Europe

Portugal on the Plush

written by | Posted on May 1st, 2009

Tell your clients heading to the Douro Valley, that this is a must-stop, particularly during the September harvest season when the grapes are crushed in the traditional way—by climbing in the vats and stomping away—and guests are encouraged to join in on the fun. This is an active vacation experience and one not to be missed. Currently, the family is building a small hotel on the property they hope to open later this month.

After a tour of the winery itself, it was time for a tasting of the estate’s wines—everything from port, to varietal reds and whites, to the more pricey regional and reserve brands. One thing we learned on this trip is not to confuse the so-called Portuguese “table wine” with the commercial table wines sold in the States. The table wines here are much richer in taste and most would compare to the higher priced wines found in grocery and liquor stores here.

Amarante, our next stop, is a typical small town, most notable for its role in the Napoleonic Wars where it was the site of a battle between the Spanish and the British on one side of the river, and Napoleon’s troops on the other. As in most battles, however, it was the town itself that took the brunt of the beating. There is a 15th century church here that did survive though. Basically, Amarante is a place to overnight while exploring the beauty of the Douro Valley and Casa da Calcada—a beautifully restored Relais & Chateaux property—is the place for your clients to enjoy that stay. A former palace and one of the victims of that 1810 battle, the property remained pretty much in ruins for quite some time before it was turned into a wine estate in the 19th century before falling victim once again to neglect as a result of feuding brothers over what to do with their father’s legacy. It was finally sold to the current owners about six or seven years ago who did all the renovation and turned it into the five-star property it is today. This 16th century palace truly is a beauty, unfortunately, it’s also a little out of the way. Still, a 1-night stay while exploring the wine country around it can be a relaxing one with plenty of luxury to put your clients into a royal mood.

Back on the bus again, the tour continues south to Obidos—a truly unique walled town right out of “The Arabian Nights.” This was a Moorish city founded back in the 8th century and built as a stronghold with a Moorish castle sitting on top of a hill overlooking the town. There’s an interesting note about this castle, as well. It’s comprised mainly of walls and towers built specifically for defense. There’s nothing inside the walls because the Moors lived in tents inside the walls. The little town itself is a warren of winding, cobblestone streets, not surprisingly inhabited primarily by shopkeepers and souvenir shops, which does absolutely nothing to diminish its charms. It’s a can’t-miss stop on Escapade Vacations’ itinerary. It was here, too, where we stopped for lunch in an absolutely charming little hotel whose main appeal is its restaurant, the Casa das Senhoras Rainhas restaurant—yeah, that’s a mouthful but you get a lot more than that on the luncheon menu. Like just about everywhere else in Portugal, food and wine here are a priority—there’s no such thing as a quick lunch here, or at least we never had one. And that is NOT a complaint. You can tell clients they’re definitely in for a gastronomic adventure here that they won’t soon forget.

Next, it’s on to Sintra, still another charming and historical Portuguese town that Lord Byron once described as “paradise on earth,” and we can understand his enthusiasm. This is a town built for royalty with two palaces and a huge collection of aristocratic homes not so hidden behind elegant, tree-lined streets. Here, too, clients will have the opportunity to visit the Pena Palace, an absolutely gorgeous palace that’s been immaculately restored.

It’s back to Lisbon for an overnight stay in the Lapa Palace Hotel, a jaw-dropping Orient-Express property set amidst Lisbon’s most stately homes and embassies—truly an oasis of elegance and one even your most hard-to-please clients are going to absolutely love. The suites offer incredible views of the city, not to mention all of the comforts of home one might expect in the palace of a Portuguese count that was built in 1870. Needless to say, dining options are as elegant and as over the top as the rest of the property with its beautiful gardens, filled with fountains and streams.