11.02.2017 - 16.03.2017 9 °C
The Rock of Gibraltar appeared before us and it wasn't long before we were offloaded and back on the roads of Spain. We set the GPS for Seville where we had booked a night enroute to Portugal.
Once settled into our hotel we caught 'the big red' bus into the city. It was Saturday evening and the bars along the main avenue were packed with people. It reminded us of the Octagon on an afternoon before a test match! We resisted the temptation to join the scrum and committed to a walk-about before sitting to enjoy a drink and snack.
Our brief encounter with Seville left a very positive impression. The mixture of wide promenades and narrow streets, collections of branded stores and quaint shops, all interwoven around beautiful landmarks and buildings, made for a very attractive city centre.
The next morning we woke to grey skies and rain and as we drove the roads towards Portugal the rain got heavier. On a couple of occasions we had Lupi's wipers going full speed! The surface water and rain certainly removed any hint of red desert dust left on her. A combination of the weather and it being a Sunday meant the roads and towns we passed through were very quiet.
We drove through landscapes of wooded plantations, lush green pastures and densely planted olive groves... all of these regularly dotted with storks nesting on any suitable elevated platform.
Passing between countries in Europe continues to intrigue. With no physical border and often limited signage, sometimes it's not until our mobile phone beeps, informing us of a new provider, that we realise we have crossed into another country!
Fortunately the skies cleared as we approached Lisbon and we managed to get settled into our Airbnb apartment without getting wet! We had booked a first floor apartment in the 'old' part of town and were delighted to find ourselves in an authentic cobble stoned street lined with small businesses and terraced flats with laundry dangling from washing lines suspended outside windows.
Marques, the flat owner, had prepared a great booklet detailing the sights to see. This guided us as we played tourists under beautiful blue skies the next day. We had two areas we wanted to cover: the first being Baixa and Alfama, within an easy walk from our flat and the second, Belém, a quick bus ride on #728.
Some great street art!
With it's mix of contemporary and old, the lime washed and beautiful pastel buildings, the warm and friendly people and the ease of getting about, Lisbon made for a truly memorable visit.
From Lisbon we set our sights on Porto. Both Lorraine and John Russell, and Mike and Sharon Cook had spoken very highly of this coastal city. We decided to inject a few funds into the Portuguese roading system and take the toll roads on this particular day. It meant for a relaxed drive for 'Driver Den' and time for us to make a couple of fabulous stops along the way.
The first stop was into the gorgeous walled town of Obidos, a town that had been a real attraction for Lorraine and John. We could see why! We circumnavigated the town via the wall and admired the white walled, terracotta roofed buildings from our birds eye viewpoint. This was followed by a leisurely stroll through the Main Street and coffee and a snack at a little street side bar.
Walking the cobbled streets of Obidos
From Obidos, we motored on to Figueira da Foz and found ourselves with the beach pretty much to ourselves! We could imagine quite a different scene come summer, however we enjoyed this piece of the Atlantic coastline to ourselves for this moment!
Very quiet on the beach at Figueira da Foz
It was then onwards to Porto where we were warmly and cheerfully welcomed to our Airbnb apartment by Ana. We watched the sun disappear before enjoying a tasty dinner and glass of Portuguese red as our Valentine's Day celebration.
Vitor, our Airbnb host, had highlighted and recommended ten points of interest in the city, along with great information about each. So, off on foot we set the next morning to tick these off. As the day progressed and the magnificent scenes of Porto appeared at every turn, we were heard on many occasions to exclaim, "Wow, what a beautiful city!" Set aside the Duoro River, with it's medieval architecture and it's relaxed and friendly feel, it's easy to fall under its charm!
"The Majestic Café is a wonderful place, where muses, thinkers and artists can get together to live the best moments life has to offer: simply sharing communication through words and gestures, glances smiles and even a few tears sometimes."
Gloria Montenegro (President of the Paris Academy of Coffeeology)
We were interested to learn more about the Port Wine industry so we headed to the Gaia side of the river to the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia/Caves of Port Wine. We found our way to the house of Croft. Founded in 1588, it is reportedly the oldest firm still active today as a Port Wine producer. The cellar sits in a privileged location on the bank; high enough so as not to be flooded, yet close enough so in the early days the barrels did not have to be man handled too far uphill! As luck would have it, a tour in English was scheduled, with just enough time to sample a couple of the fine Croft product in front of the open fire!
The grapes for Port Wine are grown in the Douro region. The hot arid climate means for perfect Port Wine grapes; small and sweet, with a thick skin. Once extracted, one litre of clear brandy (77% alcohol) is added to four litres of the wine. This 'cocktail' is then trucked to the cellar in Porto where it matures in casks and is bottled. The age of maturation gives a range of types; from rosé, to ruby to tawny. Those of you who are 'Port buffs' might be interested in reading more at www.croftport.com
At the conclusion of the tour we were given a final taste of the 10 year old tawny, and with it being the favourite of our three tastings, we came away with a larger sample in the bag!
We arrived back at our apartment with a lovely warm glow, not only from the Port, but for all that we had seen and experienced in this remarkable city.
The beautiful blue sky on the morning of the 16th of February lent itself to a road trip along the 'turismo rural' from Porto, into Zamora, España.
The drive took us through changing landscapes and provided spectacular views as we made our way through the majestic Alto Douro region.
We enjoyed a final walk on Portuguese soil as we wandered through the quaint town of Miranda do Douro.
Our time in Portugal was all too short, however we felt great satisfaction for the taste we had experienced and both decided it was a destination we could easily come back to sometime in the future.
Adeus Portugal, foi divertido.