By Don and Linda Freedman

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PORTUGAL Fall 2001 (7)
Index of this travelogue



Fortunately leaving Santa Clara didn't mean leaving the Douro since we had reserved for two nights at the Vintage House on the north bank of the river at Pinhao, a very old, worn village famous for its picturesque setting, its proximity to the quintas of the most famous names in Port production and its railway station where azulejos brilliantly depict local scenes and culture. Hopefully the Vintage House will be the catalyst for the renovation and restoration of Pinhao. There is work being done all along the riverbank, which is a move in the right direction.

The site of the hotel is an old Port lodge dating back to the 18th century. Great care was taken to preserve as much of the old house, lodge and gardens as possible in order to preserve its unique history while providing an up-to-date luxury hotel. The result is reflected in its Relais and Chateau designation and selection as one of eight hotels (we were to stay in three others) chosen as The Treasures of Portugal.

The hotel can be reached by car, train (direct access to Pinhao railway station) or by boat at the quay in front of the hotel. The walled grounds include a tennis court and a swimming pool. Writing or reading while sipping Port on the terrace, watching the comings and goings of the boats on the river with vineyards clinging to the hillsides all around, is a relaxing way to while away any afternoon. The hotel staff is happy to arrange or suggest a full array of tours, either by your own vehicle, train, boat or jeep.
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The reception area is understated refinement, simply a lovely desk in a modest size hall while the adjoining restaurant, bar and lounges are elegantly designed for beauty and comfort. The river is showcased through the windows of the public areas as well as the guest rooms.

Our ground floor corner room was spacious and nicely decorated with a king size bed, large TV, desk and chairs, a beautifully tiled bathroom and a nice size patio overlooking the pool, the Douro and the vineyards. We were to discover that the four Treasures of Portugal properties that we stayed at did not get the designation solely for their beauty. More importantly, the management's commitment to the highest standards of care and kindness to their guests.

Ligia had been able to make arrangements with her friend and counterpart at Taylor, Ana, to take us to Quinta das Panascal to see the initial crushing of the grapes in their lagares. Taylor owns Fonseca Guimaraens to whom this quinta belongs. Thank goodness Ana is experienced driving up, up to the quinta on the very narrow, twisting, dirt road. It is possible to arrive by boat and walk up, up from the landing. It would be a very pretty river trip. When we arrived, we were disappointed to learn that the crushing had been postponed for a day. But we were able to visit the beautiful guest house, which sits on high over the river and slopes.

We were not to hungry and decided to save the hotel dining room for the next night and instead walk to dinner in town. We had been told that the few restaurants served good, basic, local fare at reasonable prices. We chose Restaurante Douro, Largo da Estacao (Station Street, the main street), which lived up to the advance notice. The vegetable soup and bread were quite good as was the potted pork in mushroom sauce with fried chunks of potato and rice.

We woke up to yet another glorious day - very lucky so far! This day would be devoted to total relaxation - reading on the patio, lounging in the sun, dipping in the pool and walking around town starting right after breakfast. The buffet is set in the high, wide breakfast room over the river with glass doors opening to a nice patio for those who enjoy eating outdoors.
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Both of us were in the mood for an evening of excellent dining - and so it was. We were warmly greeted by name as we entered the stylish Rabelo Restaurant. The beautifully designed dining room is highlighted by the splendid murals of the Douro that grace the walls. The furnishings and table settings are lovely and fine quality. This was to be a memorable experience as the regional menu and wine list came to life.

After we were comfortably seated, a small starter of ripe tomato and bocconcini was served along with chilled Taylor White Port. The bread was uniquely served in a miniature canvas flour sack with a drawstring closure. As a first course we shared a shrimp salad with capers and fresh cheese in a vinaigrette sauce and a hake and endive crepe with a bit of béchamel. Both were professionally served, beautifully presented and delicious.

Our waiter suggested a very limited production Montevalle Reserva 1997 Tinto. It was superb. We ate and drank slowly, romantically, enjoying the unhurried service and marveling at the miracle of being madly in love after our thirty-nine year marriage. Our delight continued with a divine roasted saddle of rabbit, served with green beans and fried corn meal and succulent roast duck in a reduced red win jus with mashed potatoes. After finishing the wine, we were ready for the fresh berry soup with vanilla and praline ice cream. Afterwards, we wandered around the terrace enjoying our last evening in the Douro valley.

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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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