It was the last two days of our river cruise on the Douro in Portugal.*
“Tomorrow we will see the most scenic road you can find in the Douro,” said our program director Jorge. “Come along and you will be wowed.” While I couldn’t wait to go on a tour of the wine country, my boyfriend L was happy to stay on board and watch the vineyards from the deck as the Viking Hemming sailed to Pinhão.
Favaios – Home of Muscatel Wine and Four Corners Bread
The small town of Favaios was my favorite spot of the entire week. The village is home to Muscatel wine and four corners bread. We visited a few of the cooperative wineries. Together, they make 30 million bottles of wine per year — most of the bottles are individual size because in Portugal they often combine a small bottle of Muscatel with beer. Muscatel grapes are very sweet and our guide Maria told us that “Muscatel is very good to cure a cold, perhaps because of the honey aroma.”
Once we had consumed our morning wine, it was time to taste some bread. Maria’s brother, Mithun (pronounced me-too) led the tour to the bakery. “It’s a family business,” said Mithun. “There are two ovens used to produce 1000 loaves a day. It is the best bread in Favaios.” We sampled the warm bread straight out of the brick oven. OMG! It was so good. Villagers sometimes bring their meats to the bakery and ask the bakers to bake the meat into the bread.
There is even a Bread and Wine Museum in Favaios. Between the wine, the bread, and the beautiful scenery, I decided that if I ever leave the country to write my memoir during my life after 50, this is where I am going to do it.
Lunch At Quinta da Avessada
There was more to come, with lunch at the magnificent wine estate of Quinta da Avessada. “We hand down Muscatel through the generations,” said owner Luis Barris, as he walked around the 100 year old warehouse. “The wines from my father are 50 years old. There are also wines from my grandfather that are 70 years old and from my great-grandfather that are 100 years old.” The wine was flowing at lunch, including grappa, a brandy made out of grape skins. As you can see from the pictures — grappa did not please my palate.
(Note: I told my daughter A that I really like Quinta for a destination wedding, if and when she gets married. The view alone is worth the trip. She smiled and humored me. I told her I might indeed be living in the small village since I might be writing my memoir there – so it really would not be expensive for me to attend.)
Our Last Trip To Lamego
On Saturday, we had our final trip to Lamego, “an ancient city of myths and miracles hidden in the mountains.” One of the highlights is the Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies, where devout worshippers go to pray high up on the hill. The shrine is reached via a 686-step double staircase. “The staircase represents all the challenges we face in life,” said our guide Elia. “People ask for healing by walking up on their knees and going inside the church.” I chose to walk down the hundreds of steps instead – that was enough penitence for me.
A Local Market Tour
During our time in Lamego, I joined Chef Carlos for a local market tour. We went from stall to stall as he detailed the different ingredients from selecting fresh sardines (if you hold the sardine in one hand and it doesn’t break then it is very fresh) to how to eat a yellow bean (squeeze and take off the skin). He also explained how sacred Portuguese bread is to the meal. “Portuguese buy bread at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They never eat the bread for breakfast at another meal. They use the old bread for a recipe ingredient. They never throw food away.”
Chef Carlos told us that he works with local markets to select and prepare a majority of his menus. In fact, when we arrived back at the ship for lunch, we were treated to a special salmon that had been purchased at the market and then cured in salt.
Farewell To Portugal
Before long it would be time to say adieus to Portugal. Sadly we had to pack our bags after dinner. “Throughout this week we found new friends, new food, new places, new cultures,” said Jorge. “The crew had fun. You had fun. There is always a smile that makes you long for the next moment. Take your memories with you. You are now ambassadors for Portugal.”
I hope I have stayed true to Jorge and been a good ambassador. I definitely plan to return to Portugal one day and hope that my blog posts and pictures these past few weeks have given you a pleasurable peek of this beautiful country and the Douro river. If I have wet your appetite and made you want to travel and explore more during your life after 50, 60, 70, and even into your 80s and 90s, like some of my fellow passengers, then I have done my job. Life on the river is peaceful, you should try it.
Now for the best part – my boyfriend L and I made it through 10 days together on our first-ever international trip and we’re still together. “What did you think?” I asked L upon our return. “I liked it,” he said. “Where are we going next?” I said. “There are many more rivers around the world – the Rhine, the Rhone, the Danube, the Yangtze. I’m ready when you are.”
P.S. For more posts about my trip to Portugal, use the search on my home page.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” Viking River Cruises provided me with a complimentary press trip river cruise on the Douro. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.