The Douro – Part III
11 November 2017

Six reasons to visit Portugal… as soon as you can

Why are so many people talking about Portugal at the moment? If you have not yet had the chance to visit the country, here are 6 great reasons to take the next plane.

A gentle climate

Portugal has more days´ sunshine than practically any country in Europe. Spring arrives early and summer tends to linger … It is not unusual to be able to enjoy a midday glass of wine on a terrace in December! Photographers and walkers will love the light at all times of the year.

Incredible landscapes and beaches

With a territory smaller than the state of Indiana, Portugal is amazingly beautiful. It is also a country of great geographical diversity: mile upon mile of unspoilt beaches, some of them with huge Atlantic rollers for some of the best surfing in the world; the plains of the Alentejo with their cork forests; the mountainous Douro Valley wine country with its terraced vineyards … A journey through Portugal is full of astonishing discoveries.

Succulent food and award-winning wines

Portuguese food has at last been acknowledged for what it is: fabulous! You can choose between a traditional tasca – ask for the meia dose, as the smaller portion is called, or you may be too stuffed to make it through the afternoon – or go for one of the many hip places reinterpreting Portuguese classics with fresh local ingredients: olive oil, abundant sea food, sun-soaked fruit and vegetables …

With a staggering 250 indigenous grape varieties and a vine-friendly climate, it is no surprise that Portugal has such an exciting variety of remarkable wines. The surprise is that most of them are still so inexpensive. Why not try one of the full-bodied reds or fruity whites from the Douro, many of which are collecting international wine awards?

Friendly, welcoming people

Perhaps climate and diet have something to do with it. The Portuguese are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people in Europe. Family and community remain important. Laid-back, they are humorous and tolerant making for a peaceful, safe country. Portugal today boasts third place in the Global Peace Index rankings.

Two contrasting main cities

Lisbon, the capital, is full of history and stunning old architecture. Porto, in the north of Portugal, is more avant-garde. Lisbon is famed for its pavements and incredible light. Porto has a cutting-edge art and music scene … and Port wine. Both rivals are beautiful and both within touching distance of the Atlantic Ocean. Don’t choose between them, you should visit both!

Memorable emotions

Many of the things we enjoy most are still amazingly good value in Portugal. These include coffee, wine, good meals, live music, taxis …

But this is not all. This beautiful country with its delightful people grabs at our emotions. We return to our own countries humming a Fado song, the taste of a Douro wine still on our palette, our skin salty from the Atlantic waves. It has been a memorable experience, although we are still not quite sure how we should pronounce saudade!


What to pack for a trip to Portugal

Here are a few all-seasons tips to make your packing an easy task and add to the comfort of your holiday.

You have booked a few days in the Douro Valley, the most exciting destination for in-the-know wine lovers. As there is so much to do and see in Portugal, you will probably also be thinking of visiting Porto and Lisbon and heading to some of those spectacular beaches too. If you can, you should aim to spend at least a week on your visit to Portugal, I know you’ll simply love it!

Now your attention is probably turning to packing for your holiday. Panic not! Here are a few all-seasons tips to make your packing an easy task and add to the comfort of your holiday.

Bathing
Portugal has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and this is why I’m putting a swim suit at the top of this list. Your swim suit should be accompanied by a good pair of sun glasses and sunscreen. Why not also pack a kimono for a little touch of poolside elegance.

Walking
Portugal has some of the best walking country in Europe, including the stunning Douro Valley, so bring some good hiking shoes or boots to make the most of it. A small light-weight back pack is an excellent idea for both hiking and city walks. It’s also handy to have a ‘thermo bottle’ that will keep a cool or warm drink at a constant temperature.

Ladies, shoes with heels are impractical on Portuguese cities’ beautiful pavements! You will need a shoe with grip.

Keeping warm and dry
The weather in Portugal is generally dry and sunny, but yes Portugal does have a winter and sometimes it can also rain. If you are travelling between November and March, you will need a hooded fleece. At any time of the year, a light-weight, water-resistant jacket is a good ‘insurance policy’ – you can always roll it up and use it as a pillow on the beach!

Both Lisbon and Porto are Atlantic cities and it’s a good idea to bring a scarf and sweater for the evening, in case there’s a breeze.

Guide book and reading
It’s a great help to travel with a really good guide book. This can save you precious holiday time searching on the Internet. Both Frommer’s and Lonely Planet are excellent for visiting Portugal.

If you’re looking for a superb novel by a great Portuguese writer, to read while you’re on holiday, here’s one about the Douro: The City and the Mountains by Eça de Queiroz.

Practical stuff
Portugal uses standard European two-pin plugs, so pack an electrical adaptor if you need one.
A travel wallet, to hold your passport, tickets, money and essential cards, is a great idea that will mean you don’t have to look around for your vital stuff.
Some people will probably appreciate a sleeping mask and ear plugs, particularly after a long flight.
Do bring a light and compact camera, you will have many fabulous photo opportunities.
Don’t forget a photocopy of your passport.

I recommend these 3 websites that are particularly good on ‘travel equipment’:

net-a-porter.com
amazon.com
nordstrom.com
Packing is a very personal affair, however I hope these tips will help you.


Quinta do Pessegueiro, an example of innovation

Today, Quinta do Pessegueiro is producing a range of outstanding Douro wines, guided by the expertise of its young oenologist, João Nicolau de Almeida, a member of a distinguished family of winemakers.

 

With an Italian father and a fortune built in children’s textiles in France, Rogier Zannier could have decided to locate the jewel in the crown of Domaines Roger Zannier in any of Europe’s wine producing countries. He chose the Douro, Portugal’s best quality wine region, buying Quinta do Pessegueiro in 1991. This was a far-sighted investment as back then the Douro was still only known for its port wine production and had not yet earned a place at the world’s top wine table.

Today, Quinta do Pessegueiro is producing a range of outstanding wines, guided by the expertise of its young oenologist, João Nicolau de Almeida, a member of a distinguished family of Douro wine makers – João’s grandfather was Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, the creator of Barca Velha, the iconic table wine instrumental in positioning Douro wines on the international map.

Quinta do Pessegueiro is breathtakingly remote. You drive deep into the hills to the south of the River Douro, through the easternmost of the three Douro sub-regions, Douro Superior. Just before the sleepy village of Ervedosa do Douro, there is a sharp turning to the left, easy to miss. The Quinta is at the end of a winding one-track road. An incredible landscape of terraced vineyards extends in every direction, sprinkled with pines and small farms. There is not a human soul in sight and the silence is complete.

On the day I visited Pessegueiro, in early October, it had hardly rained since the spring and the parched landscape was a palette of browns and ochres, the temperature well above thirty degrees.  The winery itself is an imposing concrete and glass structure, surrounded by olive trees. The smiling Célia was expecting me. She explained that before working at Pessegueiro she had taught French in a local school and suggested that we speak in French.

The winery’s specific architectural form is dictated by the wine-making process that it houses. The building’s five levels enable a gravitational method of wine-making that entirely avoids the use of pumps and respects the treatment of the grapes. The energy consumed by the winery is produced from renewable sources.

These sustainable development practices are combined with sophisticated modern technology. Walking through the different production areas you are struck by the exciting use of different materials: concrete, aluminium, red leather, beige Hungarian or French oak casks and a wall that looks like gold leaf. The drama and tension implicit in the creation of great wines is very much in evidence and I almost expected Roger Moore to emerge from an elevator attired in a dinner jacket.

I am happy to say that the wine tasting fully lived up to the promise of the equipment! I particularly recommend the Quinta do Pessegueiro 2013 red, woody and intense, which will make splendid drinking in two or three years’ time. I also enjoyed the 2014 vintage port with its lovely rich promising finish and the mineral Aluzé white 2016.

Quinta do Pessegueiro equally produce fine olive oils.


Walking with local firemen in the Douro Valley

Every year, sometime around the end of the grape harvest, a group of people gather at a fire station in the heart of the Douro Valley. This year we were over 130 participants on the Provesende vineyard walk to support the local fire service.

 

Every year, sometime around the end of the grape harvest, a group of people gather at a fire station in the heart of the Douro Valley. This year we were over 130 participants on the Provesende vineyard walk to support the local fire service.

The walk’s organizer, Paulo, a talented graphic designer who also works in the village artefacts shop, ticks my name off his list and hands me a bag branded ‘Bombeiros de Provesende’ (Provesende Fire Service) which contains a bottle of water and a green cap. My next call is a trestle table behind which a couple of women fire fighters are standing. They hand me a steaming mug of coffee and a large ham roll: breakfast.

The Provesende walk has the status of local legend and attracts people from as far away as Porto. Sponsored by Symington Family Estates who have financed the purchase of a fire engine for each of the last ten years, it attracts a broad band of wine and nature enthusiasts.

Off we set, soon leaving the village behind us and climbing up to Quinta do Cume, a rising star award winning winery comprised of a group of elegant contemporary stone structures. The paths are bone dry and dusty as there has been practically no rain in Portugal since the spring. I find myself talking to a nice woman from New Zealand who says that she has been returning to the Douro for the last seventeen years as a cook for one of the local wine families. Her previous clients, earlier in the summer, lived in New York, quite a contrast! She explains how she always uses local materials to cook with and manages to adapt to local cooking traditions – a versatile artist.

The grape harvest this year was unusually early and harvesting in most vineyards ended several weeks ago. This is a bit of a shame as I remember after last year’s walk watching grape treading in a traditional stone lagar. One major wine producer tells me the quantity of grapes he harvested was considerably down this year.

Our party winds up the hill like a great serpent, gradually disintegrating into conversational groups, before looping round and plunging back down through Provesende towards Quinta da Cavadinha, the seat of Warre’s port, a brand that dates from the 17th century and which is owned by the Symingtons. The quinta is charming and unpretentious with a staggering view over the Pinhão Valley. A plaque quotes from Miguel Torga’s beautiful novel ‘Vindima’ (‘Harvest’), a brilliant sociological dissection of Douro society in the first half of the last century. The Symingtons are offering a glass of port. Although I know it will be delicious, I decline as it’s already very hot and we still have some way to go.

The descent down towards Pinhão is steep and knees and thighs are beginning to be challenged. I’m already on to my second bottle of water, but so glad to be here. The combination of festive spirit and stunning landscape is exhilarating. We walk through a village which clings to the side of the hill, greeted by calls of encouragement from people standing in front of their houses and the anxious barking of dogs surprised by so many people.

Just above the River Pinhão another table has been set up beneath some welcome shade. This time we’re getting some Quinta da Fonte do Milho rosé with great chunks of bread covered with olive oil and jam.

Recharged we head off on the final stretch of the walk, following the course of the river as it winds into the small town of Pinhão. People are talking enthusiastically about the bus that will take us back up to Provesende. We’ve already walked more than 12 km and the existence of the bus is a relief. Before we climb gratefully aboard, there is the final treat of walking along the banks of the great Rio Douro, today a magnificent dark green band.

Back up in Provesende, at the Fire Station, we sit around large round tables where we are served hearty helpings of tripe washed down by a cheerful red wine. Soon the building is filled by the sound of laughter and animated talk. It has been a wonderful day and I suddenly realize that I haven’t looked at my phone since eight o’clock this morning.

“See you next year,” a couple who have come all the way from Dorset, England, say to me waving goodbye.