Falling For Portugal: A Mai Tai Tom “Trip” Report
Chapter Fifteen: Rolling On The Douro
Day Sixteen: To Everything Turn Turn Turn, Any Port In A Heatwave, Glorious Gardens, Casa Tour, More Bats?!, Getting Supplies, This Is The Way To Live, An “Appetizing” Dinner and The Cat’s Meow
A quick breakfast at Quinta de la Rosa …
… and on a beautiful Sunday morning, we hopped in the car for the 12-minute drive across the river to our next lodging, Quinta do Pego. I had wanted to stay a total of three nights at either one of them, however both only had two night stays available, and since there had been so much discussion as to which quinta was best, I thought I’d just throw in that extra day.
Getting to Quinta do Pego presented a minor driving challenge (especially for the driving challenged). A twisting one lane private road for Pego guests takes you up from the Karen Valentine Highway to the hotel. At either end of the driveway is a light that either displays green or red to alert you if another car has already started in the opposite direction. As my travel board friend Maribel warned me before our trip, “Sometimes they don’t work.” Hey, what could go wrong?
The light showed green, so I carefully navigated the pretzel-like drive up the hill, not wanting to either (1) scrape the retaining wall on one side or (2) plummet to our ultimate demise on the other. While the others huddled in prayer, I slowly made the hairpin turns, and somehow reached the top with no problem. “See,” I told everyone, “sometimes those church visits come in handy.”
Since it was early our rooms were not ready yet, but we did scope out the infinity pool and some of the property …
… as well as the vista from outside our room. Beautiful, it was.
More confidently, but still a tad concerned, back down the driveway I drove, and in a few minutes we were safely on the road toward Peso da Régua and its Museu do Douro, where would learn a little about the history of wine production in the Douro Valley.
Just a little outside of town, dozens of cars were parked alongside the river, and soon we passed the Barragem da Régua (Régua Dam), which obviously is a tourist attraction. Why, I don’t know. There’s nothing that stands out about it, plus, outside of Hoover Dam, I don’t find them very interesting, but I’ll be dammed if others do.
We checked out the nearly 300-foot tall Miguel Torga Bridge as we approached Peso da Régua.
Unlike the towns from the prior day, there was lots of traffic in Peso da Régua, so we parked a few blocks from the museum. The walk was interesting as we passed a number of hand-painted picture azulejos on the way.
Housed in a former wine warehouse on the riverfront, the Museu do Douro costs €6 (€3 for seniors), but if we paid full boat (Douro humor) we could have a glass of ten-year old port.
We did just that, admiring the views from the terrace onto the River Douro.
The museum, celebrating its 25th birthday in 2022, has a number of wine making exhibits and displays.
As we climbed the stairs we changed the lyrics of 99 Bottles of Beer On The Wall …
We gazed at implements used in the growing of grapes on those steep hillsides that we traversed the day before at the Val de Inferno.
There were also short films about the people who do all the hard labor,
When they say vintage bottles, they really mean it.
Also on display were some paintings from Portuguese celebrated contemporary artist Armanda Passos. In February 2022, the museum honored her with the Armanda Passos Room.
All in all, the museum was mildly interesting, but I think I’ve now seen as many wine museums as I need to go to. I still remain more interested in drinking wine.
Our next stop would be a mystery for me. I had read conflicting reviews abut visiting Fundação da Casa de Mateus. Some people raved about the house and gardens, while others said the tour was rather boring. I’m glad I listened to the positive reviews, because it was an interesting, fun and enlightening experience.
Casa de Mateus, an 18th-century Baroque-influenced palace (more like a manor house), is located a little less than half an hour from Peso do Régua. If you happened to have a bottle of Mateus Rosé in your life (I think I had one glass in the 80s), you might remember it had a palace on the label. This is that palace, although Mateus wine is not produced here.
We had a half hour tour scheduled at 1 p.m. and got there about a half hour early so we could explore the expansive gardens that surround the palace.
On another hot October day, we were surprised at the amount of color still seen in the garden.
The arches of bushes and trees provided some much-needed shade.
Vibrant crape myrtle trees with a backdrop of the nearby hills and vineyards made for a very pleasant interlude.
Although there were a number of people visiting the gardens, the grounds are large enough to offer moments of solitude.
It was time for the house tour.
Our tour started with a glimpse into a small art gallery, and a look at where they offer wine tastings with some of the tours (not ours).
Next we visited The Brick Room, which has portraits of King João V and D. Maria Ana de Áustria, among others.
The woodwork, of course, caught Tracy’s keen eye. Cherubs were the order of the day, as they are throughout Portugal.
The carved wooden ceilings in each room were remarkable …
… and whenever the tour headed to the next room, Tracy would sneak back to the previous one to get a photo of it. This was the elegant Entrance Hall, which is much more lovely when devoid of people.
There were numerous colorful cabinets throughout the casa.
I mean, throughout the casa!
I assumed in this room we could order a blue plate special.
One good thing about all these old houses is I can always identify the Dining Room. This one is actually still used today. As long as the house is occupied for at least two months a year, and if they hold regular tours, the owners do not have to pay taxes.
We visited the Sacred Art Room and Room of Garments …
… and its collection of relics …
… and paintings.
Speaking of old relics, I asked the tour group if they could take me around on this, however they declined.
The most beautiful room was The Library, which contains more than 6,000 volumes.
Once again on this trip we were told bats are employed to keep insects from destroying the books. Now, I really have to delve into some fact-finding as I was told earlier that the only two libraries who utilize bats are at Mafra Palace and the Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra.
The library houses a famous piece of literature, an 1817 edition of Os Lusíadas.
We thought the tour was wonderful. Our guide was friendly and informative. The cost was €13.
There is a longer tour that takes you to the onsite chapel and includes wine tasting, but we figured we would have a glass of wine at lunch instead. Speaking of which, very near the entrance to the Casa Mateus grounds, sits Vinho & Tretas (Largo dos Condes Mateus, Vila Real 5000-290). The entrance is through a grocery store, which was certainly unique. We were seated upstairs at the last available table, and for the next hour thoroughly enjoyed each of our meals, starting with some house made bread with a pesto drizzle. Mary enjoyed her duck rice.
Tracy’s salad with walnuts and apples was spectacular, and I really enjoyed my steak and chips. Our server was top notch, and if you go to Casa de Mateus, this would be a great stop for lunch afterward.
We drove back to the Quinta do Pego, and by now I had become an expert at traversing the driveway, although my passengers still had the look of fear on their faces. Kim was feeling a little under the weather, so he and Mary went off to nap-land, while Tracy and I went to wine-land on the hotel courtyard.
While enjoying the lush expanse under the olive trees …
… with great views of the Douro …
… we encountered a cute new feline friend, who we learned later was named Fiona.
Since Kim was not feeling well, Tracy and I dined alone on the terrace at Quinta do Pego. Before dining we walked up to the Infinity Pool with its amazing view.
You’re never far from wine implements when in the Douro.
One last look from outside our room, and Tracy and I headed to the patio for dinner on a very comfortable evening.
We had been told when the Danish owner was on-site, you could expect a very good meal. Since we had seen him holding court during our afternoon wine tasting, we hoped we’d be in for a treat. We were not disappointed.
We started with an amuse bouche of a crayfish wonton with old mustard (something might have been lost in translation) and also enjoyed our “welcome drink,” white port tonic spritzer with a slice of lime. That was a keeper.
I guess I had not filled up with steak at lunch, because I ordered the five-course meal (somehow I did not gain a pound on this trip). My two appetizers (yes, two), were pumpkin ravioli, caramelized onion and puttanesca sauce, followed by olive and tomato focaccia served with salad and tomato sorbet (Tracy had only one appetizer … slacker)
When I saw my main course, my first thought was, “I hope it’s dead or it will kill me.” He seemed to be giving me the evil eyes.
As I was dining on my sautéed sea bass, served with sweet potato cream, crustacean and salicornia, a little face popped up at the end of the table. It seemed little Fiona wanted a crustacean nightcap. Tracy asked our really friendly server if we could adopt her (the cat, not our server), and she explained Fiona was an actual staff member who is beloved by everyone there.
In talking with our server, conversation came around to the high temperatures and she told us that during one day in July, the temperature reached 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit). That seemed crazy, but sure enough when I returned home I saw that on July 14, 2022, the temperature reached 47C in Pinhão.
Somehow, still not full, I had a dessert of Pavlova (the meringue not the ballerina), passion fruit curd, raspberry and chocolate ice cream. Sure, I could have opted for the sliced fruit instead, but if I was going to have a coronary, I thought I’d go out in style.
Tracy rolled me up to our room, where we got a good night’s sleep with visions of thousands of calories dancing in my head.
On our final day in the Douro, Tracy and I would take a wine boat cruise, and staying with that theme would meet back up with Mary for some hotel wine tasting plus one last good Douro dinner. That, and a surprise encounter at our hotel culminated our visit to this lovely portion of Portugal.
Chapter Fifteen: Relaxing On The Douro
Day Seventeen: Won’t You Take Me On A Sea Cruise, Rolling On The River, The Ugly American, Don’t Worry We’re Canadian, Port Side, Bus Route, A (Sorta) Rick Steves’ Moment, Foam Sweet Foam and Gluttony Strikes Again
This would be our hottest day in the Douro, but not to worry because I had reserved a rabelo ride on the Douro, which I figured would be magnificent since I had booked it through Magnifico Douro. Rabelos have been utilized since about the 9th century to transport wine downriver to Porto.
We learned Kim was still not feeling all that well, so Dr. Mary stayed behind with him, while after breakfast Tracy and I headed into Pinhão for our two hour River Douro cruise after first once again admiring the view from outside our room.
I could even enjoy the view down as I drove on the Quinta do Pego driveway.
People arrived by all modes of transportation.
There was an audio guide that was supposed to work on our cell phones, although several of us were not able to get it to work.
I was not particularly concerned, because it was relaxing and the views were splendid.
Enjoying the surrounding scenery, this made for a prefect last day in the Douro region. I think that two full days and three nights would have been perfect, but because Kim was tired, the extra day worked for us.
After an hour, the boat started back toward Pinhão. Suddenly, the peacefulness of this relaxing early afternoon was interrupted by the piercing voice of one of the passengers. She was yelling (loud enough that the entire boat could hear) that she couldn’t get the audio guide to work, and she was mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore.
She did have a point about the audio guide, but could have just pulled the guide to the side to complain. Instead we heard a rant that, as they say on boats, really went overboard, to the point of just being absolutely rude. People attempted not to stare.. I turned and joked to the gentleman next to me, “I’m from Canada,” which piqued his curiosity because he REALLY was from Canada (Calgary, as we’d find out).
He was a really nice guy, and I chatted with him and his wife for the better part of the hour. Meanwhile, Tracy was talking with a lovely couple from Hexham, England. They were interested in our thoughts about the abbey that we had visited earlier in spring 2022.
Having finally escaped the screaming American woman, the boat’s man in charge, asked anyone if they would like a glass of port. Sitting on the port side of the vessel, that seemed a natural. All my bills were too large for him to give change, but my new friend from Calgary said not to worry, he’d buy Tracy and me a glass. If he reads this, I owe you and your wife a glass of port next time we meet. Obrigado!
Some ships were larger than others.
The rest of the voyage went back to peaceful drifting, and although many travelers say these trips are not worth it, there’s something about a couple of hours of tranquility (except for the screaming lady) that is very nice after all our scurrying around for the past two weeks.
Safely ensconced back on shore, on our short drive back to Quinta do Pego, we looked across to see the Towering Inferno from yesterday.
By now, I told Tracy, I could make this winding drive up to our lodging with my eyes closed. The look I received in reply told me that was not a good idea.
Tracy told me she heard that tour busses came up that road for wine tasting, which seemed impossible. It was. I gave her visual proof they have a safer straight line up than we did.
We met back up with Mary, and in the middle of the afternoon, the three of us partook in day drinking, ahem, a wine-tasting session of the Quinta do Pego wines, which was informative as well as very tasty.
I tried out for my new career as a sommelier, but my hopes were quickly dashed.
Back in our room, Mary called from the lobby to tell me “some people want to meet you.” Afraid it might be the Favaios police who witnessed my driving on their square the previous day, I hesitated. She assured me these people were friendly. In the lobby, I was greeted by two very nice couples. One of the ladies said (not her exact words), “So you’re Mai Tai Tom. Thanks for all your travel suggestions. We’ve used a number of them.” It seems she “lurks” on the Fodor’s Travel Board where I post travel stuff, and fortunately I hadn’t let them down with some of my suggestions.
Unfortunately, although she gave me her moniker, by the time I reached the room to tell Tracy about our encounter I had forgotten it (I think I should look into that Prevagen drug for old people’s memory deficiency). In any case, should you be “lurking” on this post, it was very nice to meet you all, and I have to admit, that meeting made my day! My goal is that if I screw up anyone’s trip, it had better be my own.
Mary joined us for dinner on our final evening in the Douro. We started with a flaming amuse bouche on this evening of fresh burrata with lettuce and walnuts. I’m a sucker for any food that is lit on fire.
My “wow” dinner dish was ahi tuna with champagne foam and citrus segments, saffron and paprika.
Also good were the Pepper Cream of Tomato Soup with quail and peanuts …
… along with Black pork shank with mashed potatoes, sautéed grapes and red wine reduction. (The pork in Portugal is delicious!)
The chef went for broke on dessert, and although it was a good try, the flavors didn’t really mesh. It was a deconstructed Crème brûlée with green tea matcha cake, vanilla ice cream, chocolate disk with dried raspberries.There were just too many competing flavors, although that didn’t mean I didn’t finish it.
Our relaxing time in the Douro was up. As for the Quinta de la Rosa – Quinta do Pego debate, I don’t think you can go wrong at either. I did enjoy the Quinta de la Rosa’s restaurant that overlooked the river, but truthfully if you can reserve either of these places, I think you’ll be happy. Both lodgings have fantastic helpful and nice personnel.
Tomorrow we would take one last drive to what would become our favorite city in Portugal, Porto. On our first afternoon, we’d check into our cute lodging that had waited three years for our arrival. Right around the corner, we visited a recently renovated 18th century market that had reopened a few weeks before. Then, we’d walk along one of Porto’s slick shopping streets and over to an incredibly tiled church.
Speaking of tiles, next we’d meander to Porto’s azulejo-laden train station. We’d scope out a little more of Porto’s center, and then we’d pull out our defibrillators and enjoy what our hotel host called, “the best Francesinha in Porto.” To finish our first night in this vibrant city, Tracy and I would sip a couple of glasses of wine at a gorgeous Art Nouveau cafe that dates back more than 100 years and where a famous author worked on the draft of her first book.
Next: Chapter Sixteen: Enjoying Energizing Porto
Day Eighteen: You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, It’s Almost Like I Know You, Garden Setting, The Surprise Around The Corner, Ildefonso, On Track For Tiles, You Can’t Fight City Hall, Heart Attack On A Plate and a Majestic Cafe