Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Douro Valley Through Central Portugal

When traveling Doug and I like to book the major cities and find small but charming places along the way.  We left Evora and headed north to the Duoro River.   We decided Guarda, the highest city in Portugal would be perfect.  We contacted the owner who said he would meet us at the property.  It was a challenge to find because we drove by it several times.

The exterior was not what we had expected, but never judge a book by its cover!

Our charming host used the epidemic lockdown to change from a farmer to a hotelier.  The accomodations are a spacious and lovely remodel of a 14th century barn.  Greeted with a glass of local wine and awoke with piping hot crossaints and just doesn't get much better.

The Douro Valley is the famous valley of fine ports.  Th e roads are harrowing, but better than in the past.  The terracing is too narrow for mechanized vehicles and the scenery is awe inspiring.  

Olive tree groves punctuate the grape vines adding another dimension to the beauty.

No visit to the Douro Valley would be complete without a tour and tasting of the fine ports.

 Port wine can only be grown in the Douro Valley.  We learned that there two main types of port:   Ruby Port and Tawny Port.  Within those types there is a dizzying array of subsets of which the most expensive can be $7,000 USD with the most reasonable about $10 USD.  

The grapes were stomped to prevent the bitter seeds from being crushed and impacting the quality of  the port wine.  But this grape press suggested that things can change.

We had hoped to witness tbe harvest of the grapes which typically would occur in late September but global warming has impacted much of our world.  This year the grapes were harvested in mid August.  The growers at lower elevations are struggling mightily.

Porto is a charming city where I would enjoy a longer stay.  Two days is not enough time.

Perhaps an AirBnB with a kitchen would be fun.  The market was tempting!

The beach at Nazare was calm in early October but January brings throngs of surfers to town to catch waves that may tower to an amazing 80 feet!

A charming beach resort of Costa Nova sports striped houses which originally were occupied by fishermen.

Every country seems to sport their own Venice.  Aveiro is Portugal's Venice.

Coimbra is Portugal's Oxford and was the prototype city for J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series.  A. charming city with wonderful Roman ruins and mournful Fado music

Friday, January 13, 2023

Southern Portugal:  The Algarve 

  After enjoying a too-short three days in Lisbon, we picked up a car at the Lisbon airport and headed south.  Our first stop was the birthplace of Vasco de Gama, Sines.  We stayed in wonderful hotel, Hotel de Medico, situated above a beautiful beach.  After our first experience with black pork bacon (delicious) we walked up up to El Castelo. which is a 15th Century fort built to protect Sines from pirates and enemy navies.

This statue of Vasco de Gama was erected in 1970 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of  his voyage to India and opening of  the sea spice trade.

Now Sines is an important deep water port but in the past it has been a bastion to protect the wealth of the spice trade from pirates and navies.

On to Sagres:

Sagres is one of three destinations on the southern coast.  In retrospect it was not the best choice save for the wonderful dinner at Vila Velha of drum fish for Doug and rabbit stew for Jan.  Expats and smelly surfers abounded.  

Henry the Navigator was an important figure in the rise of Portugal's domination of the seas.  Born in 1394, he founded a school for Navigation in Sagres at the furthermost westerly point in Europe.

In the 15th Centruy it was widely believed that the world was flat and that navigators risked sailing off the edge of the earth.  Standing on the promentary where Henry the Navigaor's school stood, it was reasonable to understand this fear.  The ocean horizon indeed did look flat and very risky.

On to Tavira:

Tavira  is about an hour and a half east of Sagres.  Tavira is a haven for retired Brits and German tourists.    We found wonderful port and a large Indian community that were wonderful cooks.  Butter chicken, chicken tikki, lamb vindaloo became our dinner staples,

Leaving Tavira was easy.  It is a bit touristy for our tastes and they couldn't understand our English easily because of our ACCENT!  Have you ever heard anything so silly.  Brtis have accents and  Nor'Westers don't have accents.

Our next stop was Evora which was absolutely fascinating.  While Doug explored the area around our hotel, I took an archological tour headed by a cultural archeologist.  A first stop was the Almendres Cromlech which is found in a cork forest and consists of 95 huge stones placed in an east facing semi circle.

The site predates Stongehenge by about 2000 years.  Fading inscriptions and current understanding suggests that the site was a celestial calendar deplicting the solstice.  The stones were moved by uphill from quarry sites 2 to 4 kilometers away.  It is not believed that slave labor was involved but rather that the stones were moved by locals in a religious zest.

Cork trees are harvested every ten years.  This cycle allows harvesting without damage to the tree.  To ensure that the cycle is unbroken,  numbers are carved in the trunk.  This tree will be harvest again in 2032.

One of the most visited and strange sights is the Chapel of Bones in the Church of San Francisco.  The Chapel was built in the 17th Century as a reminder of the fragility of life and contains a famous poem.  One stanza reads:  Recall how many have passed from this world,

Reflect on your similar end.
There is good reason to do so;
If only all did the same.

The Moors were ousted from Evora in 1165 by Giraldo the Fearless.  It is a city of Moorish flavor, Roman ruins, and wonderful museums.   Jewish people lived unmolested in the Jewish Quarter until the Inquisition.

A visual taste of Evora:

A Touch of Moorishness

A Crusader

Layers of Roman Ruins