Porto, Palaces and Port Wine

ps: Pre-Lockdown Travels

One can never get enough of Portugal. We should know, because we have been visiting this beautiful country for the last six years already. This is where we escape to from the bleary winters up north, where we spend a lot of time when we’re here hiking along the cliffs of the Algarve, or exploring the vast countryside. This is where we have friends and where we feel at home. One of us always had one foot in southern Europe, had already set plans in motion to move when, !BOOM!, love happened. We met, we kissed, and then discovered that we both have the same dream, braaivleis, sunny skies and sea bouquets! Go figure! So when we left the snow-covered airport and set foot in Portugal for the first time so many years ago, it was love at first warm sea breeze for both of us, even though it was quite dark due to a horribly delayed flight. Bem-vinda!!

This year we needed to see the other coasts of Portugal, for personal reasons, so decided on a two week road-trip, starting from the city of Porto in the north, then closing off in our favourite area, the Algarve. What an amazing journey it was! So much to do, so little time!! 🤪 Oh, and we were still alive, just.

Our plane landed in Porto tilting from wing to wing. We all screamed in terror 😱 as we were thrown from left to right, right to left. Those plane wings were literally mowing the grass patches on both sides of the runway! Then it suddenly screeched to a jittering halt. Hallelujah! Amen! Breathe out. Breathe in. Woo! Woo! Woo! Clap! Clap! Clap! Happy cry. Laugh. Kiss-Kiss. Hug. OMG! We were safe!  😰 Apparently Porto is a very windy city, but personally??? Methinks that the pilot made a boo-boo…

The Hotel (an 18th-Century former Palace)

Okay, so we get our rental car and make our way to the hotel. Easy peasy despite heavy traffic and rain. We were met by a very friendly car valet and a dashing doorman. Bags and parking sorted. Service at its best! We were escorted to reception and could not stop oohing-aahing and omg-ing at the amazing interior surrrounding us. We had just stepped into a two hundred and seventy year old former palace and national monument, and it seriously felt like being whizzed back to very posh times gone by. Mirrors everywhere! Oh no! Quick! The wild hairs on two tired heads were discreetly patted down, or tamed, and a bit of lippy applied before we sat ourselves down to check in. YAY! What a lovely surprise! We were upgraded to a fancier top floor suite facing the Douro river. The view from our window was absolutely amazing! Birds and boats by day, and sparkling lights at night (see photos below)

The interior, as mentioned, was jaw-dropping! Everything was tastefully decorated and it oozed eighteenth century feel in every nook and cranny. We spent both nights of our stay sitting on elegant and comfy couches eating delicious bar food and slurping one or three of the best port wines on offer. The bar food was more like that found in a fancy restaurant and cooked to perfection. One of us had the traditional Bacalhau (codfish) and the other one had grilled salmon. Important though, was the sweet and tingly port wine. Hic! There was also a beautiful young singer who sang some soulful and jazzy melodies in her soft yet powerful voice. Obrigada Carol, you are amazing!

Below are some photos of the exterior and gardens of the hotel. There is so much to see and admire! Unfortunately we did not have much time to sit down and relax at the pool or use the spa facilities, but there will be a next time for sure, God willing.

Porto – City of Surprises and older than JC (300BC)

It was raining. Again. We decided to explore the city anyway. Our hotel had a free shuttle service into town, so we used that instead of bothering with a bus. At first look you think, dab and grey. Then you look closer and all the walls start staring back at you. Walls filled with blue and white mosaic tiles, telling you stories of the past. Walls colourfully painted or sprayed with graffiti. Walls coated with oddities to create an artful mural. Walls lined with freshly washed clothes hanging out to dry. Wonderful walls that say: Hi, look at me!

Porto is also a city with a lot of steps and stairs and is quite hilly. Up, down, down, up through tunnels, interesting passages and narrow alleyways. To explore it is to have no knee problems or heavy lungs hahaha! We are grateful to be fit but…phew!…it was quite challenging at times. At least there are a lot of places all over the city to sit down and catch your breath. We spent at least eight hours exploring, so yeah, we deserved all that sweet-tasting port wine. Shhh! Oops!

Porto is also called the city of bridges, Cidade das Pontes. We ambled across the lower part of the busy double-decker Dom Luis 1 metal bridge over to the other side of the Douro river, and back over the upper part, over the arch. Going was not as adventurous as walking back, OMG! By then it was raining cats and dogs, with a wind velocity so scary that the acrophobic one thought we were going to be blasted off the bridge. See how high it is?? And this just after getting off a swaying cable car! So yeah! There was a lot of scary African screaming going on, especially every time a metro train came rolling by! Why oh why did we not use the tuk-tuk or a boat! 😝🤣

There are also a lot of interesting buildings, churches and statues all over, especially in the older part of the city. The higher you climb, the better the view!

The Douro river divides Porto City and Vila Nova de Gaia. There is a lot to see and do on both sides of its banks. There are also a lot of eateries and wine cellars here. Hic!

As we mentioned before, it was mostly a rainy day, but even through a camera lens filled with raindrops, the beauty of Porto could still be seen.

If you don’t like getting wet, there are also a lot of interesting buildings to escape into and explore from the inside, like one of the many wine cellars, sip-slurp-slurp-numm-hic. Or there’s a modern, made to look like an old traditional Portuguese restaurant serving freshly made Bacalhau balls with a glass of wine. Some say it’s a tourist trap and way too expensive, but hey, it’s your choice if you want to spend the money or not. It was full so we walked around the upper gallery, admired and left when the rain eased up a bit. The chandalier was spectacular though!

After many hours spent on our feet enjoying the sights and sounds of Porto, and after hanging ourselves out to dry for a few minutes heh-heh, we would relax in the lounge downstairs and enjoy the ambience, talk to fellow guests, and always holding a glass in our hands. Shhh! A well deserved end of day after being blown away by the life and uhm…wind of Porto. Live, learn and enjoy! Bottoms up! Cheers! Prost! Saúde!

 

Sucre – The Sugar Thing

The main thing you notice when driving around Mauritius is that, as far as the eye can see, the landscape is densely green. A green jungle filled with lots and lots of sugar cane using up about eighty five percent of arable land on the island. Left, right, front and back, there they are, with white flowery feather-like tops dancing in the wind. It is winter and there can be a lot of wind. Can be…whoo-oosh! The flowers are beautiful and only appear at this time of the year because they’re ready to be harvested. Yep, that’s nature for you. You struggle to grow up, then just when you all sweet and pretty, you get the chop. Sugar cane is actually a type of grass, just fatter and juicier. The island is known for its sugar industry, and also for its rum. That’s where we tumbled in, right into the rum door…uhm…many rum doors 😝 but more about that later. Below left, sugar cane by day and right by sunset.

At first we wanted to learn more about this delicious plant, so we visited the Sugar Museum in Pamplemousses, called the “L’Aventure du Sucre”. This is definitely a MUST DO MUST SEE. There’s a guided tour where you will learn about the history of the island, hear interesting details about the sugar industry and get to nipple on a few rums. Jumping for joy…oops! There’s also a restaurant to ease those hunger pangs. Before the tour we took a walk around the grounds (pics below) and then had some lunch where we chose to eat the Mauritian food on offer. It was very tasty.

The tour, as mentioned, was very interesting. Amazing is also that nothing of the plant is thrown away. They use every bit of it, for juice, sugar, fertilizer, rum, bio ethanol and the fibres, the so called “bagasse” are burnt to generate at least sixty percent of the electricity needed to power up the whole island. Here you can also taste some of the many varieties of sugar produced (see glass bottles). Don’t mind the pink cow…

A rum tasting can be done after the tour as an optional event for an extra price. All the rums and liqueurs on offer for the tasting including those for sale are made by the Grays Distilling Ltd distillery and marketed under the brand name “New Grove”. We would have liked to do a distillery tour but it was not possible from their side. The tasting includes only rums from the standard range with very little poured into a small glass. The more exclusive single and double cask bottlings are not offered and cannot be purchased at the shop either. Other than rum and liqueurs there are also sugar goodies, souvenirs, textiles and some arts and crafts that can be bought if you wish.

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We also loved the paintings on the walls on some of their buildings.

We ended off our day with a “not-really-there” sunset at our resort that was still pretty, and lots of dancing afterwards. Yep, we did the twist again 🎶

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Grand, Grand Gaube…

Believe it or not, but there is nowhere in this world that is too far away to travel to energise your soul. This time we are on the amazing island of Mauritius, and so far, five days in, we’re having the time of our lives. Staying in one of the most luxurious hotel resorts we’ve ever been to (and we’ve been to quite a few) makes it soooo easy to let our hair down and simply just relax. That’s it. Relax! Well, almost 😜

We were welcomed by a very large and bright rainbow, while we were still in the air. As soon as the plane broke through the clouds while descending to land, there it was, in all its glory! It seemed to say “welcome to paradise”. It took very long before we were allowed off the plane, and even longer before all our suitcases appeared on the baggage carousel, but so what, the friendly smiles everywhere made us feel good. Our driver had a long wait but was very patient and kept on assuring us to “take-your-time-no-problem” when we needed to exchange currency and “undress”. It was humid! He was also quite informative and the landscape en route to the resort was also interesting, with lots and lots of sugar fields as far as the eye can see. Oh, and another rainbow winked at us! So far we’ve seen four!!!

Our resort hotel is WOW! Before our driver stopped, two staff members came to greet and welcome us. One took care of our luggage and the other did all the necessary and stayed with us until we were in our suite. We’re not new to such an experience but it’s still amazing every time it happens. The service here is fantastic. Nothing is too much to ask for and everything is done with a smile. Let’s not talk about the free bubbly and the bottle of local rum as a welcome gift. Did I mention the cocktails??? Slurp-Slurp-Yummy! There’s also a Rum Tree! Yep, a Rum Treehouse set in a very old Banyan tree.

 

 

Talking about the Banyan tree. Every night just before the sun sets, all the birds gather in the Banyan trees, the most in a tree right in front of our suite. You should hear the noise! Beautiful chirping, tweeting, singing, and so loud it’s almost deafening. It sounds like there are millions and millions of birds in there! Absolutely amazing! A story related by an elderly Indian man says that the Banyan tree is a sacred tree where the birds come at night as souls to meet and renew themselves for the next day. Whoa! Just LOVE this spiritual meaning ❤️ ❤️ ❤️The Banyan is also the national tree of India.

 

 

 

 

Soooo, in the last four days we’ve already had one of our complimentary Spa treatments, sat in a steam bath, did a bit of sauna, bubbled in the jacuzzi, got beach sand between our toes and ate a lot of ice cream. A LOT! We’ve seen many sunsets and had short bursts of rain at least once a day, (very short, like whoops, no time to run, so you get soaked from head to toe and dried up after five minutes). We’ve walked the vast resort (almost like a hiking trip 😆) and lazed at the pool! We’ve had delicious breakfasts with fruits so sweet and fresh, lunch on the beach or supper at the pool. OMG, the hips! Whateverrrrr!

 

 

Live bands have been entertaining us almost every night so what else to do but loosen those limbs and dance. We slow danced, did some hug-me-tight-moves, a bit of boogie-woogie, some disco and lots of jump-jump! Dem bones, ooh-na-naaa!

We’ve already ventured out on our own, driving on the “other” side. It was uhm…okay hahaha. No Oops! or Sorry! or WTF! just OMG! but we got back in one piece. We needed a sip or two of some nerve juice hahaha…We’re really enjoying our sundowners too…

 

 

 

Oh, and here are a few local birds that we’ve seen so far…

 

 

 

… Green-Backed (Striated) Heron, Mauritius Common mynah, Yellow-fronted canary

 

 

 

… Red Whiskered Bulbul

 

 

 

There is still so much to do! Tennis, Badminton, Snorkelling, Yoga, Zumba and many, many other activities offered free of charge here. We’re also going to explore the island on our own, with a bit of hiking too. Watch this space!

 

 

The Cactus Garden in Guatiza

If you think that after climbing around the Rofera rocks, or walking through the market in Teguise, or maybe running around a volcanic crater would knock us out for a six, then yes, you would be absolutely right! After all, we’re not so young anymore wink-wink. We were really pooped so we headed back to our holiday appartment, and guess what, the driver, yours truly, left the highway one exit too early. This meant driving through one or two villages hoping to get see a sign that said “yay, you are nearly home”. None of that! So just as we were contemplating to make a u-turn and go all the way back to the highway, we saw a huge, big huge, eight metres high huge, metal cactus thingy on the side of the road, and a windmill sort of behind it. Wow! Stop! Yes, the brakes were slammed on (easy when you’re driving like a snail heehee) and we found somewhere to park…in a muddy puddle of water, but hey, whatever. We first walked around the outside of the fenced-in park “just to take a photo of two of the windmill” but then that “curiosity-killed-the-cat” thing got hold of us so we paid and went in. Suddenly there were no tired feet nor big teary yawnings, instead just open-mouthed awe at what greeted us behind the entrance. Cacti in all shapes and sizes!

The Jardín de Cactus is worth a visit for cactus lovers and also if, like us, you appreciate the works of Lanzarote’s very own, and internationally renowned artist, the late César Manrique. This garden was apparently the very last landscape masterpiece he created in 1991, the year before he tragically died in a car accident.

One can argue about it being too small or boring, or about the price of the entrance fee, but come on, there are at least one thousand different species of cacti from all over the world in there. Some are pretty, others a bit ugly and there are strange ones too, and this is what makes it all the more interesting.

Oh, and the singing birds, the fishies, the juicy cactus fruit and again, the windmill.

Then there’s the amazing César touch to be found all over, some quite naughty…oops!

 

 

 

 

Castillo de Santa Bárbara

Not long after we left the rock formations of Rofera, we saw this imposing building sitting on an extinct volcano. You simply cannot miss it. We did not think that it was a tourist attraction as we did not have any information about it, but meandering through the busy market in the historical town of Teguise, you look up, and there it is. We decided that it was worth a visit for after when the market closed. We wanted to walk all the way up, but the heavy and dark clouds were threatening to burst, again, and besides who wants to still exert themselves after eating some delicious ice-cream. We went up by car. Good choice when the weather is not so good, and bad choice because parking space was precarious and non-existant due to so many visitors. We were very lucky though. Just as the right front wheel of the car started dangling over the “cliff” a car right in front of us moved out and we quickly slipped into the parking space. Whew! The passenger could breathe again and there would be no need for a helicopter to lift the car out of the crater.

The Castillo de Santa Bárbara (Saint Barbara Castle) was built as a fortress to ward off danger especially when pirates kept on attacking the island. It also served as a refuge for the locals during hostile invasions. As mentioned before, it sits on the rim of a crater in an extinct volcano, the Mt. Guanapay. It is really worth a visit, especially for the views.

 

 

 

The entrance is via a draw-bridge and not free of charge. We only had an hour before closing time so we whoosh-whooshed through the stone hallways, getting lost too, but we managed to find the exit to the top…

 

 

One could argue if it is worth spending a few euros each per person to enter the castle as there is not much to see inside other than a small pirate museum that would interest children more. Oh, okay, so maybe some adults too, but the only way to get up to the top to enjoy the vast views is to pay an entrance fee to the museum.

 

After they closed up, we decided to walk around the crater. It was bigger than we expected so we panicked…well, one of us did, because…what if they close the road and we were not able to get out. Hmmm…Anyway, we climbed, we trotted, we ran, we got wet. Yep, it started drizzling. When we were about halfway through, they boomed on the megaphone…don’t know what, but we took it that it was time to leave. No problem, we made it to the car, almost on all fours, but we made it. In retrospect it would have been better to walk around the castle and the crater instead of going inside. The views were just as amazing.

Teguise – Sunday is market day…

Lanzarote was probably named after an Italian seafarer, Lancelotto. The village of Teguise was named after Princess Teguise, who was the great-granddaughter of the aboriginal inhabitant and ruling king of the island when Lancelotto arrived. Teguise is one, if not, the oldest Spanish settlement of the Canary Islands and sits almost in the middle of the island, (east to west) yet only about ten kilometres from the coast. Every Sunday morning, Teguise hosts one of the biggest and important markets of the Canaries, where you can find lots of local crafts, ceramics, cheeses, wines and other interesting stuff, like freshly pressed cactus juice. When we were there, a local brass band played lovely music from Western movies. Unfortunately there are also lots of stalls selling cheap knock-offs and those “made-in-…” rubbish fabrics. Does not matter, because we were only interested in all the local products and experiencing the amazing and vibrating atmosphere at the market. We really enjoyed every single loud and crazy moment!

Below are photos of the entrance to the market, their lovely church, freshly pressed cactus juice and the biggest sweet potatoes we had ever seen.

The Church of our Lady of Guadalupe (Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe) dominates the town and is the tallest building in Teguise which can be seen from any vantage point. There’s a big square in front of the church, the Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitución) with two bronze lion statues and sculpture of a dancer from the group Rancho de Pascuas.

The famous granary building, called the “cillas” (below – top left) was built in 1680 to store all the grains that the townsfolk were forced to tithe from their harvests once a year to the clergy. The building was renovated in the 1980’s.

Palm trees are plenty, and the typical white-washed facades which can be found all over the island.

“The Palacio de Marques is the oldest building on the island, dating back to 1455 when it was finally completed after a lengthy 32-year construction process.” quoted from the official website of Teguise. The government headquarters of Lanzarote for about two hundred and seventy years it’s now a wine and tapas bar (see below)

Oh, and when we thought that another storm was brewing, the thunder-clapping kind hahahaha, it was “only” this aerobatic squadron flying over…ooh, the noise!

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ps: The market opens at nine in the morning and closes five hours later. We arrived just a bit more than two hours before closing time so had lots of time to see all the stalls and visit some important historical buildings. As soon as the clock strikes two, they all start packing up and people leave the town. An hour later you’d wonder if there’s any life in the village, that’s how “dead” suddenly becomes. This was our opportunity to explore a bit more, especially as one could see the architecture much better!

 

 

Rofera de Teseguite

One of the most surprising things in life is when you come upon something you just never expected to see. This was one such moment when we were on our way to a Sunday market in Teguise.  Shortly after jumping off the LZ-1 main road and before reaching the nearby village Teseguite, seemingly out of nowhere !whoa-what-is-that! there they were, strange yet amazing rock formations jutting out of the landscape. So we scree..ee..eeched to a halt and got out to explore. This was the only place we’d seen something like this in all the time we had been on the island. As Lanzarote is an island of volcanic origin, these rocks have apparently been, over many many years, been weathered down from volcanic cones…Maravilloso!

 

Don’t these below look regal and proud??

The whole landscape is in a sort of ravine, with this huge volcano (left) on one side

Nothing was too high or too “dangerous” to climb for a good photo…hmmm…