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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Alentejo – Open Fires and Warm Hospitality

The Delicious Simplicity of Alentejo

The Nuns and Tarts of Alentejo

Port, Porto and culinary culture

Porto – Harry Potter was born here

Portugal – A world of flavours

Taylor’s Port and Fladgate Hospitality

Vila Vita Parc - Wining and Dining in The Algarve

Vila Vita Parc and Herdade dos Grous

Vila Vita Parc Resort Algarve

The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal

The Yeatman Hotel and the first couple of Port

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Travel Reviews
- Portugal

On this page:

Alentejo – Open Fires and Warm Hospitality

The Delicious Simplicity of Alentejo

The Nuns and Tarts of Alentejo

Port, Porto and culinary culture

Porto – Harry Potter was born here

Portugal – A world of flavours

Taylor’s Port and Fladgate Hospitality

Vila Vita Parc - Wining and Dining in The Algarve

Vila Vita Parc and Herdade dos Grous

Vila Vita Parc Resort Algarve

The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal

The Yeatman Hotel and the first couple of Port


Port, Porto and culinary culture

Portugal bridge You might have visited Porto in Portugal before but it’s worth another look, and perhaps with food and drink in mind this time. There has been more investment lately in this vibrant town, which exudes character and charm.

During the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal was a leading European power, ranking with England, France and its neighbour Spain. The architecture here in Porto still reflects the grandeur and opulence of those days.


Sweet treats

But let us consider Portuguese food. There are many sweets and cakes in Portugal but there is probably only one of which every tourist will have heard. It’s ubiquitous across the country: it’s the Portuguese Custard Tart or, to give its local name, pastéis de nata. It is believed that pastéis de nata were created centuries ago by monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the parish of Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. They are rather rustic-looking with a slightly burnt top, but they are addictive.

portugal custard tart There are some other outstanding desserts, too, such as Portuguese rice pudding. This is made with a short-grain rice such as arborio. It’s slowly cooked and is creamy with egg yolks, and flavoured with lemon peel.

Another favourite is a custard dessert called Leite Crème. It’s made on the stove top rather than being baked and it’s finished with a caramel crust made with a sprinkle of sugar and heat from a grill or a traditional metal plate. It can be found in shops, but it’s mostly made at home.


For the Carnivore

But what of restaurants in Porto? If one is looking for a meat fest and the best location then go to RIB - Beef & Wine. It is exactly what one would expect – a restaurant with both inside and outside seating, and offering a variety of steaks and side dishes, and right by the River Douro. Rib Eye is rich, marbled, juicy and with a good depth of flavour.

portugal RIB Beef & Wine
Praça da Ribeira 1
4050-513 Porto
Portugal

Phone: +351 22 340 2300

Opening Hours:
Monday – Thursday: 12:30pm-3pm, 7:30pm-10:30pm
Friday – Saturday 12:30pm-3pm, 7pm-11pm
Sunday 12:30pm-3pm, 7:30pm-10:30pm


Taste of the Sea

Fish is big in Portugal and the country is full of speciality seafood restaurants, many with extravagant counters of shrimp, oysters, and crabs, along with white fish such as hake and the ugly barnacles called percebes.

portugal Fish resto An outstanding fish restaurant is Os Lusíadas. It has, along with the seafood counter, a lobster tank from which one can choose one’s own dinner, or perhaps take one home for a pet. This bright and airy restaurant is popular with locals; this is real Porto and therefore it provides traditional good-quality food rather than tourist fare. If you want a burger then keep walking. Order a seafood platter with all those fresh goods from the counter, and then perhaps move onto the salt-crusted seabass. The restaurant is located in Matosinhos, next to one of the major national fishing ports, so you know the ingredients for your sumptuous meal will be the freshest.

Opening times
Noon to 15h30 for lunch
19h00 to midnight for dinner

Os Lusíadas
Rua Tomás Ribeiro,
257 4450-297 Matosinhos
Portugal 

Phone: +351 229 378 242
Fax: +351 229 375 641
Email: info@restaurantelusiadas.com

Visit Os Lusíadas here


Not forgetting...

But wait! There is something else apart from seafood for which Porto is famous – and that’s the eponymous Port!
Portugal’s wine industry has a close relationship with the British, dating back, in the case of Taylor’s Port, to the 1600s. Wines were first shipped to England as far back as the 12th century and in 1386 the Portuguese and the English signed the Treaty of Windsor which promoted close diplomatic ties between the two countries and opened the door for further trade.

portugal taylors barrel There are many theories regarding the origin of Port – one of the most popular is the story of a visit in 1678 of English wine merchants to a monastery on the banks of the Douro River. They were looking for wines to ship back to England and they happened upon an abbot in Lamego who was producing a wine that was totally new to the merchants. The Abbot of Lamego was fortifying his wine during fermentation instead of after, which was the practice for other wines. The abbot’s method killed off the active yeast, leaving the wine with high levels of residual sugar. This produced a potent wine with sweetness that was bound to be to the 17th century English taste.

Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in that specific Douro region. These days there are robots that are used by some growers to tread the grapes, but many producers prefer the traditional method of treading the grapes by foot in a tank called lagares. The juice starts its fermentation, and the wine produced is then fortified by the addition of a grape brandy (although this is not your regular brandy but a spirit distilled especially for the wine industry). It is added in order to stop the fermentation, to allow sugar to remain in the wine, and to increase the alcohol content.

Taylor’s is one of the oldest of the founding Port houses and perhaps the best known. No visit to Portugal would be complete without a trip to the Taylor’s Visitors’ Centre. It offers self-guided tours of the cellars as well as a museum and tasting opportunities.

Taylor’s Port
Visitors' Centre
Rua do Choupelo nº 250
4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia
Portugal

Tel. +351 223 742 800
Fax. +351 223 742 899

Visit Taylor’s Port here

Porto is accessible for tourists who want to walk. The streets are lined with traditional cafés, bars, restaurants as well as bread and pastry shops. Every neighbourhood seems to offer gastronomic opportunities.

TAP Portugal flies direct from London Gatwick to Porto 13 times a week, prices start at £42 one way including all taxes and surcharges.

For further airline information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932

For further destination information, visit visitportoandnorth.travel


food and travel reviews

Porto – Harry Potter was born here

Yes, it’s true, dear reader! The boy with the lightning scar was conceived and born in Porto.

Lello Porto stairs This city is also known as Oporto and is the second-largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. In 2014 and 2017, Porto was elected The Best European Destination by the Best European Destinations Agency. It is an ideal city for a short break: one can spend a day on the northern bank of the Douro River in the old town and then the second day across the bridge in Vila Nova de Gaia.

One of Portugal’s internationally celebrated exports is fortified Port wine. It is named, unsurprisingly, after Porto, since the town was responsible for the bottling and export of this wine so prized by the British. But along with Port there are very good wines from the Douro valley, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafés offering local dishes.

But what is the Harry Potter connection? In 1991 Harry’s mum, J. K. Rowling, arrived in Portugal to work as an English teacher. It was in the fascinating city of Porto that she wrote a chapter in the Philosopher’s Stone, “The Mirror of Erised”. A walk around the old town and one can be persuaded that Porto was the model for various elements of the whole Harry Potter series.

Lello bookshop would be a must-visit store even if Harry had never seen the light of day. It’s thought that J. K. was inspired by seeing this architecturally unique bookshop, and plenty of other folks have been, too, it seems – it’s been designated the third most beautiful bookshop in the world by The Guardian and Lonely Planet. I would love to see those that made it to first and second place: Lello sets the bar very high!

The staircase in the centre of the shop is said to have given the idea for the Hogwarts staircase, and it certainly is sumptuous. Designed in the distinctive Gothic Revival style, the shop is full of wooden shelving and carved pointy Gothic arches. The ornate flight of stairs has red-carpeted treads, the book-laden shelves create just the ambiance of Harry’s school library. Such has the J.K. Rowling urban myth flourished that these days there is an entrance fee for those just wanting to have a look. Perhaps an Invisibility Cloak would be in order. One can’t help but imagine that the locals who would just like to buy a copy of The Concise Guide to Portuguese Politics (OK, I made that up) must be quite put-out!

Lello Porto store Outside Lello’s there are narrow streets that will doubtless remind one of characterful Diagon Alley where Harry and his friends purchased wands, books and owls. There are plenty of mysterious characters around, wearing cloaks and wandering about in groups. No, you haven’t been transported to another world: they are university students, and between September and the end of May those cloaks are their sartorially elegant uniforms. Harry and his fellows also wore cloaks and J.K. may have taken her inspiration from the Porto students.

Tourists might visit Porto the first time for Harry Potter and Port wine, but they will likely return to enjoy more of the vibrant river front, architecture and café culture. It’s a city with more faces than a three-headed dog called Fluffy.

TAP Portugal flies direct from London Gatwick to Porto 13 times a week, prices start at £42 one way including all taxes and surcharges.

For further airline information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932

For further destination information, visit visitportoandnorth.travel

Visit Lello here

Livraria Lello
R. das Carmelitas 144
4050-161 Porto,
Portugal


food and travel reviews

The Delicious Simplicity of Alentejo –
the food and drink of forgotten Portugal

We live life at a frantic pace and when we take a moment to reflect we muse on the quiet life, the good life, of life filled with gentler pursuits, and of time spent around the kitchen table. That good life is still evident in the Alentejo region of Portugal.

The Alentejo Bread is an indispensible part of meals in Portugal. It’s there on every table and for every meal. It’s even used as an ingredient in hearty dishes. Açorda Alentejana is one of the most traditional soups in Portuguese cuisine and comes from, as the name suggests, Alentejo. It’s a flavourful broth with coriander, in which soak large cubes of bread. The creation is finished with a topping of poached eggs.

The local bread is somewhat addictive with its open and slightly chewy texture and substantial crust. This is just about as far from your regular ‘white sliced’ as one could sprint, although that tasteless entity is taking hold even in this neck of the woods. But Alentejo’s traditional bread doesn’t make itself. It’s what one might describe as artisanal, so there must be an artisan doing the work, and that work is tough.

Joana Roque looks every inch a toddler’s dream grandmother. She has a substantial lap and bosoms, and a character that is as warm and welcoming as her wood-fuelled bread oven. Joana is in her mid-seventies and is bent through decades of hard graft. Her hands are like shovels – but gentle. She shapes the bread into rolls and loaves with a practised movement, with no wasted effort of crimping, slashing or unnecessary twiddles. This is daily bread.

These days, the oven output is around 3 dozen loaves per day. Even with the aid of her daughter it’s still a lot of dough to measure and mix. A few years ago Joana would make thousands of loaves per week but times change and now the ready-sliced in plastic is gaining ground. It’s ironic that those of us who have grown up on the spongy and tasteless stuff crave this authentic bread with a bit of character. Joana wonders what the future might bring.

Joana Roque
Rua do Meirinho Velho, no 12
7960-264 Vidigueira
Portugal
Phone: +351 284 085 029

Alentejo portugal
Barrancarnes – Cassa do Porco Preto offers an insight into another Alentejo product: its famous black pigs. These are special in the same way as are Champagne and Stilton cheese: they are unique and prized. The Alentejo breed is a descendent of the sus mediterraneus wild boar from the south, that were domesticated to become modern Iberian pigs.

These pigs have not crossed with other breeds and therefore they retain unique characteristics of meat and fat to produce a particular flavour, aroma and texture. The marbling of fat throughout the meat is key.

One can see the pigs roaming freely under oak trees in fields near the town. They live on the acorns and there is a mathematical formula to calculate how many pigs can graze in any particular pasture. Each tree is assumed to give so many kilos of acorns and each pig is assumed to eat so many kilos per day, thus one knows how many pigs can be sustained in the area.

This company was established in 1988 and deals exclusively with the production of meats from the Black Pig of Alentejo breed. There are now two factories in Barrancos, one for hams, pork loin, Paiola, Copita, Paio, and the other for more traditional pork products.

If you want to know how to carve and taste authentic quality ham from Alentejo then watch the video here.


alentejo The landscape of Alentejo speaks so much about its food. The aforementioned pigs gather under oak trees; the cork trees, found in abundance here, still provide the natural seal for bottles of excellent local wine; and the vines provide that wine. And then there are the groves of olive trees with their silver-grey leaves and gnarled bark.   

The Museu do Azeite (Olive Oil Museum)  in Moura shows the methods of extracting olive oil through the ages. It is evident that, in general, olive oil is far more delicious these days than a century or so ago. One can see large bins where local growers would deposit their olive harvest. Those olives might have been collected over a period of several days and might wait another day or so before being pressed. This delay resulted in deterioration and the beginning of fermentation of the olives, giving a rather disagreeable taste in the finished product.

These days the olive oil of the region is revered as some of the best in Europe. It’s sampled and tasted by experts who sip from blue glass so as not to be distracted by the colour of the oil, which can range from gold to green. It is then designated as Extra Virgin, Virgin or just olive oil.

To learn more about the olive oil of Alentejo visit the museum.

Olive Oil Museum
Rua São João de Deus,
Moura 7860-001
Portugal
Phone: +351 285 253 978


Alentejo The vineyards and wines "Encostas de Estremoz" were founded by José Castro Duarte and his wife, Joana Silva Lopes. It’s an estate of 100 Ha where the couple  work with leading Portuguese winemaker, Miguel Reis Catarino.

This is one of the friendliest wine estates in the area. They contrive to combine commercial production with warm hospitality. The tasting salon is rather like a small sitting room with comfy chairs and even a TV. One is educated in the ways of the local wines but without the stiff formality of some other establishments.

All wines are produced at the Quinta da Esperança vineyards in Estremoz, where new techniques of production are found next to traditional methods. This domain’s wines were first presented in 2001 with Encostas de Estremoz Red, and Encostas de Estremoz White.

In 2002 another red wine was launched: Terras de Estremoz. This wine is made from the Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon and Trincadeira grapes. In 2004 the collection increased to showcase local grape varieties.  Encostas de Estremoz features not only the Touriga Nacional grape, but Touriga Franca, Alicante Bouschet, Tinta Barroca and Trincadeira.

In 2006 the estate presented their celebrated red wine called DJ Encostas de Estremoz Reserva, and DJ Encostas de Estremoz Quinta da Esperança.

My particular favourite is their Terras de Estremoz Rosé. This is an ideal wine for those hot summer evenings, the chill of the wine forming a dew on the glass, and the contents mirroring the blush of the setting sun.

This estate is well worth a visit                                 

Quinta da Esperança
7100-145 Estremoz
Estremoz
Évora 7100-145
Portugal
Phone: +351 268 333 795
Fax: +351 268 333 754

The products here are simple, but that does not mean that they are lacking in quality. They are full of flavour and deserve to be recognised in the same way as produce from their richer European competitors.

For more information visit:
Sunvil Discovery 
Alentejo Promotion Office
and
TAP Portugal

food and travel reviews

Alentejo – Open Fires and Warm Hospitality – Where to stay

Portugal restaurant review Pousadas de Portugal is a network of quality and characterful hotels that give the guest a chance to experience unique charm. The group was started in the 1940s and now has forty-three properties. The network is mostly owned by the Portuguese government but managed by a private group, Grupo Pestana Pousadas.

The first Pousada was opened in April 1942 in Elvas, in the Alentejo, and this region still boasts the largest number of historic inns.

 

São Francisco de Beja

This hotel is a former Franciscan monastery. São Francisco de Beja dates back to the thirteenth century. In November 1268 the monastery was started on the initiative of the Captain-General of Beja, Lopo Esteves. The land where the monastery was built was originally outside the city but now the houses and shops have grown to join this striking building.

The building was started in the reign of King Afonso III, who died in 1279 but left a gift of fifty pounds to the convent. In 1302 King Dinis build a chapel in honour of St. Louis. In 1834 Portugal abolished the male religious orders and in 1850 it became the barracks for the army, who set about ruining the work of generations.

The project to restore this Pousada was undertaken ​​between 1993 and 1995 and now the Pousada de Beja, São Francisco, is a striking hotel right in the centre of the city. It still shows the original gothic architecture of the monastery with  high ceilings, exposed stonework and white walls, but the rooms are a lot more comfortable than those used by the monks of old.

Portugal restaurant review The monks’ cells have been remodelled into contemporary bedrooms with tasteful hints of their ancient incarnations. Shutters on windows, classic fabrics, the best of linen help to pamper the guest, who will appreciate the most radical of refurbishments …the addition of a modern and spacious bathroom!

The Pousada São Francisco de Beja has a total of 35 rooms: 30 standard rooms, 4 superior rooms and 1 suite. The public spaces are imposing and act as a showcase for historic artwork and artefacts. The dining room is in the old monastery refectory and has seats for 60 or so diners. The tables are well-spaced, making this a convivial spot for either families or just romantic meals for two. The menu entices with contemporary plates and regional specialities.

Pousada de Beja, São Francisco
Largo D. Nuno Álvares Pereira
7801-901 Beja
Portugal
Phone:(+351) 284 313 580
Phone:(+351) 284 329 143
Email:guest@pousadas.pt

Visit Pousada de Beja, São Francisco here
 

Convento do Espinheiro in Évora

This is a stunner and in my opinion your unmissable lodgings for at least a part of any tour of Alentejo. Évora, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is only one hour away from Lisbon so it’s an easy hop from the airport to a most memorable hotel.

Convento do Espinheiro, or The Convent of Our Lady of the Thorn, is located on the outskirts of the neighbourhood of Canaviais, just a couple of kilometres from the historic centre of Évora. It dates back to the fifteenth century and legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared in a burning bush. In 1458 this place of pilgrimage established a monastery.

Portugal restaurant review With the dissolution of monasteries the building was abandoned and taken into Portuguese state ownership, to be sold to individuals for a negligible sum. It was eventually purchased by Manuel Gabriel Lopes, who undertook major restoration, making it habitable again. The chapel of Garcia de Resende is now also supported by local notables and used for celebrating religious festivals.

Currently reclassified as a five-star hotel, the former monastery retains many original features. The old cellar has given way to a restaurant; the ancient kitchen has been turned into a contemporary piano bar. The most striking of transformations is that of the cistern, or water storage tank, which has Gothic pillars and vaulted roofs. It now houses a wine ‘cellar’ displaying some of the best vintages the region has to offer along with a selection of fine wines from the rest of the world. Visit Cisterna Wine Bar and enjoy this unique space.

Divinus Restaurant is found in the monastery’s former wine-cellar. The columns and curved ceilings illuminated by gentle light create intimate spaces for dinner. Browse a menu that celebrates fresh local produce – it’s a sophisticated restaurant that still manages to remain cosy and welcoming.

Convento do Espinheiro offers a total of 92 guest rooms, including 6 suites. One can choose between modern vibe – said to be inspired by the colour and style of the ´50s – these rooms are in the new wing; or one can enjoy a more classic room in the original 15th-century monastery building. Both contemporary and classic rooms offer comfort and charm.

Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa ·
7002-502 Évora,
Portugal
Phone: 351-266 788 200

visit Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa here
 

Herdade do Sobroso Estate

Portugal restaurant review The Alentejo is hot in summer so consider a spring or an autumn tour for more gentle temperatures. The spring presents vineyards bursting with pale-green buds and fresh leaves, while the autumn offers crisp air, blue skies and the vibrant red of withering vine leaves. Herdade do Sobroso Estate allows the visitor to relax and enjoy nature during any season.

This is a working wine estate but your stay will be made memorable by liberal application of not only fine wine but delicious local foods, and log fires help to complete the picture of a rather high-end idyll.

Herdade do Sobroso Estate is typically Portuguese in many ways but the owners have evidently travelled the globe and have very fine taste in interior design, and in fact exterior design, as many of their more exotic purchases now decorate the covered terrace outside the main house.

Casa da Quinta is the name of the main house, which offers public spaces for enjoying a pre-dinner drink in front of the aforementioned log fire, a dining room and some guest rooms, too. Each room is different but all give the impression of home, granted an immaculately decorated home, but more individual and unique than many a chain hotel alternative.

Casa da Cegonha is independent from the main house and away from common areas. It’s popular with families as it offers cooking facilities so mums don’t have to worry that young travellers won’t enjoy unfamiliar restaurant food. They will be missing out on some rather special fare, though – Alentejo dishes paired with Herdade do Sobroso wines. Breakfast is also worth saving space for. Ignore the yoghurt and dive for the Portuguese custard tarts and local cakes. One can burn off the calories while walking around the 50 hectares of vineyard at Herdade do Sobroso. There is also the winery where you can sample and purchase the estate wines, olive oil, honey and jams.

Visit Herdade do Sobroso Estate here


Boutique Hotel O Poejo – Marvão

Portugal restaurant review This is a very individual boutique hotel in Alentejo, near to Marvão, a medieval town in Serra S. Mamede Natural Park. It’s not a rambling historic pile, but what it lacks in old grandeur it makes up for in confident and quirky design.

It’s a small hotel as the name would suggest but it’s thoughtfully presented and comfortably appointed. The 13 guest rooms and suite are all different with varying colour schemes and configurations of beds. It has the air of an intimate family-run establishment with friendly staff who will likely know you by name after a day or two.

Evenings can be spent snuggled by the fire in the sitting room, after enjoying a dinner of local lamb or fish. Breakfast is a buffet feast of cheese, ham, cakes, fruit, the usual continental suspects, along with some of the best bread to be found anywhere in the world. It’s tempting to linger over such a spread …and why not?

Boutique Hotel o Poejo
Av. 25 de Abril, Nº 20
7330-251 Santo António das Areias,
Marvão,
Alentejo, Portugal

Phone: (+351) 245 992 640
Fax: (+351) 245 992 500 / (+351) 245 99 22 76
Cell Phone: (+351) 96 855 96 65 / (+351) 96 855 96 74

Visit Boutique Hotel o Poejo here


For more information visit:
Sunvil Discovery 
Alentejo Promotion Office
and
TAP Portugal

food and travel reviews

The Nuns and Tarts of Alentejo, Portugal

Portugal is on the very edge of Europe and often overlooked in favour of its more vocal neighbour, Spain. But this country has so much to offer to the visitor. Striking landscapes flatter the eye, generous hospitality warms the soul, and gastronomy seems to be a well-exercised hobby practised by all.

Portugal restaurant review The Alentejo is an unspoilt and relatively unknown region of Portugal nestled next to the more celebrated Algarve. Its rolling hills, boulder-strewn pastures, groves of cork and olive trees and vineyards tempt one with the notion that good things to eat might not be far away.

In fact good food has been central to life in Portugal for thousands of years and was brought to the height of refinement in the Middle Ages in monasteries and convents. Arab and Jewish traders imported cinnamon from the East; almonds have always been in abundance; sugar was often a dowry paid when a novice entered the convent, as there was plenty of sugar coming from the Portuguese colonies. Egg whites were used to starch habits as well as for clearing wine, which left a surfeit of yolks. All the ingredients were available to create delicious sweets.

One might conjure an idyllic vision of plump, elderly, black-habited ladies with religious inclinations dividing their earthly hours between their devotions and a nice bit o’ cookin’ – but it seems there were other pursuits on the curriculum.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that young nuns and monks would look for romantic liaisons. Many of them didn’t sign up for religious orders following a spiritual awakening, seeing the heavenly light, or through divine inspiration. It was more often due to practical necessity. What does one do with the youngest son when big brothers have taken the land and taken up arms – the military being the second best option to staying home and swelling the ranks of the landed gentry? Send the boy to a monastery. What will become of an unmarried daughter? Off to the convent with her. There is a story about Sister Mariana Alceforado who lived during the 16th century. It is said that Mariana fell in love with a French army officer, Noël Bouton, and when he returned to France she wrote love letters to him. Later the letters were found and translated, and eventually became internationally published with the title ‘Letters of the Portuguese Nun’.

Portugal restaurant review But between passionate interludes, these nuns not only prayed but took pleasure in devising ingenious ways of using a relatively few basic ingredients to make signature desserts. Convents became famous for particular sweets that the nuns and monks sold as a means of supplementing their incomes. Pão de Rala looks like nothing more than a loaf of rustic bread but it has an amusing history. It was a speciality of the nuns of the Convento do Calvário in Évora. The name and shape of this famous cake have royal connections: King Sebastian visited the convent but, it being a poor order, they could only offer him olives, water and ‘thin bread’ (pão de rala). These days this Pão is constructed of an outer skin of almond-based paste with a filling of vibrant orange egg yolks, sugar, almonds and pumpkin. The outside is dusted with flour and browned to add an authentic-looking crust.

Pasteis de toucinho is another popular small cake. It’s made with pork fat: that might at first sound rather strange until one remembers that lard is often found in pastry partnered with butter. There is suet, too, which is organ fat found in traditional Christmas minced meat. Pasteis de toucinho has a richness from the lard, but fear not, my dubious reader, these treats taste nothing like a bacon sandwich.

But let us consider Portuguese tarts. There are many tarts in Portugal but there is only one that every tourist will crave – probably the only tart to be included on a globetrotter’s bucket list. It’s ubiquitous across Portugal and in every pastry shop around the world that might advertise itself as ‘Portuguese’. It’s the Portuguese Custard Tart or, to give its local name, pastéis de nata. These tarts are loved on every continent and particularly where Portugal has had colonies or trading interests, which include Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Goa in India, Malacca in Malaysia, and Macau in China.

Portugal restaurant review It is believed that pastéis de nata were created centuries ago by monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the parish of Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. In fact in Portugal they are sometimes also called Pastéis de Belém. Following the closure of many of the convents and monasteries after the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the production of pastéis de nata transferred to what is now the Casa Pastéis de Belém nearby. The former monks wanted to continue to produce the tarts and so patented and registered the recipe, while contracting the Antiga Confeiteira de Belém to produce them. The secret was given to only five chefs, who guarded this original recipe under the Oficina do Segredo (Office of Secrets).

At first glance these are quite rustic creations. The pastry is somewhat free-form, the filling tends to look a little overcooked. But it’s that combination of texture and taste that has assured the success of this tart down the centuries. The case is a type of puff pastry that retains a crunch when baked. The filling is rich with cream but light and flavourful. It seems such a simple concept but it’s worth seeking delicious authenticity.

The Alentejo is accessible, charming and relatively unspoilt. It is something of a culinary paradise, offering dishes that have remained unchanged for generations. Its sweets are a reflection of its history and culture, and are finding their place in the lexicon of European culinary treasures.

For more information visit:
Sunvil Discovery 
Alentejo Promotion Office
and
TAP Portugal

food and travel reviews

Vila Vita Parc and Herdade dos Grous

Vila vita herdade Vila Vita Parc enchants the guest with its exotic gardens; it invigorates the visitor with its pools and spa; it tempts with its food and wine. Those last two delicious elements will likely be at the very heart of your stay and they are key to the success of the company here in Portugal.

This five-star resort boasts a 2-Michelin star restaurant so one knows the food and presentation will be superb, and it’s no surprise that equal attention is paid to the wines. Portugal has much to offer in that regard but it’s still overlooked. There is more to the viticulture here than Mateus Rose, although I confess to having enjoyed a thoroughly chilled glass or two of that on hot evenings.

Most fine restaurants will claim to have a ‘cellar’ although this is, in truth, often a temperature-controlled closet off the kitchen. Vila Vita Parc has a real wine cellar (or Cave de Vinhos). It is almost a caricature of an ancient wine cellar: one thinks of low lights, cool brick walls, flickering candles and long-undisturbed bottles, and that’s exactly the reality here. It’s even more impressive when one appreciates that these walls, although genuinely old, have been transported here from Egypt, Austria and Greece. The-150year-old bricks have been re-built in gothic style to present a cosy and intimate space not only for learning about wine but also enjoying exceptional food with those vintages.

Vila vita herdade The Cave de Vinhos holds a stock of more than 11,000 bottles of wine in perfect conditions. This is a wine cellar and not a museum, so all these are available for purchase. The bottles portray the best wine-making skills from across the globe and include a fine selection of Ports. This fortified wine is enjoying a resurgence of popularity and has shaken off the dusty image of a too-sticky drink reserved for elderly relatives and usually at a funeral. People are taking a second look and finding it speaks very favourably to a younger, contemporary palate.

Vila Vita Parc owns its own farm and vineyard so has access to some noteworthy local wines. The striking estate of Herdade dos Grous, or Estate of the Cranes, is found some miles away in Alentejo. The origin of its name, “Além-Tejo”, literally translates to “Across the Tagus”. The region is separated from the rest of Portugal by the river Tagus and the area is known as the bread basket of Portugal.

One will notice a change in the landscape as one travels from the Algarve to Alentejo. There are gently undulating hills punctuated by well-spaced trees – these are often cork, which still represents the stopper of choice for the wine industry, but it is being increasingly used in the manufacture of goods that one would normally find made from leather.

Herdade dos Grous covers an impressive 1700 acres or so of this fertile land. It has a sizable lake, vineyards and olive groves that add to the sense of natural calm but this isn’t a vista designed for the visitors, this is a working farm and vineyard that produces some very creditable and prize-winning wines.

Vila vita herdade Alentejo is home to old grape varieties such as Trincadeira: it has been chosen as one of the main varieties here as it suits the hot summers, but it has also had a long history in Douro where it is known as Tinta Amarela.

The establishment of the estate and the cultivation of the vines began in 1987, with the extensive wine cellar being added in 2005. Oenologist Luis Duarte has a remarkable talent and has presented wines of great character. Wines like Moon Harvest (a pure varietal Alicante Bouschet) and 23 Barricas (from Syrah and Touriga Nacional) are exceptional. Luis Duarte has been awarded the title Winemaker of the Year twice so far – the only winemaker in Portugal to have achieved this.

There are plenty of horses on the farm and they are there for the riding enjoyment of visitors rather than for culinary purposes, but there are lots of grazing animals that are destined for plates here and at Vila Vita Parc. The cattle on this estate produce Carne Alentejana, a well-known and appreciated quality of beef. The European Union recognises the meat as a Portuguese Protected Designation of Origin brand. It’s a bit like authentic champagne only coming from a particular area. There are also local sheep called Merino Regional, pigs and some emus, but they seem to be more for decorative purposes.

Meat from Herdade dos Grous also fills the cool-room at the traditional German restaurant located a couple of miles from the main Vila Vita Parc (transport provided). Biergarten is a little bit of Germany transplanted, that one might be surprised to find in the Algarve, but the owners of the group are German and the food here showcases the produce of Herdade dos Grous admirably.

Vila Vita Parc On the menu are handmade sausages, schnitzel and knuckle of pork and if you are a local you can take advantage of the butcher and gourmet shop, which offers prime cuts of meat in addition to those sausages. This is a spot for more souvenir hunting as they stock wine and food gifts from the estate. The gourmet shop is open from Tuesdays to Fridays from 15:00 to 18:00.

Vila Vita Parc and Herdade dos Grous offer two faces of hospitality and culinary excellence. Each venue has its own style and will appeal to those who appreciate attention to detail. Herdade dos Grous would make a delightful winter, spring or autumn break for those who want to take leisurely walks through vines, go riding, or relax with a good book – and always with the prospect of an excellent meal. Vila Vita Parc has a host of facilities for all the family and indeed all year round. Its selection of restaurants offers a gastronomic extravaganza for any traveller with a refined palate. Both offer the stuff of which memories are made, and those memories will undoubtedly feature some rather good wines.

Herdade Restaurant
Opening hours:
Lunch - Monday to Sunday 12:30 to 14:30
Dinner - Friday to Sunday 19:30 to 21:30

Herdade dos Grous
Albernôa
P-7800-601 Beja
Portugal

Phone: + 351 284 96 00 00
Email: info@herdade-dos-grous.com
Visit Herdade dos Grous here

restaurant review Vila Vita Parc
Rua Anneliese Pohl,
Alporchinhos
8400-450 Porches
Algarve
Portugal

Phone: (+351) 282 310 100
Telefax: (+351) 282 320 333
Email: reservas@vilavitaparc.com

Visit Vila Vita Parc here

food and travel reviews

Vila Vita Parc - Wining and Dining in The Algarve

restaurant review We, cold souls, languish in northern Europe, longing for holidays offering bright sun and vibrant food. Look at any Mediterranean travel brochure and along with gold-fringed beaches there will be images of food.

But there is an alternative to the now-crowded Med: the Atlantic. Yes, dear geographically challenged reader, that might conjure visions of grey sea and a sinking Titanic, but consider the country on the same latitude as the Mediterranean but with unspoilt stretches of sand, refreshing summer breezes and food that can compete with anything from France, Spain or Italy.

Portugal in general will tick boxes for any food-loving tourist. It’s a large country that offers different landscapes and therefore varied agriculture down its considerable length; and then there is the sea, which borders on two sides. The Algarve, in particular, presents a wealth of dining opportunities from land, vine and ocean.

Vila Vita Parc is described as a resort and it boasts 5 well-deserved stars. Its food mirrors the quality of its accommodations and facilities. The guest is presented with outstanding grazing from breakfast to dinner. Wine-lovers will not feel the need to wander, as this 2-venue establishment is proud of its cellars and indeed its vineyard (more of that to follow).

One might like to start the day at The Bela Vita which is on the ground floor of the Main Building. This restaurant allows guests to enjoy breakfast sitting on a sunny terrace with views of the exotically planted grounds displaying enough tall palm trees to make any homesick Polynesian feel quite content.

restaurant review The morning spread reflects the national makeup of those staying at Vila Vita Parc. There are hot dishes that will likely be the chosen fare of the British and Americans, and those include freshly made omelettes and fried eggs along with crispy bacon and perhaps a side of waffles. One does, after all, need sustenance for an arduous day of basking in the sun, dipping in the pool (although that could be dippings in plural pools as this resort is blessed with many), an energetic spa treatment or an exhausting round of golf. Perhaps add a fruit smoothie to that cooked spread.

Scandinavians and Germans will enjoy the extensive selection of pressed meats, cheese and smoked fish, perhaps topping some pumpernickel bread. Do try those local cheeses and cured ham; Vila Vita takes pride in supporting the local economy with everything from its linen and bath products to fresh local foods. Breakfast here can be a sampling adventure that one might normally find only in a high-end deli. You will discover a display of Portuguese cakes that change by the day and these should not be missed. There is chilled fruit for those who want to feel noble.

French visitors are not forgotten: there are croissants and pots of coffee.

restaurant review The Whale is a family-friendly restaurant and ideal for lunch, and its large summer terrace will ensure that you don’t miss any sun. There are breathtaking vistas of the sea, making this a spot that invites convivial lingering.

Gamberetti Fritti - fried shrimps in basil-garlic oil, lemon, African oil and 13 year-old balsamic vinegar served on ciabatta – should surely be a signature starter here. It’s spicy, and that bread soaks up the delicious dressing. You will likely be tempted to order this every lunchtime but then one would miss Risotto alla Milanese - saffron risotto with shrimps and herbs – and that would be a shame.

Pizza aficionados will be forced to admit that pizza from the wood-fired oven is superior to that which might arrive in a box on the back of a moped. Al Peperoncini - tomatoes, mozzarella, hot peppers, garlic, onion – will delight anyone with pizza cravings.

Those sea views will be a charming garnish to a main course of fish, as it is, unsurprisingly, a big feature of The Whale. The squid is particularly good here just simply grilled: it has not only its unique and delicate seafood flavour, but the attractive charring adds both texture and a rich taste. There is a cabinet with a display of the ‘catch of the day’ and the head waiter will offer amusing conversation and suggestions.

restaurant review Talking of the sea, Vila Vita Parc has a beach restaurant, Arte Náutica, that will allow guests to get close up and personal with sand, waves, weathered decking and more fresh seafood. This is off-site, but a complementary and frequent bus will drop and collect diners at Armação de Pêra.

This is a casual restaurant during sunbathing hours, but as the sun sets the ambiance changes to smart-casual, with bathing suits and sarongs being exchanged for cotton dresses and light linens. Yes, the focus is on the bounty of the ocean but there are carnivore-pleasing alternatives. The portions are generous but there is no hurry, so sit back and enjoy melon and ham, shrimps, grilled fish, and some summer cocktails. Dry white port with tonic water is highly recommended and marvellously complements the setting sun.

Ocean is Vila Vita Parc’s fine-dining signature restaurant and it proudly sports a brace of Michelin stars. It’s located in the Residence building and has commanding views of the sea and coast. It is an elegant salon with décor that is enhanced by the strikingly dressed guests, making an evening here deliciously memorable.

Executive Chef Hans Neuner heads Ocean and his attention to detail is evident from the first glimpse of his imaginative dishes. He values the array of local ingredients at his disposal and he transforms them into visually impressive and delicious creations that are almost too good to eat.

restaurant review Hans is a confident chef and introduces elements of whimsy into his cooking. One might find a seascape of lacy coral bejewelled with tiny shrimp. Perhaps one could be served with a lawn and an edible tree. There will be fish and meat expertly prepared and artistically garnished but all having perfectly balanced flavours.

Chef Hans Neuner was named Portugal’s Chef of the Year 2009 and 2012, and his team has been awarded two Michelin Stars. Ocean is celebrated for its polished and discreetly attentive service. The menu changes seasonally, offering new temptations even to its regular guests.  The wines complement the dishes and enhance what is, after all, an occasion.

Vila Vita Parc has a host of restaurants and bars to suit every taste. They offer a variety of menus and ambiance, the quality is universally high, and the staff are just as friendly at supper as they were at breakfast. A visit is a pampering experience, and a return is assured.

restaurant review Vila Vita Parc
Rua Anneliese Pohl,
Alporchinhos
8400-450 Porches
Algarve
Portugal

Phone: (+351) 282 310 100

Telefax: (+351) 282 320 333

Email: reservas@vilavitaparc.com

Visit Vila Vita Parc here

food and travel reviews

Vila Vita Parc Resort Algarve Portugal

Vila Vita parc One muses on holidays in Europe next year: perhaps France, as the south does have amazing weather and there is always the food. Perhaps a winter break to enjoy some bearable temperatures and maybe even some patches of blue sky. Spain has the ever-popular tapas as well as those vibrant cities of Barcelona and Madrid. Italy has had a loyal following since the dawn of The Grand Tour in Victorian times. But Portugal is often overlooked.


Portugal is diverse. There are, of course, all those elements that appeal to tourists who have become habitués of other southern European destinations. But it remains unique, with a wealth of unspoilt natural grandeur, more historic statues than one would want to shake a monument at, culture rich enough to satisfy a dedicated anthropologist, and food that is at last being taken seriously.


The Algarve is Portugal’s most southerly region. Its stunning Atlantic coast boasts hidden beaches of golden sand, rugged cliffs, and ocean caves and grottos. Even the name ‘Algarve’ has a story to tell, harking back to the Moorish conquest of the Iberian peninsula in 711. The Arab words ‘al-gharb’, meaning the land on the West has been corrupted to the now-familiar name. Any place-name starting in Al is likely derived from a North African original.


Vila Vita parc This is Portugal’s playground, but there is much more to recommend it than its magnificent beaches and world-class golf courses. Vila Vita Parc is a 5-star resort with its own beach attached, but it offers leisure opportunities far beyond a stretch of sand (although that particular stretch of sand is secluded and well appointed).


Vila Vita Parc mesmerises the world-weary guest with its tranquil gardens verdant with palms, Bougainvillea, and exotic succulents. Its manicured lawns are punctuated by swimming pools fringed by enough sun loungers to baffle any northern European with a towel, and one of those blue azure beauties is heated, helping to make Vila Vita Parc something of an all-year-round destination.


The thoughtful design of the 54-acre estate allows plenty of space for guests whatever their chosen pursuit. Even at full occupancy there is the illusion that the rest of the guests must be away on an excursion. It has the air of a Moroccan-inspired village. There are no high-rise buildings here and the well-established palm trees tower over many of the structures. There are meandering paths just wide enough to accommodate golf buggies, which are the only vehicles guests will see for the duration of their tranquil stay. Leave your car at home and fly to Faro airport which is only 40 minutes away, or Lisbon a couple of hours away. The hotel will meet and greet you in the arrival lounge.


Vila Vita parc Vila Vita Parc offers 180 luxury guest rooms, suites and villas: the main hotel houses 65 deluxe rooms and 8 suites, while a separate building called The Residence, on the edge of a cliff, offers 29 suites that include 26 with garden or sea view, two Townhouse Suites, and one Residence Grand Suite.


Oasis Parc is a veritable ‘neighbourhood’ of the aforementioned village, comprising a cluster of white two-storey townhouses. The ground-floor suite has a private garden while the top tempts with its own private roof terrace, complete with cushioned loungers and open-air shower. This is a place that invites guests not only to bask in privacy but to return to for pre-dinner drinks or after-dinner coffee.


All suites offer WiFi access, satellite TV, radio-CD player and alarm clock. All have a mini-bar and wall safe. The bathroom toiletries are Portugal’s contribution to bathing luxury – they are by the celebrated soap artisan Claus Porto, and that company can boast such discerning ladies as Michelle Obama among their followers.


With such attention to private bathroom detail, it’s no surprise that Vila Vita Parc takes its spa and health facility seriously. Options include steam and algae baths, saunas, whirlpools and a tepidarium. To contrast the tepid element there is an Ice Grotto that is actually full of snow and ice. There is also a particularly amusing foot spa. Both classic massage treatments and Far-Eastern techniques are available, as well as physiotherapeutic treatments to smooth knotted muscles.


Vila Vita parc The indoor pool allows guests to take part in resistance water training, and the EnerGym is fully furnished with exercise equipment to gladden the fast-beating heart of sporty sorts. For the rest of us who seek more gentle activity there are classes in Yoga, Pilates, TaiChi, aquarobics and stretching. Personal trainers are also available for advice.


The new HYPOXI®-Studio is the first and only one of its kind in this corner of Europe.
It offers a unique chance to sample the most sophisticated training method to achieve a perfect body. The programme is based on a moderate workout routine and a balanced nutrition plan.


Many adults without children might be concerned about choosing a resort which evidently welcomes younger visitors. Vila Vita Parc has plenty of space that is designed with kids in mind, so they’ll be out of the way of those seeking relaxing calm. There are bespoke kids’ pools as well as Annabella’s Kids Parc catering for 4- to 12-year-olds, and Natalie’s Crèche for babies and toddlers aged 6 months to 3 years. There are also play schemes designed to meet the sophisticated needs of youngsters aged 13 and over. The babysitting service will be welcomed by parents who also need some time away from those smaller folks.


On site there are facilities for the whole family: tennis and volleyball courts, mini-golf, a driving range, a putting green and a pitch-and-putt green. Golfers can also take advantage of more than 30 scenic championship courses in the area. Nearby are stables for horseback riding, and windsurfing, hiking and biking opportunities might also tempt.


Vila Vita Parc has a wealth of activities on land, on the beach and even at sea. This resort boasts its own 72-foot yacht which will allow guests a view of the iconic cliffs from the vantage point of the deck, and plenty of time to explore normally-inaccessible beaches and for swimming. The pampering continues with delicious food and wine to complement your bespoke excursion. One can expect something far more delicious than a ship’s biscuit and a flask of cold tea. This is an annex of Vila Vita Parc, after all!


Vila Vita parc Talking of food, Vila Vita Parc presents its guests with better restaurants than do some small towns. There are dining options to appeal to youngsters (and the not so young) who might consider themselves pizza aficionados, a restaurant specialising in traditional Portuguese dishes, a 2-Michelin-star restaurant that should not be missed, a beach restaurant dining experience, and even an authentic German beer-garden. Every taste is provided for, from the excellent breakfast buffet through to a local after-dinner digestif.


Places to go in the Algarve:

• Aljezur and Odeceixe on the Costa Vicentina, Europe’s surf retreat

• Monchique, a mountain retreat

• Silves, one of the Algarve’s earliest towns

• Alte and Querença, two quintessentially Algarvian villages

• The Guadiana River, part of the natural border with Spain

• Tavira, a historically fascinating city with great art treasures

• The Ria Formosa Natural Reserve

• The city of Faro, the Algarve’s capital

• Sagres, Europe’s south-western tip



Vila Vita Parc Address:
Vila Vita Parc
Rua Anneliese Pohl
Alporchinhos
8400-450 Porches
Algarve, Portugal

Phone: + 351 282 310 100
Fax: + 351 282 320 333
Email: reservas@vilavitaparc.com

Visit Vila Vita Parc here


food and travel reviews

The Yeatman Hotel and the first couple of Port

the yeatman hotel review The Yeatman doesn’t sound, to the ill-informed, a particularly Portuguese name for a hotel. One would more readily expect a name like “Henry the Navigator Inn” or “The Porto Paradise”. Do some homework and you’ll find that The Yeatman is steeped in Portuguese history that has drifted through half-a-dozen or so generations of transplanted British. That’s a marvel when many folks these days consider themselves aristocrats if they can trace their family all the way back to their father. Portugal is a country that has long had these strong British connections.

Natasha and her husband Adrian have been described as the ‘first couple of Port’. That might sound an extravagant monica but it truly sums up the regard in which these two are held. She is the eldest daughter of Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman’s chairman, Alistair Robertson, who inherited the business in 1966 following the death of Dick Yeatman, his uncle. Natasha is the seventh generation of the Taylor Fladgate and Yeatman dynasty and is the head blender for the Taylor Fladgate Partnership. Founded in 1692, Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman is one of the oldest port wine houses, and one of the largest. It owns the brands of Fonseca, Taylor, and Croft.

Yeatman hotel review Adrian met his wife in 1982 and joined the family firm in 1994. This was his third career, being first an officer in The 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards. He later worked in the banking industry and in 1994 he and Natasha moved to Portugal full-time, where he assumed responsibility for Taylor’s Port and Fonseca Port in the UK and USA arenas. In 2000, he formally took on the role of Managing Director of the Taylor Fonseca Port Group. Adrian is a keen sportsman and has represented Great Britain at bobsledding – one can picture him scudding down the Douro Valley through the vines.

In 2010, The Yeatman Hotel was finally launched. It’s an outstanding luxury wine hotel and has been Adrian’s project for over 5 years. It has evidently involved the whole family, as Natasha’s mum had much to do with the interior decoration and she has done a magnificent job.

One might expect this couple to be stiff and unapproachable. They are well used to the company of kings, politicians, notables from the world over. Adrian and Natasha both come from good “stock” but they are natural, friendly and put their guests at ease. They are passionately dedicated to showcasing quality hospitality in all its guises, and their staff have the same enthusiasm. Everyone is unobtrusively attentive and knowledgeable about the hotel, food and wine – this is, after all, a wine hotel.

The Yeatman is full of surprises. One approaches a hotel that gives the impression of a contemporary European bungalow. Step inside and the perception changes. A huge reception area with imposing staircase, pillars and statue of Bacchus greet the travel-weary. This striking lad must be an image of the god as a youngster: most other representations present him as a well-padded chap with hints of Santa. This “David”-like figure matches the elegance of his new home.

The yeatman hotel review The lifts pay homage to the Douro with images covering all sides with a 360-degree panorama. Another elevator takes younger visitors to the bespoke Kid's Club. That one gives one the impression of being lifted in a hot-air balloon. There is great humour in this hotel that could have been so dry, worthy, academic and remote, the preserve of the “old school”. The Yeatman will be appreciated by all those with a taste for the finer things of life but it has wide appeal. Older folks will enjoy the traditional luxury, couples can indulge in some pampering, and families can take advantage of the unbeatable location. It’s truly a hotel for all seasons.

The Yeatman is built on the sloping hillside opposite Porto city, in Vila Nova de Gaia (easy access across the bridge). It’s constructed with terraces replicating the distinctive vineyards of the Douro Valley an hour’s drive away. The Yeatman flatters and harmonizes with the landscape. This cascading design allows every room to take advantage of the terracotta-roofed cityscape across the river. The sun sets and the view changes to give a romantic ambiance to the private balconies.

The yeatman hotel review The public spaces act as a gallery for paintings and artwork reflecting the history of the region and the country in general, all impeccably displayed. There is a collection of roosters (the iconic symbol of Portugal) painted and embellished by students. Maps, watercolours, sculpture, and photography – it’s all found a home at the Yeatman.

There is so much here that gives a nod to wine, its production and consumption. The suites are named after wines, the walls are hung with wine-related pictures, and every room is sponsored by a producer. The 67 wine companies each take a turn hosting a Thursday evening wine-tasting dinner, which is very reasonably priced and popular with locals and visitors alike.

The 82 rooms are predictably well-appointed. Each one is different with individually-chosen soft furnishings, and books carefully selected for the edification and entertainment of guests. There will likely be a copy of Charles Metcalf’s Wines of Portugal and also a slim volume entitled 1066 and All That. At first glance that might seem a rather random literary inclusion but take a look at the cover: one of the authors is a Yeatman, and a relative of Natasha. This book continues the tone of the hotel in general – a mix of contemporary and classic features, of whimsy and substance.

The yeatman hotel review Adrian had sustainability at the forefront of this new build. Solar panels are used for heating water, and photovoltaic cells generate electricity to reduce consumption of the regular mains power. Low-energy lighting is installed throughout the building and rainwater is collected and stored for flushing loos and sprinkling the garden. A reverse-osmosis system converts tap water into purified drinking water, so the hotel is self-sufficient without the need to buy bottled ‘eau-not-so-naturelle’ with all its baggage of transport miles, processing and packaging.

This is the Yeatman so their full wine list is as thick as a bible and features around 800 Portuguese wines and 80 international wines. Their cellar is open for inspection for a couple of hours each day with a display of 25,000 or so bottles, many of which are unique and will be sought by the enthusiast. The racks are arranged geographically with some New World vintages in the corner at the back for those with no soul who would actually want a cheeky little Californian rosé when visiting this land of such memorable local wines.

The yeatman hotel review Along with fine wine goes fine dining. Chef Ricardo Costa is one of the leaders of a new generation of culinary innovators in Portugal, recently winning a Michelin star for The Yeatman. He attended the School of Hospitality and Tourism of Coimbra where he honed his technical skills and fed his passion for the artistry of food. He has graced the kitchens of several hotels and restaurants in mainland Portugal, Madeira, Spain and England before settling at the Yeatman.

It’s obvious that any chef would want to be at the helm of a kitchen in his home land, but I have the sense that Ricardo must be particularly pleased that his gastronomic ship is newly launched and has the most sophisticated, not to mention spacious, kitchen of any hotel. The owners have devoted an extraordinary amount of space to cooking. There are walk-in fridges aplenty and a specialist station for almost every course or function. There is even a space devoted to room service, and a separate kitchen just for breakfast.

The yeatman hotel review Ricardo offers dishes that are unmistakably special but he clings to the essence of Portuguese cuisine, tempting with flavours of traditional ingredients prepared and presented with delicious flair. His food entices and intrigues before calming and charming the diner. This is skilled cooking that, although cheffy, never forgets its origins. This is serious food that contrives to amuse but the bottom line is, most importantly, it tastes great.

We dined on shrimps and mackerel as starters. The Yeatman’s proximity to the Atlantic is evident in a menu with so many fresh seafood dishes. Lots here for the committed carnivore, though. The veal was blushing and tender in its pastry crust and the lamb chops should be a signature dish. The desserts were beautiful, and the vanilla ice cream, figs and diced sweet beetroot was a triumph. Do try the local cheese platter, and you might consider a glass of port to go along with that – I’m sure they’ll find one somewhere. The menu changes to offer guests the seasonal best from the market but be assured that Chef Ricardo will transform those ingredients into dishes with that unmistakable Michelin magic.

Smoking is not allowed in the public areas of The Yeatman but there is a haven for those wanting a fragrant after-dinner cigar and that’s The Study. OK, so it’s a change from the Victorian tradition of ladies retiring and leaving the gentlemen at table passing the port and puffing, but both ladies and gents will delight in spending a little time in this book-bedecked idyll.

The yeatman hotel review The Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa is just what you would expect of the Yeatman, offering a wide selection of wellbeing and relaxation facilities including a Roman bath, tepidarium, hammam, shower experience and sauna. Space to sit and unwind, a dip in the pool and a treatment can all be yours. Keeping with the theme there is even a staircase fashioned from a wine barrel, and the walls have ancient and gnarled vines as objets-d’art. Treat your body and mind with such programmes as a Barrel Bath immersion, or a Merlot Wrap. They take advantage of natural ingredients from the vineyard with their antioxidant properties, and many of the treatments can be enjoyed by couples. The lounging area will have you nodding off over that latest paperback or enjoying that celebrated panoramic view across the river to the city. A break at this hotel and spa will offer a romantic retreat and with such affordable luxury you could become regulars.

Adrian says he wants The Yeatman to be the foremost destination for Portuguese wine, and an ambassador for Porto and Portugal in general. I would say he has already succeeded and it’s still early days. It’s a platform of viticultural and culinary excellence with some really comfy beds.

The yeatman hotel review

Spa Treatments available:

Luxury Moment for Two

• Champagne Afternoon Tea

• Divine Duo Massage

• Gift

• Tea


Perfect Moment for Two

• Divine Duo

• Cranial Massage

• Gift

• Tea


5 Senses Moments for Two

• Grape Bath

• Crushed Cabernet Scrub

• Gift

• Tea

The yeatman hotel review
The property is a member of Relais & Chateaux.

The Yeatman Hotel
Rua do Choufelo
4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Phone: +351 22 013 3100
Fax: +351 22 013 3199
Visit The Yeatman here

food and travel reviews

The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal

Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter are a formidable team. I know of Charles from his numerous appearances on food-related shows like Good Food Live on the UKTV Food network. Kathryn has a wealth of experience as both a food and wine journalist and editor.

cookbook review I had expected this book to be just a guide to Portuguese wine, but it’s much more than that. It is, in fact, just what the title says, a guide for lovers of both wine and food. It’s a sumptuous and chunky volume that I find most appealing. There is no verbal or graphic padding, this is just cover to cover information, lovely photographs, and charm.

This book works on two levels. First, as a guide for those who are lucky enough to take a trip to Portugal and second, for the rest of us who want to know more about the country and its food and wine. I should say that this book will very likely encourage you to go to Portugal even if you hadn’t considered it before.

Kathryn and Charles lead us around every region of Portugal, introducing us to wineries, directing us to good restaurants, pointing out places of interest along the way, and escorting us to the most comfy places to spend the night. You’ll feel confident that you’re getting the most out of your visit.

Let’s take Douro as just one example. It’s a region in North East Portugal. There’s a large-scale map with places of food- and wine-related interest and accommodation clearly marked. Next it’s pages and pages of information about wine. Remember we are just looking at the wine of this small region and there is a handy list of wines to watch out for. The next section covers food and where to buy it, either in a restaurant (there is a comprehensive list) or at a market, deli or specialist food shop.

You won’t want to be eating and drinking all the time, so take notice of the Exploring Douro pages that are full of ideas to pass the time. Boat trips, train rides, spectacular views and even local festivals are all listed, and after a long day you’ll pick your guest house from the dozens reviewed, relax with a glass of Port and make plans for tomorrow.

Every element of this book had been meticulously researched by people who have an obvious love of Portugal, its wines and its people. It’s informative, fascinating and a thoroughly gorgeous book. I hope that Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter will consider writing similar guides for other wine-producing countries.

The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal
Authors: Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter (www.innhousepublishing.com)
Published by: Inn House Publishing
Price: £16.95
ISBN 978-0-9557069-0-5

food and travel reviews

Portugal – A world of flavours

It’s true that many British tourists are regulars on the beaches of the Algarve and they will say they love the country. Yes, they enjoy that little corner of this amazing land but far fewer visitors travel away from the resorts to discover the real personality of Portugal.

portugal review The Portuguese are the product of a complex melange of different civilizations during the past thousands of years. From prehistoric peoples to its Pre-Roman civilizations, contacts with the Phoenician-Carthaginian traders, the Roman annexation, the Germanic conquest, later the Visigoths, all added to the tapestry.

The Islamic Moors (mainly Berbers with some Arabs) from North Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711, destroying the Visigoth Kingdom. In 868, Count Vímara Peres reconquered the region between the rivers Minho and Douro, that area then being known as Portucale. In 1095 Portugal separated almost completely from the Kingdom of Galicia with which it had been combined. Its territory consisted mostly of mountains, wastelands and woods. By 1250 the Algarve, the southernmost region, was finally recaptured by Portugal from the Moors. In 1255 the capital was established in Lisbon where it remains. Portugal's geographic position in Europe has allowed its borders to remain stable for centuries, being unchanged by war or conquest since the 13th century.
 
Portugal is on the Atlantic edge of Europe. One has an uninterrupted view of America from the coast, or at least one would if it wasn’t for 3359 miles or 5405 kilometres (yes, I looked it up) of water between. It is therefore no surprise that Portugal was a world power during the "Age of Discovery”. It accumulated an empire with footholds in South America, Africa, and Asia. Its connections in these lands are reflected in its modern population as well as its food and culture. The Portuguese Empire was the first global empire in history, and also the longest-lived of the European colonial empires, spanning almost 600 years,

portugal review During the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal was a leading European power, ranking with England, France and its neighbour Spain. Portugal had its extensive colonial trading empire throughout the world backed by a powerful navy, but with the "Carnation Revolution" of 1974 (a bloodless left-wing military coup) broad democratic reforms were undertaken and Portugal granted independence to most of its Overseas Provinces (Províncias Ultramarinas).

In 1986 Portugal entered the European Economic Community and left the European Free Trade Association which had been founded by Portugal and its partners in 1960. The country joined the Euro in 1999. The Portuguese Empire ended de facto when Macau was returned to China, and East Timor was given independence, and many Portuguese returned from those newly established countries. The “retornados” now comprise a sizeable part of the Portuguese population.

That close association with the worldwide market and its cosmopolitan people have offered Portugal the opportunity to cultivate a unique and colourful cuisine taking advantage of its indigenous products as well as those from its colonies. Tomatoes and potatoes arrived from the New World and have become staples just as they are all over the rest of Europe. Pineapples were introduced to the Portuguese Islands of the Azores and coffee came from Africa via Brazil. But before that the Romans introduced onions, garlic, olives and grapes, and the Moors planted rice, grew figs, citrus fruit and almonds.

portugal review The national dish is "bacalhau": dried, salted cod from the cold northern waters of the Atlantic. It has a distinctive flavour which can become addictive. It’s been a Portuguese favourite since the early 16th century, when their fishing boats reached Newfoundland. The catch was dried and salted to preserve it for the voyage back to Europe. There are as many recipes for this delicious fish as there are days in the year, and it’s rare to find a menu that does not feature at least one version.

The country is full of speciality seafood restaurants, many with extravagant counters of lobsters, shrimp, oysters, and crabs along with white fish such as hake. Octopus is popular and chefs turn this unpromising article into tender and flavourful preparations.

Typical of Porto is tripe and it’s a product that you will likely have avoided. It is not to everyone's taste, admittedly, but has been Porto's traditional dish since Henry the Navigator sent ships to conquer Ceuta in Morocco. The population of Porto sacrificed all their animals to provide the crew with meat. This left those internal organs and frilly bits for the good folks of Porto. They have been known as "tripeiros" or "tripe eaters" ever since.

portugal review Breakfast is traditionally just cup of coffee and some bread or a pastry. Every street seems to boast a collection of bakeries that will entice with miniature custard tarts and yolk-yellow baked goods. Hotels provide the usual international spread of cheese, pressed meats and fruit along with croissants, but give that a miss at least once during your stay and join the locals.

Lunch is a leisurely break, at least at weekends. Office workers often only take an hour but even they will take longer if they can arrange a business lunch lasting more than a couple of hours. It is served between noon and 3 o'clock, and dinner is generally served from 8 o'clock. There are usually three courses, often including soup, the most common of which is "caldo verde" made with potato, shredded cabbage (this can be found ready-prepared in open markets), and pieces of sausage.

Porto has given its name to that fortified wine much beloved of the English. It is enjoying a revival and is now presented as not only the perfect accompaniment to strong cheeses and sweet desserts but chilled as an aperitif. White port has been appreciated as a summer drink for many years and it has recently been joined by pink port which can be served as a long cocktail with tonic.

Portugal is a food-lover’s paradise. It boasts a vibrant traditional cuisine taking advantage of the freshest of local produce from both land and sea. Wine aficionados will want to spend time in the Douro Valley where they can taste some of the best wine that the region has to offer. Porto’s restaurants will amaze with their artfully presented dishes and at prices that will assure your return.

food and travel reviews

Taylor’s Port and Fladgate Hospitality

Port is enjoying something of a revival with the addition of both white and pink varieties to its classic styles. It’s a wine with a unique history that has almost as much to do with politics as grapes.
 
With the exception of Port, Portuguese wine has been until recently relatively overlooked, unless we consider Mateus Rosé, and even that has been sought after more for its attractive bottle than for its contents. But there is Port and that has, it seems, been with us forever.

taylors port

Portugal’s wine industry has a close relationship with the British, dating back, in the case of Taylor’s Port, to the 1600s. Wine has been made in Portugal for, it is believed, at least two thousand years. By the 10th century BC the Phoenicians had arrived and introduced new grape varieties and winemaking techniques to the land that was later to become Portugal. The resulting wines were first shipped to England as far back as the 12th century and in 1386, the Portuguese and the English signed the Treaty of Windsor which promoted close diplomatic ties between the two countries and opened the door for further trade.

There are many theories regarding the origin of Port – one of the most popular is the story of a visit in 1678 of English wine merchants to a monastery on the banks of the Douro River. They were looking for wines to ship back to England and they happened upon an abbot in Lamego who was producing a wine that was totally new to the merchants. The abbot of Lamego was fortifying his wine during fermentation instead of after, which was the practice for other wines.  The abbot’s method killed off the active yeast leaving the wine with high levels of residual sugar. This produced a potent wine with sweetness that was bound to be to the 17th century English taste.

In 1693 the English were again at war with the French so King William III of England imposed crippling taxes on all French wines. This inevitably encouraged even more English wine merchants to find other sources, and a few found the Douro Valley.  With the increase in Port’s popularity came the usual problems of falling standards from adulteration, with some producers adding sugar and elderberry juice to the wine to increase the alcoholic content; grapes grown in other regions of Portugal or Spain were transported to Porto to be disguised as produce from the Douro. Once this practice became public knowledge, sales of Port wine in England plummeted and imports dropped from more than 11,500,000 litres in 1728 to 5,490,000 litres in 1756.

The 1703 Methuen Treaty had reduced taxes on Portuguese wines and the lucrative trade in Port prompted the Portuguese in 1756 to establish one of the world's first protected ‘designations of origin’ when Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal, marked vineyard boundaries with carved stones and introduced regulations for the production of authentic Port from the Douro. It is considered as the oldest defined and protected wine region in the world. Chianti in Italy and Tokaj in Hungary have older demarcations but no associated regulation, so Port is the oldest. Now, under EU Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only Port from Portugal may be labelled as Port or Porto. Many of the oldest vineyards are now classified as World Heritage Sites and are planted on narrow terraces supported by hand-built dry-stone walls.

Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in that specific Douro region. There are robots that are used by some growers to tread the grapes but many producers prefer the traditional method of treading the grapes by foot in a tank called lagares. Gangs of workers march with a characteristic movement from one side of the wine tank to the other. The juice starts its fermentation, and the wine produced is then fortified by the addition of a grape brandy (although this is not a traditional brandy but a spirit distilled for the wine industry). It is added in order to stop the fermentation, to allow sugar to remain in the wine, and to increase the alcohol content.

taylors port Until well into the 20th century the wine produced in the Douro was carried down the river from the vineyards in special boats known as barcos rabelos. You can still see these moored along the river in Porto, and rides are offered. The boats have a shallow draft to enable them to more easily navigate what was a treacherous watercourse until the dams were built to manage the river flow. So risky was the business of transporting the casks down river that they were never filled to capacity but had an air gap which allowed them to remain buoyant should there be a mishap en route.

Taylor’s is one of the oldest of the founding Port houses and perhaps the best known.  The family business was established in 1692 and is dedicated just to the production of Port in all its guises. The owner of The Ram Inn in London’s Smithfield, Job Bearsley, had arrived in Portugal to make his fortune not from Port wine but from the wine of the Minho region in the north-west of the country. Job’s eldest son Peter also made his home in Portugal, and investigated the wine from the upper Douro Valley. He is considered the first member of the English wine trade to conduct business personally in the Douro Valley rather than buying the wines through agents. He, with partners, founded what was to become the Taylor Fladgate empire.

Taylor’s is celebrated for its Vintage Ports, which are blended from the firm’s own quintas (estates) of Vargellas, Terra Feita and Junco. Taylor’s also produce wood-aged Ports and they hold one of the largest stocks of rare cask-aged wines, from which its tawny Ports are blended.

You will have your imagination fired by even a short break in Porto, but enhance your journey with the unique experience of a tour of the cellars; complete it with a Port tasting and finish with the spectacular opening of a bottle of Vintage Port with hot tongs. Don’t forget your camera!

Taylors restaurant review Três Séculos is the events arm of The Fladgate Partnership which includes some of the best Port Wine producers such as Taylor’s, Fonseca Guimaraens, Skeffington, Croft and Delaforce. The company is all about hospitality. It takes evident pride in its wines which themselves conjure thoughts of convivial gatherings, good food and stylish accommodation.  Barão de Fladgate is their destination restaurant in the historic town of Vila Nova de Gaia, at Taylor's Port Lodges. This is on the opposite bank of the Douro River from Porto and therefore has the best views of that iconic city.

The versatile restaurant is stunning. Its stone walls offer classic comfort on cold winter evenings. The views across to Porto are particularly impressive at night, with noteworthy buildings being lit to present the most romantic of panoramas. A meal at Barão de Fladgate is an event that encapsulates the very essence of Porto and the quality that The Fladgate Partnership represents.

Between 1st April and 30th September Barão de Fladgate opens up its veranda for lunch and dinner so visitors can enjoy the warmth of balmy days while they savour some of the best dishes of the region. Be warned that lunch might well be a long and leisurely affair, as you’ll not be eager to move from your vantage point. The activity on both the river and the bank will divert your attention away from the sumptuous food for a while, but you’ll return to your plate and that expertly-paired glass of port, and take advantage of all that Barão de Fladgate has to offer.

The menu is seasonal so you could consider several short breaks without the threat of having the same meal twice. Slow-roasted small kid, turnip tops, oven-baked rice with bacon, and slow roasted veal cooked for five hours are two of the cold-weather dishes to entice the visitor. Squash and almond cake, pêra rocha (pear) in Fonseca Bin 27 Port wine with cloves could be your dessert, but try and save space for the cheese board – you’ll likely have the chance to taste some delightful local produce.

Barão de Fladgate and Três Séculos
Rua do Choupelo 250, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal 4400-088
Phone: 223 742 800
Fax: 223 705 407

Opening Hours:
12:30 to 15:00 and 19:30 to 22:30 Monday to Saturday,
12:30 to 16:00 Sunday

www.tresseculos.pt
E-mail: general.office@tresseculos.pt


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