Our final leg of our journey took us to the Duoro Valley, Portugal’s wine making region. The Douro Valley is a fairly underrated tourist destination in Portugal, but in recent years it has gained in popularity among wine enthusiasts and romantics, the ideal final stop on Emily and my honeymoon. We chose to go there after reading Frank Bruni’s account of never ending days of food and wine in a spectacular setting. Through Conde Nast Traveller we found recommendations on accommodations, and chose to stay at the Casa do Vilarinho de Sao Romao (a name I continuously failed to pronounce properly) which is a small little villa high in the hills of the Duoro Valley.
It was nearly a day long journey to Casa do Vilarinho de Sao Romao from Lisbon, but since I love the Portuguese train system I really didn’t mind. We purchased our tickets from Lisbon to Porto and 20 minutes before the train was scheduled to depart we each bought a Magnum, Europe’s answer to Haagen Daaz, and found a comfy spot on the train. 5 minutes before the train left the station, two older men asked us to move our seats and we thought nothing of it…we happily obliged them and relocated. As we approached subsequent stops people kept asking us to move until finally we realized there were assigned seats and Emily and I were seated on opposite sides of the train.
Ooops, language barrier! We spent the rest of the ride apart.
Our next train from Porto to Pinhao luckily did not have assigned seats and we were reunited for some of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. Deep into the Douro Valley at the tail end of our journey, this man who looked exactly like Donald Rumsfeld approached us and taught us about the history of the region. The cliff notes version is that the area is very old and the Port wine is very delicious. But please check it out in person!
By the time we reached Pinhao and got into a cab it was almost 8pm, and we arrived at Casa do Vilarinho de Sao Romao around 9pm starving and smelling like sour grapes. Cristina had offered to make dinner for us in her emails, but once there she suggested we walk 3 miles in the dark to Sabrosa, the nearest town, to grab a bite to eat…strange. Luckily one of her staff was driving into town and she dropped off at the only open restaurant for dinner. After a scrumptious meal of prawns, veal and ample local wine, we took a taxi back and crashed.
The next day we took a tour of one of the many local vineyards Quinta do Portal and saw their new factory and sampled many varietals of Port and Muscatel wines. We learned that during years when the grape is very good, the Port producers join together and declare that year to be a LBV – a late bottle vintage. When choosing your Port wine (as I often do…), try to choose a bottle of LBV, no matter the year it is likely to be exceptional!
After our vineyard tour, we had to walk to Sabrosa to get cash since Cristina informed us after our arrival that she did not take credit cards…again, strange. We followed the map she gave us the night before when she suggested we walk there for dinner, and thank goodness we were able to get a ride…the path was treacherous! Her instructions included such clear directives as “ignore the yellow house,” “turn up the second steep hill not the first,” and “beware of the rabid dog.” We literally walked down a steep path through vineyards, fjorded two streams, and hiked up a steep hill, a journey that took at least two hours and would have guaranteed a broken ankle had we attempted it the night before.
Once in Sabrosa we were exhausted and starving, unfortunately everything was closed and we had to quench our thirst with two Coca-Colas, looking more American than ever. After we hit up the ATM we took a taxi back to the Casa and chilled at the pool for the rest of the day. Apparently there is only one taxi driver in town and so despite my constant mispronouncing of Casa do Vilarinho de Sao Romao, he knew the route since he had taken us there the night before (and was hurt when we did not immediately recognize him.) We ate dinner at the Casa and had a relaxing night watching German celebrity shows including a program called, “Formerly Hot” that was quite entertaining (Britney Spears was #1).
The next day we packed up and made the reverse commute on the trains back to Lisbon. Once in Lisbon we stowed our things at a hostel and went to the Lisboan version of the meatpacking district for a trendy dinner and some dancing on a fake beach to 80s classics. We danced all night and left for our flight at dawn, sadly saying goodbye to Portugal.
Two final thoughts:
1. I created a twitter list of Portugese happennings prior to our arrival and it was quite helpful. Check out Spiffy Niffy’s Portugal list
2. Several of our mishaps could have been avoided if we had rented a car. I would recommend renting a vehicle in Sintra and the Duoro Valley, although we managed without one and had some great stories to tell (and blog posts to write) as a result.
3. I should have mentioned this in a previous post, but the bath towels offered in all of our accommodations throughout the country were the biggest towels of my life, despite the fact that most of the country was petite. As a tall person the large towels were a constant luxury and an incentive to revisit the country. Whoever sponsored the gigantic towel initiative is a tourism genius!