I was slow to leave Portugal. This reluctance manifested itself virtually the moment I arrived in Lisbon with two other notable writers, all of us bent on discovering the history, tradition and culture of one of Europe’s oldest countries.
Time was our only foe, with just a week to accomplish this formidable task. Despite an overnight flight and very little sleep, we declined to rest, opting instead to explore this pulsating city at the first opportunity. After leaving our luggage at the Dom Pedro Hotel, situated in the heart of Lisbon’s business district, we set off on a guided stroll along wide esplanades paved with black and white mosaics, open squares where you can buy freshly roasted chestnuts in paper cones, mazes of cobbled alleys, and steeply winding streets where you must deftly avoid the quaint trams that whir by.
Lisbon’s downtown, the Baixa, was completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake and resulting fires of 1755. The reconstructed buildings resemble a wood cage, which was deemed necessary for support in the event there were more seismic activities. The architect of this advanced design was the Marquês de Pombal, prime minister to King Joseph I. His imposing statue resides in the middle of the roundabout near the city center.
Lisbon also is known as the City of Seven Hills, and from St. George’s Castle atop one of the hills, you have a commanding view of the city’s terra-cotta tiled rooftops, ancient monuments, statues, the old quarters of the Barrio Alto and Alfama (where nostalgic fado is played nightly), and the Tagus River flowing under its lengthy but graceful suspension bridge. Down by the Tagus, from where many Portuguese explorers set sail, stands the Belém Tower, with its fairytale turrets and the imposing Monument to the Discoveries. This beautiful carving, cast in 1960, commemorates the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, the central character in the Discoveries initiative. From the beach in Belém, Vasco da Gama set sail to discover the sea route to India. Also nearby is Jerónimo’s Monastery, a 16th-century building that is related to the Discoveries period and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are many such historic sites and neighborhoods within the city, and they create a passion for the streets. Walking is by far the most popular way to tour the city, but there are guided bus tours, and a tram is another alternative. The No. 28 tram follows a route along Lisbon’s hills, beginning its journey at the Prazeres Cemetery.
Streets that should be trod include the Rua Augusta, the main artery of the Baixa, the city’s traditional shopping district, and the Avenida da Liberdade, home to exclusive international boutiques and shops. It was the favorite promenade for the Lisbon elite in the 19th century. The pavements in this city are regarded as works of art, and the calcada portuguesa is the traditional black and white stone mosaic embedded in most of the streets.
The Parque das Nacoesthe riverside venue for Expo 98 World Exhibition on the east side of Lisbontransformed this former industrial area into a cultural, entertainment and residential center and draws visitors and locals for concerts, sports events and to play in the new Casino de Lisboa. Opt for a ride on the cable car here that offers breathtaking views of the river and the city along its one-mile circuit.
Nighttime is the right time for Lisbon. There is always something happening, whether it’s a cultural event, fiesta, fair or festival. You won’t be able to do all there is to do, so target areas such as the Bairro Alto, which has a unique tradition in the history of Lisbon nightlife. It’s the part of the city with the most bars, and every eveningbut especially Fridays and Saturdaysthe narrow cobblestone streets are jammed with people, young and old alike. The vibe of the Bairro spreads to nearby neighborhoods such as Bica and Principe Real.
Along the riverside in the Docas, in Alcantara and Santo Amaro, you will find a plethora of lively happenings. The most well-known clubs are here, along with dance venues and excellent restaurants. There also are occasional concerts to entertain, and you can’t top the location right along the river.
While Lisbon could command all your attention, it is a good place from which to explore other regions within driving distance. The Algarve region in the south of Portugal is where the locals vacation. The golden beaches and warm waters give the Algarve more of a Mediterranean feel than an Atlantic flavor. We were tempted by this area, but decided to go north and visit more traditional, historic enclaves such as Sintra, Obidos, Porto and the Douro vineyards.
We were told that Sintra is a place “you have to feel,” not just see. Once immersed in the dense colors of its landscape, the mystery surrounding Serra or Monte da Lua (Mount of the Moon), and its ancestral legends and traditions, we found it easy to immerse ourselves into this spiritual environment. The Monte da Lua spawned a number of astral cults whose influence is still visible in the monuments and archaeological objects that span many different eras. There are magnificent sites to explore, not the least of which is Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of the European continent. This outcrop of rocky coastline on the Atlantic Ocean is the end point of the Serra de Sintra, a range of mountains winding snake-like down to the ocean to form the Cabo da Roca. Visitors receive a signed and sealed certificate noting their visit to this European landmark.
Sintra still retains its medieval character, punctuated by narrow, labyrinth-type streets, steps and arcades. There is a National Palace, built over time, a Clock Tower, the Santa Martinho Church, and an impressive group of ancestral fountains as well as the Jewish Quarter. A horse-drawn carriage ride through the town is the most prudent way to see the highlights. And speaking of high, just above the town is the quirky and colorful Pena Palace, built on the site of the ruins of an old monastery. The palace was constructed in two stages, first in 1849, and then between 1868 and 1885. It appears to have no cohesive design, with different portions placed together as if by chance. There is no “style,” but that and the colors are what make it so unusual and attractive. Most noteworthy are the quarters of King Carlos and Queen Amelia, the last royal couple to live in the palace, as well as the panoramic views of the surrounding landscape from the palace walls.
There seem to be castles and palaces everywhere in Portugal, and we found more in Obidos, a village known as the “Town of the Queens,” due to the royal tradition of the king giving the town to his queen as a wedding present. Enchanting, quaint and charming, the town is completely surrounded by walls dating back to the Moorish occupation. The town was recaptured by King Afonso Henriques in 1148, and the castle has been converted into a pousada (a small hotel). Obidos has many churches and chapels filled with works of art, tiles, paintings, woodcarving and religious vestments. Along its streets and alleyways there are shops, restaurants and an occasional tavern where you can take a brief respite from walking and sample Obidos’ most important productGinja. Ginja is a sweet local wine comprised of sour cherries, honey and sugar. It’s a potent beverage, and the Bar Ibn Errik Rex claims to have the best concoction. No argument here.
After Obidos, it was time to leave for Porto, in the heart of Portugal’s wine country, where, along the Douro River, vineyards planted in steps carved into the mountainsides go on for as far as the eye can see. Port wines are one of the oldest and most appreciated wines in the world, as a visit to Sandeman Wine Cellar and Museum reveals. But there’s more to Porto than wine. The city’s historic center includes such lively sites as the Casa da Musica, a striking performance arena with a rooftop café; a contemporary art museum set in Porto’s Parque Serralves; the ancient São Bento Train Station; and the inimitable Café Majestic, a richly textured, intimate café with walls of dark mahogany that is reminiscent of those establishments appearing in movies related to World War II, where numerous mysterious encounters were the norm.
A rich, tempting blend of strong coffee in a demitasse was the fitting end to a flawless trip to one of Europe’s most intriguing countries.
The dramatic differences in the landscape of Portugal offers the golf course architect a perfect canvas in which to construct golf layouts that motivate and inspire the novice golfer or the professional player looking for that next challenge to their game. It doesn’t take long for visitors to this European destination to realize that there are world-class championship courses in almost every region of the country.
Many golf enthusiasts have heard talk about the courses located in the Algarve region, an area the Portuguese prefer to vacation. Situation on the southern tip of Portugal, it sports a tropical climate, providing golfers the opportunity to play nearly year round. There are some 30 courses to choose from, each with its own unique characteristics, and if time permits, travelers should try and get a few rounds in during their visit.
Most tourists don’t come to Portugal just for the golf. And that was the case with me and writing colleagues Ian Hutchison and Mark Atchison of Toronto, who also came for the historic sites, cultural offerings and myriad activities to experience, such as nightlife, restaurants and discovering the origins of port wine.
Golf wasn’t an afterthought, and we managed to blend in several rounds during our sojourn to the northern regions of the country, rather than the more publicized Algarve. We made Lisbon our base and set out to explore the Estoril Coast and several of the towns that make up this coastal region situated virtually in the mid-section of Portugal.
Our first golfing experience was in Sintra, a city we spent touring before play the 27 holes of the Penha Longa Hotel and Golf Resort. Set in the foothills of Sintra with the Cacais Nature Park, this 6,290-yard course is considered one of the best in Europe. The resort overlooks manicured gardens and a monastery that dates back to 1355. At one point, the remains of an old aqueduct drew our attention between the sixth and seventh holes.
Our next venture was golf at Quinta da Marinha in Cacais. This course skirts the Atlantic Ocean, and if your game isn’t suited to playing in the wind, be prepared for a long day. Pine groves also had a way of swallowing golf balls. We walked this course, and the views more than made up for our lackluster play.
From Cacais, we made the long drive to Obidos, historic city surrounded by walls from the ancient fortress. Fortunately, Golden Eagle Golf Course near Rio Maior wasn’t quite as formidable. The Fairways were wide open and the rough was the only danger to avoid.
Since we were only in Portugal for a week, our fourth and final round of golf was in Porto at the par 68 Amarante Golf Course designed by Jorge Santa da Silva. The course featured undulating hills and there were many incredible views of the surrounding mountains. It was a superb way to end a very satisfying week’s adventure.
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Porto (or port wine) is a natural, rich, fortified wine produced from grapes grown in the Douro region of North Portugal, matured in wood and then blended and bottled. The Douro Valley is the oldest wine-growing region in the world, and was defined in 1756 by order of the Marquis de Pombal. It comprises nearly 250,000 acres under unique climate conditions.
Traditionally mixed in the vineyards, native red and white varities of grapes such as Touriga Nacional or Touriga Francesa (both red) are recommended as the best for Porto making. The harvest is done by hand, traditionally by women, while men transport the grapes in big baskets that can weigh around 120 pounds each. In olden days, the grapes were crushed by themen in open stone tanks called lagares. Today, they are crushed in modern wine centers, thus guaranteeing the best and most consistent quality.
Basic Types of Ports
There are three basic types of Porto wine: Ruby, Tawny and White.
White Ports are made from white grapes using the same wine making process mentioned above. White can be dry, medium dry or sweet.
Ruby Portos are intense, powerful, full-bodied wines showing the characteristics of young Portosdeep ruby colors, aromas and flavors of red fruits (apples berries, plums or strawberries), and the freshness of young wines. Ruby Portos age in large oak or stainless steel vats where they are less exposed to oak and air and oxidize slowly, thereby maintaining their fruity, primary characteristics longer.
Tawny Portos are more evolved wines, showing lighter, amber colors, dried fruits (walnut, dried apricots, nuts and almonds), spices and burn aromas (vanilla, coffee, caramel), demonstrating the characteristics of wines that have been aged longer. Tawny Portos age in small oak casks, where they are more exposed to oak and the air, resulting in a faster evolution to more matured characteristics.
Except for dated wines (date on the label) Porto is always a blenda selection of different, yet similar wines from several years, blended to guarantee a consistent house style and to maintain the quality. Portos also can be classified as reserves and special categories. For example:
Vintage Porto also is classified as a special category and is the only Porto that matures in the bottle. They are exceptional wines from a single year, bottled two years after the harvest and aged in bottle for several years (from 5-15, even a century!).
Storing and Enjoying Porto
Although popular wisdom says that “The older the Porto, the better,” this is not always the case. Only Vintage Porto ages and improves in the bottle. The natural habitat of all other Porto is the oak aging vat and cask in which they evolve to become Ruby and Tawny Porto, so when bottled they are ready for drinking.
Generally speaking, Porto should be consumed within the year of bottling. Vintage Porto, however, tends to need 10-15 or more years of aging in bottle to fully develop its complexity, although many people appreciate younger Vintage Porto with only 4-5 years in bottle.
White 12-18 months shelflife
Ruby 12-18 months shelflife
Tawny Imperial Reserve (20/30/40 years old) 12-24 months shelflife
Vintage (20/30 years old) 10-15 years or more
Porto should be stored in places with low humidity, with no great variations in temperature (50-60 degrees F) and preferably free from vibrations and strong light.
Porto bottles should be stored according to the style of the wine. All Portos sealed with a cork with plastic top are ready for drinking and should be stored standing upright so that the liquid is not in contact with the cork.
Porto wines sealed with long driven corks, such as Vintage which ages in bottle, should be stored laying on their side so that the cork stays moist and tightly seals the neck of the bottle, thus preventing contact between the wine and the air.
How Long Can a Bottle of Porto be Kept after Opening
Once the bottle has been opened, the evolution of the Porto is naturally more rapid, as the wine has been exposed to the air. It is recommended that you re-cork the bottle immediately after serving the wine. Recommended consumption times are shorter once the bottle is opened, although the considerable differences between the styles of Porto still apply:
Ruby 2-4 weeks
Tawny 4-8 weeks
Vintage plus or
Passing the Porto
That Porto should always be passed from the right to the left is so widely accepted that many people are convinced that the two traditionsthe drinking of Porto and passing to the leftmust have grown up together.
Research by the House of Sandeman reveals that the importance of moving from right to left, or clockwise around a table, pre-dates the creation of Porto by thousands of years. As Porto became popular, it would seem that drinkers simply adopted an ancient tradition to their own ends. The search of archives by Gerard Sandeman uncovered some remarkable facts. One of the earliest clear references to the custom is found in Homer’s Illiad, toward the end of the first book. Here, Hephaestus is described as pouring wine to all the gods “from left to right.”
Frazer, in his master work on classical mythology, The Golden Bough, wrote “I fancy that it must come from the old Celtic superstition that all circular motions should be deisealthat is, the right hand turn, such that a person going in a circle should have his right hand to the center. This was the lucky turn, and should be used in passing anything aroundas in carrying a coffin around the grave before lowering it into it, or in serving our drams to our company.”
The word deiseal is derived from the Celtic words deas, meaning right hand, and iul meaning direction. A search of the world’s mythologies shows that the notion that passing from right to left is lucky, and from left to right is unlucky, exists in other parts of the world. In Tibet, for example, and in other countries where it is considered pious to turn a prayer wheel, it is essential that the prayer wheel is always turned from right to left. While walking around a temple, the outer walls are often lined with prayer wheels, and it is again necessary to walk in a clockwise direction.
It’s also possible that the original reason that the deiseal motion was lucky lies in two ancient beliefs: that the sun rotated about the earth, and that the sun represented the most powerful of gods. Thus, a host passing a bottle of Porto from right to left around a table would be moving in the same direction as an ancient sun god.