In this Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine travel blog you’ll hear my interview with Quinta de la Rosa owner, Sophia Renqvist. She has been involved with the Quinta for much of her life and has contributed in numerous ways to the wine industry. It’s later in the post.

Day 7 – The Dão and Douro Valley

One of the wineries on my shortlist from the Wines of Portugal Zoom event was Caminhos Cruzados Winery. That destination gave us a reason to avoid the toll fees of highway IP3/A24 and wind our way up hills and into shallow valleys as we ventured even further northeast. The country roads continually offered interesting sites and rarely did we find slow-moving traffic. When we arrived near the town of Nelas we were disappointed to find Caminhos Cruzados closed. Well, it was a gamble as I didn’t arrange a visit ahead of time. Returning to the main road, we decided to explore. Once again, luck was on our side! We came across LusoVini Vinhos de Portugal. It’s a wine center with Taberna Da Adega (their eno-gastronomic space), a small but interesting winemaking museum, and a wine shop. They were just opening when we arrived so for a while we were the only ones in the place.

The Dão region is home to Touriga Nacional, the most widely used grape variety in Portuguese red wines. You can count on Touriga to be used in the wines of Pedra Concela, Varanda de Serra, and Flor de Nelas, the local brands featured in the LusoVini wine shop.

 

 

 

 

Click on the images for larger sizes

 

We were getting hungry so we took advantage of their Taberna. Once again, we were reminded that the Portuguese tend to over-serve. We ordered two appetizers, a cheese and sausage platter, and croquettes. The olives and bread were complimentary with the wine. However, if you eat them they’ll charge you. But look at that platter and six croquetas! Again, these were appetizers. We couldn’t come close to finishing it.

A wine bottle fireplace?
Nice touch! I don’t recall ever
seeing something like this before.

Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine - Part 2

Historic fermentation tanks are not new to us
but these copper fermenters featured in their
the museum was a first.


Feeling satiated and happy with our discovery, we drove out of Nelis and kept to the countryside roads all the way to Pinhão and the Douro Valley. Since I first saw images of the valley I felt determined to see it in person. Being an avid photographer, Meredith was all for it.

A sight to see, the Douro River

After two more hours of the two-lane route N323, we finally reached the crest of the rugged mountain, and the Douro River came into view…2000 feet (640 meters) below. It sure was hard to keep my eyes on the road’s hairpin turns while trying to get a glimpse of the river and vine-covered hillsides.

Exploring Portugal - Part 2

With the grape harvest a few weeks previously, the vineyards aren’t quite as lush as they are throughout the summer. As you’ll see in the view from our room at Quinta de la Rosa, some vineyards closer to the river still appeared greener. The town of Pinhão is set above the bend in the river.

Exploring Portugal - Part 2

Exploring Portugal - Part Two

Quinta de la Rosa sits just above the Douro River. It’s more expansive than this photo indicates. Through much of its history, the Quinta was an active wine-producing facility. Now, most of the wine production is done off-site. However, barrel aging and tours of the facility continue. It’s worth taking the time to experience it.

 

The Quinta was one of the first properties to incorporate stone walls on the treacherous terraced hillsides. The narrow rows and slippery slate rock are so challenging, this La Rosa vineyard is called Vale Do Inferno, the “Valley of Hell.” Why bother with the difficulty? Because their courageous effort results in such damn good wine!

 

Quinta de la Rosa offers complimentary breakfast and their dinner options range from traditional to regional styles, like braised goat. I chose it one night and was worthy of adding it to my list of unusual cuisine experiences. During several meals, we sat next to a couple from Luxembourg, Patrick and Sandra. We had a series of coincidences, the first of which was signing up for the Quinta’s wine tour and tasting on the same day. More unexpected surprises with them were to follow.

Aging wine in their century-old barrels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinhão lights up at night

Before leaving for our trip, I was able to connect with personnel at the Quinta to set up an interview with the owner, Sophia Renqvist. Following lunch on our second day there, she invited us to her home on the property. We chose the dining room, with the Douro as the backdrop, as the setting for the interview. Aside from her family’s long history in Portugal, you’ll hear how her father, Sophia, and her son have incorporated new ideas for the Port, still wine, and even craft beer industry.

Exploring Portugal - Part 2

We did leave the Quinta for dinner one night. It was a tempting revelation to hear a Michelin Star chef opened a restaurant a few miles down the river in the town of Folgosa. Nestled between the roadway and the Douro is DOC by chef Rui Paula. The decor, the service, and the cuisine were exceptional! World-class restaurants show up in some of the most remote regions in this 21st-century gastronomy era.

There are more wineries or Quintas than you’re likely to have time for, but don’t let that keep you from hitting as many as you can. Aside from the wines of Quinta de la Rosa, we tasted a flight of Port wines at Quinta do Bofim, a Symington Family Estate, and chose a selection of dry white, red, and Port wines at Quinta das Carvalhas. As you can see by the picture at Carvalhas, the pours were generous. Both locations, and most others, overlook the Douro River. The wines offered an authentic expression of Portuguese grape varieties that we’ve become so fond of. Add the scenery and tasting spaces and you know you’re in one of the most distinctive wine regions in the world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day before we left we drove northeast into the hills to see where the road would take us. After another twisting, curving drive we made it to the top. We passed by one winery but it was closed. Driving just a few miles further we followed a sign and ended in the quaint little town of Provesende. We wandered through a couple of tight streets, then ended up at Cafe Central for tapas and wine. (Ya, no surprise). But it was very cool to witness the local activity while sitting at the table. An extended family was to our right, some coming and going, and to our left, older gents were playing cards, grumbling about a disagreement, while watching football (soccer). After eating as much as we could of the super-sized tapas appetizers again (!), we left and found ourselves among parochial churchgoers gathering for an All Saints’ Day procession heading to the cemetery. What a fantastic snapshot of a day in a small Portuguese town. Yet another travel lesson; unforgettable experiences can occur when you explore outside of your plans.

The next day we headed east. You may lament having to leave Pinhao, but the N222, then N108 routes follow the Douro River Valley for nearly an hour. We had hard-to-dismiss valley views to the left, and small towns clinging to the hillsides ahead of us and to the right. Across the river, a number of the terraced hillsides featured large billboards signifying the vineyards of Sandeman, Grahams, Crofts, and other Port producers. We were on our way to Porto, with a dreamland stop at a most amusing winery along the way. Join us for the pleasures of Part 3.

Did you know: The Douro Valley was the first Demarcated and Regulated wine region in the world. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site.

This first of three travel blog posts was inspired by an invitation I received a few years ago from Turismo de Portugal asking if I would write a blog about the country. It’s not what I usually do but it planted a seed. For additional reasons, we chose to visit Portugal which led to this combination of podcast recordings, our travel story, and images. I hope it inspires exploration, spontaneity, and not always following the beaten path.

Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine Part – 1  features my interview with
Carlos de Jesus of Amorim Cork at the end of the blog.

My wife Meredith and I decided to explore Portugal in late spring, 2020. As we began making plans, COVID locked in on the globe removing our ability to travel and gather. A year later, the world was slowly opening up, our flights were still available, so we dove back into our plans to travel in October and November of 2021.

Fortunately for us, Portugal had just begun receiving travelers. We learned they were thrilled to see new faces.

As we expected, lodging, restaurants, and even car rental were quite affordable. We wanted to get a real feel for Portugal and the people, so we planned our route with the intent to see as much of the country as we could within 12 days.

If I say so myself, we did an awesome job planning our schedule. We balanced short jaunts and stays in lesser-known places with quality exploring time in Lisbon, Pinhão in the Douro River Valley, and Porto, which helped us avoid overdoing it.

map of our route

The road trip, which doesn’t show the train route from Porto back to Lisbon.    Source: Google Maps

 

And this is how it played out…  

Lisbon – Lisboa wine region

We wanted to stay near Lisbon’s older areas of Barrio Alta and Alfama so we chose Hotel Lisboa. It was just off the main corridor, Avenue de Liberdade. It was a perfect location. The hotel was modern and fairly small, yet offered an extensive breakfast (referring to it as a “continental” breakfast wouldn’t do it justice!)  The hotel offered a car service to pick us up at the airport which was greatly appreciated. The local driver shared helpful details during the 20-minute ride.

Just around the corner from the hotel and down a few blocks we found Sr. Lisboa. We were anxious to dive into the local fare. They offered Portuguese versions of Spanish tapas, which hit the spot. It was like a country diner with excellent food and the crew made it even more enjoyable.

In front of Hotel Lisboa

Exploring Portugal

 

In July 2021, I was invited to join an international online event sponsored by Wines of Portugal. Rather serendipitous, I thought. The moderator was the Portugal Wine Ambassador to the U.S., Eugenio Jardim. The event featured interviews with winemakers from various regions, a couple of which made it onto our itinerary. As we ventured through Lisbon we came across the Praça do Comércio, a large public square on the coast. Along the western row of buildings was the Wines of Portugal tasting room. It featured wines from every Portuguese region along three walls of wine bottles – an unexpected discovery that we took full advantage of! Later, we came across the second location in Porto.

The Wines of Portugal tasting room

 

We enjoyed walking around the Alfama neighborhood, one of Lisbon’s oldest areas, lined with shops, cafes, and convenient historic trams. If you go, try to catch Tram 28, which carries tourists and locals on the most popular route. My sweet tooth couldn’t resist the local pastry, Pastéis de Nata.

Exploring PortugalThe popular Tram 28 in the Alfama district

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historic Rossio Railway Station, circa 1890

Historic Rossio Railway Station, circa 1890

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you go to Lisbon or any other foreign city for that matter, try to set up a dinner or a tour through the WithLocals website, or something similar. You can choose a variety of tours or experiences with local residents. You’ll learn much about the country’s culture and their favorite things to do. It’s certainly worthwhile. We decided on the home dinner experience and chose Isabel. She offered multiple courses that included fried salted cod balls, fruit and vegetable items, and a local delicacy, black pork. Isabel also provided a selection of cheeses and two wines. She turned us on to Porta da Ravessa white wine, and the red Vila de Frades, both produced in the large Alentejo wine region east of Lisboa and Tejo. Isabel was a delight to spend time with, and her dog was pleasant and chill…sleeping at my feet while we ate.

Dinner with Isabel from WithLocals

Exploring Portugal

This vinho blanco was an ideal starter wine. The blend of Roupeiro, Fernão-Pires, and Arinto was light and fresh, and a bargain at 2.49 Euros!

A very nice red blend of Aragonez (Tempranillo), Trincadeira & Alicante Bouschet. It paired very well with the black pork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could create a full post on the day trip we took to Sintra, but I’ll provide a short synopsis. Sintra is located on the Portuguese Riviera. A 45-minute train ride drops you into the magical, wonderous mountainous region with majestic castles, royal palaces, historic structures, and mansions. And then there’s the Quinta da Regaleira. Its dazzling architecture and grounds are “conducive to the contemplation of the beautiful and the sublime.” To avoid the tourist groups and lines we chose a zippy way to tour Sintra – the electric Twizy from Go2Sintra Eco Tours. It’s a kick!

Exploring Portugal

The night before we left Lisbon we searched for a bar or restaurant that offered live fado music. It’s the country’s mournful folk music about the sea, losing loved ones, struggles of the poor, and it can nearly bring a tear to one’s eye. Due to the slow recovery from the pandemic, there were no live performances in the area; however, luck was on our side. As we wandered and searched, we came across Fado & Wine. There was no one in the place, but Fado filled the air. Shelves of wine were on every wall. Finally, a young woman came in. After a discussion of what we liked in wine, she provided a couple of options. I fell in love with the 2010 São Domingos Garrafeira from the Bairrada region. (Remember that region, it comes up again.) She also served us some tasty tapas, then left us alone to enjoy the music and delectable wine and fare. She returned to let us try other libations she thought we’d enjoy, one of which was Ginja wild cherry liqueur. It was fantastic! Such long-lasting, intense flavor.

Meredith enjoying tapas and wine in Fado and Wine

Meredith enjoying her gooey entrada.

Exploring Portugal

This bold blend of Touriga Nacional, Merlot, and Cabernet featured floral and spicy notes, and blanketed my tongue with red and dark fruit, with a touch of toast and spice. Delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Évora – Alentejo wine region

After two and a half days in Lisbon, we rented a Peugeot SUV and headed east to the ancient walled city of Évora. It’s also the capital of the Alentejo region. A larger town has since grown around the walled city but the interior has maintained its historic character. In the city’s center stands the ancient Roman Temple of Évora (also called the Temple of Diana). Nearby, whitewashed houses surround the Cathedral of Évora. It’s the largest medieval cathedral in Portugal. The massive Gothic structure was built between 1186 and 1250. Not far is the must-see skeleton-adorned Chapel of Bones. It’s as fascinating as it is creepy. All four walls were completed with bones from the dead of the 17th century. The Franciscan monks believed the use of their bones guaranteed the absolution of their sins while providing a site of contemplation for the living. Those zealous Franciscans!

ancient Roman Temple of Évora

The ancient Roman Temple of Évora also called the Temple of Diana

Igreja de São Francisco dating from the 12th century

The Franciscan Gothic and baroque Igreja de São Francisco dating from the 12 century

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The creepy but fascinating Chapel of Bones

The Chapel of Bones

Exploring Portugal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To our delight, a half block from the cathedral was the Rota Dos Vinhos-Alentejo, which means Alentejo Wine Route. The tasting room offered a good number of wines from the region. Helena poured us a couple of whites and two reds. Grape varieties included Bical, Grand Noir, and the region’s traditional Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Castelão, and Antão Vaz (a new one for me!). 

Exploring PortugalRota Dos Vinhos-Alentejo tasting room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coimbra – Bairrada wine region

You know how sometimes you see a photo and you say to yourself, “I would love to see that in person”? That’s how I felt when I saw this photo of the University of Coimbra high above the city. It’s among the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world! At night, it’s stunning.

The historic University of Coimbra

Fortunately, we found the Hotel Oslo Coimbra with a rooftop terrace, and a room facing the university. Established in 1290, the university moved locations a few times, and in 1597 it ended up in Coimbra at the Alcaçova Palace, previously owned by the Royal Family. On the drizzly evening following our dinner of Portuguese-inspired pizza, we walked the parkways along the rows of shops. There, next to the Igreja de Santa Cruz, was a cafe and we stopped in for a drink. What luck, Fado de Coimbra was performing. The sound was mesmerizing as it reverberated through the historic architecture.

Click here to see and hear it for yourself.

Exploring PortugalIgreja de Santa Cruz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mozelos – Amorim Cork

In the months leading up to our original travel plans, I had been in touch with the Director of Marketing and Communications for Amorim Cork, Carlos De Jesus. Traveling from Coimbra to Mozelos, Amorim was a 1-hour 40-minute trip. While the rain varied in intensity, the freeways were easy to travel through the mountains and valleys. We met up with Carlos at their headquarters and production facility. What an experience! We spent nearly two hours touring the production area and laboratories. Cork is one of the most useful materials on earth. As Amorim states, cork oak forests “contribute to climate regulation, are a driving force for sustainability development, and play a crucial role in the world’s ecological balance.” Also, harvesting cork bark does not harm the oak trees, which have an average life span of 200 years.

image of harvested cork bark

Piles of harvested cork tree bark

Interviewing the Director of Marking at Amorim Cork, Carlos de Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

Amorim cork's huge facility

Part of Amorim’s huge facility

Cork punched out from the bark the traditional way, by hand and leg pump.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Portugal

Shaped cork in various levels of quality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s my compelling conversation with Carlos about the extreme efforts Amorim undertakes in their mission to achieve perfection and 100 percent sustainability.

 

 

In Part 2 we make our way to the Douro River Valley with its majestic
hillside vineyards.

Did you know: In 2019, Portugal was elected for the 3rd consecutive year as “Best Destination in the World” by the World Travel Awards. Additionally, Portugal was chosen as “Europe’s Leading Destination” in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2022.

 

 

In this Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine travel blog, we head from the Douro DOC, through the Porto region into Vinho Verde. You’ll hear my interview with Quinta da Aveleda winemaker Fabiano. Click the images to see larger sizes.

Day 10 – Penafiel, Vinho Verde

As we headed west we encountered another rainy day. It wasn’t much of an issue, and by the time we arrived at Quinta da Aveleda, an umbrella wasn’t needed. The hidden Aveleda estate has been in the Guedes family for 5 generations. I saw an interactive video of Quinta de Aveleda during the Wines of Portugal online seminar, then had the opportunity to try some of the wines during a San Francisco Portugal Wine tasting event. They inspired me to book a tour of the property and taste other brands. Fortunately for us, Aveleda was on the route to Porto.

The jardins (gardens) were extreme and magical. They feature a small tree forest that, as I recall, has trees from every region in the world. We saw redwoods from California, palm and maple trees, and many others. The variety of flowers was also abundant. Then we passed by whimsically designed structures, which evoked the sensation of stepping into a fairytale!

Exploring Portugal

The original guard house from the late 1800s, seemingly from another world.

A house built as a wedding gift for a family member

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the tour, which I highly recommend, you’ll also enter the granite wine cellar dating back to 1885. This is where they age the family’s brandy, Adega Velha. The birth of the international brand stems from a well-kept secret older than the winery itself. To read the intriguing story, visit the website Adega Velha.

The aging elixir

Bottles of brandy from past decades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the wine tasting, we tried the Solos de Granito, 100% Alvarinho from Vinho Verde. It was a tantalizing blend of citrus and tropical flavors. There was a Moscatel-Galego-Roxo from the Algarve region. It was dry with red fruit and mineral notes. Then the Vale D. Maria from the Douro Superior, further east than Pinhao. It featured grape varieties used in Port wines but was also dry, not sweet. Very good!

Villa Alvor is another vineyard the family owns in the Algarve region on the country’s southern end. This blend was layered with flavors from grape varieties Aragonez, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional, and Syrah. It possessed dark fruit qualities, a medium body, and light to medium tannins. It’s an easy-drinking, enjoyable wine, especially for its $3 price tag. Across from the tasting room is a store and gift shop that sells many of the family’s wine brands and brandy.

 

After the tasting, winemaker Fabiano showed up for the interview (I didn’t catch his last name). As you’ll hear, the family sources from vineyards across the country. Click Play to hear our conversation.

 

Following the tasting, and purchasing some wine, we got back on the wine road toward our next destination.

Day 10 – Porto

I’ve felt the desire to see colorful, historic Porto (or Oporto) as I did the Douro Valley. Although, instead of vineyards growing on the hillsides; historic homes, businesses, cafes, and Port houses line the Douro River just east of where it spills into the Atlantic ocean. Iconic bridges, such as the Ponte da Arrábida and Ponte Luís I, connect Porto’s center on the north to the Vila Nova de Gaia municipality to the south.

We stayed at the historic, yet modern Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel. The beautiful blue-tiled building was founded in the year of its name as a stationary manufacturer. To this day, it continues to feature elements from its notable past that you’ll see throughout the hotel. The location worked out well for us. One benefit – it sits at the end of the revitalized Rua das Flores, a pedestrian street of merchants, referred to as “the Mecca of Romanticism.”

Photo credit: Viagensa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To our surprise, the Porto location of the Wines of Portugal tasting room is located on the Rua.

 

 

 

Making New Friends

While we were still in Pinhão we discovered that not only were our new friends Sandra and Patrick traveling to Porto, but they also booked their stay at the 1829 Hotel! How crazy is that coincidence? But it didn’t end there. We ran into them on the streets a couple of times, which led to head shaking and laughs. Hooking up for dinner and meeting at the aerial gondola added to our time together which always included engaging conversation. We have remained in touch since then.

Much of our time was spent in Port Houses and cafes, yet we did find interesting sites throughout the city. A favorite was The Portuguese Centre of Photography, residing in a 200-year-old former prison. The aged concrete walls, iron bar doors and windows make for an artsy architectural design feature, in addition to the photography and the History of Photography exhibition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another impressive attraction we visited was the Church of São Francisco. Finished around 1425, the church features the best example of Gothic architecture in Porto. In the early 18th century, the interior was decorated with exuberant gilt woodwork. Five hundred years later it continues to glow brightly. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s a mesmerizing sight to see.

And then there’s the Port wine. I love Port!

Wine has been exported from Portugal since the mid-12th century. The popularity of sweet, fortified Port took off with the Anglo-Portuguese commercial treaty of 1654 which created new opportunities for English and Scottish merchants living in Portugal. As Sophia Berqvist of Quinta de la Rosa pointed out in Part 1 of Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine, England has been deeply involved ever since.
However, the German-founded company,
Kopke boasts of being, well, as the building says…         

My wife Meredith enjoyed their 2005 White Port so much that she bought one to bring home. The photo of me was taken in Kopke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took a tour of the familiar Port producer Sandeman. As we listened to stories of their history, strolling through the low-lit cellars, the iconic “Don” was omnipresent. It was quite an educational tour followed by a tasting of 4 wines. We were part of a group of people from other countries, which led to interesting conversations.

 

 

 

I have to say, one of my favorite tasting was at Quinta do Noval. It included a 1996 Vintage Porto and 20-year-old Tawny Porto.  

We also visited Taylor Fladgate but didn’t make it to Cockburn’s, Croft, Cálem, Fonseca, Graham’s, or the others. So much Port, so little time!

Small vessels, called Rabelo boats, were used to transport barrels of Port wine and passengers from the Douro wine-growing region all the way downstream to Porto. That method existed until the 1960s, but to pay homage to tradition the Porto houses unfurl their sails during the festivities of St. John’s (São João) on June 24th. The Rabelo Boat Regatta showcase the navigational talents of their crews as about 20 rabelos strive to be the fastest to sail up river to the finish line. As a gesture to their history, you can see the boats daily as they line the river bank of Vila Nova de Gaia.

We were across the river to the north for the last couple of hours of daylight on our final day in Porto. It was a surprisingly warm afternoon for November 4th. We wanted to celebrate and heard about the Porto Tonico. It’s young White Port, and tonic water with a lemon slice. It was the ideal refreshing cocktail as we relaxed and reflected on our time along the Douro River.

The next day we took the high-speed train Alpha Pendular for the 3-hour trip back to Lisbon for our flight home the following morning. We had a feeling of “a trip well done” as we did about as much as we could have in the 12 days we were in the country. Renting the car allowed us to explore many unexpected, fascinating places. We drove about 800 miles in 10 days and the rental was only 224 Euros. And let it be known, whenever I travel on the wine road, my wine suitcase is always by my side.

Considering an international trip soon? Portugal was fantastic. The Portuguese are welcoming, most speak English, and the meals were usually more than we could eat. Felicidades!