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PORTUGAL Fall 2001 (2)
Index of this travelogue


You cannot visit Porto and not become acquainted with Port, as we did in 1997. To further our knowledge, we stopped by the nearby Instituto do Vinho do Porto, a government body created in 1933. As stated on the IVP web site:

The Port Wine Institute is the entity that is responsible for supervising and certifying wines bearing the Porto denomination of origin, by controlling the quality and quantity of the wines that are eligible for this denomination of origin based on regulations that govern the way it is produced and strict quality control and technical examinations (analytic and organoleptic). The IVP is also responsible for safeguarding the Denomination of Origin and supporting the expansion of the Port Wine trade to markets worldwide through the generic promotion of this wine.

We made an appointment to return in early October to tour the laboratories and observe the testing and other methods of analysis employed to ensure that the Port producers have adhered to the strict rules of production and aging, which are required by the Port Wine Institute in order for the required stamps to be issued.

Louisa, at the Institute, enthusiastically suggested that we visit the Solar do Vinho do Porto, west of the city center, where visitors can taste the different types and brands of Port while enjoying a panoramic view of the Douro and the wine lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia beyond.

This sounded like a fine idea and it fitted in with our plan to visit the ancient Jewish Quarter of Monchique, which once stood in the Bairro de Miragaia to the north of Rua Nova da Alfandega (which runs along the bank of the Douro west from the Ribeira), next to the Convento de Monchique. One part of the former medieval town center that still survives is Rua do Monte dos Judeus (the street of the Jews' hill), where in 1826 one of the most important Hebraic inscriptions in Portugal was discovered. The Monchique Stone is now exhibited at the Museu Arqueologico do Carmo, in Lisbon.

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We scooted down to Rua Nova da Alfandega to the Caminho Novo steps and began our uphill trek. The second belt of city walls was built in the 14th century and finished during the reign of King D. Fernando. There were four gates defended by towers and fourteen narrow entrances. This imposing stretch of wall runs along the steps and continues north through the Rua Francisco Rocha Soares from which we got into a maze of lovely residential streets and alleys feeling life here was conducted a bit like in times past. With some help, we got to Rua do Monte Judeus, and at its end came to Palacio das Sereias, residence of an aristocratic family, built in the middle of the eighteenth century on the site of the Jewish Quarter.

There are other areas in the old city which housed Jewish Quarters, the earliest in what is now Rua de Santa Ana. In 1386, a small village was created in the streets which today surround the Church of Nossa Senhora da Vitoria, between the Monastery of Sao Bento and the beautiful Rua de Belmonte. Portugal became an independent kingdom in the twelfth century and the Jewish merchants and craftsmen contributed greatly to the development of this region.

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As we worked our way west toward Entre-Quintas, where the Solar do Vinho do Porto is located, we passed the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal, in the middle of which is the round, imposing, glass palace used for exhibitions. The beautiful park was filled with people strolling on the warm, clear day.

Many fine houses in Porto were built during the early 19th century by the upper merchant class. The Quinta da Macieirinha manor house is one of the most interesting as it sits on the edge of the gardens overlooking the Douro, surrounded by woodlands. The city purchased the manor in 1955 and it became the home of the Museum Romanticist. In 1974, the city, in a noble gesture of recognition toward Port Wine, authorized the installation of the Solar do Vinho do Porto on the ground floor.

This is the way to learn about and enjoy Port to the fullest. Sit inside on a comfortable sofa or chair looking out at the gardened terrace or sit out on the terrace a bit closer to nature and the river below. We were warmly welcomed by the manager, Maria do Rosario, whose joy it is to talk about Port. The Solar is operated by the Institute in conjunction with the producers in order to promote Port Wine. There are no favorites here. All producers are represented. The prices for tasting are very reasonable. The Solar is closed Sundays and holidays and is open 14:00-24:00 all other days. After the long, steep walk it was delightful to relax, sip a ten year old tawny, and enjoy the comfort and view.

We walked east with no hills to climb or descend on the return trip to our hotel, blissfully unaware of what we were about to see on CNN.

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Dear Isabel came right along. It was a joy to welcome her, which quickly turned to sorrow as we sat together watching the horror unfold before our very eyes. Just before we left for dinner, the government of Portugal announced an immediate blood drive for New York, which followed their expression of outrage and sympathy.

Burgo Restaurante, Rua do Bonjardim 630, Tel/Fax: 22-2081106, is the creation and life's work of Torcato Soares, our host. It is fitting that this place, where we would try to digest the magnitude of the events of the day, will be forever etched in our memory. We'll always know that we were at Burgos on that fateful September 11th and we'll also remember that we shared with Isabel a meal that was as outstanding as the events of the day were horrifying.

Normally the three of us are very decisive about our menu choices but tonight we couldn't think straight. Torcato to the rescue with a bottle of Douro red, Quinta da Pacheca, and an array of superb appetizers. Homemade sausage, cheese and slices of sweet fresh melon along with a luscious dense dark bread. We were to learn that the sausage, cheese and all the meats and produce are brought in from his home town of Penafiel, just east of Porto along the Douro. The sausage and cheese were really special and the melon, a perfect complement. Add a bit of medium body. fruity red and the world was not looking better but the mind and body were feeling less pain.

The restaurant is immaculate, from the stone walled dining room to the open kitchen in the rear. In the course of the evening, we took the opportunity to watch the woman in the kitchen cook in an open hearth deftly handling hot pots and utensils with her bare hands!

Together with Torcato we decided to share three main courses. The first was a pot of baby shrimp sautéed in olive oil, garlic and bay leaves - simple and simply sensational. Time out to sip wine and chat a bit. The kitchen is in no hurry. In good time we were served a platter of grilled octopus and roasted potatoes with a warm side salad of onion, cabbage and carrot - a perfect marriage. Our final main was a medium rare grilled beef filet, gently raised in Penafiel and extraordinarily tender and flavorful, served with rice and vegetables.

Torcato assured us that the leite crème queimado (similar to crème brule) was the kind of comfort food we needed on a night like this. The girls watched the chef execute the finishing process of burning the top layer. We had this dessert many times in the weeks ahead but none came even close to matching this one. We all had an excellent Port with dessert and I opted to try the offered Grappa, which was smooth and delicious. The hotel had come through again. This was an exceptional dining experience in every respect.

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Back at the hotel, we said goodnight to Isabel and were happy knowing we would soon see her and her husband, Paulo, and the rest of the family in Coimbra.

It was a bad night. Sleep did not come easily as we attempted to deal with the cruel realities of what had occurred and what it augured for the future.

We had made arrangements with Segur Car to bring the car to the hotel for this morning's departure and to pick it up at our hotel when we arrived back in Porto, three days before our flight home. Fernando arrived right on time with our Peugeot 206. After quickly taking care of the necessary documents, Fernando offered to drive us out of the city to where we could easily get on the highway IC1 to Viana do Castelo. What a guy! He called his office and had someone pick him up where he left us, practically on the on-ramp.

It was a 45 minute drive north to Viana. This ride like all the others was easy and comfortable. The highways and secondary roads we traveled were top notch. As in all of Europe, we knew to stay out of the left lanes except for passing or risk someone driving on our rear bumper. The only scary stuff is the tendency some drivers have to excessively speed around the bends of mountain roads. Do drive extremely defensively there.

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to next pageContinue traveling along with us or choose a link from below

(1) Porto
(2) Porto
(3) Minho
Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima, Ponte de Barca,
Soajo and Arcos de Valdevez
(4) Minho
Vila Praia de Ancora, Moledo, Camarido, Caminha,
Vila Nova de Cerveira, Valenca, Moncao, Melgaco
(5) Douro and Tras-os-Montes
Pinhao, Regua, Sabrosa, Pedras Salgadas and Vidago
(6) Douro and Tras-os-Montes
Pinhao, Mirandela and Braganca
(7) Douro
(8) Douro and Beiras
Lamego, Britiande, Mealhada and Coimbra
(9) Lisbon
(10) Lisbon
(11) Lisbon and Coast
Cascais, Estoril and Sintra
(12) Alentejo
Monsaraz, Redondo, Elvas, Borba and Vila Vicosa
(13) Alentejo and Beiras
Marvao, Castelo de Vide and Belmonte
(14) Porto

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