Wellington’s wine

DSC_1082-FDuring the Napoleonic wars, the Duke of Wellington stationed his troops in the Bucelas region, north of Lisbon. There, he drank a white wine made with Arinto, an indigenous varietal. He enjoyed it so much that, after the war, he imported large quantities back to England. Wellington offered some bottles of Bucelas to King George III, who claimed that they cured him of a troublesome kidney disease. The wine continued to gather fame during the Victorian era. German Rieslings were known in England as “Hock,” so London wine merchants called Bucelas “Portuguese Hock.”

When the British publisher Henry Vizetelly arrived in Portugal in 1877 to work on a book about wine, his first stop was Bucelas. He writes that the young wines are “remarkably fresh in flavor,” and the older wines are “rounder and more aromatic” with a “soft, almondy after taste.” He concludes that: “Certainly purer wines than these are not easily met with.”

Bucelas was enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson and Charles Dicken, but its fame dwindled over time. If you’re in Portugal, make sure to try this inexpensive, wonderful wine. Wine fashions come and go, but the remarkable freshness of Bucelas is here to stay.


A medieval battle

Batalha, Maria Rebelo, digital print image, 2012.

When King Ferdinand died, his daughter Beatriz, wife of the king of Castille, inherited the Portuguese throne. The people rebelled at the prospect of Castillian domination and proclaimed John, half brother of Ferdinand, king of Portugal.

In 1385, a Castillian army with 31,000 men marched towards Lisbon to enforce the rights of Queen Beatriz. A Portuguese army with 6,500 men marched to their encounter. The battle, one of the most important in medieval warfare, took place in Aljubarrota, near the town of Leiria. The Portuguese chose their positions carefully, digging ditches that prevented the Castilian cavalry from advancing. Against all odds, Portugal emerged victorious.

King John went on to marry Philippa of Lancaster and have seven children who brought Portugal great glory. One of them is Henry the Navigator.

To express his gratitude for the miraculous victory at Aljubarrota, King John built the Monastery of Batalha. If you’re traveling in the center of Portugal, don’t miss the chance to visit this beautiful monument that marks the beginning of Portugal’s golden age.

A friendly restaurant


The Portuguese do not like to divulge their favorite neighborhood restaurants, so we’re violating social norms by telling you about Salsa & Coentros (parsley and coriander). It is a delightful restaurant in Lisbon’s Alvalade neighborhood which serves food from the Alentejo and Trás-os-Montes provinces.

Dining at Salsa & Coentros is like visiting a friend who makes wonderful meals with local ingredients such as míscaros (wild mushrooms), cação (dogfish), partridges, wild asparagus, black pig, and fresh octopus.

If you become a regular visitor to Portugal, you’re likely to meet friends who are great home cooks. Until then, you can enjoy the traditional cuisine of Portugal at Salsa & Coentros.

Salsa e Coentros is located at Rua Coronel Marques Leitão, n. 12, Lisbon. Tel. 218410990. 

A gourmet fish

Robalo, Maria Rebelo, digital print image, 2012.

Portuguese restaurant waiters like to give all fish equal opportunity. Ask them about one variety and they’ll tell you that it’s very very fresh and very very good. Ask about another variety, and you’ll hear much the same.

After the waiter sings the praises of all fish on the menu, we usually choose a robalo. This species is known in English as “common snook,” but there’s nothing common about it. The robalo is a voracious, discerning foodie who loves to feast on small crabs. As a result, it has a really unique taste. Try it, and you’ll see that it is very very delicious.

A children’s song

SaiaCarolina2This recording is a reworking of “A saia da Carolina” (Carolina’s skirt), a traditional Portuguese song that kids learn in kindergarten. The lyrics are about a little girl who wears a skirt with a lizard print. She shows a precocious sense of fashion, using animal fabrics way before René Lacoste embroidered a crocodile on his blazer.

Pedro Rebelo (concertina and production) and Sergio Rebelo (guitar). The drawing is by Ana Duarte, a new Portuguese fashion designer well on her way to success and fame. Check out her clothes collection here.