After yet another huge breakfast buffet……with the usual eggs, ham, beans, potatoes, cheeses, lunchmeat, breads, rolls, fruit, yogurt and pastries…..we packed up and started on the one-hour drive to the Duoro Valley, where the grapes used to make port wine are grown.
The Duoro Valley, with the Duoro River running through it and steep hills terraced with vineyards, was lovely in February…..it must be absolutely glorious in Spring and Summer when the vineyards are verdant green.
We were anxious to tour a Quinta (a farm that produces grapes or wineor both) but, since we’d be tasting ports, we decided it would be best to eat something first so we stopped for lunch at a small cafe along the river. Again, unsure what was on the menu, we ordered what two men sitting nearby were eating.
Before too long, two “Francesinha’s” and a large plate of fries were delivered to our table. It looked great but we didn’t have a clue what it was. We cut into it and took our first bite…..the flavors almost shouted out…..it was delicious! But what was it? A sandwich with bread, ham, a small sausage, cheese, beef, more cheese and more bread…..all smothered in a savory tomato-beer sauce. Hearty, calorie-laden, fabulous.
After checking the guide book, we decided to head toward Qunita do Panascal on the Tavora River…..it was only a short drive away and offered a walk through their vineyards.
It seemed to be deserted (not surprising at this time of year) but a woman doing laundry directed us to the tasting room at the far end of the complex where we were given MP3 players to help guide us on our walk.
The warmth of the sun against our winter faces felt good. As we walked through the terraced vineyard, we listened and learned more about the Quinta, the grapes, the terraces and the production of port (the best port is made from grapes grown in dry, arid fields; most of the terraced vineyards are harvested by hand and port grapes are still crushed by foot).
We sampled three ports made by Fonseca (the brand produced by Quinta do Panascal)…..white (light and refreshing), ruby (fruity) and tawny (smooth and mellow). Two bottles returned to the car with us and we continued our eastward journey to Porto.
After a 3 1/2 hour drive that seemed longer we finally arrived in Porto…..in the dark…..during rush hour. Unsure of where we were or where we were going, we ended up on a freeway headed out of town. We stopped at rest stop that had WiFi (thank God for this modern age) and, thinking a hotel outside the old city would be easier to find, we booked a room that fit the bill. The station attendant gave Craig directions to the hotel and off we headed to 5-star luxury at the Hotel Ipanema Park.
I think we drove by every other hotel and every major sight in Porto but we never found the Hotel Ipanema Park. In desperation, Craig again did the unthinkable…..breaking every rule of manhood, he pulled into another gas station to ask directions. A very nice young man with a wife and baby in his car knew where it was but said it would be too hard to describe so he had us follow him to the hotel. He wouldn’t accept any recompense so we thanked him profusely and checked in for two nights.
Our room was large and comfy….it even had a pillow menu! We had our choice of standard kol, xl mashgel or anti-allergic. Not knowing what any of these were, we kept the four pillows that were already on the bed and went down to the bar for a nerve-calming drink…..not Port, we’d had enough of that for one day. Mojito’s are what we needed…..a little tummy-soothing mint, some hydrating mineral water and a jigger of mind-numbing rum….ah yes, two Mojitos, please.
With due respect to Jimmy Buffet….. Relaxin’ again in Mojitoville, after searchin’ for a place to spend the night……