Home Port

Location: Lisbon & Porto, Portugal

Introduction:

We’ve wanted to travel to Portugal for a long time to visit their wine regions and we finally got our chance. We started our visit in Lisbon as that’s where most international flights arrive. We took a few lazy days catching up on our sleep and walking around the city. It was nice not to be tied to a tour schedule and to be back in a country where we could safely use the tap water. We next headed for Porto and established our “Home Port” with a weekly apartment rental. From here, we made day trips to the various wine regions. We found some good wines to enjoy but they were the exceptions, as the traditional dry wine making style didn’t suit our tastes. However, Portugal is best known for its fortified wine named Port. All of these were good and some were exceptional. We learned a lot about Port and look forward to collecting some of our favorites for our wine cellar in the future.

Sights Visited:

We spent a day exploring the newer section of Lisbon where we stayed. The buildings are fairly unremarkable with the exception of the Campo Pequeno bullring. It’s off-season for bull fighting but it has an underground shopping center that we took advantage of. The next day we walked a couple of the older sections of the city named Chiado and Bairro Alto. We were captivated by the historic architecture and building facades.
We ventured into Porto and also enjoyed walking its streets and alleys. It’s a hilly city on the Douro River with lots of old buildings and monuments to admire.
The first wine region that we visited was Vihno Verde near the historic town of Guimaraes. This region is known for its young white wines, which are sometimes referred to as green wines. We dropped in on a winery named Casa De Sezim and were disappointed to find out that they were not open to the public for tastings. As we walked back to our car, the winery’s Sales Manager, Tiago Oliveira, came running after us and offered to show us around. Tiago proceeded to give us a private tour of the winery and it’s vineyards. He tasted us on each of their bottled wines followed up by the current vintage from the steel tanks. He then sent us off with a bottle of each of the 3 wines that they produce. We were awestricken by his generosity.
The big Port Houses are located in Porto. We came to learn that it’s an ideal location to age the wines in big wood barrels and casks for as long as 40 years and more. Thanks to Elizabeth’s friends in the business, we were treated to a tour and tasting at Taylor’s Port Lodges where we learned all about the different types of Port: White Port, Ruby, Late Bottle Vintage, Tawny and Vintage. It was interesting for us to learn that most of the Port producers continue to crush the grapes for their high-end vintage Ports with human feet. Our favorite was the 20-year Tawny Port. We headed next to Vinologia Port Bar where we tasted a flight of 20-year Tawny Port from small boutique producers. We enjoyed them all but decided that our mutual favorite was Taylor’s. So, we bought a bottle to enjoy.
One day, we took a long drive into the Douro River Valley. Most of the vineyards are terraced, which is unlike any other wine region that we’ve ever visited. Most of the Quintas (farms) there focus on Port wines but we went in search of good still wines that we know they are making. Some of the wineries we randomly dropped in on were closed but we were able to taste wines at Qunita do Tedo and Quinta Nova. We finished up our day on a high note with an appointment for a private tour and tasting at Quinta Do Crasto. Their Old Vines Reserve wine has ranked as high as #3 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list. They are also partnered with Lynch-Bages, a 5th Growth Bordeaux winery on one their wines under the label of “Roquette & Cazes”. We were impressed not only by their wines but also by the new, innovative French barrel racking system that they’ve employed. We brought home a bottle of their 2011 Old Vines Reserve to enjoy with dinner and we also loved their 2011 Vintage Port.
We even made it to the coast one day to check out the “other side” of the Atlantic Ocean.

Accommodations:

We spent our first 3 nights at the Holiday Inn Continental in Lisbon. We picked this hotel as it earned us a lot of IHG Rewards bonus points on a special promotion that we could apply to future stays at IHG properties. They upgraded us to a nice suite. The hotel had a basic gym for cardio exercise, good wifi and was conveniently located to the airport and Metro.
We spent just over a week (8 nights) at Boavista Palace Serviced Apartments in Porto. It was modern with a nice kitchen, great wifi and a basic fitness center. This enabled us to enjoy some home cooked meals. Best of all, it had a washing machine. We also had an underground parking garage and were just 2 blocks from the metro and within reasonable walking distance to restaurants and super markets.

Food & Drink:

We found ourselves eating out for lunch a lot and then staying in for dinner. We’d been craving some Italian food and found it at La Finestra in Lisbon. We enjoyed a light lunch of salads at Taberna Da Malu, a quaint Tapas Bar in Lisbon. We savored some seafood at Pipas Wine & Tapas on the Douro River in Porto. We couldn’t get over how inexpensive the local wine was. Wine costing 3€ (about $4 US) is considered expensive. However, such wines are best paired with food. We had to search harder to find wines that could be enjoyed on their own. Surprisingly, one of them was an inexpensive box wine that we discovered at the tapas bar in Lisbon.

Transportation System:

In Lisbon, we got around using taxis and the Metro. We found the Metro to be clean, efficient and easy to use. We also came across some old fashioned streetcars as we walked around the city. Then, we rented a diesel powered Ford Focus with a 6-speed manual transmission from Avis for a week. We drove the A1 north 300km to Porto. It was great to be on a 3 lane major highway again but it came at a price of $30 in tolls each way. Once in Porto, we also took advantage of their Metro system, which was more like a light rail system that’s both above and below ground.

Shout Outs:

We express our gratitude to Tiago Oliveira for treating us so well when we dropped in unannounced at Casa De Sezim winery.  We’d also like to thank Jack Lourenco for recommending and connecting us with Taylor’s Port Lodge and Quinta Do Crasto winery. Another shout out goes to Fernando Seixas for the tour, tasting and education at Taylor’s Port House. Obrigado to all!!!

For Your Amusement:

We were disappointed when we didn’t find peanut butter during our first trip to a supermarket in Lisbon. We were happy to accidentally discover it on our next visit in the refrigerated section.
We couldn’t understand why the gym wasn’t open and children were dressed in costumes one Tuesday morning until we found out that it was Carnaval (Fat Tuesday), a national holiday in Portugal.
We thought we’d seen the last of the 3-wheeled Tuk-Tuks in Asia. Imagine our surprise when we saw them in Porto.

Highlights: Getting an education on Port wines and driving through the Douro River Valley.

Next Up: We’re off to Italy as our past visits have only served to whet our appetite for more.

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