Monday, May 16, 2016

Day 11: Porto to Douro Valley

Day 11:  Porto to Douro Valley

POTD:  No: Não

Weather: For the first time on the trip, a day of no rain, plus increasing warmth, into the 70s

THB is up early and in the fitness center, alone as always. Breakfast buffet, a quick pack, and Sofia at the hotel before 9 for our departure to the Douro Valley and wine touring. Before we leave, we can see they are set up for some sort of race (car? humans?) that will loop around in front of the hotel. Fortunately, we’re out of Porto before that race starts.

Sofia has researched our drive (since she grew up in the Douro, it shows how thoroughly she took her responsibilities) and found out about another race, this one of humans, that is taking place on the river road in the heart of the Douro, and for which we need to be careful to avoid. Well, it is hard to avoid, because our first stop is Six Senses, a luxurious hotel in the heart of the Douro! We are so close to the racers that THB thinks that he was almost shanghaied into putting on a lime green t-shirt and slotted in the middle of the racers (of which there are thousands).

Also on the drive, we went through a just-opened 3K tunnel near the top of the ridge nearing the heart of the Douro; it’s so new it doesn’t show on the GPS, which shows us driving through a mountain (and not on a road). And, you’re supposed to have an electronic device to pay for using this stretch of the road. Sofia says she will try and contact the authorities that “own” the rights to the road to explain why we aren’t paying.

The Sixth Sense entrance

At the hotel, Six Sense, we meet up with Paulo to switch over to his van for him to chauffeur us around. Much needed, as alternate routes are necessary and we’ve had to eliminate one of the planned stops. We check in, and again find out our agent has us in one level of room and the hotel another (lower level). This time we can compare notes as the hotel shares with us the agency interchange and they can see our voucher. Good news: they agree to upgrade us to the rooms our agent told us we were getting!  

Shots from the lobby:

Reception is on 8, the rest of hotel is down levels to 1

Of course, the rooms aren’t ready, it’s around 11; more on the hotel later in the post.

Quinta do Vallado is the first stop, in a tasting room that seems like a Tadao Ando knock-off. The tasting is composed of one white table wine, three red table wines, and the obligatory port. The white is very crisp (and very cheap, 5 or 6E), the reds growing in complexity and price. One of the reds is Field Blend, where they have a field with something like 35 different grapes growing, harvest them together, and then make the wine. It’s pretty good! Very unusual by US standards.

A long very pretty drive along the ridge (avoiding the race) with a stop for a scenic overview, and a descent to the river for another tiled train station and lunch.

Shots from around the Douro Valley:

Sunday procession

Shots of tiles in the local train station:

Lunch is on the patio overlooking the river at a very nice hotel. It takes a long time for the food to arrive, and in the meantime we see some sort of kerfuffle on the bridge near us backing up traffic (on top of the race diversions earlier in the day) for 30 minutes at least. 

Turns out to be some sort of demonstration/prank by supporters of one of the soccer teams in a big match later in the day in Lisbon (or is it Porto). Paulo isn’t too interested, his team got knocked out in the semi-finals.

Salmon with cabbage and roe for THB, excellent. Total for five, 150E.

The next tasting is at a well-known wine and port producer, right next door to lunch.  Nothing special. We taste two 10 year tawny ports side by side. THB cannot tell them apart. The cost of the tastings are included in our package, and from what we can tell they aren’t cheap.

Two 10 year tawny ports: different?

Back to Six Senses, and a goodbye to Sofia (tip of 150E) and Paulo (50E). This place is terrific: soft colors, great rooms, beautiful grounds, vistas, and common areas. Agreement that we should stretch our stay as long as possible and DB and SA arrange for foot massages for tomorrow right before checkout at noon. In the meantime, THB hits the pool, which is spectacular.

See-through from room into bathroom, similar to La Remota in Chile

Meet up for drinks and a bridge lesson at 6:30, start dinner around 7:45. Amusing bouchers of fava beans on top of braised meat, THB and DB share oysters opened in the wood fired oven and peas with egg (on top of some sort of thick “custard”), THB has veal loin and veggies, DB has a salad of couscous and baby veggies from the garden, DA has chicken, SA has pork loin (not sure THB got this right), a good local wine, and no room for desserts, 300E. 

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