Portugal August 2022

Of Porto and Port

David’s 60th Birthday was not an easy gig. The man who either has everything or who will buy himself everything he wants. Plus, did not want a party. Or a fuss. So a trip was planned that vaguely had a wine theme and some more luxurious hotels than we would usually book. We don’t think we actually like to drink port but had heard good things about Porto.

EasyJet was having some issues with our plane but another was found and a standby crew as well. Una was resigned to this being our first travel “miss” but in the end we were just late to arrive and EasyJet were impressive at how we were kept informed by staff and crew.

The Yeatman hotel was a bubble of luxury across the river from Porto itself. Hard to believe it was just under 11 years old as it had that feel of history. We loved having a welcome glass of white port, the infinity pool, the wine information and art on each floor and our large room with terrace and river view.

We are Tripeiros

Porto is a touristy place. I don’t think we had realised that. It seems it is on a lot of cruise ship schedules as well as coach tours and the famous river cruises. It was busy and there were people selling walking/scooter/ tuktuk/ port tasting tours. We booked a Segway tour with Blue Dragon Tours who celebrate their Tripeiro heritage on their t-shirts.

David loves a Segway tour and as they are almost extinct everywhere, so here was a place for the last hurrah.

It was activity enough for one day. After a burger (‘phenomenal ‘said David )  in Esplanada Jardim Morro, we returned to the Yeatman.

Dinner was back over the bridge to Tascö Restaurant, very popular.

Pottering around Porto

Except not the actual Potter thing. Manuel, our guide yesterday had told us how Harry Potter was not appreciated in Porto and we should give the famous Lello bookshop a wide swerve.  One glance at the queues and we would have done that anyway. We did our own thing today, loosely based on a walk in the Porto Lonely planet Guidebook.

We checked off some of the key sites and gave ourselves some time to have coffee or just sit and look. We really did not like the Ribeira riverfront which was tacky and smelly.

Over the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, it was cleaner and more upmarket. We failed to get a port tour from any of the major houses as they were all booked out. Mainly by tour groups, the lady at Sandeman said. We were not that bothered. More time to look at street art and eat ice cream.

We enjoyed the pools of the Yeatman and a light dinner in the hotel.

Train along the river Douro

We bought our tickets in the ornately tiled station of São Bento the day before. Our train was an infrequent one and we did not want to take a chance. The journey was comfortable. The train tickets were an insane €11.50 for both of us. An almost empty carriage too. We felt sorry for Portuguese people who think they might try train trips in the UK.  What a shock they would have.

We arrived at tiny Barqueiros, like a station in a Western movie. A buzzing noise and then a golf buggy came into view on the deserted road. Sent by the Quinta de São Bernardo, our Douro valley hotel. We thought it was going to be a rustic hotel on a wine estate but it was more modern and sophisticated than that. Muted greens and greys, modern art. Those orange LED spiral lightbulbs.

We had opted for the half-board package, since there was nothing else for miles around and the food and wine were as good as promised.

Vineyards of the valley

We could go to pretty much only one place from the local station and that was Regua. In fact, we could only go there one way by train as there was no service stopping on the way back until late evening. I guess that is the draw-back of the cheap trains.

Regua was a town with normal local shops and an odd feature of blasting out pop music from street speakers. David bought shorts in a shop called Bras for Men and Women… Much mirth, turns out it was the owner’s surname.

We went to the Museum of the Douro which was well laid out and even included a glass of port. Looked like we were going to get our port tasting unavoidably.

Our 20-minute metered cab back to the hotel cost us three times the train fare for 2 hours from Porto. The driver was the chatty Nuno. He had sold us an airport transfer for our last day before we knew what was happening.

Cycling for softies

Back on 2 wheels again today. This time it was the e-bikes which the Quinta provides for guests. It was not exactly clear where we could go on them but we aimed for the village of Mesão Frio  above the hotel. Not by the steep short cut through the vineyard but a more leisurely loop around the road. It gave us a chance to see the area at a slower pace and get to a valley viewpoint. Only one accident, which was Una’s fault for attempting a roundabout on a hill in a low gear, on cobbles, with turbo-boost. Lots of locals kindly helping, including a volunteer who offered to go in search of the negligent husband who had powered off ahead.

In Vino Veritas, In Aqua Sanitas

A day spent only in the Quinta and its grounds. But enough for us to do. A walk along the river, watching the Scenic and Viking River boat cruises drift past. Swimming in the lovely pool. Finding new places to sit and slowly digest the giant breakfasts.

 We had booked in for the on-site wine tour and tasting. This was led by Pedro, the winemaker and was what you might describe as in depth. We learnt about the microbiology, economics, politics and biochemistry of the process. Krebs cycle, anyone?

Then the tasting room session where everything was done in proper order and we tasted a lot of wines. Too much for us. We started the tour at 330pm and at 730pm we were reminding Pedro that we had to go to dinner. Luckily it was not far to go and we could drink lots of water with our dinner.

Checking out of Portugal

Our taxi man Nuno arrived with his French brother-in-law driving his own car. Not an official taxi but as Nuno was keen to remind us, not an official airport transfer price either. He gave us plenty of information on the drive to the airport and how he and his family were going to start their own tour business. No more metered cab driving for Nuno.

We appreciated the service and the gift of what were actually the best pastels de nata of the trip. Which was a crowded field as we had eaten at least one each every day of the trip.

Homeward. We think we will return to Northern Portugal to do another trip, next time with a car so we can see and do more.

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