Friday, 31 October 2014

A Taste for Porto

From Lisbon, we drove North to Porto the home of port wine. We arrived to wind and mist and rain but that just served to heighten the romance of this beautiful hilly town with its spires, caves and cobbled alleyways...
First things first. Where to stay... we booked late on AirBnb and were pleasantly surprised to find this listed apartment at just £36 per night on Mouzinho 134 right in the centre. Eugenia and Luis are a formidable mother and son duo with a selection of these incredible apartments to let. We stayed in the Rose room which was at the cheaper end of the spectrum, but felt like a 5* Hotel without the fuss

With the light fading fast, we unpacked, got changed and swiftly headed out to dinner at Cafeina. This restaurant situated in an old town house is a Porto must. The whole interior is carved from rich mahogany with huge bay windows onto the street. You're set just back from the sea, which on the blustery night we had made the warm interior feel extra cosy and comforting. 

When it came to the food, every detail of every course was perfect. 

Tuna tartare

Pickled sardines

The wine list at Cafeina is so extensive that they have their own website for you to flick through (on an iPad menu) when you arrive. This is no bad thing as they get very busy and the wait can be long if you leave it to the last minute to book as we did. Their sommelier is really helpful and can explain the intricacies of Duro valley wine to you for hours. Explore and book here.

Lobster and thyme
King prawns and pasta in a saffron cream

We woke still full to a drab morning and determined to make the most of it, set off to sight-see via some pastel de nata at the workers cafe just across the road from the apartment. This place looks very basic (and it is) but in most places in Portugal, that translates to perfectly brewed coffee and perfectly baked custard.

After a stroll through the central town area, we crossed the river and headed to Taylors Port caves where you can go on an educational tour of the caves including a tasting at the end for just 5 Euros.
The Taylor's tour teaches you the difference between vintage and non-vintage port. Non vintage must be drunk within a few years after producing (and a few months after opening) and is sealed with a rubber cork. The vintage, cork sealed ones are aged in barrels for years before bottling and are best drank years - centuries even - after their vintage. 

My favourite part was learning about how the Tawny port is infused with different spice and honey notes whilst it's still in the barrel. I hadn't known that Tawny was my favourite until this trip - I'm looking forward to making the most of that this Christmas. 

After the tour, we went onto the Taylors terrace with our tasting glasses to look out onto the view of Porto over the river. The peacocks had recently had some bubbas in the ornamental garden too.

I am not ashamed to say, we spent most of our time in Porto eating and drinking because that is exactly the thing to do there. A rustic cafe lunch spot provided the best value of our stay. Many of the other restaurants have become more pan-European gasto tourist pleasers, but where you can find proper Portugese food, stick to that. 

Fresh octopus salad
Bacalhau (Portugese deep fried salt cod)
Shredded duck and cheese bake (I forget the Portugese)

By dinner time, we had abandoned hope that we might feel less full and committed ourselves to a wine tasting with cheese and charcuterie as a happy compromise on another full meal. Wine Quay Bar turned out to be the perfect way to finish up our Porto experience. The cost interior of the riverside wine bar, yawning orange light onto the narrow pathway outside overlooking the river.  
We started with two glasses of dry white port
...and swiftly moved on to two glasses of Soalheiro alvarinho, which was particularly delicious with the soft melt-in-the-mouth portugese cheese. 

With so much cheese and meat to get through, we couldn't resist a second glass. 

...oh and then finishing up with a tawny accompaniment to chocolate truffles of the casa. 

Porto is absolutely magical. We will be back.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Lisboa and beyond

A September wedding in Portugal provided the perfect excuse to book flights 10 days apart and plot a route from Lisbon up the coast to Porto and back. I've been to Portugal before, but 10 years ago and then, I only really went to the Algarve. This time around, I had my eyes opened to the real Portugal and wow had I been missing out. The boy and I returned home already talking about when we could book to go out again next. 

Lisbon itself is a beautiful city, famous for its hills and its ornate architecture. Getting a bit lost and just wandering should be on any visitor's to-do list. We didn't have very much time to explore, as wedding festivities called but we did manage to get up into the old town by taking a rickety trip on the steep tram line. The view of multicoloured rooftops was likes something from a children's picture book. 

Everywhere you look, a wealth of colour greets you. From old tiles rubbed smooth by years of people's passing to more modern accents like these surfboards decorating the side of a colonial style building. (Surfing is big in the North of Portugal and the culture extends down to Lisbon's surrounding beaches). 
On day two, we were invited by the lovely couple to a restaurant in a small town just outside of Lisbon called Paço da Arcos. Casa da Dizima is a gorgeous old stone building with a modern eating area constructed under an awning on the roof- ideal for a private party. We milled around drinking a rose-petal sangria (Portugese speciality) before stuffing our faces from a traditional Portugese buffet of confit duck, grilled octopus in a green sauce and waxy roast potatoes. 

One of the best things about exploring the area just outside of Lisbon is the train service which is both efficient and gives you a great view of the coast line and the more industrial expanses between the cute towns and villages. You can purchase a 24 hour train ticket (which doesn't work on their under ground - a different 24 hour ticket system) but between these two, you will be able to go anywhere for very little dinero. 

One of the experiences to be had in Lisbon is a trip to a football stadium. We decided to go and see Sporting play at home. The atmosphere was pretty incredible - more like a South American crowd than any of the English fans. Drums and horns accompany their cheers and even though no goals were scored in either half, the crowd kept up the momentum. In the last minute of extra time Sporting scored and despite drinking 0% beer, we felt as dizzy with excitement as the rest of the crowd. 

The wedding took place in a gorgeous little vineyard outside of Portugal. We drove out and away from the city up through hills that grew greener and landscape that grew denser. From Portugal, you get a view of these hills but when you're in them, you're nestled into the landscape. This was a perfect setting for our friends' wedding. They said 'I do' to the backdrop of a budding harvest in glorious sunshine with a light breeze blowing. 

We carried white paper parasols to shelter from the heat during the service and afterwards wandered round the corner to a courtyard for the reception. This was when the real indulgence started. Fresh stone baked bread with local olive oil, canapés, champagne and an ice cream stall to choose from. 

Having gorged ourselves here, we were then invited into the wine cellars to taste their wines accompanied by Portugese cheese and charcuterie. If they had warned us how much delicious food was to follow, we would have held back a little more. You only live once eh?

The wedding breakfast was hosted in the main house with large windows letting in the fading light and wooden eaves above us. The three course meal of traditional dishes including bacalao (Portugese cod fish) nearly finished us off. And then they brought out the cheese and no I don't mean those idyllic wedding shots... 
I mean CHEESE.

The day after the wedding we set off out of Lisbon to see what we could see of the surrounding area. We only stopped in Cascais for a short period of time, but would love to come back another time. Our stay afforded us a short walk through the sea-facing park before cocktails and dinner. 

Cascais is beautiful and ornate like the rest of Portugal but also has the atmosphere of a rich kids playground to it. With more expensive restaurants around and a harbour brimming with yachts rather than the traditional fishing boats that you see everywhere else you go, it's harder to navigate restaurant recommendations to find true quality. We ate at an expensive and nice enough Brazilian joint called The Hemmingway where the service exceeded the food quality - they even brought us out three bottles of gorgeous wine and opened them all for us to taste on a whim (we got into a lengthy conversation about creamy whites and he couldn't help himself). All three are excellent ones to look out for when near the Duoro.

By far our favourite place surrounding Lisbon though was Adraga. The village, the greenery, the atmosphere and Cintra (the town that climbs vertically up a steep hill with a castle balancing precariously on top of it) were all perfect. But just look at this beach. 
This was the laziest part of the holiday where were happily rolled out of bed, down to the dramatic beach with a picnic. A ramble up to the cliff tops to look out across the coast was as strenuous as it got those days. At lunch, we would pick up a half bottle of white from the beach restaurant for three or four euros complete with ice bucket. This was heaven.


We found an Airbnb that was more like a 5* boutique apartment. Casa d'Adraga is our tip off if ever you head to the area. It truly is a home away from home - with a lux kitchen for cooking your own food and a large BBQ if you prefer to eat in for more meals than not. The couple who run it are our kind of people - relaxed, friendly and hands on. Come winter, they are working on some yoga and cooking retreat breaks so check out their rooms for more details. 


The same beach restaurant just known as Restaurant Adraga is one of the most sought after on this bit of coastline in the evenings. The catch of the day is always impressive and cooked in a variety of traditional ways. Our favourite was anything al bulhao pato - which pretty much means cooked in a broth of olive oil, garlic and coriander. 

One evening, we had a lobster which we bid farewell to before he made it to our plates - something which is always a little surreal and sad. He was delicious though... :-S 

We can heartily recommend the local wine too.
We went for a windy walk on the beach in the evenings before food to watch the sunset. I truly think this is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. 

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