Ehem, no, I didn’t go to Portugal again, but I’m writing about the trip I made 2 years ago. I couldn’t post it then because my blog was down but I thought I’d share my experience since it was not only great but also educational. It’s always better late than never, right? Someone out there might get some useful tips from my post, who knows? Blogging is a great way to document and relive good moments, I believe. So if you’re planning to visit Portugal, this might help you.
It was our honeymoon trip and we rented a car and drove all around Portugal. It’s a great country to do so and I highly recommend it. Also, advice from friends, mutual friends and blog friends was invaluable in making the trip great and memorable.
Though the ultimate destination was Porto, our trip started and ended in Lisbon, and got to see more of the country than we’d thought because flying to Lisbon from Istanbul was more convenient.
Mr.O and I had no idea where to visit as we usually make plans as we go, following our nose. Since it was the first night and Mr.O didn’t want to drive in the dark, we decided to spend a night in Alcobaça, and it turned out to be an excellent choice for honeymooners; a place of eternal love… the love story of King Pedro I and his mistress, Inês de Castro, who was murdered by the king’s father. Pedro built her tomb as well as his at this monastery, crowned her as queen and rested next to her forever. How romantic! Waking up to the view of the monastery from our hotel room was great and mystical.
The first meal is always exciting and we had our first night feast at Rui’s, close to the hotel but we could have gone to O Cabeco, which was strongly recommended by the hotel if we’d had more time. Since it was off season (November), we had their full attention and said yes to whatever the waiter suggested and learned our first Portuguese cultural lesson of ‘Couvert‘.
The waiter kept bringing foods, which we didn’t ask for saying they’re chef’s special. What can you say to that? Yeah, bring it on! It’s the first night of our honeymoon! Because of our mood and the congenial manner of the waiter, we voluntarily fell for the trick and treated ourselves. Only this time though.
We drank what was recommended since I had no idea then about Portuguese wines and it was Paulo Laureano Premium 2014, which wasn’t very impressive, and it was my first encounter with Portuguese varieties such as Aragonês and Trincadeira. By the end of the trip, I got a better understanding of how each variety tastes and plays in different bottles.
The next morning we had a short stroll around the little charming village and ate the famous Pastel de nata, which we had everyday for 10 days in different cities, and this one is one of the best. We made a stop in Aveiro for lunch, which was another unique town and definitely with more choices for food.
We followed our food instinct and went into a restaurant where many locals were having Sunday brunch. We started with the cod fritters and Mr.O chose Francesinha, the Portuguese take on French croque monsieur and I had mussels. I’d heard so much about the sandwich but gosh, you have to be really hungry to finish it.
The prawn rice was everyone at the place was having except us and it looked delicious but I dearly missed green mussels at that time!
The waffle was simple but was nice, and the owner was so hospitable that he gave us another type with real dark chocolate to try for free.
Finally, we arrived in Porto!
The first place I went to was of course a wine shop and I studied the shelves, and then….
Here’s the colourful, beautiful, historical Porto… my interest was wine and food, but for Mr.O, we did a quick tour inside the historical centre, up the hill.
After seeing famous sights, some churches, Bolhao Market and Majestic Cafe, etc., we came down to do the cruise, which wasn’t necessary in our opinion, but we did it anyway because it came with free Port tastings. I don’t want to bore you with photos and stories not related to food and wine!
I learned a great deal about Porto and Port wines from the Portugal series by Talk-A-Vino, which answer many questions about Portuguese wines. For restaurants, his Great Restaurants post might point you to a right direction. We only spent one night in Porto, what?!, yes, true, because I had a feeling that I’d be going back there again. I liked it very much, especially the Douro Valley, which was the highlight of our trip.
The reason we were in Porto was to catch up with a friend but of course, once you’re there, you can’t miss visiting historical Port houses! We had only 1.5 hours before going to meet our friend so we picked two out of three options, Cockburn’s and Quevedo.
At Cockburn’s, we had a guided tour and tasting and at Quevedo, it was a self-tasting of Vintage Port and White Port, listening to live Fado and getting emotional, not because of the music, but because I was happy that I finally made it to Porto. I finished my WSET 3 course just two months ago so my knowledge was fresh, which helped a lot.
From a young Ruby Port, which make you drunk and happy at student parties to a serious matured Tawny Port, which now I appreciate more, it was a great experience to learn more about Port wines and taste some great Vintage Port. If you want to read more about Port Wine, there is this (more detailed) and that (simple and graphic).
After meeting our friend at Sandeman Bar and having a sip of its tawny port for aperitif, we went to her favourite place, Taylor’s Barao Fladgate restaurant for dinner. The restaurant had a great view of Porto and the staff very friendly. There was also an enomatic machine and I wanted to taste some more Vintage Port, which I couldn’t afford but it was newly installed and wasn’t operating at the moment. Everything was delicious from duck confit to seafood risotto and we ate, drank and talked so much.
After the wonderful night with friends, we hit the road again for the Douro, yeah!
We set out GPS to Pinhao and kept driving towards the great viewpoints I bookmarked from Wine Folly, looking for such a view. Since we left very early, we got hungry and stopped for brunch at a little village up around Regua. It was out of nowhere and the restaurant we entered was just preparing for the day, and as we just wanted a simple breakfast, we asked for some toast and coffee, but no one spoke English. With the Google translator, we got some bread and butter but telling by the puzzled look of the waiter, we figured that they don’t normally serve breakfast. so we appreciated their effort to give us something.
While we were eating, village workers poured in for lunch and food was brought to each table.We watched what they were eating and decided to eat lunch as well as the food looked good.
In Portugal, portions are huge, showing their generosity and hospitality. It’s a real local pheasant food but it was one of the most memorable meals we’d had. Because it’d been a long time since I last had pork perhaps! No, it was really delicious. I’d had Brazilian Feijoada(fedg-e-wa-da) before and got curious how different the Portuguese version would be. The dark colonial history left some delicious comfort food behind, didn’t it? Everyone was sharing a carafe of white wine with lots of foam(perhaps it was beer? no, it didn’t look like beer)
Anyway, we continued with a full stomach and I desperately needed a drink, a good drink to digest. Finally, the valley came into sight and I got excited! I took snapshots of the panels of Port Wine brands for further references.
The vineyards along the river were magnificent. Out of so many wineries, our first stop was Quinta de Tedo. We didn’t do a winery tour since we didn’t have much time – our plan was to leave for Lisbon – so we did a tasting of 4 bottles and all were absolutely delicious. I’ll, again, link the post by Talk-A-Vino (scroll down towards the end) for detailed reviews.
We accidentally indulged in the wines and spent more time than we’d hoped and had to skip Qunta de la Rosa, so I bought a bottle for home and drank deliciously. Both wineries happen to have a bird on the label.
We drove up the first view point, Casa de Loivos, but up and up, it was endless and couldn’t find the exact view I’d hoped for. The view of the vineyards cascading down the slopes to the river was still breathtaking and unforgettable nonetheless.
It was time to say good bye to the Douro and as we drove away, we caught an absolutely beautiful sight and stopped the car to take photos. We were up the hill just a moment ago and suddenly above clouds. Can you believe it?
It was really beautiful… and I thought this must be the secret of the great Douro wines. Now we’re heading to Lisbon via Coimbra so see you in the next post where the real gastronomic experience begins….
If you’re travelling to Porto, these two websites might help plan your trip.