The Douro historical train

Our journey begins with the clatter of a steam engine pulling five rickety wooden carriages into the Régua train station. Trains like this one have trod on the steel tracks that connect Régua to Pinhão since 1879. In 1883, the line was extended all the way to Foz do Tua.

Once all passengers get on board, the chimney blows a cloud of black smoke and we see Régua recede in the distance. The train moves slowly and yet there is not enough time to take in all that there is to admire, from the myriad colors of the river to the wondrous vine terraces sculpted into the mountain sides. 

A group of folk musicians walks through the carriages singing traditional tunes accompanied by accordion, triangle, “cavaquinho” (a small stringed instrument), and a drum made out of goat skin and wood. The musicians’ faces are weathered by a lifetime of work in the fields. But they sing with joy the tunes that lift the spirits of the laborers during the harvest. 

We arrive at the Tua station and the train stops for a well-deserved rest. As our journey resumes, we marvel at the feat of 19th-century engineering that allows the train to go back without turning around. The locomotive’s engine simply goes into reverse, pushing the carriages towards Régua. We travel on the same tracks as before, but the landscape looks different. The light has changed and the blues and greens are now mixed with yellows and oranges. 

The train crew serves us a glass of port wine and some traditional candy. We stop at the picturesque Pinhão train station to admire the 1937 tile panels that depict in blue hues the inimitable colors of the Douro landscape. Then, it is time to return to Régua. The locomotive screeches and puffs as it reaches the place where our journey ends.

It is a privilege to travel in this relic of the industrial revolution that saw the world change and the beauty of the Douro endure. 

Click here for more information about the Douro Historical Train. You can buy tickets online. The best seats are on the right side of the train since you can see the Douro valley from your window both on the way to Tua and on the return.

The incomparable wines from Colares

One of the coolest places you can find during the Portuguese Summer is the cellar of the wine cooperative of Colares, a bucolic town near Sintra. It is a place where large barrels fashioned out of exotic woods from Brazil rest, protected by thick walls that keep the temperature cool.  

The wines these barrels store are cool in attitude. They come from a unique “terroir” near the ocean where two varietals, Malvasia and Ramisco, grow on sandy soils. The roots of the vines have to stretch deep into the sand to find the moisture necessary to stay alive. 

All this toil paid off in the 19th century when phylloxera decimated European vines. Protected by sand, the vines of Colares escaped the bug’s voracity. 

These hard-working vines produce wines with exuberant tannins that need to be tamed. The reds age in barrels for almost a decade before bottling. Once bottled, both reds and whites continue to age beautifully, enjoying remarkable longevity.

Francisco Fezas, the resident enologist, told us that Adega Regional de Colares is the oldest wine cooperative in Portugal. The local wine makers got together in 1931 to buy the 19th-century cellar owned by a famous wine merchant, José Maria da Fonseca. In 1938, the government gave the cooperative the monopoly of production in order to guarantee the quality of the wine produced in Colares. The cooperative sold the wine to different distributors who bottled it under brands like Chitas, Adega Beira Mar and Viúva Gomes

In the 1960s, Colares had more than one million hectares of vines that produced more than one million liters of wine. Then, the vines were attacked by a foe more formidable than the phylloxera: urban sprawl. Many farmers succumbed to the temptation of selling their land to property developers who wanted to build houses near the ocean. As a result, the cultivation area dwindled to a paltry 23 hectares which produces a mere 18 thousand bottles, making Colares one of the world’s rarest historical wines. 

Francisco’s first harvest in Colares was in 1999, at a time when the cooperative was struggling financially and the future looked dim. Since then, there has been a remarkable renewal that preserves the future of the incomparable wines from Colares.

Adega Regional de Colares is located at Alameda Coronel Linhares de Lima, nº 32 in Colares, tel. 219 291 210, email geral@arcolares.com.. Click here for the adega’s website.

Fragrances from the Azores

Aqua dos Açores

In 1957, there were large volcano eruptions off the coast of Faial, an island in the Azores archipelago. These eruptions, which lasted for more than a year, destroyed the village of Capelinhos, leaving its houses in ruins and its fields buried in volcanic ash.

Fifty years after the eruptions, a Florentine couple, Cinzia Caiazzo and Gianni Mancassola, visited Capelinhos and fell in love with its lunar landscape. On a whim, they bought a vacation home in the small village. Eventually, they retired from their jobs and moved to Capelinhos.

Cinzia and Gianni relish the earth and sea aromas that make the islands so alluring. So, they decided to create perfumes using essential oils made with plants from the Azores.  They call their collection Aqua dos Açores.

Flores, the Portuguese word for flowers, is a perfume that fills the air with the scent of exotic blooms and wet grass blended with the maritime breeze. Azul, the Portuguese word for blue, is a fragrance that enfolds us with the exuberance of the ocean.

Their home fragrances, Branco and Tinto, are inspired by their other passion: producing wine in the Azores. These fragrances capture the delicate, evanescent aromas of freshly-picked grapes.

There is a powerful connection between scents and memory. If you wear these fragrances when you visit the Azores, they will forever be linked to the lush, rugged landscape of these beautiful islands.  And from then on, a whiff of these perfumes will take you instantly back to the Azores.

Click here for the Aqua dos Açores web site.

 

Café Majestic

Magestic Café

Nothing fuels creativity like coffee. Voltaire made sure his inspiration never faltered by sipping 40 cups of coffee a day. Balzac conceived plots for his novels by staying up all night drinking coffee.

One of our favorite places for a stimulating cup of brew is the Majestic Cafe in Oporto. Inaugurated in 1921, it has elegant proportions and exquisite Art Nouveau interiors. The café charges premium prices so it attracts few locals. Drinking a good espresso will set you back 5 euros. It is a price well worth paying for all the creative ideas that a visit to the glamour of the Belle Époque can spark.

Café Majestic is located at Rua Santa Catarina 112, Porto. Click here for the café’s website.

Bel canto wines at Herdade da Calada

Herdade da Calada

Herdade da Calada is a sprawling estate near Évora, owned by a French couple, Marie and André Jean-Claude Penauille. Founded in 1854 by the descendants of the Duke of Lancaster, the estate is planted with vineyards, olive trees, cork oaks, and pasture fields nurtured by a network of lakes that save the increasingly precious rain water.

The wines are made by Eduardo Cardeal, an enologist born into a family of winegrowers from the Douro valley. He brought to Alentejo a gentle style of wine making that seeks to preserve the aromas and character of the fruit. It produces elegant wines with relatively low alcoholic content and round tannins. To achieve these results, the quality of the grapes is key. The yields need to be low and the maturation has to be perfect. Eduardo spends much of his time in the vineyard examining the evolution of the grapes. He harvests in the middle of the night to ensure that the grapes are cool before they enter the winery through the roof, ushered by gravity.

The results are exceptional. In a region known for operatic wines, Herdade da Calada offers wines that sing with the elegance of bel canto.

Herdade da Calada is located at Estrada de Évora-Estremoz km 12 (EN 18), Évora, tel. 266-470-030, email geral@herdadecalada.com. Click here for the wineries web site.

Culinary bliss at Essencial

Restaurant Essencial_

If the cobblestones of Bairro Alto were not so slippery, we would tell you to run to Essencial, a new restaurant in Bairro Alto. Walk instead as fast as you can because this dinning room that seats only 25 guest will soon be impossible to get into.

The restaurant is headed by André Cordeiro, a chef with impeccable knowledge of French technique. He studied for five years with Alain Ducasse in Paris and then worked with three chefs who earned the coveted title of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (best craftsmen in France). André came back to Lisbon to combine fine-dining ingredients such as truffles and foie gras with the amazing fresh produce available in Portugal. The results are stunning–elegant food that is a joyful symphony of tastes, textures and aromas.

While we were chatting with chef André, a plate of bread arrived. It came with a blend of butter from Pico in Azores, lard and rosemary. It was the one of several unexpected  combinations that delighted our palates throughout the meal.

The first appetizer was a crowd pleaser: delicate slices of marinated salmon with radishes, crème fraiche and tarragon oil, served with the luscious crêpes vonnassiennes made famous by chef George Blanc. The second appetizer was a sea urchin shell filled with beef tartare, sea urchin and nori seaweed. These dissonant ingredients created a pleasing harmony that made our taste buds sing.

It is customary to serve the fish entrée before the meat but here the latter came first. It was a paté en croute made with duck, pork and foie gras served with smoked carrot purée and beets. How could the fish compete with these gratifying earthy flavors? The answer came in the form of a plate of sole. The freshness of the fish was a canvas that made the truffle stuffing and the Champagne sauce stand out.

The last entrée was a lush journey to the flavors of the woods: hare with foie gras, trumpet mushrooms and Jerusalem artichokes in a reduction of red wine, port wine and chocolate.

A vanilla mille feuilles with salted caramel produced a happy ending to a blissful meal. But our culinary experience was not over. There were still fireworks provided by a buttery French toast with vanilla mouse and a rich choux with praline.

Essencial’s minimalist space, impeccable service and interesting French and Portuguese boutique wines perfectly complement the food. We do not need the Michelin guide to tell us that the culinary stars shine brightly on Essencial’s dinner table.

Essencial is located at Rua da Rosa, 176, tel. 211573713, email info@essencialrestaurant.pt. Click here for the restaurants website. 

The wines of Wine & Soul

Quinta da Manoella

We spent a bright Winter morning with Jorge Serôdio Borges in Vale de Mendiz. He met us at Wine & Soul, the winery where, together with his wife Sandra Tavares da Silva, he is making some of the Douro’s most iconic wines. Jorge showed us the granite tanks where the hand-picked grapes are treaded by foot, just like in the old days. Then he asked with boyish excitement “Would you like to see the vines?” Of course we did.

He drove us through the winding road that leads to the old vineyard that produces the grapes for the famous Pintas. The vines are planted on a steep incline. We wondered why these grapes are so special–is it the constant vertigo sensation they probably feel? Jorge explained that the high altitude and the cool nights help balance the intense sun exposure to produce grapes that are consistently great. Before we left, he showed us how the ground between the vines is planted with cloves that help retain the nitrogen in the soil.

Next, we went to Quinta da Manoella. Jorge seems to know every tree and every creek. He talked about the numerous fruit trees they planted, the mushrooms that grow in the forest, and the olive groves that make tangy olive oil. In his view, biodiversity is key for the sustainability of the region and the quality of the wines. Finally, he showed us the cellars which are full of old oak barrels beautifully restored, ready to receive precious vintage ports.

Visiting the two Wine & Soul estates gave us a new appreciation for the wines they produce. It is amazing how much knowledge, work and passion it takes to produce great wine.

Click here for information about how to visit Wine & Soul.

Breakfast at Six Senses in the Douro valley

Sixsenses Breackfast

Breakfasts come in many different forms. Some are quick, others leisurely. Some are frugal, others abundant. But most are quickly forgotten. A breakfast at Six Senses in the Douro valley is different because it lingers in our memory as a moment of relaxation and gastronomic pleasure.

The breakfast is served in an expansive room with a granite floor. In the back, a rectangular window frames the views of the Douro valley. There’s a large wooden table set with all sorts of culinary delights, from fruits, seeds and nuts, to milks, yogurts, juices, kombuchas, kefirs, jams, and compotes. Behind it, another table offers a dazzling array of breads and pastries. In the back, there’s an open kitchen where chefs prepare made-to-order dishes, from omelets to waffles. Many herbs, fruits and vegetables come from the hotel’s garden to the table. This freshness is integral to the quality of the food that is served.

Next to the dining room, there’s a place with cheeses and charcuteries. You can travel from the north to the south of Portugal through the taste of these products.

The meal is orchestrated with great care, from the seamless service to the skill with which the ingredients are curated and prepared. The result is an unforgettable breakfast.

Six Senses Douro Valley is located at Quinta de Vale de Abraão, Samodães, Lamego, tel. 254-660-600. Click here for the hotel’s website. 

Kasutera

Kasutera

One of the most popular desserts in Portugal is a golden sponge cake called Pão de Ló. Pão means bread and, according to culinary lore, Ló is the nickname of a cook famous for her version of this cake.

In the 16th century, the cake was known as Castile bread, after the name of the Spanish kingdom where the recipe originated. Castile bread keeps for a long time, so sailors used to carry it to enjoy during long sea voyages.

When the Portuguese navigators reached the port of Nagasaki in Japan, they took with them the recipe for Castile bread. It quickly became popular under the Japanese name Kasutera. The recipe was included in the first book about Japanese sweets, published in 1718 under the title “Secret Writings on Famous Japanese Confectionery New and Old.”

Over time, the recipe evolved to adapt to Japanese tastes. Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare the Portuguese and Japanese versions of this ancient cake?  Thanks to a small Lisbon store appropriately called Kasutera, we can make this comparison without traveling to Nagasaki.

Kasutera’s cakes are perfect rectangles that are beautifully wrapped. You can buy the original version as well as variants with chocolate, green tea and earl grey. They’re all delicious examples of a recipe that has traveled around the world, from Portugal to Japan and back.

Kasutera is located at Rua do Poço dos Negros, 51 in Lisbon, tel. 213-951-596, email info@uke-mochi.pt. Click here for Kasutera’s website.

 

 

 

Prado: the prairie in Lisbon

Prado Composit

Never underestimate the power of the light of Lisbon. Chef António Galapito was happily working at Nuno Mendes’ Taberna do Mercado in London when he was offered the opportunity to open a restaurant in Lisbon. Galapito said he was not interested. But he agreed to see the space.

It is a place full of memories, from Roman ruins to old fish-canning equipment from a factory that once operated there. The ceilings are high, making room for generous windows that invite the light in. It was impossible for Galapito to say no. He called the restaurant Prado, the Portuguese word for prairie, to signal his intention of bringing the best products from the fields of Portugal to his table.

The light became the inspiration for the menu. The food is simple, fresh, organic and seasonal. The wines are natural and biodynamic. The vibe is relaxed and the decoration minimalist.

We sat at a beautiful common table made from old pine wood. Our dinner started with a refreshing strawberry kombucha. Then, a plate of bread and goat cheese arrived at the table. The bread, fermented for 28 hours at Gleba, fused with the flavorful goat cheese and melted in our mouth.

The menu has many small plates that are perfect for sharing. We sampled several of these delights:  mussels, leeks, parsley and fried bread, cabbage cooked with sour milk and sunflower seeds, pleurotus mushrooms, with pimentão (a traditional pepper-based paste) and crunchy sarraceno wheat, green asparagus, requeijão and azedas, mackerel, mizuna, lettuce and tangerine, and finally, squid from Azores cooked in a pork broth.

Dinning at Prado is a wonderful opportunity to taste pristine produce harmoniously combined to create satisfaction and joy.

Prado is located at Travessa das Pedras Negras, 2, tel. 210 534 649, email info@pradorestaurante.com. Click here for the restaurant’s website.