Day 5 & 6: Douro Valley & Brief Stroll in Lisbon

We survived the night, and that feels like a win. We ventured down to breakfast, a wonderful spread with breads, butters, yogurt, coffee, various juices, fruits and even a warm, GF Croissant! You could also order off of a hot menu and go though a cold bar with cereals, fruit and various other things. We managed a bit of coffee, OJ for Bryan, Kiwi/Apple for me, yogurt, and nibbles of the croissant. Word had spread that the couple from the Chef’s table had been ill, and our server asked how we were feeling. It was really sweet and a perfect example of how attentive to service Six Senses is.

Our driver, Oscar, was waiting to take us on a tour of the Douro Valley. Despite the gloomy day, the steep hillsides had taken on a metallic hue, drenched with rainfall, shimmering with the sunshine forcing its way through the dense clouds and ending in a rainbow spanning the skies. The Douro River takes center stage, flowing fast and nearly cresting its banks with all of the rainfall. Coming in second are the many grapes totaling over 100 varieties.

For those of you who don’t know us, we love our retreat in Winter Park, CO, where you must brave the switchbacks of Berthound past to reach it. The Douro Valley is much the same and we traveled up and down, around and through the steep, terraced hills. The seemingly chaotic rows are home to the constant vines while olive, orange, lemon and wild rosemary dot the landscape. The vegetation is varied as we travel up and down and even resembles the Scottish Highlands with swaths of scrubby brush that looks like heather. We even saw a lone cork tree, stripped of its bark and covered with a black protective paint. The number 6 was written on the trunk marking the year it was harvested because the bark can only be stripped every 9 years with a maximum of 17 years. After an hour-long drive of admiring the view, we landed at our first stop, Quinta Nova.

Quinta Nova is one of the oldest wineries in the Douro Valley with an original cellar dating to 1764 and a listing in the demarcation of the Port wine Region as early as 1756. As we were driving in, we could see several signs with the Quinta Nova name as their vines grow over almost 300 acres of land when you include the winery. It is currently owned by one of the wealthiest families of Portugal, The Amorim Family, who also own a cork company that supplies 75% of the world’s wine corks.

We met our guide, Daniel, and started our tour with the winery’s own museum of the Douro Valley. The museum was curated by Fernanda Ramos Amorim and is a lovely display of the region’s history, steeped in Port production. Historically, the grapes were picked by hand by the women and placed in baskets. The men would then collect the baskets and haul the over 60 pound load for over 2miles back to the winery. From there the grapes would be smashed by feet to a particular rhythm matching the traditional folk music. The grapes are still picked by hand, but the hauls only have to be carried a few meters to a tiny truck that then takes them pack to the winery. And some of the grapes for the current Port productions are still smashed by feet! Daniel also told us that today chemical tests are conducted with labs to determine if the sugar levels of the grapes are perfect for harvesting to make port wines. They used to use a pieces of scientific equipment to measure this before labs were used. Recently, the weather was so uncharacteristic, that the labs weren’t able to determine the correct levels of sugars, so they went back to using the old piece of equipment from the museum. It still worked and was later verified with lab tests.The winery is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Port wines were transported via the Douro River on boats called rabelo boats. We saw those boats anchored along the river bank in Porto as a monument. Prior to the introduction of dams to control the water level of the river, the Douro was fast-flowing with mini rapids, quite dangerous and a requirement for transporting Port from the Douro Valley to Porto for export via the Atlantic Ocean. So, the boatmen built a small chapel along the riverbank so they could pray for safe transport. The chapel housed a granite statue of their patron saint, Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Our Lady of Mount Carmel). Daniel told us that a more recent chapel was build near the winery and the statue was moved there, but then bad things started happening. The boatman chapel still exists today with the statue tucked safely back inside.

To be a part of the Douro Valley, you must produce a certain percentage of Port as part of your total production by law as set forth by the Port Wine Institute who oversees all of the rules and regulations for Port Production. The percentage of Port required has decreased over the years as the popularity and necessity for Port has decreased. I should mention that the origin of Port was born out of a need to preserve wine for the long sea journey from Portugal to Britain. Still wines were infused with brandy, fortifying them for the trip. Quinta Nova produces about 70% red, 10-15% white, 5% rose and 5-10% port depending on the year. All of their vines are red wine grapes and they source their white grapes from a grower who follows all of the specifications set forth by their winemaker, so it’s basically like they are their own vines as well.

After the museum we visited the new renovated winery. The ports they produce are only ruby ports and are held in large oak vats after a brief period in stainless steel. For the still wines, the wine is initially held in stainless steel tanks and then with the use of gravity, the wine is transferred to cement tanks for the remainder of the holding period before barreling in mostly French oak barrels. In addition to the pristine storage area and cellar, they recently remodeled a barrel storage area into an event center for small private events.

Daniel then escorted us to the tasting room where a lovely surprise awaited us! They presented us with the opportunity to blend and bottle our own wine complete with blind tasting, apron, graduated cylinders and beakers. I was barely up to the tasting task and Bryan skipped it all together, relying on Daniels recommendations to blend his choice. After we bottled the wine, we created our own custom labels and Daniel packed them up in a bubble-wrapped, sealable sleeve for safe transport home. We were each gifted with a tote bag and corkscrew as well.

Next I tasted three wines – 2 reds and a port. First, it was difficult, so I only took a tiny sip of each and felt terrible for the waste. I was not blown away by the wines but also recognize the current circumstance do not lend themselves to the best tasting. The experience as a whole was incredible and Daniel was a knowledgeable and delightful guide.

After the tasting we headed to their restaurant, Terracu. Bell & Bly had arranged a 3-course meal with with wine pairing for us. Incredibly unfortunate that everything we have planned centers around food and wine—which normally would be perfect—but right now just feels impossibly difficult. Bryan skipped the wine all together, and I took one sip of each one just to try it. The food was very good and the wine selections worked nicely from what I could tell. I did grab a couple of pictures of the octopus and the dessert. We had a soup as well – we managed our best. Again, when we explained to the staff that we had food poisoning just a couple of days ago and were still recovering, they were all so very kind. I just hate we couldn’t enjoy it all as we should.

Oscar picked us up and drove through a tiny village that is the center of the Douro Valley called Pinhao. We didn’t get out of the car, but Oscar pointed out a few points of interest. The   Tourist center has several scenes of the Douro Valley history captured on hand painted tiles all along the exterior of the building. There were also more of the rabelo boats lining the riverbank as a monument.

Once back at the hotel, Bryan and I headed to the spa to enjoy all it has to offer—which is a lot! The word “spa” feels like an insult actually. An attendant escorted us on a 20min tour to explain all of its features! Every sauna—and there are five—has instructions on the outside for how best to prepare, how long to stay and its health benefits. We selected the dry sauna with a scenic view of the valley. I managed to stay for 15min and Bryan for 8min. Next we sat in the infrared sauna followed by the aromatherapy sauna. Our hope was to expel all of the remaining toxins! We rested on the beautiful loungers looked out over the valley for a bit and did the NYT crossword mini, connections, spelling bee and wordle! Next we headed to the hot tub (that wasn’t so hot) and the cold plunging pool. The pool itself has 3 massage jet stations that you stand at while the jets massage you legs, feet and back. Then back in the dry sauna before finishing with some walking in the lap area of the pool. It was fantastic.

Back to the room to shower and trying to eat dinner! We shared a risotto style dish with broccoli and cheese, French fries (only thing that sounded remotely good to Bryan), and I got a green salad and a glass of sparkling wine. We did fairly well, eating most of the food, but I am so glad we split.

Then I spent almost 2hr writing this blog post only to have my iPad glitch and lose the whole thing! Devastated, I went to sleep and we slept until almost 10:30am! We missed breakfast! I managed to get our checkout moved to 1p, so we could shower, pack and get some lunch before our driver was scheduled to pick us up for the 3.5hr transfer to Lisbon for our final night in Portugal.

We split a burger, fries and green salad (I loved it so much from dinner I order it again — it has a simple butter lettuce mix with mustard vinaigrette). Then we left paradise feeling rather upset that we missed out on fully enjoying our time there. I did grab a few pictures, but mostly we didn’t feel well enough to do much else.

Our hotel in Lisbon is happening and so close to the city center! It’s a playful place called the Hotel Iven and the decor makes me think of the old school Banana Republic T-shirts of the 80s with wild animals, spears and safari hunters that might jump out at you at any moment. They upgraded us to a suite, which was so kind, but feels a bit like a waste since we’ll only be here for about 15hrs. We dropped our stuff and headed to walk the streets and get a feel for the city in the short time we have before the sun sets and shops close. It definitely has more big city vibes than Porto with slightly more crowded streets, souvenir stalls, restaurant vendors heckling us to eat at their tables. The streets are cobbled just like Porto and rather than the Douro River you can see the ocean.

 

Still wishing for an appetite, we headed to the hotel bar & restaurant called Rocco. The place was packed with flowing cocktails, attentive staff and energetic patrons at all of the tables. We decided room service was a better fit for our somber stomaches and headed back for early bed before our even earlier departure home. What a shame for sure!

Next Stop…Travel Home!Next Stop…Travel Home!

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Day 5 & 6: Douro Valley & Brief Stroll in Lisbon”

  1. Beverly Stirman

    Such a shame your stomachs have been such a deterrent to a most enjoyable time, but your descriptions were exquisite and most enjoyable to read! Photos equally lovely! Thanks for taking all the time and energy to post for us! Safe travels home! Love you both!

    Reply

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