Here are my favourite highlights from the tour I conducted for Taste Travel guests to Portugal this year. I have already written about the cooking classes in an earlier blog.
Casa de Mateus is an historic home and Foundation that is available for the public to visit. The Foundation joined the European Network of Cultural Centres based in National Monuments in 1992 and it is also a member of the organization REsArtis, The World Network of Artists Residences. We toured the house with a guide from the Foundation and highlight of the house was its Biblioteca (library). The room itself was richly furnished with floor to wall handsome wood shelving and display cases of some of the most rare books and copper plates but we were not allowed to take photos inside.
On the library theme again, we took a special tour into the Biblioteca Joanina at the University of Coimbra. We were visiting at the time when the students were attending the first semester of the year, we enjoyed seeing them decked out in their traditional full black cloaks. This famous historic university library can be viewed by appointment only. It is an outstanding example of Baroque design yet I am not a great lover of the Baroque period and I loved the interior of this building. Once again no photos were allowed so settled for buying an interactive DVD of the library. The library houses in excess of 200,000 volumes and access to the collections is by application and once granted the books are taken for viewing to the General Library, so this historical library is now only used to house the books. The temperature inside is sustained from 18 to 20 degrees due to the external wall thickness of 2.11 metres and it’s panelled walls help to maintain the humidity at 60 per cent. We were told that a colony of bats are allowed to reside in the library so that they will eat any bugs that would infest the books. At night covers are put over the valuables to protect them from any bat droppings. Strange but true. This library was an absolute highlight and I would recommend anyone going to Coimbra to consider organising a visit.
Quinta Nova in the Douro Valley is an estate in one of the oldest wine making regions in the world. We actually stayed at the wine estate in its charming rooms which gave us a chance to fully experience the amazing landscape of the Douro. The vines are planned along 1.5km hillsides rising from the northern bank of the River Douro. In addition to the Ports and Douro wines produced here, the estate also produces olive oils and gourmet products. The Douro Valley was declared the first controlled and demarcated wine region in 1756. In 2001 UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site.
Another impressive Quinta was the Quinta da Ervamoira wine estate. We enjoyed a long bumpy ride in four wheel drives into the estate and awaiting us was our reward, a vineyard planted on hills in vertical not horizontal rows as usually found. The estate also has created a substantial archaeology museum of artifacts gathered from this land. A purpose built stone building in the layered schist, the local slate stone was impressive. After our tasting we were given a lunch on the semi open terrace overlooking the vineyards. My guests said that they felt quite privileged and would never have the opportunity to visit here if they had not been on my tour.
Pousada Convento de Belmonte was my favourite conversion of a former convent into a hotel.
Tucked into the hillside of the Mountain Serra da Estrela, it was originally established in the 13th century. The Pousada has retained all the historical artifacts of that era.
Just like in Italy some wineries operate on more agriturismo style, where the owners have accommodation to rent out and grow produce to sell and preserve along with their wines. We visited Casa de Juste and were hosted by the owners, Count Fernando Guedes and his wife.
The property hosts volunteers from around the world who wish to understand and contribute their labour to the farm and its wine production. We were shown through the original manor house, given a wine tasting of course, a 3 course luncheon and then we pounced on the little roadside boutique they stock with their unique preserves, kitchenware and table linen.
We stocked up with no consideration to baggage limits on our airlines for our return to Australia.