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PORTUGAL Fall 2001 (5)
Index of this travelogue

DOURO REGION Pinhao | Regua | Sabrosa
TRAS-OS-MONTES
Pedras Salgadas | Vidago

The drive from Viana do Castelo to Pinhao, in the heart of the Douro, took us three hours via highway IC1 south to Porto where we picked up A4 east to Amarante. From there, route #101 to Mesao Frio where we were, once again, awed by the breathtaking views of the vineyard laden high slopes meeting the curves of the river. It's impossible not to gawk, but with caution, as the winding roads need close attention. At Peso da Regua, where we crossed the river to the south side, we picked up route #222 to route #322/3, where we crossed a bridge back to the north bank into Pinhao. Driving along the river's edge was glorious; the water was sparkling and the surrounding vineyards were alive with color.

Pinhao

It was like arriving home as we drove the twisting mountain road north of Pinhao to the tiny, tiny village of Vale de Mendiz to be greeted by Jose Luis and Angelina at Casa Santa Clara, the Sandeman guest house.

Near the beginning of the village is the Sandeman Lagares Museum, dedicated to the history of Port Wine and the methods used in its production and aging. It contains the only existing round lagares (lagar: open stone tank where grapes were traditionally trod by foot). There are still some producers that use the old method but for the most part crushing the grapes is now an automated process.

Jose Luis showed us to our cozy room furnished with lovely old pieces. The up-to-date bathroom was filled with all the goodies including the finest quality terry robes. Best of all was looking out at the stunning layers of vineyards climbing up, down and around the hills and valleys around us. In the mornings we would wake to the sounds of farm animals and our first glimpse of the start of the grape harvest.

Angelina invited us to the first floor lounge for a light lunch starting with a Sandeman Splash: white Port, Schweppes tonic water and a slice of lemon with ice in a tall glass. This is a warm weather winner that's sure to enhance the appetite. We were treated to Bola, a special bread from nearby Favaios, which is stuffed with meat seasoned with herbs and olive oil and baked in rectangular pans. Fresh grapes and sweet melon were a perfect match.

There have been new guest rooms added since our last visit and a swimming pool and lounge area is in the finishing stages. It didn't take much to imagine how delightful it will be to take a dip and relax poolside, sipping a Splash while enjoying the peace and serenity of this outrageously beautiful place.

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Regua

Our dear friend Ligia joined us after lunch to take us to a very special place in Loureiro, Regua. We twisted and turned above Regua through the tiered mountains of vineyards and teasing views of the Douro River to a truly magnificent estate Quinta de Santa Julia de Loreiro (Tel: 254-336157 Fax: 254-336150). We entered through the imposing main gates, down an avenue of ancient chestnut trees, to amazing, mature vineyards and incredible views of the Port wine growing region. Finally we reached the exclusive manor house, which dates back to the 17th century.

We were warmly greeted by our hosts Eduardo Costa Seixas and Teresa Costa Seixas. We joined the other guests in the garden and patio. The guest of honor was Dom Duarte Nuno de Bragança (the Duke of Bragança, the heir to the Portuguese throne) and his wife, Dona Isabel de Heredia, and their three children. If Portugal was a Monarchy, the Duke would be the King.

We sipped the wonderful white wine produced by the Quinta while Teresa was kind enough to take us on a tour of the property. There are two houses in the middle of the vineyards, which are self-contained and available for rent, ideal for families. On the first floor in the manor house, there are four double rooms with private bathrooms, beautifully furnished and equipped, adjoining a comfortable, rustic lounge with TV and music. Breakfasts of home grown, natural products are served in the room. No other meals are offered but we are told there are several very good restaurants nearby. Adjacent to the manor house is a small gorgeous chapel that is still used by the locals.

Besides producing quality wine, the Quinta grows olives, vegetables and fruit and raises livestock on its twenty-two hectares. The owners, from aristocratic families, are incredibly kind and generous and totally involved in every aspect of the Quinta's business.

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Back at Santa Clara, Angelina had prepared a late dinner of pureed vegetable soup (carrot, onion, peas and pumpkin), duck rice (a favorite), salad and an outrageous crème brule. A delicious Sandeman Terracos 1997 red was served with the meal and a fabulous Imperial Reserve Tawny accompanied dessert.

After breakfast (fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh bread, homemade jams and a dense cake with ground nuts), we headed down the mountain to Pinhao to watch the annual jet ski races from the riverside patio of the Vintage House. The day was glorious as is this very special spot at the bend of the river tucked between the high, rambling, green slopes.

Meanwhile, back home, Angelina and Luis had prepared a large round table under the trellis, set with lovely linens, cutlery and china, for lunch close to nature. Ligia added the finishing touches and the symphony began. Each of the four dishes was a special treat: tender slices of smoked pork loin seasoned with bay leaves, bolinhos (fried potato and codfish cakes), pataniscas (fried flour and codfish cakes) and a bowl of fava beans soaked in olive oil and garlic. The light, fruity ECS Riesling went well with the food and the bright day. Angelina finished us off with a coffee soufflé and a full-bodied, rich, fruity Sandeman Founders Reserve Port.

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Pedras Salgadas

Feeling great, we hit the road north passing through Favaios on to Alijo, in the heart of Port Wine country with striking views of the region. Linda was out of the car, clicking away. The pousada here is named after Joseph Forrester, an Englishman who was an early reformer of the Port trade. Onward and upward to the Tras-Os-Montes region and Pedras Salgadas, an ancient spa town. The spa is located in a large park area and offers treatments including drinking, bathing and massage. The park has suffered years of neglect. The casino is closed, old buildings are decaying and the grounds need work. Rebuilding has started with a refurbished hotel. It's too gorgeous a setting to be wasted. Let's hope the vision is there to invest what is necessary to finish the job.

Vidago

Just north of Salgadas is Vidago, where we followed a tree-lined boulevard to the spectacular Vidago Palace Hotel. The hotel is situated in a park, thick with forest and gardens. Vidago mineral water is the park's greatest asset. Here the visitor can enjoy a country walk, a round of golf, a set of tennis or a swim in the pool. The beauty of the architectural design is equalled by a sense of welcome and comfort that it creates. One steps into an era of charm and tradition. A graceful, shiny wooden staircase leads to the spacious corridors and the guestrooms. The enormous dining room is surrounded by windows and high above is a windowed balcony with wrought iron railings. The old world parlors, card rooms and bar on the first floor offer complete relaxation. So many places for another time!

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Sabrosa

We returned south, passing through Vila Real and Mateus, two lovely towns we had visited in 1999. The village of Sabrosa, set among vineyards above the river at Pinhao, offers incredible views of the various ways the vineyards were planted, from the ancient terraces supported by stone walls, to the more recent, modern terraces, to the Vinhas do Alto (high vineyards) planted vertically to accommodate the curve of the slopes. The tapestry these techniques form on the hills and valleys is a visual treasure. This small village is the birthplace of the navigator/explorer Magellan. He was born in 1480 and his birth home stands along with a wealth of 15th century homes that give a unique character to the narrow streets.

As we wound our way down through the vineyards, the folks who had worked all day picking the grapes, carrying them in large baskets on their shoulders and dumping them into bins on the waiting trucks were finishing for the day.

It was Splash time to be enjoyed with fabulous almonds and juicy grapes, which gave a little relief as we caught up with the news from back home. Fortunately for us, we had mentioned to Angelina that we love rabbit. After a savory caldo verde, she brought out a pot of rabbit, hunter style. Tender, meaty pieces had been slowly cooked with chopped vegetables and seasoned with rosemary, cumin, garlic, salt, chili pepper, parsley, mint and bay leaf. Fresh from the garden green beans and perfectly mashed potatoes were served on the side. Sure we had room for an exquisite dessert of pears poached with ruby Port and cinnamon, served with Roquefort cheese. I salivate now as I recall these magic eating moments.

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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
Pinhao
(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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