What I remember most about Portugal now, over a week later, involves the familiar natural scenery, arranged in a new way for me. Vineyards occurred in “cascades” down the hilly terrain. A smattering of machines might be spotted here or there, but the lush vegetation, puttered with palm trees, grape trees, lemon trees, and Roman and Victorian remnants, made the location feel a bit surreal. And my traveling companions, the dad and sister, also a bit twilight-ish. I felt not myself, not a 31-year-old successful doctor, “world” adventurer, but also not a fear drenched insecure non-fluidly expressive adolescent either. Somewhere in between. Un-popular, but flourishing in a secret possessing of something undetected and precious.
Also, the people in Portugal were absolutely bright and sunny. Everyone smiled. Everyone chatted. A young student on the plane provided a “talking tour” of the best places to visit, see, and cultural expectations (Pedro, you were a charmer, with your foul mouthed slang). One thing I LOVE is learning please, thank you, I am sorry, and where is the bathroom in a new language. DON’T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE AS I DID…assuming Portuguese is almost the same as Spanish….IT ISN’T! Through out the trip, the people oozed authentic hospitality. A waiter brought amuse-bouche and permitted me to sip from my pink water bottle un-elegantly. A manager at the most lovely of bed and breakfasts, Casa Agricola Da Levada poured a lovely, subtle crisp white wine while chatting about the politics of international fluid
If you visit wine country, this estate offers roomy family sized apartments on a spectacular property, where they baked their own bread, produced their own wine, and breed small farm animals. Un-popular, for sure, there were only two other guests during our 2 night stay, from Spain. I kept thinking: where is every one? Wondering if no one was around, HOW COULD THAT BE?, and I felt ahead-of the curve, and yet somehow, a little lonely. I don’t know if the dad and sister appreciated how rare such space was in European Travel. Or if they felt awe at all. Expressive of their dis-tastes (um, what right person gags on chocolate croissants?) but not so articulate about their passions, I felt, “is it strange to be loving the silence? and also, depressing a bit to feel it be under-recognized?”. The Casa is a must for any of you wishing immersion into Portuguese life, a stepping into the tannins of simplistic layering.
I cherished Vila Real. Located at the converging point of two rivers it has always been a busy agricultural and commercial town, mainly based around the lucrative wine and port trade. Its main feature is its fine 15th Century Casa Mateus, a fine example of an aristocratic country manor from the early 18th Century. It is still LIVED IN! by the descendants of its benefactor, a mayor and wine merchant. The façade is that which appears on the bottle of the internationally famous Rose wine. An attractive feature of this property is the gardens and especially the famed “Cedar Tunnel” that is composed of cedars 7.5 metres high creating some 35 metres of a walkway as a covered tunnel (do you see me inside at the top?)
Portugal is wild. Meaning, sure, a scattering of tourists there, but we met no other Americans. An undiscrovered better than Napa Valley. The wine superior in rich simplicity, the scenery unclogged with stands selling cheap souvenirs. One morning we hiked up a mountain to a glorious church on top of a peak, and at 9 am in the summer sun, not another human being walked the sacred foundation (sorry! I forgot my camera!). The church rests high above the city of Viano Du Castelo and offers probably one of the most surreal panoramas I’ve ever laid these speck upon. Rivers to my left, ocean to my right, blue skies, smatters of 15th century churches, rivulets of vegetation and underneath it all, a history of loss, of spectacular explorations, of grace and mercy, and of present anxiety about how to subsist and survive.
The uncharacteristically generous sized apartment, Quinta de Valverde, farmed Swans, ducks, chickens, peacocks, cheese, oranges, and lemons. And gorgeous scenery right outside our door. Who couldn’t be uber-duber impressed with such nature just waiting to be adored? The Quinta Valverde, with breathtaking bathrooms and soft bathrobes, as well as a gigantic kitchen with tile back-splashes and lounge chairs on the front patio, blew my mind away…at around $200 a night (cheap considering it sleeps 4!) it knocked, literally, my socks off. And I think it evoked a little smile from the sista too. (Um, I skinny-dipped in the infinity pool…a re-cap is a-coming!).
Sure, Portugal may not be an American’s notion of “going to Europe” but I pray I get to travel it once more before I leave this earth
…stay tuned for
a WINE/PORT overview!