Saturday, July 26, 2014

Porto and the Douro region of Portugal, the 'First Demarcated and Regulated Wine Region In the World' by Maria Reveley

                           Porto and the Douro river with Port hauling boats

If you are looking to make a travel discovery, one that will encompass great natural beauty, delicious food and wines, wonderful welcoming people and much history, you might want to think about northern Portugal as a new destination.  Porto and the north are often overlooked, perhaps for Lisbon, the beaches, and the Algarve in southern Portugal.  But Porto and the Douro Valley, UNESCO World Heritage areas, are stunningly beautiful and delightful to visit.  With only one million visitors per year, you will find much to discover, with fewer crowds and with very reasonable prices. 

The northern Portugese are very hospitable and proud of their heritage, their cultures, their traditions, their cuisine and their famous wines, including their famous Port.
This area of Portugal is rich with history, churches and monasteries, museums, castles, gardens and wonderful architecture.  And the steep mountains of the Douro Valley, with its hand-tended vineyards can take your breath away  with its beauty.  The Douro River runs through the region and the city of Porto. And, at sunset, you can begin to understand why the name – River of Gold – is so on target.

Let’s start with the city of Porto, which has about two million inhabitants including the surrounding areas.  Porto is the capital of the north and is one of the oldest cities in the country.  You can take a tram to the mouth of the Douro River, get to know the beaches and the outdoor cafes and also see some modern buildings desogned by architects like Size Vieira or Rem Koolhaas.

The River is dotted with boats – some with visitors cruising; others to remind us that barrels of wine were brought down the river in picturesque boats years ago, before the roads were built.  The area is hilly on both sides of the River, and there are Port Wine Cellars in the hills.  You can enjoy Port Wine tastings from many producers and buy their product in their adjoining stores.  When you go, you will learn about white, ruby, tawny, rose and late bottled vintage (LBV) Port Wines.  And you will see the methods used to make these delicious wines are much the same as hundreds of years ago.

A few words about Port Wine, some call nectar of the gods.  Port wine has a richness and intensity of aroma that is unique, with a high level of alcohol (between 19% and 22% by volume).  The LBVs are considered by many to be the Crown Jewels of Port Wine.

The Douro Region is upstream from Porto, and the Douro River winds through granite escarpments and terraces of schist. These steep mountains have been tended for hundreds of years by hand. 

The Douro region is the FIRST DEMARCATED AND REGULATED WINE REGION IN THE WORLD!  This area produces Port, excellent DOC Douro wine, sparkling wine and Muscat. It was established by decree in 1765 by the Marquis of Pombal and classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001.


                                                           The Douro river in Porto

 Among the producers who offer tastings in Porto are: Calem, Sandeman, Croft, Porto Cruz, Offley, and many others.  If you are interested in the history and technical aspects of Port Wine, you can visit the Port Institute of Wine and the Port Wine Museum, which are dedicated to the important role Port Wine has made in the history of the region and of Porto. The Rabelo boats, on the river, remind us of their history of moving barrels through this region to the city of Porto.


                                                   Porto Cruz Rose Port Cocktails

We visited three Port Wine producers: Calem, Sandeman and Porto Cruz.  Sandeman’s presentation was the most’corporate’ and least personal, although their wines were delicious.  Sandeman was founded in 1790 in London,  and was one of the first to label and advertise its wines. It has used the iconic black caped man as a trademark since the 1930s.  The vineyards are harvested in September each year for all the producers.

Calem was founded in 1859 by Antonio Alves Calem.  It is a major producer and has a wonderful tour of its history and cellar.  Calem has a delightful tasting room, and will offer most visitors three Ports, with one a vintage. 

Porto Cruz is another experience altogether.  Located at Largo Miguel Bombarda, 23,Villa Nova de Gaia (on the opposite side of the Douro River from Porto is Gaia).
Porto Cruz has a multimedia experience for the visitor, allowing one to determine from various questions asked, which Port Wine would be their favorite.  There is a wine shop, an exhibition of art, a restaurant and Terrace Lounge 360 on the roof, offering stunning views of Porto.  Porto Cruz offers Port Wine tastings, along with cheeses and chocolates.  They also offer Port Wine workshops with lunch.  The food in the restaurant is fantastic! And they also suggest using Port Wine in cocktails.  My favorite was Cruz Mandarina, Cruz Pink with Tangerine and Basil.  Yum!  They also pair Cruz White with Ginger, Rosemary and Tonic Water.  Very refreshing!


                                              A Port wine boat on the Douro river

There is a charm about the cafes on the River, an invitation to take a stroll and stop when the desire strikes. In addition to boat tours, and the tram, you can take bus tours and visit the Old Town area of Porto.  There is also the Guindais Funicular, a fun way to reach the top of the city for views. From a Rabelo boat, you can see the six bridges of the city.  You can visit the Sao Francisco Church, the Stock Exchange Palace, and for contrast, the Casa da Musica and the Museum of Modern Art of Serralves.  A new (four years old) cable car can also entice the visitor to see Porto from above, moving over the river,  looking down on boats and people walking.

A beautiful building is the Stock Exchange Palace, which started to be built in 1842.  It is a magnificent building, with a unique room, The Arabian Room, begun in 1862. It was designed by Goncalves de Sousa, following the model of the Alhambra Palace in Grenada.


                                  Traditional tile on the outside of homes in Porto

A visit to the Church of S. Francisco is worthwhile.  This is one of the most significant Baroque works in Portugal.  It has three naves, covered with gilt carving from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  There is a beautiful wall painting of Nossa Senhora da Rosa on the inside of the church.

The Soares dos Reis National Museum was the first art museum in Portugal.  It is in the Carrancas Palace and has a large collection of paintings from Romanticism, Naturalism,
and Symbolism movements, and it also has a room dedicated to the sculpture of Soares dos Reis.  A floor is dedicated to Portugese decorative arts, including jewelry, furniture, ceramics, and two exceptional Namban screens.

For a wonderful view of the Douro River, you can visit the Palacio de Cristal gardens, designed by the landscape architect Emile David in the nineteenth century.  These gardens have fountains, allegoric statues and many species of flora.  From the garden is a passageway to the Romantic Museum, which is a recreation of a bourgeois home from the nineteenth century.

The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art is the most important artistic cultural institution in the north of Portugal.  It was inaugurated in 1999 and comprises 18 hectors, with a house, a contemporary art museum and a vast green area with trees, formal gardens, farm land, a rose garden and a lake.  The museum was designed by Alvaro Siza.  The house, designed by Marques da Silva, is ART DECO.  The gardens were designed by the French landscaper, Jacques Greber in 1932 and are considered one of Portugal’s most remarkable of its kind in the twentieth century.

Porto’s Historical Centre is Ribeira and is the oldest part of the city.  It was classified as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 1996.  Traces of the medieval origins of the city can be found here. At the Praca da Ribeira, from where cruises depart, you can see where history and the present meet.

As you can tell, there are many things to see and enjoy in Porto.  You can explore on foot, by boat, by tramway, by bus, by mini-train, by funicular railway or the metro.  Any way you choose, you will be sure to relax as you take in the beauty of this wonderful city.

 Maria Reveley


Earl S. said...

A very informative and positive article about northern Portugal's beauty. Due to your article, I have a true desire to visit the region.

Luiz Alberto said...

Great article, Maria!
there's a great discussion going on our the #winelover group on Facebook about the validity of the Douro being the First Demarcated and Regulated Wine Region In the World... check it out...

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