How I fell in love with Portugal’s wine country and other Portuguese tales [Vol 2. Douro]

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro

I had already shared how I was not expecting much on the wine front from Portugal before our visit. Shameful, I know. You may associate port wine with Porto but did you know that the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro region? In fact, if they are not from there, it’s not technically port wine. The process may slightly vary by the producer but in general, grapes are harvested and transported to Porto where they are stored for aging and eventually consumption. Also, there is a LOT more to this beautiful wine region than port wine, we tasted plenty of other varieties that were just absolutely wonderful.

For our trip, we decided to rent a car in order to travel through all of our stops:

Porto -> Douro -> Fatima -> Albufeira -> Lisboa

I 100% recommend renting a car if you can, as it not only gives you freedom from schedules but you can also explore at your own pace and change things up as you go if you so desire.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

For our stay in Douro we stayed at Quinta Nova Nossa Senhora do Carmo, which you can see in this photo. When looking at where to stay in Douro, I saw plenty of gorgeous quintas in the region but I wanted to make sure we could stay in a quinta that offered wine tastings and actually had a vineyard. Our stay was short but wonderful. Due to time constraints, we actually did not leave the quinta once we got there and honestly have no regrets.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova wine and cheese vacation

We began our stay with a wonderful spread of ham and cheese and started tasting some of the wonderful selections from Quinta Nova right away. Their reserva was one of our favorites and definitely affordable considering the quality and taste, says the girl that is happy with a $10 bottle of wine at the liquor store, but you get it. 🙂

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My favorite part was walking through the vineyards, just me and Brian. There was not another soul in sight and the weather was absolutely perfect, not too hot or too cold. This region is truly a beauty and the landscape is breathtaking, unlike anything I had seen before. It’s also very calm, the kind of vibes you have to stop for and take a moment to really take it in because it’s a magical experience.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

Quinta Nova offers a delicious dinner with a chef’s menu and of course, dedicated wine pairings. Each course was a unique experience and everything was purely exquisite. Dinner wouldn’t have been completed without an excellent dessert and of course, port wine.

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The breakfast selection the next day was also delicious but the best part was enjoying it all with a morning view. I mean, how often do we allow ourselves to not only enjoy breakfast time but enjoy it with this kind of view. Good coffee, good food and knowing that the day can only get better. That’s what vacation should feel like.

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You can never have enough of something wonderful, right? I would have loved to stay longer in this region and explore further. If you have the time, definitely recommend you explore other quintas and even take a boat through the river. Even if you are tight for time and can’t stay for the night, Douro is not far from Porto and you can do a day trip to get a taste of the magic (it’s only a little over an hour drive).

Stay tuned for more of my Portugal series and feel free to message me if you are planning to visit and have any questions about my experiences. 🙂

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

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How I fell in love with canned fish and other Portuguese tales [Vol. I: Porto]

I want to start this post by apologizing to Portugal.

I must admit, Portugal was our second choice for a trip that for months we had been envisioning as a Greek adventure. I’m pretty sure Brian and I were talking about doing our one year anniversary in Greece when we were still in Thailand for our honeymoon. Disgusting, I know. Timing, flights and curiosity slowly led us to consider Portugal more and more. First it was going to be a second stop in our trip but as we uncovered all the potential we decided we were going to dive in completely and we are so glad we did. (Don’t worry Greece, I’m still coming for you!)

I will be doing a series for every stop we made in Portugal in order to truly make it justice. I will be sharing what we did but also, a lot of recommendations I collected before the trip (and during it) that we were not able to discover.

Let’s start with the wonder that is Porto. Jetlagged as we were and with some time before we could check into our Airbnb, we did not miss a beat and found ourselves having breakfast by theriver. We had no set plans, just a list of choices. What did we do? We propped ourselves outside a local restaurant, drank wine and watched the people walk by. To be fair, we did walk in the church of Saõ Francisco on the way and explored some of its barroque beauty.

Let me tell you, Portuguse wines are so underrated. Maybe it’s because I am not a sommelier but when I hear people rave about European wines, it’s always French, Italian and Spanish wines… but Portugal? Not so much or at all. Sure, we hear all about the wonder that is Porto (the wine) but I was pleasantly surprised to see (and taste) all the different varieties they have to offer.

For our first dinner in Portugal, we went to Wine Quay Bar. This was a place we had seen mentioned in various lists and I really liked that it brought together a lot of Portugal delicacies in a “tapas” style menu. The cheese, meats and olives were superb but oh my goodness… the bacalhau. Not sure how you feel about cod (bacalhau) but I grew up with my grandma’s Puerto Rican “bacalaitos” (cod fritters) and to me cod has always been associated with fried greatness that you should not have too often. Well, Portuguese have been doing it right all these years (sorry, grandma!). The cod we had here was soft and full of so much rich, yet delicate flavor. I don’t think my description can do it justice. 

I knew canned fish was a delicacy in Portugal and I was excited to try it but to be honest, I never expected to fall in love with it like I did. There are currently about 12 cans of different fish varieties in my kitchen. No day feels special enough for us to dig in just yet. Brian wants me to add that he was not a huge fan of the cod but was obsessed with the spicy tuna that they serve (also in a can). The saddest part is that I could not buy the exact cod they had at the restaurant because they ran out. The waitress was telling us about how cod is not as abundant as it used to be. There are issues with over fishing and people respecting sea borders. Really a shame since a lot of people, like them, have grounded their business around cod.

You really can’t go to Porto and not experience a Porto wine tasting. Like I said, we did not have set plans but for this, I recommend you do a little research and look to reserve beforehand. We were lucky to be able to walk in and just get a spot in Cockburn’s Port and had a great experience. First of all, I didn’t know port came in whites! Refreshing to start the tour with a port and tonic, even though I realized once more that I just don’t like tonic.

Did you know that port wine has about 20 % alcohol volume? You feel it. It’s good.

Porto (technically Gaia) houses all the port wines for aging but the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro Valley region. Just like champagne is not champagne if it’s not from Champagne, France – port wine is also only port wine if it comes from this region. Lucky us, Douro Valley was our next stop! More to come on that in an upcoming post.

So yes, this is a Francesinha (missing the fried egg on top). It’s a signature plate in Porto that I feel I have no authority to criticize. Essentially, this plate is available in almost every restaurant that serves Portuguese food but I was being such a brat that I didn’t want to order it if it wasn’t from the places “the internet” said are the best. The way our day ended up flowing, we were not near the famous Cafe Santiago when it was time to eat so Brian convinced me to let it go and just order it where we were. It was alright. Plot twist, we ended up having the best Francesinha in Lisbon from a restaurant with a chef from Porto. I will share more on that when I write about Lisbon!

The whole thing was so silly and has really got me thinking about the way I want to travel. I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff that other people have discovered but I also want to take my own chances and discover for myself  the wonders that are out there. We worry too much about what other’s have lived that sometimes we forget to make adventures of our own.

This was the case for our anniversary dinner. We tried to get reservations in some of the popular places but they were all full. We ended up walking by this small and cozy restaurant that was playing live Fado – exactly what I wanted for such a special evening. I was hesitant to trust our anniversary dinner in a restaurant that was unknown to us but Brian ignited the explorer in me and we went for it. I am so glad he did, as our dinner at Terreirinho Restaurant was the most special dinner of our entire trip. Who would have thought?

And that, my friends, was the view from our AirBnb. It was affordable and with a great location, here’s the link if you are interested!

Here are some other food spots we did not get to try but totally encourage you to consider. If you do end up going to Porto and trying some, let me know what you think!

Any Porto food recommendations you think I should add? Let me know!

You can see more from my Portugal travels on my Instagram. 🙂