Gourmet on the go
FAR FROM The TOURISTY beaches of the Algarve, in the north of Portugal there is an unspoilt food and wine paradise – the Unesco World heritage Douro Valley. Once known only for port, the Douro is now a hot european destination for a gastronomic getaway. The historic quintas (wine estates) have opened their doors to visitors, building chic hotels and restaurants among awe-inspiring mountain vineyards. expect outstanding food, wine, luxury accommodation and the friendliest people you could hope to meet.
STAY, EAT AND DRINK
Sleeping, eating and drinking are inextricably linked here. In Porto I stayed at Teatro (from €86; hotelteatro. pt), a theatre-turned-boutique hotel – its great restaurant has the freshest seafood. Go to Graham’s Port Lodge’s award-winning Vinum (vinumatgrahams.com) for the views and the best local produce.
And onto the Douro, where you’ll discover plenty of unique culinary treasures. Smoked Jewish pork-free alheira sausage, unique breads made from carob flour and maize, presunto (cured hams), succulent octopus (polvo), slow- roasted milk lamb, egg-inspired desserts and 1001 recipes with bacalhau (dried salted cod). While it’s an easy day trip from Porto, you should definitely spend at least a night in the Douro. Sleeping among the vines at one of the newly opened quinta hotels is unbeatable.
I loved Quinta da Pacheca (quintadapacheca. com) – the perfect blend of traditional cellars, chic accommodation and a restaurant overlooking the vineyards. They offer cookery courses, plus olive oil and wine tastings. Then there’s Quinta do Vallado (quintado vallado.com): the top estate for table wine with good food at their chic restaurant and uber-cool boutique hotel made entirely of slate. Perfect for a romantic getaway. Or try Quinta Nova (quintanova.com), Portugal’s first wine hotel, which is perched high with uninterrupted views of surrounding vineyards. You’ll want to stay for days with cookery classes, wine and olive oil tasting, hiking and cycling trails, fabulous seasonal dishes and gourmet products.
Finally, Morgadio da Calçada (morgadiodacalcada.com) is an extraordinary 17th-century home in the historic village of Provesende. Stay in unexpected luxury and dine by candlelight. There’s a swimming pool, cookery classes and riding and hiking available.
OUT AND ABOUT
I worked up a thirst by exploring Porto’s winding cobbled streets and majestic 12th-century cathedral. For spectacular views, walk across Dom Luís I bridge, designed by a disciple of Gustave eiffel. At the riverside bars of Ribeira, unwind with a glass of wine and petiscos – Portuguese tapas, which typically includes salt cod balls, samosa-like chamuças, ham or cheese. The Wine Quay Bar has superb local wines and cheeses (winequaybar.com).
Cross the river to the barrel-filled port lodges in Gaia, where port from the Douro has been blended and matured for centuries. Many of the great names to this day are British: Sandeman; Cockburn’s; Graham’s; Taylor’s; Croft. A tour of Graham’s Lodge (grahams-port.com) will give you lots of port know-how and the chance to try some of the region’s best table wines.
Sandeman’s Quinta do Seixo (sandeman. com) offers dramatic views, vineyard picnics, tastings and port matching with chocolate and cheese. At their fabulous terrace bar I discovered a new favourite drink, ‘Founders On The Rocks’, ruby port on ice with sliced orange paired with local Terrincho Velho sheep’s cheese with its spicy rind rubbed with sweet paprika.
Museu do Douro in Peso da Régua is well worth a visit to find out more about the fascinating history of the region and Port wine. For a different perspective, see the Douro from the river – boat tours, waterskiing, kayaking, plus walking tours and bike hire, are available (magnificodouro.pt).
• Quinta do Panascal (fonseca.pt), the jewel in the crown of the port wine producer Fonseca. The first quinta to open its doors to tourists in 1992, it feels like nothing has changed here for centuries. You can see the original lagares (granite tanks), where pickers press the grapes for all Fonseca vintage ports by foot (right), just as they did nearly 200 years ago. Take an audio guided walk through the terraces and book a tasting and authentic home-cooked lunch. We had slow-roasted lamb marinaded in orange, garlic, bay and white port, then crème brûlée and chilled Tawny port.
• Washing down a pastry with a cimbalino (local espresso) at Porto’s Café Majestic (cafemajestic.com), rated one of the most beautiful cafes in the world.
• Pinhão railway station’s amazing blue-and- white azulejo tile designs.
A Douro white – they tend to be rich, packed full of flavour and freshness and completely unknown in the UK. Morgadio da Calçada and Niepoort white wines and ports are divine. And a hunk of that Terrincho Velho sheep’s cheese.
British Airways offers direct flights from London heathrow to Porto from £124 return (ba.com).
For more about Douro wines and port, with advice on pairing with dishes, go to discovertheorigin.co.uk.