Six Senses Douro Valley

sixsenses (smaller file)

One of the most enchanting places in the Douro region is called Vale de Abraão (the valley of Abraham). It got its name from Abraão Farah, a Jew from nearby Lamego who rented the estate from João Lourenço de Seara, a squire of the king. No one knows for sure what Abraão did. Some say he was a physician, others that he was a scientist. But he must have been a remarkable person for the people of the Douro named the valley after him.

Five centuries later, the estate belonged to a descendent of the king’s squire called Laura Leitão. At the time, the Douro was remote and isolated. But Laura and her husband fell in love with Vale de Abraão and decided to make it their home. Together, they built a house and a chapel surrounded by serene gardens, graceful fountains and woods planted with exotic trees. They brought the first electrical generator to the Douro and at night their lightbulbs shined like new stars in the sky.

In the 20th century, the estate was owned by an aristocratic family from Oporto called Serpa Pimentel who lived there until the 1980s. On the other side of the valley, in the village of Godim, lived a young girl who grew up to become a writer called Agustina Bessa-Luis. Her childhood in the valley inspired “Vale de Abraão,” one of her novels.

A fire destroyed the manor house in the 1990s and the place became a romantic ruin. But the house and the surrounding gardens have since been reborn as an extraordinary hotel called Six Senses Douro Valley. It is the perfect place to connect with nature, relax and recharge.

The quality of the service offered by the 180 people on staff matches the exuberant beauty of the location. Each guest has a “gem” who serves as a guide to all the leisure opportunities available. There is much to do, from wine tastings, to helicopter tours, from cooking classes, to radical sports. But some of the best activities are the simplest: a walk in the woods, a picnic in a cabin by the river, or a lunch by the expansive pool.

Every staff member we met is terrific. Our waitress is an engineer who traded her job as a manager to work in the tranquil environment of the hotel. She spoke with enthusiasm about the excellence of the produce from the Douro valley. The head of the wine shop talks about wines with the erudition of an enologist. We asked him a few questions and soon our table was full of glasses with interesting wines for us to sample. The young chef in charge of the restaurant produces healthy, delicious food cooked with local ingredients using techniques that combine the best of tradition and modernity.

How lucky is this valley whose beauty and serenity keeps attracting such remarkable people.

The 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. 

 

Inspired beer at Musa

musa

Nuno Melo and Bruno Carrilho enjoyed so much the craft beers they tried in their travels abroad that they started gathering information about the art and science of beer production. Beer is made with only four ingredientes. You can buy the first three–yeast, malts and hops–all over the world. But the fourth ingredient—high-quality water–has to be locally available. When Nuno and Bruno discovered that Lisbon’s water is perfect for beer making, they bought a warehouse in an industrial suburb called Marvila and set to work.

They hired an accomplished British engineer to design and set up their factory and located suppliers of premium yeast, malts and hops. Then, they persuaded a talented American artisanal beer maker to create some unique beer recipes. Finally, they hired a dedicated crew willing to share the toil and joy of making great beer.

Nuno and Bruno called their project Musa, the Portuguese word for muse, to acknowledge the flashes of inspiration that kept the spirit of fun and irreverence alive.  This spirit is reflected in the rock-tinted names of their brews: Red Zeppelin, Mick Lager, Twist and Stout, Saison O’Connor, Born in the IPA, and Frank Apa.

The back of the Musa warehouse houses the factory. The front is a bar with beer on tap that provides immediate customer feedback about the new beers that are launched. Some of these new beers result from collaborations with restaurants, artists and gourmet-food producers like chocolate mavens Bettina and Niccolo Corallo.

Musa uses the bar to organize Sunday lunches prepared by well-known chefs and to throw awesome parties featuring singers, bands and DJs. One of the year’s biggest events, Ouro, Incenso e Birra (Gold, Incense and Byrrh), jointly organized with fellow craft-beer makers Dois Corvos and Lince, is coming up on January 12. If you’re in Lisbon this Saturday, it will be hard to find a better party!

Musa is located at Rua do Açúcar 83, in Lisbon. Click here for their website.

Stone soup at Quinta do Arneiro

Quinta do Arneiro Composit (cropped)

Once upon a time, there was a poor friar was too shy to ask for food. Famished, he knocked on the door of a farm house and solicited a pot and some water to cook a stone soup. The farmer and his wife were intrigued by this request. The friar took a stone from his bag, placed it in the pot and put the pot on the fireplace.

“How is the soup?” the farmer asked. “Delicious,” answered the friar “and when you put some lard, it tastes even better.” The farmer gave the friar a piece of lard. The friar tasted the boiling broth and said “this stone makes an excellent soup, especially when it is seasoned with a little salt.” The farmer’s wife promptly offered the friar some salt. The farmer commented that it was starting to smell good. “If I added some leftover beans, cabbage, and potatoes, the aroma would be divine.” Curious, the farmer gave the friar the vegetables he mentioned. “Is it ready?” the farmer ’s wife asked. “Almost done, if we added some slices of sausage, even the angels would eat it.” The farmer’s wife gave the friar a sausage. He sliced it into the broth and a few minutes later declared the soup ready. He shared it with his hosts who agreed that the stone had produced a remarkable  soup.

Every year on December 8, Quinta do Arneiro, a biological farm near Lisbon, uses its pristine vegetables and sausages to cook a monumental stone soup. The meal starts with hot country bread baked in a wood-fired oven accompanied by plates of freshly made hummus, olive oil and garlic. Then, the hearty soup is served with mulled wine. A delicious dessert composed of oranges, pomegranate, pumpkin jam, and roasted sweet potatoes brings the meal to a satisfying end.

Luisa Almeida, the owner of Quinta do Arneiro inherited the farm from her father. When Luisa was a teenager, she wanted nothing to do with agriculture, But, Luisa went to live on the farm after she married and it was there that her children were born and raised. In 2007, worried about the detrimental health effects of the chemicals used in conventional agriculture, Luisa ventured into organic farming. “It is arduous work but every day we treat nature with the respect it deserves,” she says proudly. The quinta delivers regular baskets of organic produce to lucky subscribers and opens its restaurant  for lunch from Wednesday to Sunday. A meal at the restaurant is a unique opportunity to eat nutritious, delicious seasonal products, freshly picked and cooked with love.

We greatly enjoyed our meal outdoors warmed by the bright sun that joined the feast. And the soup?  Even the angels would eat it!

Quinta do Arneiro is located in Azueira, Mafra. Click here for the farm’s website. To have lunch at the restaurant, email restaurantedaquinta@quintadoarneiro.com  or call 918740906 for reservations.

The Yeatman hotel

Composit Yeatman

There’s no better place to appreciate the beauty of Oporto than sitting in great comfort at the Yeatman hotel, sipping a glass of chilled Taylor’s Chip Dry white port before dinner.

The hotel was built by the descendants of the Yeatmans, a British family that started trading port wine in 1838. Draped around a hill in Vila Nova de Gaia, near the cellars where priceless vintage ports are stored, the hotel offers exuberant views of the river Douro and the city of Oporto.

A stay at the Yeatman is an initiation into the secrets of Portuguese wine. Each room is decorated by a different wine producer. The public spaces are adorned with artisanal artifacts and objects that highlight the connections between wine making and the history of Portugal.

The Yeatman’s main restaurant has two Michelin stars. Here, the exquisite food prepared by chef Ricardo Costa harmonizes with extraordinary wines curated by enologist Beatriz Machado, a graduate of the University of California at Davis.

The hotel organizes wine tastings, wine masterclasses, and weekly vinic dinners hosted by wine producers. These activities combine with the perfect location to make the Yeatman the perfect pairing for wine lovers visiting Oporto.

The Yeatman is located at Rua do Choupelo, (Santa Marinha), in Vila Nova de Gaia. Click here for the hotel’s website. 

Three lessons at Quinta de Vargellas

Quinta de Vagellas

It is easy to arrive at Quinta de Vargellas because this heavenly wine estate in the Douro valley has its own train station. The old carriages stop there with a screech, huffing exhausted from racing with the river waters. It is then up to the guests to walk up the granite steps that lead to the manor house.

We sat in the porch, mesmerized by the schist terraces built by generations of workers to create the perfect environment for the exuberant vines. It was here that we learned our first lesson: that the greatest beauty is created by man in harmony with nature.

Our second lesson, was about the importance of generosity. David Guimaraens, the head winemaker of Taylor’s Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft has an hectic schedule. But he takes time to share the magic of Vargellas with his guests. He explained to us the uniqueness of the terroir and described the vines as if they were his children. We drank his words and saw the brilliance of the vineyards through his eyes, green like the Douro river.

The grapes from the quinta are used to make the famed Quinta de Vargellas Vintage and form the base of the great Taylor Vintage Ports. We walked down to the cellar to sample the port made in 2018, which is still full of vigor but promises to age gracefully.

David discussed some of the intricacies of port-wine making and told us about the new vines he is planting so that his children can continue to produce great ports.  It takes 10 years for new vines to produce usable grapes. Between ages 10 and 20, the vines are adolescents, they have some good years but are moody and inconsistent. From ages 20 to 40, they mature and acquire consistency. From ages 40 to 60, the yields are low but the quality is great. Beyond 60 years, production dwindles but the few grapes that grow are drenched with wisdom.

A lifetime is too short to plant the vines and gather the knowledge required to produce great port. And so, we learned our third lesson: life is a relay race. We have to learn  from our ancestors and add to that learning to sow the seeds of the future.

It was hard to leave Quinta de Vargellas. But the memories of our visit stay with us. And from now on, every sip of the quinta’s holly wines will take us back to this paradise in the Douro valley.

Click here to see the Quinta de Vargellas web page.

Repentina

repentina Composit

Several people recommended that we try Repentina, a humble tasca in Poiares famous for its baby goat roasted in a wood-fired oven. Its name is a twist on the word “repente” which means in a flash. We first visited the restaurant last year. When the waiter brought the menu, we said we didn’t need it, we wanted to try their famous roasted goat. Incredulous, the waiter explained that “If you want to eat baby goat, you have to call us a day ahead and reserve the order. We only roast enough meat for the people who reserved it.” Well, no wonder the locals like say that nothing is easy in the Douro valley. Disappointed, we ordered a large beef cutlet that arrived perfectly grilled accompanied by salad and a delicious tomato rice.

This year, we made sure to call ahead to secure our roasted goat servings. We were told that the best time to show up is at 1:00 pm, just as the roast comes out of the wood ovens.

We arrived at the appointed hour and sat in the dining room overlooking the Douro valley. The air was filled with enticing aromas that heralded the arrival of the roast to the table. The taste is indeed exceptional, which explains why this place in the middle of nowhere attracts so many customers.

The restaurant is run by the Cunha family. Fernando who is 82, still operates the ovens. His wife Soledade runs the kitchen together with her daughter Ana Paula. Their son Fernando junior runs the restaurant.

I asked Fernando Cunha what is the alchemy that produces such satisfying flavors. He told us that “You have to get the best ingredients, the goats have to be small and tender, the wood for the fire has to produce the right temperature, the seasoning has to be harmonious and fresh. All the details are important. Our name may be Repentina but we do not cook in a flash. We do everything slowly so we get it right.”

Mercearia Prado

Prado (loja) Composit

António Galapito, the chef of Prado, a new restaurant in Lisbon, had a problem. Despite his large ensemble of proficient waiters, service was at times slow. The reason was that customers asked many questions about the provenance of the ingredients used in the restaurant.

Galapito took an unusual step to solve this problem: he opened Mercearia Prado, a grocery store that stocks the products he cooks with. So now his waiters can say: you find our ingredients in the grocery store around the corner.

Mercearia Prado is the perfect place to enjoy a light lunch or to shop for a gourmet picnic. Its shelfs are brimming with wines, cheese, prosciutto, canned fish, bread, vegetables, gourmet sandwiches, jams, and desserts. The products are so carefully curated that you can shop blindfolded and be certain that everything you choose tastes great!

Mercearia Prado is located at Rua das Pedras Negras, 37, Lisbon, tel. 960 280 492.