Luxury Topping made three new best friends, Ismail, Lesley and Rob on a trip, which was superbly organised by Brian Howard of Wine Intelligence and his partner Jenny, on behalf of the Worshipful Company of World Traders. We spent the weekend exploring the World Heritage City of Porto.
This jewel of a city is located on the Douro River just five kilometres from the seaside. There are three things you must not do in Porto; the first is take the car. Leave the Bentley at home, as there is horrendous traffic in the narrow lanes, lots of building work and some roads are cut off to cars completely. The second is don’t ride a bike, unless you are fond of hill climbing, wear pink lycra and ride a Boardman Elite SLR Road Bike with electronic gears. Finally, Porto is not the place to be if you are on a detox diet, the food and wine are superb.Porto is known as the City of Bridges and sits at the mouth of the magnificent Douro River, which starts its journey through northern and central Spain. Six magnificent bridges cross the Douro, the most famous being the Maria Pia Bridge, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1877, before he turned his attention to the Paris Eiffel Tower. Some are for cars, some are for trains and a few are walking bridges with some very scary heights. Do take the trip across the river to visit a Port cellar in Gaia, we used the bridge where boys jump off for 5 euros to entertain the tourists.
It was a wonder we did not end up in the Douro after indulging in a tasting of eight Port wines in the Calem Cellar. Starting with a white Port, each proceeding one grew in colour until we reached the Kopke Colheita 1978 tawny Port, which glistened and glowed in the glass like a ruby from a former Portuguese province. Filled with knowledge of how to decant a vintage Port through a coffee filter, which must be consumed in three days, we then moved onto a dinner in the private dining room at Calem Cellars, eating Octopus carpaccio with a green sauce, cod fish and Portuguese Convent Sweets with tangerine ice cream.A visit to Quinta de Aveleda in the heart of the Douro valley surpassed all our expectations. You could smell the fresh air in the twelve-acre English Garden. The Guedes family have been producing wine on the estate since 1870, but the gate and the main buildings date back to 1666. Our guide Christina Pessoa has been working at the Quinta estate for 31 years and knows the glorious gardens, filled with duck and goat houses and serene swans, like the back of her hand. Lunch on the terrace with typical Portuguese treats and more wine tasting was an absolute treat. Be sure to buy some of their wines to take home when you visit.We met with the British Portuguese Chamber of Commerce where they spoke with great eloquence of their desire to continue their trading heritage and attract business to the area. It was an enlightening conversation and for people who want to move their homes to Portugal, there is a Golden Residency Permit, which aims to attract foreign investment into Portugal.
Brian and Jenny’s “big black book of contacts” was opened again and Paul Symington, Chairman of the Symington Family Estates arranged a very special dinner in the Factory House, not a normal factory producing things, but a Neo-Palladian building which reflects the 600-year Anglo-Portuguese Alliance. Built in 1806, the building has a rich history and is extremely well preserved with the original kitchen on the top floor. The walls are covered with paintings and photographs of visiting nobility endorsing the importance of the alliance. The dinner was held in their two superlative dining rooms complete with chandeliers, crystal and amazing flower arrangements. The second dining room welcomed us to the same place setting, different flowers and even more chandeliers just to serve two splendid Ports and cheese. Only Oligarchs, nobility and the very rich have identical dining rooms.We had splendid fun traveling in a vintage tram which huffed, puffed and wheezed up the hills, which sounded remarkably similar to the noise we made as we puffed up the hills – forget your Manolos, this is a city for flats. Porto has lovely parks and on Sunday afternoon we danced to a Brazilian band and shopped at the local food market.
All good things have to end and a quick tour of the Flower Market, which is full of shops, with a trip to the see the Harry Potter bookshop which charges 4 euros just to cross the threshold. We settled for a coffee listening to the black robed university students making a few euros singing on the streets, and then we headed back to try the famous delicacy of Pao de queijo, a sort of cheese bun served with another glass of Sandeman finest Port.After such a wonderful weekend, we were bought back down to earth by British Airways with a three-hour delay, a plane and staff who had seen better days and an offer of a builder’s tea in a mug – a sharp come down after having dinner in two dining rooms. We would go back to Porto in a flash, but whether my liver could stand it would be another matter.
Wine Intelligence www.wineintelligence.com
Worshipful Company of World Traders www.world-traders.org
Calem Cellars ww.tour.calem.pt
Quinta de Avelada www.aveledaportugal.pt
Symington Family Estate www.symington.com
All Images (C) Luxury Topping.