The Best Of Portugal, Part Um

by Anna

The last nine days in Portugal with Sarah and Gustavo (aka Goose) were a whirlwind of good friends, laughter (and often hysterics), family, wine, port, Super Bock (and sometimes Mini Bock), BBQs, suckling pig, Benfica pride, octopus, more pig, Pasteis de Belem and other addictive pastries like Pillows and “Hamburger Pastries,” Capirinhas, sunbathing on the beach, charades, bad American music on Portuguese radio, castles, salted cod, and so much more. Goose went above and beyond to show us the best of Portugal, carting us across the country and back in his dad’s awesome ’95 BMW, which we lovingly called “the Beast.” We were overwhelmed by the amount of beautiful places that we were able to see and all of Goose’s amazing family and friends that we met along the way! Since we did SO much over the past nine days, Johnny and I decided to divide the trip up into two posts…, I bring you:
“The Best of Portugal, Part Um.”

25 de Abril Bridge

FRIDAY, 7/22
Johnny and I spent our 4 hour bus ride from Lagos to Lisbon in breathless anticipation, and were even more excited as we came across Lisbon’s “Golden Gate Bridge” (actually called the “25 de Abril Bridge,” it’s reddish-orange color makes it look very similar to the Golden Gate and was actually constructed by the same builders of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge). Lisbon lay before us, and because of the way it is built into the hills and juts out into the water, it really reminded us of San Francisco. Goose was at the bus station and immediately swept us off to our first authentic Portuguese meal, which included salted cod and blood sausage (Goose made sure to order the least gnarly type of blood sausage so that our stomachs wouldn’t have any adverse reactions). We then picked up Goose’s friend from Columbia Business School and old NYC roommate, Elia, and his girlfriend Sylvia, from the airport. They had flown in from Milan for the weekend to hang out. We were just missing Sarah who flew in the following morning from New York.

Salted Cod

The next day once the gang was all together, we headed off for brunch on the water and then to sip some Capirinhas at the beach, on the way stopping for famous Pasteis de Belem pastries and getting a blow-by-blow history lesson about Lisbon from our awesome tour guide, Goose. It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, and the beach was packed, and in an attempt to wedge the BMW Beast into a parking spot on the side of a sandy road, the entire car got stuck! At first we all tried to dig it out, but it was in deep. Luckily, we found a Portuguese MacGyver to pull the Beast out of the sand. After so much excitement we were ready for a few pitchers of Capirinhas and some Super Bocks.

Pre-beach lunch on the water in Lisbon
Famous Pasteis de Belem pastries The first of many consumed over the next 9 days
The “Beast” gets stuck in a sand trap Luckily Portuguese MacGyver comes to the rescue
Sipping on Capirinhas at the beach

That night Goose took us to his favorite restaurant in Lisbon, A Travessa. Because the restaurant is up one of Lisbon’s seven hills and tucked into winding narrow streets, the restaurant picks up its guests at the bottom of the hill in a shiny red VW Bus and zips you right up to the restaurant. The restaurant was unbelievable, not only because of the delicious food but also because of the ambiance, with the outside seating set under arched columns surrounding a beautiful little square. Johnny and I both agreed that this was one of the best meals of the trip so far!

Our ride to the restaurant The Dudes
A Travessa

After dinner, we were off to a club…..Goose had warned us that Saturday’s itinerary would take us from “a.m. to a.m.!” We ended up at a club that opened up to the water, and met up with Goose’s brother Pedro and his girlfriend Marta, and his friend “Kick,” a nickname that came from kicking a stone and breaking his foot during a soccer/futbol match when they were kids.

You can find me at the club… Sarah and I clubbin’

SUNDAY, 7/24
The next day we headed off to Sintra, a beautiful town that is a short drive from Lisbon and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site on account of its 19th century Romantic architecture. The area’s hills are dotted with castles and palaces that were once the summer homes of Portuguese royalty. The main attraction which we hiked up to is Pena Palace. It definitely did not disappoint. Perched at the top of a hill with stunning views on all sides, the palace itself was a mosaic of bright colors, intricate architecture and beautifully maintained interior rooms, our favorite of which being the colossal kitchen. The Palace is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, and we could see why. Surrounded by forests where the King used to hunt, we got a little lost getting back to the car, but finally made it out of Sintra and over to Guincho, where we met up with Pedro and Marta.

Pillow pastry Sintra
Pena Palace
Pena Palace Pena Palace
Pena Palace
View from Pena Palace Good thing we aren’t afraid of heights!

Guincho is a world class recognized spot for windsurfers and actually hosts some international windsurfing competitions in the wave category. We were blown away (no pun intended!), when we looked down at the water from the Guincho bar up above. The water was filled with windsurfers, flying up and over waves and zig zagging like razors through the ocean. Goose’s brother, Pedro, an avid windsurfer, was actually one of those crazy sails out in the water, and we braved the fierce wind at the Guincho bar, with some Vino Branco and Super Bocks of course, until he and Marta were ready to go. That evening Elia and Sylvia flew back to Milan, and we spent the night at Pedro and Marta’s place having Portuguese-style chicken and meeting Goose’s sister Veronica, her husband Nuno, and their two adorable sons, Martin and Pedro.

Guincho windsurfing beach
Dinner at Pedro and Marta’s Pedro and Marta’s outdoor BBQ
Sarah’s determined to bring baseball to Portugal Portuguese chicken!

MONDAY, 7/25
Monday morning we packed up a couple bags and headed off for a two night excursion to the Douro Valley. Since it is a 4-5 hour drive, we stopped to check out a couple other attractions on the way. First, at Obidos, a lovely fortified medieval hilltop town, we stopped for a sampling of the area’s famous Ginja liqueur served in small chocolate cups and walked the town’s narrow, steep ramparts. Next, we hit up an area known for suckling pig, a delight that Goose had been describing in greasy detail throughout the car ride. After a giant platter of suckling pig, homemade potato chips and salad, we were stuffed and ready for the remainder of our car ride.

Ginja Streets in Obidos
Walking the rampart walls
Suckling pig!

Upon entering the Douro Valley (another UNESCO World Heritage Site), we were at once overwhelmed by its breathtaking beauty. The valley, sloping steeply on both sides into the Douro River, was lined with row upon row of terraced vines and dotted with picturesque quintas clinging to the valley’s slopes. I had never seen wine country that looked like this, with vines literally wrapping vertically up the sides of the valley. If this beautiful scenery weren’t enough, we pulled up the tree-lined drive to our hotel, Solar da Rede, a renovated castle with awesome views of the valley, and I pretty much thought I had died and gone to heaven. Everything about the place was amazing, from the rooms to the glistening pool to the vines surrounding the property. We ate at the hotel restaurant that night and spent several hours on the terrace overlooking the valley sampling multiple bottles of the wine produced from the hotel’s surrounding vineyard and laughing hysterically about anything and everything. I think the beauty of the place put us all into a state of euphoria.

The view of the Douro Valley from our hotel room
Arriving at our hotel Sarah and Goose on their room’s balcony
Strolling through the hotel’s vineyards
The pool
The Finchwoods The Schu-Barks

The following day was our big day of wine and port tasting, and we were greeted with bright blue skies and warm weather. We started our tasting at Quinta da Pacheca, and thoroughly enjoyed the tour and tasting with the Quinta’s owner.

Quinta da Pacheca Quinta da Pacheca
The owner pouring our tastings Our tasting lineup

Following this warm-up lap, we drove over a bridge and up some narrow winding roads to Quinta do Vallado. It was interesting to discover that even the more modern Quintas, such as this one, still make a percentage of port using the traditional foot treading process in large stone vats called “lagares.” We learned a lot about the production of port and the differences between White, Ruby, Vintage and Tawny ports. Our favorite saying used among producers in the Douro Valley was, “Tawny is made by men with the help of God; Vintage is made by God with the help of men.”

Checking out the legs
Quinta do Vallado Our tasting lineup

After another great tour and tasting at Quinta do Vallado, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed to Sandeman. Although a little more commercial, Sandeman’s location is unbeatable. Goose maneuvered the Beast up switchbacks of narrow dirt roads dropping steeply to one side, till we reached the top where we had incredible views of the valley. Whereas we had mostly wine and a couple ports at the previous Quintas, Sandeman was all port all the time. The tasting was serious business, with a White, Ruby, Vintage, 10-yr-old Tawny and 20-yr-old Tawny.

View from Sandeman
Before After
Tawny Johnny and crew tasting port
Sandeman Sandeman
Another view leaving Sandeman

After enjoying the view and all deciding upon our favorite port varietal, we headed to our last stop, Quinta do Panascal. Yet again, this vineyard was beautiful, set on the banks of the River Tavora, which stems off of the Douro River. At this Quinta we were handed audio guides that would take us through the terraced vines to spectacular views of the valley. It sounded great, but with the sun beating down, Sarah getting a German audio guide, and me having flashes of dying in the middle of the vines from heat exhaustion, the girls only made half the tour and retreated to the cool stone rooms where the lagares were situated to wait for the boys who were braving the heat.

Cruising through the terraced vines at Quinta do Panascal
Goose and Johnny practicing their stomping in the lagares…check out those thigh muscles!

We returned back to our beautiful hotel and pool, cooled down, and although we had dinner reservations at a spot further down the valley, we decided our hotel was just too great to leave, and decided to settle back in on our terrace for dinner and sample some of the bottles we had purchased that day. Apparently all of the wine and port went to our heads, because we ended up having an impromptu photoshoot in the sitting room at the hotel and again rolling around in fits of hysterics. All in all, it was a very successful wine and port tasting excursion, and if I had the opportunity to go back and do it again, I would in a second! Stay tuned for: “The Best of Portugal, Part Dois.”

Chillaxing in the Sitting Room Tawny Johnny, Photographer Extraordinaire
The Queen of the Castle “Where’s Gustavo?”

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