When reflection causes increased excitement, when the memories are ones you would love to relive, when the journey is still almost palpable, it had to have been one of the best trips ever. Looking back on our explorations this past Summer and Fall, our travel card got punched more than ever, but one trip stands out above all others. We had the pleasure and the joy of visiting a nation that is on many a gay’s radar – PORTUGAL.
An amazing seven nights were spent in Portugal, making this one of our longer journeys this year. We had a tight itinerary for traveling across the land of the three F’s (Fado music, the Fátima pilgrimage, and Futebol). And we would spend each night in a new hotel, crazy I know! This hotel-hopping plan would not make sense if we were staying in one city, but that was not the case. Our introduction to Portugal was going to be an explosion of culture, history, men, food, wine, art, and so much more as we were going to drive through Central and Northern Portugal.
With so much to cover, it’s too much for one sitting. This journey will be broken up into a handful of posts here on Instinct. For this first post, we’ll mention our first day in Porto and our exploration of the Douro River Valley area and around Vila Real.
Vila Real –
Our first stop of the day was an inspiring walk through the grounds of Casa de Mateus. The property has winery buildings from the 16th century and gardens along with the current main palace are from the 18th Century. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful gardens that are just a part of the vast farmland. The palace itself is one of the finest examples of baroque civil architecture in Portugal and in 1910, it was classified as a National Monument.
We walked around the gardens and had a great tour of the palace. The palace’s intricately carved wood ceilings, varying furniture from several historical periods which beautifully highlighted Portugal’s international presence from several periods, 17th and 18th century paintings, silverware, ceramics, and a library with a remarkable edition of the epic poem Os Lusíadas. Usually translated as The Lusiads, it’s a Portuguese epic poem written by Luís Vaz de Camões and first published in 1572 and is widely regarded as the most important work of Portuguese-language literature, frequently compared to Virgil’s Aeneid. The work celebrates the discovery of a sea route to India by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama.
The shop was well appointed and any time you can do a wine tasting with the local offerings, you must as it’s always an education, you’ll learn more about what you may like and dislike about different varieties and varietals.
The palace is owned by the Mateus Foundation, which sponsors a great number of cultural activities, particularly in the areas of music, literature, sculpture, and ceramics, organizing festivals, courses, seminars and exhibitions. You can check out their events page.
We were fortunate enough to have our own vehicle as we toured around North and Central Portugal, but there several buses at Casa de Mateus so those can be booked if you so wish. What was great about having our own vehicle was that we could see so much of the countryside, the terracotta roofs, the vineyards, the farmlands, hills, valleys, and homes for sale that made us wish ant think about the future. The road systems were vast, grand, clean, well-marked, and full of roundabouts, that we sometimes mismanaged because we were talking and enjoying the sites.
Our travels then brought us to DOC Restaurant –
DOC , a space to “Taste, Dare and Communicate”, is where Rui Paula, with a modern and inventive touch, makes the kitchen a historical laboratory based on several generations of culinary recipes.
Here, every meal is a unique and special moment. Either from the glazed room or from the suspended terrace over the river, the view is breathtaking: the terraces of vineyards and shale, the tranquility of the riverside villages, the trains passing by on the other shore, momentarily breaking the stillness around the valley, large boats transporting tourists over International Douro…
DOC stands out as an open window over this breathtaking scenery, designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011.
For me, this was the best dinner I experienced while in Portugal from amuse-bouche to the entrée. The dessert was very good, but there was one other Portuguese place that earned that nod. DOC’s staff did an exceptional job of making the wine parings spot on, but the scenery … what an experience! The ocular and culinary excellence of the experience is one that you need to give yourself. I feel we could have had a romantic meal last hours there with food, wine, and views.
As we were eating, I saw our next excursion float by as a rabelo boat made its way to the dock next to DOC. I didn’t want to leave our table as I thought I may miss another delectable creation, but it was time to take in the fresh air on the Douro River.
The views from the deck of the rabelo (a traditional Portuguese wooden cargo boat that was used for centuries to transport people and goods along the Douro River, especially wine down to Porto, port wine), were magnificent, comprehending the creation of terrace farming for the wineries and their inclusion of olive trees in the landscape.
I did not keep track of the time as I did not want my rabelo journey to stop, but after a little over an hour, we disembarked and were picked up by a private shuttle from the Quinta Nova Winery for the ride up the sculpted hillsides.
Once at the top, we had our second wine tasting of the day. This was more elaborate, with epic views looking across the Douro River Valley as we aerated and enjoyed our aged grapes. After our tasting, we learned more about wine than I ever knew as we toured the grounds and the museum on site.
We were unable to stay on the grounds at the 11-room Quinta Nova Winery House (Relais et Chateax) as the rooms were all reserved, but dinner reservations were made at Terraçu’s Restaurant. There’s nothing like enjoying some of the finest and creative culinary offerings at a winery that produces impeccable wines perfect for pairings. No, it was not because this was the fourth round of wine for the day (1- Casa de Mateus tasting, 2 – DOC Restaurant pairings, 3 – Quinta Nova tasting, 4 – Terraçu’s Restaurant pairings), but the evening was full of warmth, ambiance, excellent food, wonderful libations, and excellent staff.
One of the most spectacular days we spent in Portugal this year was in the Vila Real District with a visit to the gorgeous grounds and wine tasting room of Casa de Mateus, served an unmatched meal at DOC Restaurant, a private rabelo boat ride on the Douro River to a shuttle to the Quinta Nova Winery. A wine tasting, vineyard tour, and dinner on the grounds finished the day. A dreamy day with breathtaking surroundings and luscious food and Portuguese wines that will live with us forever.
Porto , Day 1 –
On our journey through Portugal, we often arrived at our hotels late at night, like 10 or 11 PM, so we would just go to sleep and then get up the next day and carry on with our travels. For Porto, we did arrive earlier in the day and checked into the Neya Porto Hotel. My space was wonderful and I found again the common practice of offering a larger bed made up of two twins. My back window/door opened up onto an architecturally and historically pleasing courtyard. The hotel offered underground parking which was an added bonus. Its location along the Douro River was perfect for day and night views, the day we watch the street cars roll by, people enjoying the September sun, and the swimming and biking components of a triathlon occur.
Since my daddy bear bod was far from triathlon ready, we went to My Palace Porto for its Francesinha Sandwich. You can look up any recipe for this, but translated into “little French woman” this Francesinha is far from little as it has layers of sausage, baloney, steak, and cheese and an egg and … well then there is the gravy as well and well, you need to have a side of fries, too, and some more gravy for those. It was a decadent meal, but this big American could put it away.
To walk off the layers of meat and cheese and gravy, we went to Serralves Foundation, a large property with an Art Deco palace, large museum buildings, gardens, fountains, Cinema House, and so much more. Plan on a great day long experience if you want to explore all the spaces inside and out. Stop for tea as well and just enjoy. You could expedite your viewing of all that the Serralves Foundation has to offer, but consider the longer stay.
Casa de Música is also a wonderful offering in the heart of Porto, providing such an artistic architectural spiraling space that keeps surprising you with how many spaces it offers to enjoy the arts. The usher staff was great at showing us around and we enjoyed seeing them and the space. To have such a central offering able to house such creativity for the city, bravo Porto.
Cafeína Restaurant was the swanky, yet refined spot we chose to enjoy nighttime eats. A variety of well-dressed people were seen celebrating the environment along with us. Dimly lit with food like Beef Wellington, this would be a romantic gastronomic retreat if I lived in Porto.
When riding or walking around the Douro Riverside, may it be either day or night, you cannot miss the Dom Luis Bridge that joins Porto and Gaia (the latter city is where most if not all of the port wine companies are located). Take in the bridge both during the day and the night as the largest landmark in the city does have two personalities.
We’ve all heard that Portugal as a nation is very accepting of the LGBTQ+ Community. We tested the waters on that by visiting a couple of the gay bars in Porto. The pub, discotheque, restaurant Café Lusitano was our first stop where we were surprised with a drag show. Another surprise in the bars, let’s see if I get this right, there’s no cover, but they give you a card when you go in and you will need to meet a certain purchase level in the bar and then present the card when leaving, or if you do not meet that level of beverage enjoyment, then you may need to pay a “post cover” to exit the venue. I think that is how it works. I was drinking so I was not fully sure.
The other bar did not surprise us with a brag show bursting onto the dancefloor like Café Lusitano, but instead the surprise at Zoom was bulges at eye-level attached to beyond ripped cowboys. We had the short and loud girls push us out of our spot next to the stage (you’ll apparently get those entitled straight girls in gay spaces everywhere in the world), but we could still see the performers over the heads of the female usurpers. It was a fun space with still some spots to talk to others and make some fun eye contact with fellow partiers.
Thanks for letting me share two of the seven days we spent in Portugal. We’ll share some of the rest of the trip in a couple of other future posts as each day was magnificent, some were surprisingly emotional, but all was enjoyable, educational, and uplifting. Even though we had seven days, there was so much to see. When we were traveling, it was quite evident that there is too much to see in all the cities of Portugal. When no sour notes were heard, no negatives discussed, no “if-only” statements occurred, you know you have stumbled upon something great.
We cannot wait to tell you more about our trip in future installments and we cannot wait to go back to Portugal ourselves.
Porto, Portugal deserves to be experienced, enjoyed, and danced in. This vibrant city has something new, historical, and energetic to look at around every corner. We’ll share a couple days with you that we spent in Porto. Here’s the first one where we ate very well, explored, and partied the night away.