Monday, April 8, 2013

Groundhog Day? Portugal Again!

Last time we went to Portugal, we honestly thought it would be the last. As we drank our last Delta coffee and stuffed the last custard tart down our gullets, we said our farewells to the land of Port. But, as it happens, we have just spent another 2 days in this beguiling country.

This time it really is the last trip to Portugal (honestly). From Tordesillas it is only 100kms to the border and there was a part of Portugal we hadn’t seen, so we took our bright blue ice-cream van (aka the hired Citroen Picasso) across to Miranda do Douro, where the Spanish Duero becomes the Portuguese Douro. We checked into the Pousada and watched Egyptian Vultures swooping in the deep gorge below us searching for easy prey.
View of Douro/Duero from our Pousada
From there we drove to Braganҫa in north-east Portugal. The town itself is unremarkable except for a wonderful castle / citadel on the hill that is a joy to wander around. We found a brilliant little hotel – La Tulipa – for 45 euros a night including breakfast, free parking and Wifi.
Braganca Castle
The real surprise was the restaurant where we ate both nights. Serving delicious local specialities, we were in foodie heaven – again! The real winner for us was the wine collection. We could simply fossick amongst the wine shelves and decide which local aged wine we would drink. The first night we had a 1998 Douro for 9 euros to accompany our meat fest. We both had so much meat on our plate it was impossible to do it any justice. The second night we shared an entrée and main course and chose another beautifully aged local wine. The entrée was an unusual local sausage served with a mountain of baked potatoes. The main course was veal loin cooked on a stone, served very rare, cooking slowly to perfection at your table. The cost was around 35 euros (including wine) and still we could not eat it all.

We spent a fun half hour after dinner with a local English teacher helping her to translate the menu into English. Most of you will know how tricky it is to translate menus, and the results can be hilarious for the unwary. We’ve seen some classic ‘Google Translate’ menus. As a reward the lovely hotel patron gave us a bottle a wine as he could see that we were very keen on the regional wines.

We also persuaded him to sell us some wines of the shelf and walked away with 4 bottles of aged wine from ‘Douro’ and ‘Tras os Montes’ at an average of 10 euros per bottle. Incredible value and worth so much more to us.

Speaking of funny translations, we were recently directed by a brochure to the ‘historic helmet’ (Casco Historico) – or more commonly translated as the historic centre of town.

We spent a wonderful day driving in the very NE corner of the country and crossed into Spain several times (mostly by accident). We drove through ancient villages with tumbledown houses and crooked bridges, with snow capped sierra in the background. We naturally found a taberna for lunch serving wild boar and rice stew (we also had to buy some local goat cheese). It was the warmest day we’ve had for a long time and I could walk about unencumbered by a puffy coat. In the last month the thermometer has struggled to reach double figures. 
NE Portugal looking across to Spain
Ancient Portuguese Village
Lunch in Gimonde Taberna

On the way back we stopped at Zamora in Spain to see some wonderful Romanesque churches. We could only get into one – but it was perfectly preserved and untouched by the gothic, baroque, renaissance  ‘enhancements’.

Zamora also surprised us with the food. We meandered about hungry and aimless for a while before we found the ‘restaurant district’. Of course, it was centred at the Plaza Mayor where we wandered into a tapas bar. Oh boy! – those tapas were some of the best we’ve eaten. Simply delicious and so cheap.

Last week, back in Ribera Del Duero we also had a wonderful meal at a winery- amazing melt-in-the-mouth roast lamb with a bottle of their own wine. It was so good we went back for a winery tour the next day.
Roast Lamb!
Tomorrow we have managed to score a visit to Vega Sicilia. Most of you will know that this is Spain’s most expensive and most celebrated wine. I’m keen to find out why! I’m not sure if we’ll get to taste any of the revered nectar – but I sure hope so. My next blog will be from Logrono, Rioja Baja, so will definitely report on our success in this pursuit.

I think it’s time for the ‘vege and water’ diet again – has to happen soon.


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