an old but proud man carrying on a tradition of a basket weaving with his young son and another gentleman pouring me a glass of traditional Medronho (firewater – aka moonshine) and inviting me to have a toast with him. Portuguese culture with a fiery taste – they wouldn’t have it any other way.