I don’t mean to sound bougie, but the fact is I have been to several wine regions throughout the world. However, the Douro Valley might be my favorite. The rolling hills with terraced vineyards follow the curvature of the Douro River. It creates an effect almost like a verdant Norwegian fjord. Okay, I’ll cut myself off. I’m sounding snooty even to myself. I’m just saying, it’s pretty.
Airbnb is my go-to site for lodging but they’ve also started offering ‘experiences’ as an additional service. You can sign up for various activities like walking tours or cooking classes. Since Carolyn and I hadn’t done much in the way of research for Porto, we turned to Airbnb and booked a Douro Valley wine excursion. There were several on offer but this one included a boat ride and listed they could accommodate special diets: vegetarian (me) and gluten-free (Carolyn). Sold!
The evening before our tour, we received an email with information on how to find our small group in the morning. It also mentioned that the weather forecast was calling for “very cold” temperatures which could be “even lower” on the boat ride. They encouraged us to bring a warm coat and layers — which we didn’t have. I immediately took to my weather app, because I was shocked the forecast could have changed so dramatically, so quickly. But, no. It was still supposed to be 67 degrees. These Portuguese folks wouldn’t make it in Michigan.
Our tour guides were charming young men. Jose (pronounced Joe-say which sounds a lot like “Josie” to my ears) had been an apprentice and this was his first time ‘leading’ the tour. Bruno co-founded the company so joined Jose for support. This made the tourist to tour guide ratio almost 3:1, which was perfect. Our group consisted of two Canadian women, a couple from York (England), and a student from Washington DC studying abroad in Barcelona.
We all quickly bonded over our shared appreciation of wine. As we drove out of Porto and deep into the Douro Valley, Jose shared facts and historical tidbits. I did not retain any of them, yet, was captivated by his story of visiting New York. He had been working on a cruise ship and it was docked in NYC for three hours. He hailed a taxi and spent $200 driving through the streets, seeing the city, and eating at a McDonald’s. The thing he thought was most exciting was to see a “yellow bus with kids, like in the movies.” I furrowed my brow and then realized he meant a yellow school bus. Something most Americans likely take for granted but must be distinctly American. Huh. I guess it takes traveling thousands of miles away to learn about your own backyard.
The Douro Valley views were spectacular. I brought my selfie stick along, and although Carolyn scoffed at first, I think she came to appreciate the wider angle we were able to achieve for our photos together. At least I did, and it’s my blog, so I’m sharing my perspective. The tour guides brought along some local pastel de nata and handed them out at the first lookout point. (You might remember me talking about these delicious treats in Lisbon.)
Finally, we made it to our first winery, Quinta da Foz. Their guide was brusque but endearing. He had a speech habit of saying, “It’s like this…” For example, “It’s like this, we have people stomp the grapes but they must do it in a synchronized, rhythmic way or it’s all wrong.” “It’s like this, there are many variations and distinctions of Port wine, but you will never be able to learn them all, today.” I may adopt the line. “It’s like this, by saying this phrase I’m indicating I am very intelligent and you need a bit of an explanation to better understand what I’m saying, but I wish to sugarcoat the fact that your knowledge is inferior.” The wine was delicious, so Carolyn and I both purchased bottles. Never mind the fact we were flying the following day to Morocco for a week and then back to the United States. Hello, fragile souvenirs.
Next up was the boat tour. We saw another bridge built in the style of the Eiffel Tower and more European names on Port warehouses. We also learned that the vineyards plant olive trees along the edge of the water as a means of protection for the grapevines. If a disease or bug invades the area, they will travel by water and start attacking the olive trees, first. Smart. Plus, who doesn’t love olive trees? On the boat, we enjoyed more wine and a spread of meats, cheeses, and fruit. I had happened to sit near the front of the boat (aft? stern?) so was able to enjoy maximum sunshine. I swear I wasn’t trying to do a photoshoot but it sort of turned into one. You’ll see what I mean in the pictures.
After wines at the vineyard and wine on the boat, it was time for wine at an olive oil farm. This one also came with a veritable feast from the owner, Fatima. She was part of the ninth generation to carry on the family’s tradition in the same home. Check out my picture of the ornate family tree. Carolyn and I had our fill of gluten-free and vegetarian treats, along with more wine. We toured the warehouse facilities and I was enamored with the Laverne and Shirley-type operation amidst the backdrop of a gorgeous, rolling-hills landscape. I can see why nine generations would choose to call this spot home.
Needless to say, it was a sleepy ride home after all of our wine tastings. We got back to the apartment and decided to put on our PJs and order-in food. I pulled up my food delivery app (let’s be honest, apps) and found a Thai place that looked good. It was a 70-minute wait but that sounded better than putting on real clothes. I kept my phone in front of me to watch the progress while Carolyn and I gabbed about all sorts of random topics. “Oh! The driver is picking up our order! Should be here in 10 minutes! Yay!” led to 20 minutes later, “Hey! They just canceled our order!” I guess because my phone number was not local, when the driver arrived, he was unable to call me. I hadn’t received an alert in my app that the driver had arrived, which is precisely what I told the customer service rep. She refunded the order and re-submitted the order to the same restaurant. I can just imagine the cook being like, “Uhhh, didn’t I just make this same gluten-free, vegetarian order?” Regardless of what the cook must have thought, it was sent out to us, and this time I was at the door waiting when our food arrived, almost 3 hours after first placing the order. But, they say good things come to those who wait, and it’s true. Our food tasted more delicious because of the fact we were in our PJs and sipping the last bit of our complimentary Port from our Airbnb host.
As we settled into bed for the night we mused about what fun we’d had in Porto and the Douro Valley. Carolyn, an equally type-A planner, gave me the best compliment I could have asked for, “Hey, Josie. Thanks for organizing the wine trip today. That was really great.” Ah, to be appreciated for doing what you love.
Sweet dreams, Portugal. Tomorrow, Morocco.