Day 3 & 4: Walking & Wine and to the Douro Valley

Today we walked the the streets of Porto with Diana as our guide, then headed to Graham’s Port Lodge to taste port and finished with cooking with a local chef.

But first, an Ode to a Shower…

The shower at our hotel is impressive. The water pressure is perfect—not so forceful that it feels abusive, but strong enough to feel therapeutic. We found ourselves taking extra showers because it was so enjoyable. The products were also nice, smelling of honey and jasmine. So, when we arrived after our 3-flight-epic-day-of-travel, the shower felt like a much needed monsoon after a long drought.

On to Porto…Diana met us in the lobby and we headed out on foot to cover what we could in the hour we had before the port tasting. Since we had explored on our own the first day, we skipped those things and focused on some of the other highlights. Our hotel is situated on the main plaza of the city center and just outside of our doors is the town hall building. With over 430 Catholic Churches in the city, we were bound to see at least 6 in our short walk, and along the way we walked along all of the granite cobblestones lining the street. The soil of Porto is full of granite, so they use it for many things so it’s not wasted. Many of the churches are built of granite—including the ornate carvings decorating the facades. Our first church is called Clerigos or Clerics church. It’s one of the most famous sites in Porto as its bell tower offers a 360* view of the city. It is still functional as a bell tower and the church still holds mass. There is a mandate that no building can stand taller than the Clerics bell tower in the entire city.

Then on our way to the next two churches, we passed their famous book store. You have to purchase a ticket to even enter and there was a “short” line of people waiting compared to summer months when the line will run the length of the street. Apparently, JK Rowling was said to have been inspired by the book shop to write Harry Potter when she lived there. Years later she rescinded her comment—perhaps because she was frustrated by the book store profiting. We then passed the University of Porto, an example of Art Deco architecture with another giant peacock, and finally arriving at Carmo and Carmelitas Churches. The churches sit side by side, only divided by a very narrow house. The outside is covered in the traditional blue and white tiles. One of the churches is in the early baroque style with simpler features and the other is from the later baroque period and is more ornate. The more ornate one is said to have the most beautiful exterior and the simpler one is said to have the most beautiful interior. The inside is incredibly detailed and ornate including multiple statues and guilded alter. The alter has a set of steps representing the steps followers must take to reach heaven.

Then we made our way down to an older part of town with very traditional architecture of Porto. You can even see the laundry hanging on the lines outside of the windows. Diana says that’s how you know that natives live there! There is a mandate that outside of the city center, you can’t hang your laundry outside your windows because it’s ugly, but they don’t try to keep the elders from doing it in the city center. Just around the corner from this older neighborhood is Victory neighborhood. In the late 1490s, King Manuel I signed a decree expelling all of the Jews and Muslins from Porto to satisfy the Catholic Monarchs of Spain in order to marry their daughter, Princess Isabella. The neighborhood where the Jews lived before being expelled was then called Victory because of the Catholics victory over the Jews. There is a plaque noting this horrible period in Portuguese history and apologizing for it.

Just at the end of the Victory Neighborhood is a fantastic view of the city, including the Dom Luis I Bridge and a collection of boats that are anchored along the riverbank to represent all of the Port wineries of the Douro Valley.

We made a quick stop at a famous pastry place called Manteigaria. They make only 1 kind of pasty—Pasteis de Nata—an egg custard in puff pastry. They make over 7,000 a day! They are INCREDIBLE. Diana treated us to one each with a cappuccino before making our way to Graham Winery to learn how Port is made and to have a tasting.

Graham’s is one of many Port producers in the Douro Valley, and their lodge where they host tastings, hold wine in vats or casks and hold bottled port to age. They also host tastings in a beautiful tasting room adjacent to a lovely restaurant. To be called Port, a fortified wine must be made from one of the 100 grape varietals in the Douro valley. There are two types of port, Ruby and Tawny. The Ruby ports are younger, fruitier and have a ruby color—hence the name. The Ruby ports are held in large vats with limited contact to the chestnut and after about 18months, the wine makers determine if they are ready to be bottled and sold as is, transferred into smaller French oak barrels or age or if they will then be bottled and aged. The Tawny Ports are aged in French oak barrels where the wine has more contact with the oak to lead to the nutty, caramel flavors and the darker color from longer oxidization. They have 3 barrels from 1945, 2 barrels from 1935 and 1 barrel from 1882. A glass of the 1945 port would cost you about $1,000.

We moved into the tasting room and tried 4 different ports: A 2018 Late Bottle Vintage Ruby, a Graham’s 2007 Vintage Port Ruby, a Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny and a 1994 Vintage Tawny. They all had very different characteristics—the early ruby was very fruity, easy to drink and would work well with any dessert—especially chocolates and berries. The second ruby was a little more of the jammy fruit flavors and a richer profile. The 30 year old tawny clearly shifted to the nutty, caramel side and the 1994 was the smoothest and richest.

We parted ways with Diana and Diogo who thankfully transported us to and from Graham’s because it would have been an insane walk, across the river and up hill both ways.

We grabbed a bite to eat near the hotel, and this would later prove to be a horrible mistake. More on that in a minute….

Caught in the driving rain, we regrouped after our snack and prepared to meet Hugo, our chef for the evening. The walk was only 2 minutes from our hotel, but when it is raining and blowing so hard that my umbrella inverts and proves itself useless, you leave yourself open to  missing turns. We were freezing and completely soaked by the time we arrived, but quickly got to work preparing our meal. Hugo selected ingredients for a traditional Portuguese meal of Caldo Verde (green soup), Bacalhau com Natas (codfish with white sauce casserole) and Egg Yoke Custard with brûlée top. We chopped onions, diced potatoes and smashed garlic and added them to a pot with olive oil to soften. Then we added water and let it boil for a bit. Next Hugo poached the fish in milk and then we sautéed more onion and garlic with olive oil until we added the remaining milk from poaching the fish to create the white sauce. Then we fried the diced potatoes and added it to the sauce. Finally, we peeled the skin and removed the bones from the fish and broke the fish into smaller pieces and folded it in to the sauce. The casserole is then topped with a cow’s milk cheese and broiled in the oven. The soup is then blended, cabbage is folded in and it’s topped with sliced chorizo and drizzles of olive oil. Finally for dessert we made an egg yoke custard with brûlée top. We had white and red wine from the Douro valley. Hugo ate with us and sent us along with his recipes to recreate the meal at home.

Fortunately, the rain had stopped so our walk home was enjoyable. It was about 8:30p, and many people were heading out for the night as we were headed home—full, exhausted and brewing trouble. Bryan had started feeling not so great at dinner and by the time we got home he was completely unwell. I followed soon after and we spent the night trading places in the bathroom. It got kind of dicey with only one toilet!

We were able to “sleep” in a bit since Diogo wasn’t picking us up until 11a, but we had to cancel our stop over in a scenic town before reaching the Douro Valley. Fortunately, our hotel, The Six Senses, was able to have our room ready for an early check in. We slept until our couples massage at 4p and both wondered if we would make it. It was wonderful and actually made us both feel better. Then we returned to our room to sleep again until we were scheduled to eat at the Chef’s table in the hotel restaurant. We both did our best, but in the end we couldn’t complete the menu. The staff was incredible and made us both bowls of broth and brought us fruit and ginger tea before sending us back to the room with chocolates and organic tea for later. We felt terrible—both physically and emotionally for not being able to enjoy what would have been a six course meal with wine paring. I can’t tell you how kind the entire staff has been and so very accommodating.

Hopefully, tomorrow will bring us easier stomachs as we start the day with a tour of the Douro valley, then a wine tour followed by a lovely lunch and finishing with a visit to the heart of the Douro Valley. It’s an 8hr day. Fingers crossed! Next Up…Douro ValleyNext Up…Douro Valley.

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6 Responses to “Day 3 & 4: Walking & Wine and to the Douro Valley”

  1. beverly stirman

    I can’t believe you had such a miserable time, and am so sorry! Hopefully the rest of the trip will be outstanding with no more issues. Despite the setbacks, it sounds like a wonderful trip! Love to you both!!

    Reply
  2. Sara

    Are ya’ll better yet????? The pictures and adventures are wildly amazing. Tell me you are better already?

    Reply

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