Be­tween two (Por­tuguese) cities

From Lis­bon to Porto, and along the coast of the At­lantic, Por­tu­gal of­fers rich his­tory, beau­ti­ful scenery, lively cities and lots of won­der­ful wine

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By NERIA BARR

Boast­ing beau­ti­ful old cities, an­cient cas­tles, scenic routes, kind, wel­com­ing peo­ple, lively nightlife, won­der­ful food and rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive ho­tels and restau­rants, no won­der last year Por­tu­gal was named World’s Best Des­ti­na­tion for 2017 by the World Travel Awards. How­ever, if you go there, don’t limit yourself to Lis­bon, where most tourists end up. The north of Por­tu­gal, as I re­cently dis­cov­ered, of­fers many en­chanted sights and the crown jewels are Porto and the Douro Val­ley.

I have heard many sto­ries about Por­tu­gal from friends, so an un­ex­pected invitation to join a group of jour­nal­ists on one of the first di­rect El Al flights to Lis­bon was very much wel­come.

Be­gin­ning Oc­to­ber 2018, El Al operates bi-weekly di­rect flights to Lis­bon. Ac­cord­ing to the com­pany, as of March 2019 there will be five weekly flights. The prices start at $359 per per­son and the flight takes around six hours, more than go­ing to Lon­don or Paris, but very much worth it. To make the flight nicer, if you can af­ford it, busi­ness tick­ets start at $1,219.

Aveiro

We landed in the evening. Lis­bon’s air­port is prac­ti­cally in the city, but we were head­ing north. Our host on this tour (to­gether with El Al) was Marta Mar­ques, of “Wild Douro” Tourism – and our first des­ti­na­tion was the coastal town of Aveiro, a three- or four-hour drive from Lis­bon, de­pend­ing on traf­fic.

En­velop­ing the edge of the Ria, a shal­low la­goon rich in bird life, Aveiro is a pretty city on the west coast. An im­por­tant me­dieval port and salt-producing cen­ter, the

city is some­times dubbed “Venice of Por­tu­gal,” thanks to its net­work of pic­turesque canals nav­i­gated by col­or­ful boats called mo­li­ceiro. Sim­i­lar to Venice’s gon­do­las, they are avail­able for short, in­ex­pen­sive trips (about €10 per per­son).

In the city cen­ter, known for its art nou­veau build­ings, is the Cathe­dral of Aveiro, with its prom­i­nent bell tower. Other at­trac­tions in­clude the Art Nou­veau mu­seum and a pretty sea­side neigh­bor­hood built with small houses painted in col­or­ful stripes, an homage to the fish­er­men’s huts that once filled these beaches. It is also the home of the fa­mous porce­lain mak­ers Vista Ale­gre.

We stayed in the Mon­te­belo Vista Ale­gre Il­havo Ho­tel, a beau­ti­ful new five-star ho­tel built on the former grounds of the Vista Ale­gre fac­tory, where the work­ers and owners lived. The fac­tory still operates nearby and the ho­tel in­cludes the palace of the former owners, the fac­tory’s shop and a pretty chapel still some­times used for spe­cial wed­dings. The de­sign en­hances the her­itage and the so­cial, tech­no­log­i­cal and artis­tic im­por­tance of the ce­ramic in­dus­try in Por­tu­gal and the ho­tel of­fers tours of the old fac­tory kilns, shop and chapel. The tour in­cludes a short and quiet (no pho­tograph­ing allowed) visit to the room where artists paint the porce­lain by hand. Ac­com­mo­da­tion prices vary ac­cord­ing to sea­son and at around €80 for a couple, are well worth the cost. www.hotel­monte­belo­vis­taale­gre.pt

While in Aveiro, don’t miss the nu­mer­ous fish restau­rants spread along­side the la­goon. We en­joyed a fun evening din­ing with the lo­cal Cod Fish­er­men Guild at an ex­cel­lent restau­rant called Dori, lo­cated by the Ria. The restau­rant serves the de­li­cious lo­cal cui­sine, made up mainly of fish and seafood, and even on the off-sea­son evening when we ar­rived there, it was very full.

Porto

Next on our itin­er­ary was Porto, Por­tu­gal’s sec­ond big­gest city, where the Douro River emp­ties into the At­lantic Ocean. Built on the Douro river­banks, Porto’s his­toric cen­ter is a UNESCO World Her­itage site for good rea­son – it is sim­ply rav­ish­ing. We wan­dered its steep cob­ble­stone streets, joined the free or­gan con­cert that takes place in the cathe­dral ev­ery day at noon, toured the train sta­tion and learned about the city’s Jewish her­itage.

Other fa­vorite spots of the city in­clude strolling along the wa­ter­front, and the beau­ti­ful São Bento rail­way sta­tion to view the azule­jos: 2,000 blue-and­white hand-painted ce­ramic tiles that tell the his­tory of North­ern Por­tu­gal.

Not very far from the cathe­dral is a must for Harry Pot­ter lovers – the Lello book­shop, which was built in 1906 and boasts high ceil­ings and wind­ing stair­cases. The shop be­came fa­mous thanks to J.K. Rowl­ing, who was in­spired by it when writ­ing about the book­shop in the Harry Pot­ter books. The book­shop is crowded and you have to pay an en­trance fee, which is de­ducted if you buy books.

The best way to en­com­pass the beauty of Porto, and get fan­tas­tic photos, is to take a boat tour. Many large boats of­fer tours, both of the Porto area and into the Douro Val­ley (from about €10 per per­son), but tak­ing a pri­vate boat tour for up to 12 peo­ple is a whole dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence – and not as ex­pen­sive as you might think (from €12 per per­son for two hours). Feel Douro Cruis­ing & Yacht Char­ter (feel­douro.com) of­fer cus­tom-tai­lored trips from two hours up to a week, in­clud­ing sleep­ing on board, catered meals from gourmet Miche­lin starred restau­rants and the pos­si­bil­ity to stop wher­ever you choose. Our two-hour tour, just be­fore sun­set, was a lot of fun.

One of the rec­om­mended bou­tique ho­tels in Porto, Ho­tel Teatro, which opened in 2010, is lo­cated on the site of the Teatro Ba­quet, a the­ater that was the cul­tural hub for Porto be­fore it was de­stroyed by fire in 1988. The 74-room ho­tel has a the­ater-themed decor. It is part of the De­sign Ho­tels group, with a restau­rant, bar and gym. We stopped there for a tour and a long and re­laxed gourmet lunch that in­tro­duced us to the new cui­sine of Por­tu­gal as well as to some of the coun­try’s finest wines. (hotelteatro.pt.)

Six bridges con­nect Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, lo­cated on the op­po­site river­bank. Our guide, a pas­sion­ate Porto man, joked that the best thing about Nova de Gaia is the view of Porto, but in fact it is where most of the fa­mous port-wine houses are lo­cated. Two of the bridges will re­mind you of the Eif­fel Tower, and for good rea­son – one was ac­tu­ally de­signed and built by Eif­fel and the other one was built by his ap­pren­tice, prob­a­bly be­cause Eif­fel’s price tag was too steep. Ac­cord­ing to our guide, the an­gry Eif­fel then went back to Paris and started build­ing his fa­mous tower.

The old port houses line the left bank of the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia. Port wine is pro­duced in Douro, but be­cause the weather dur­ing the sum­mer

can get too hot, the wine bar­rels are stored in Porto. The large port com­pa­nies of­fer tours and tast­ings that will teach you ev­ery­thing about the dif­fer­ences be­tween tawny and red ports, vintage ports and blended ports and more.

Jewish life in Porto

It seems that Jews came to Porto even be­fore the Mid­dle Ages. They lived close to the cathe­dral and in­side the walls of the city, and oc­cu­pied many prom­i­nent po­si­tions as doc­tors, mer­chants and at court.

En­joy­ing a good re­la­tion­ship with the Crown at the time, the Jews flour­ished in Por­tu­gal un­til the mid-15th cen­tury, when they were forced to con­vert to Chris­tian­ity or leave. Ac­cord­ing to many his­to­ri­ans, Porto tried to pro­tect its Jewish com­mu­nity but suc­cumbed to the In­qui­si­tion. At the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, a new Jewish com­mu­nity of Porto was born, mostly due to the courage and tenac­ity of Capt. Bar­ros Basto, a World War I hero who con­verted to Ju­daism af­ter learn­ing of his Jewish an­ces­tors. Some­times dubbed the Por­tuguese Drey­fus, he not only founded the com­mu­nity but also raised the funds to build a syn­a­gogue in Porto and gath­ered dozens of Jewish fam­i­lies.

What was once the Jewish quar­ter is now a com­mer­cial area filled with quaint lit­tle stores. The old syn­a­gogue is lo­cated here, and many signs in­di­cate the rich Jewish life that ex­isted here. Ac­cord­ing to our guide, most of the houses where Jewish peo­ple lived had two doors – one for the store and one to the up­stairs fam­ily res­i­dence. The Jews brought to Por­tu­gal mod­ern com­merce, medicine and busi­ness. The Porto peo­ple proudly claim that Jews were al­ways wel­come here and they mourn the ex­pul­sion of Jews dur­ing the In­qui­si­tion, say­ing that it took the city back­wards. Ac­cord­ing to our guide, the Jews who chose to stay and con­verted to Chris­tian­ity would carry por­ta­ble wooden mezu­zot in their pock­ets and hold them when­ever they had to par­tic­i­pate in a mass or pre­tend to pray.

Douro Val­ley

The next morn­ing was a lit­tle windy and over­cast as we drove east from Porto along the Douro River.

Our route was through the heart of the Douro Val­ley, where winer­ies, some hun­dreds of years old, make Por­tu­gal’s fa­mous wines.

The grapevines fol­low the con­tours of the steep canyons, and the hill­sides were swathed in ter­raced lines of red and gold col­ors of the fall. Be­low, the river re­flected the sky, with clouds.

The sights are so stun­ning that we urged the driver to stop wher­ever he could so we could take photos. Trees with bright yel­low leaves stood out among the vine­yards and olive trees. If you don’t mind the odd rain, trav­el­ing dur­ing the fall months means cool weather, much lower ho­tel prices and hill­sides ablaze with red and or­ange, as well as empty car parks and al­most pri­vate tours and wine tast­ings.

There are dozens or even hun­dreds of winer­ies and vine­yards along the way; we stopped at three. The first was Casa Amarela, where the owner, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion wine­maker, gave us a taste of his lovely wines and boasted about his old bar­rels, one of which is 80 years old.

“We use this wine only for blends,” he said proudly.

Show­ing us the room where the grapes are crushed by hu­man feet, he said that he used to hire peo­ple, but this ex­pe­ri­ence is so at­trac­tive to tourists that now all he has to do is al­low young peo­ple who ar­rive here, mostly from the US and Bri­tain, to join in the crush­ing and the par­ties that are held at the end of the sea­son.

“The girls know that the grape skins do won­ders for the skin. Af­ter crush­ing the grapes for a few hours, the skin be­comes soft and smooth,” he added. Casa Amarela of­fers a tast­ing and light lunch when book­ing a tour in ad­vance (quinta-casa-amarela.com).

Covela, a medium-size win­ery and ho­tel was next, lo­cated in the mid­dle of a beau­ti­ful gar­den and eco­log­i­cal farm, where fruit and veg­eta­bles are grown next to the vines. The win­ery used to be­long to a lo­cal fam­ily, but they had to leave it dur­ing the eco­nomic cri­sis and it was pur­chased by two ex-AP jour­nal­ists who keep the place work­ing. Tours and wine tast­ings can be re­served here for no or very lit­tle cost ([email protected] covela.pt).

Our last stop was at the Val­lado, one of the larger winer­ies, which also owns a charm­ing bou­tique ho­tel, with two wings, an old tra­di­tional one and a new, mod­ern wing nearby. The ho­tel boasts 13 rooms and suites, spa, din­ing room and pool, all lo­cated in the midst of an or­ange grove and veg­etable patch on the hill­side. The prices are steep, from about €200 per night for a couple dur­ing the off-sea­son, but the ho­tel is fully booked un­til the next sum­mer.

An­other rec­om­mended ho­tel is the Douro Palace, where we stayed. It is lo­cated in the mid­dle of the Douro Val­ley and of­fers a dock­ing sta­tion for those who ar­rive by boat. The rooms are pam­per­ing and there is a spa, swim­ming pool and ex­cel­lent restau­rant. Prices start at €85 for a dou­ble room in­clud­ing break­fast (douropalace.com).

Obidos

The me­dieval town of Obidos is lo­cated about 85 kilo­me­ters from Lis­bon. The beau­ti­ful old walled town is pro­tected by high tow­ers and thick walls. Its charm­ing red-roofed white­washed build­ings, cob­ble­stone streets and bal­conies draped with bougainvil­lea make it an ob­vi­ous tourist stop, but off-sea­son most of the vis­i­tors were lo­cals, who adore it. The town is so charm­ing that it be­came a tra­di­tion for the Por­tuguese kings to gift their queens with Obidos as part of the wed­ding rit­ual. We wan­dered the vil­lage streets, which are nar­row and lined with shops sell­ing sou­venirs, cakes and ginja, a choco­late liqueur con­sumed in tiny choco­late cups.

Lis­bon

Fi­nally, we got back to Lis­bon, but af­ter a good night’s sleep, woke up to pour­ing rain that didn’t stop un­til it was time for us to fly home. We did man­age a bus tour of the main at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the cas­tle of São Jorge, the Basil­ica and the cen­tral square. The

main bridge, named af­ter Vasco da Gama, is 17 kilo­me­ters, con­sid­ered the long­est in Europe. It en­tered the Guin­ness Book of Records when a 2.4-kilo­me­ter din­ner table was set up on it for a meal.

When in Lis­bon, take the tram to the port town of Belem, home of the im­pres­sive Monasteiro dos Jeron­i­mos, where Vasco da Gama is buried. The monastery has elab­o­rate late Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture and is clas­si­fied by UNESCO as a World Her­itage site. Our guide in­sisted that we stand in line for the fa­mous cakes of the Pas­tel De Belem bak­ery, which draws crowds in any weather.

Other at­trac­tions in Bellem in­clude the Mod­ern Art Mu­seum and the car­riages mu­seum.

The writer was a guest of El Al and Marta Mar­ques, man­ager of the Douro Val­ley Tour­ing Com­pany which operates wine tours of Porto and the Douro Val­ley. www.wild-douro.pt.

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VINE­YARDS FOL­LOW the con­tours of the steep canyons.

AVEIRO IS some­times dubbed ‘Venice of Por­tu­gal,’ thanks to its net­work of pic­turesque canals nav­i­gated by col­or­ful boats called ‘mo­li­ceiro.’ (Top and right)

THE BEAU­TI­FUL old walled town of Obidos is pro­tected by high tow­ers and thick walls.

THE ME­DIEVAL cas­tle of Obidos.

THE ED­UARDO VII Park leads to Lis­bon’s Mar­quess of Pom­bal Square.

THE OLD kiln at the Vista Ale­gre mu­seum.

HAND-PAINTED PORCE­LAIN at the Vista Ale­gre Porce­lain shop.

VISTA ALE­GRE Ho­tel boasts many porce­lain de­tails.

CASA AMARELA is one of the old­est winer­ies in the Douro Val­ley.

VAL­LADO, ONE of the larger winer­ies, which also owns a charm­ing bou­tique ho­tel.

SÃO BENTO rail­way sta­tion boasts 2,000 blue-and­white hand-painted ce­ramic tiles.

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