This article is from the June 2019 Issue of Forever Young

By Steven Tuck
Photos Terry Tuck and E FUN TOURS

2019 june feature 
Looking across the Douro River at Porto from Vila De Gaia, where the port cellars are not just aging the port but also awaiting your tasting visit.While waiting in a Calgary airport on route to a show in Winnipeg, Fred Penner is considering writing a how-to book for travelers.

Our introduction to Portugal was via TAP (Portugal's airlines) from Toronto to Lisbon.  Comfortable, lie-flat reclining seats; great service; wonderful food and wines.  In fact, from the welcome sparkling wine to the best cabin service, the staff were tops.  The main meal after take-off was:

  • Cauliflower and Cumin Soup with Croutons

    with a choice of

  • Grilled Tenderloin (my choice, and done to perfection!) with Cranberry Sauce, Polenta, Beans and Peas
  • Grilled Salmon (Terry's choice and a little dry) with Pesto Sauce, Roast Potatoes and Tomato 
  • Pappardelle Pasta with Mushrooms, Green Asparagus and Tomato
  • Dessert was a selection for Fresh Fruit, with Coffee, Tea, Espresso Coffee and Chocolates

Of course the wine list was a good selection of Portuguese wines: white, rose, sparkling, red, and of course port!  Beer, liquor, and soft drinks available all the time.  I chose a red from the Douro --- Altano Reserva.  Created mainly from Touriga Nacional grapes with a small amount of Touriga Franca, from vineyards in the Torto river valley.  A complex and profound red, with a bouquet of blackberries, cocoa, spices and some floral notes.  I love a full-bodied red, and this was fresh and with a persistent after-taste.  I looked and found bottles in stores in Portugal and it was my choice for the trip!

After a little sleep (it was an overnight flight) we had a light breakfast.  Yogurt, jam, fresh fruit, bread and pastry selection, and of course fruit juices, tea and coffee.

It was one of the best flights we've ever had and we could not have had better food or service!

Our landing in Lisbon was a gorgeous, sunny day and the view coming into the airport over the Atlantic Ocean was truly a spectacular bird's-eye perspective of the city we were going to eventually visit.  But not before finding our way through customs, passport control (entering the E.U.) and finding the Metro train lines --- which was easy to do --- and getting the subway to one of the main train stations --- Oriente, just 3 stops --- to catch the high speed train to Porto.   We did this with time to spare, meeting a nice young lady from Burlington, Ontario, who was traveling solo and also heading to Porto. 

 

We had pre-booked first class seats on the train and there was ample luggage space overhead and two very comfortable seats.  The three-hour trip goes as fast as 225 km/hr and overhead displays at the end of each car indicates speed and approximate location along the route.  This was the direct train and made only a few stops near the end of our journey.  There was service on the car with free reading material from a trolley and a cash canteen car with bar service.  A good friend in Kelowna had advised NOT to rent a car, as he said accidents per capita are the highest in any E.U. country in Portugal!  Not only good advice, but this was a lovely relaxing way to take in the countryside after flying from Kelowna, to Vancouver to Toronto to Lisbon!!! 

We had booked UNIQUE RIVERFRONT GUEST HOUSE in Porto and been in touch with Christina Rodriguez, the owner, and had the combination to the front door.  Taxi was slow through Porto for our short drive along the Douro River with roadworks and lots of tourists already, and this was still "shoulder season"!  We put our luggage into the apartment, which was a lovely third/fourth floor walk-up, with a lovely terrace overlooking the river and one of the six very high level bridges.  We left immediately for the grocery store, figuring it was Sunday and they might close early; got some provisions; and back in our doorway was Christina, concerned about where we were!  She turned out to be the BEST hostess/provider we have ever met.  She came in and we were shown maps of sights, what to do, restaurants, and then began our attempts to get onto a small group excursion to the Douro River Valley.  Our combined attempts were in vain until I lucked into E FUN TOURS and we got onto a small group next morning!  This turned out to not only be lucky, but THE highlight of our 3 days in Porto!!!

Our driver, Stephen Williams, was originally from Wales and had been in Portugal for years with his family.  He picked us up at our apartment door and we went on to pick up two others sets of visitors --- two from Switzerland and three from USA.  The latter turned out to be two sisters from Seattle and their brother from San Francisco.  We all thought it was great to have three young people in their late 20's still traveling together as a family!  The day was sunny and bright and the whole group was very compatible.  We set off from Porto for our day long tour to the place that was at the top of my "to do" list --- It was all so exciting.

The scenery outside town started and never stopped being magnificent!  We climbed through mountains, along the River, with terrific panoramic views from bridges that had recently been constructed to avoid hours of driving S-curves to get to Pinhao.  We stopped for a coffee/cake break mid-morning. The trip was just head turning and our driver gave us lots of information along the way about the creation of the hillside terraces that are still tilled by hand and horse, as the rows and steepness make tractor-type operations impossible.  All in all we visited three wineries; had a stop to let one couple go off for an hour-long cruise of the Douro River, which is an option, and then had a fantastic lunch at one of our winery stops.  The Douoro River Valley is a UNESCO Heritage site and is still operated the way it has been for hundreds of years.  For example, there is no irrigation of the vine, but the slate under the soil creates a natural source for water during drier periods.

The first Vineyard we visited was Quinta da Panascal owned by Fonseca port. We had 3 ports there :

  • Sirroco, a dry white port. 
  • Bin 27, a premium Ruby. 
  • 10 year old Tawny. 

We also had a look at the granite tanks (lagares) where the grapes are crushed by foot. It's 100 % by foot in that winery which has about 60 hectares. Great advantage of crushing by foot? You don't break the seeds! Also there were some of the large oak vats (8500 litres) used to store the port in the vineyards over the winter before being transferred to Vila Nova de Gaia. 

After that we travelled on along the Douro crossing the river Douro at the town of Pinhao and started climbing through the valley of the River Pinhao to our lunch venue at Vintage Theory Boutique winery at Sabrosa, birthplace of the explorer Fernando Magellan. There I am fairly certain we were looked after by restaurant manager Augusto during the meal and I think young Alexandre presented the 10, 20 and 30 year old tawny ports in the tasting afterwards. 

Final destination was Quinta do Beijo in the small village of Celeiros do Douro. Small village but with one fairly big port company and 4 other wineries. There we visited Quinta do Beijo hosted by João Monteiro, the 4th generation of the 100 year old family business. We visited the warehouses where the port and wine is stored /aged and João gave an explanation of the crushing and fermentation process after which you had a white and a couple of red wines followed by a 10 year old tawny and treated to a 1963 white port, something very rare.*

Lunch was in an unbelievable setting!  It was a lovely dining room we walked down a flight of stairs and on that level were lots of tables, but at one side was about a 3 foot high (higher?) cement wall which had 3 large separate vats, each set with a large table --- we climbed over the wall on a stile and found ourselves inside what was once the vat for stomping grapes!  The lunch was pre-ordered with a choice of mains --- fish or pork.  The service was first-class; the food was great; and it was served with vino verde, another fine product of Portugal.

I had been told by so many folks who had been to Portugal not to miss the Douro River Valley, and they were right.  It was THE highlight of our days in Porto.

We spent another day touring on the two sightseeing bus routes of Porto and crossed the famous first high level bridge, Dom Luis I, built by a student of the Paris famous Eiffel!  After crossing the bridge into the Vila Nova De Gaia, where the famous port cellars welcome you with wine tastings --- with labels everyone who loves port has come to know --- Sandman, Croft, Calem, and many more!  The two bus tours took us around the historic sites and another to see the castles and out along the Atlantic to Matosinhos, where one can find terrific seafood restos.  Our hostess had recommended we find a bakery where we we'd find the famous pastry of Portugal --- NATA!  This is a delightful sweet from Lisbon --- "Pastel De Nata" --- a little custard tart straight from the oven and warm!  I bought a box of six to take back to our apartment!  Christina had also recommended a terrific resto for lunch with many locations in Portugal.  Cantino Do Avillez was right downtown Porto.  Has 2 Michelin stars.  We had the dish of the day which was meatballs with green curry, zucchini and jasmine rice.  Wines of course with it!

Our three days in Porto were among the most delightful of anywhere we have ever traveled.  Our hostess, Christina, was THE best and we would recommend her to anyone looking for a nice apartment, overlooking the Douro River, quiet setting, tram and buses at the door, and restos and groceries nearby.  That could not have been better!  And E FUN TOURS and their driver, Stephen Williams, cannot be beat!

I think our evaluation of anywhere we travel is would we go back?  The obvious answer is YES!  We cannot wait to go back!!!

* Special thanks to our driver, Stephen, for providing these detailed notes on the wineries we visited!