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10 Best Wine Region to Visit

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10 Best Wine Region to Visit

The corks are pulled, the votes are in, and readers of USA TODAY and 10Best have passionately voted Portugal's Alentejo the #1 'Best Wine Region to Visit,' from among 20 worthy nominees.  

Our well-travelled expert nomination panel - a wine educator and a wine buyer - made the original selections and then readers voted daily during the contest's four-week run.  While British Columbia's Okananagan Valley enjoyed an early lead, fans of Portugal's appealing Alentejo region eventually assured it took top honors.

Photo of Ronald Isarin

Photo of Ronald Isarin

"When most people think of Portugal, they immediately think of Douro," says Kerry, "but head a little further south to Alentejo and you won’t be disappointed. Boutique wineries, full service hotels, great restaurants and of course terrific wines (mostly known for hardy red wines) make for a great wine travel experience."

The vast Alentejo, stretching to Portugal's southwestern coast, is still off the radar for many travelers.  This intriguing rural region is like a trip back in time.  The diverse terrain holds olive groves and vineyards, quaint villages, flower-filled meadows and forests. 

"The Alentejo is best known for its hardy red wines made from a unique combination of indigenous varietals," says Kerry Woolard, who served on the expert panel.  "Now, more familiar vinifera such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot are being produced there too."

The food in Alentejo is rustic and authentic, taking full advantage of the agrarian lifestyle in the area.  You won't find a developed coastline of hotels;  instead Alentejo's beaches - considered some of the most dramatic and beautiful in Europe - require visitors to seek out lodging in independent guest houses.  The Alentejo is like a trip back in time for wine lovers.  The Faro and Lisbon airports are each less than two hours away.  

The full list of winners in the USA TODAY 10Best Readers' Choice contest for 'Best Wine Region to Visit' contest category is as follows:

  1. Alentejo, Portugal
  2. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
  3. Maipo, Chile
  4. Marlborough, New Zealand
  5. Croatia
  6. Napa Valley, Calif.
  7. Tuscany, Italy
  8. Oregon
  9. Hunter Valley, Australia
  10. Virginia

Source: 10 best

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Wines award winners

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Wines award winners

The Douro and the Alentejo regions were home to the biggest award winners at the recent Wines of Portugal 2014 competition award ceremony, said Jorge Monteiro of the ViniPortugal wine association.

Monteiro said that the Douro had picked up 67 medals and the Alentejo 59 but that the event had above all shown the quality of Portuguese wines currently in production.

The ViniPortugal competition had attracted some 1,070 wines from across mainland and archipelago Portugal with Monteiro adding that 80 percent of the wines gained the kind of classification worthy of medals even if only 25 percent or 280 wines of that total received any official recognition.

The wine specialist explained that due to the high quality levels, the competition had done away with bronze medals to hand out more silver medals.

The Dão region Quinta das Marias Touriga Nacional Reserva, produced by Peter Eckert, was the outright winner in the single caste wine section with the Rozés Porto Tawny 40 years winning the fortified wine category. 

Meanwhile, the Alentejo produced Terras d’Alter Reserva won the 2014 award in the mixed cast wine category.

The wines, representing a sector that generated €725 million in exports last year, were judged by 100 specialists including 25 international judges.

Source: Portugal News

Why Portugal is high on a wine lover’s list

People often ask me to name my favorite wine countries. I like to surprise them by putting Portugal high on the list.

I love Portugal because it offers tremendous value and variety, with wines that you won’t find anywhere else. And the Douro Valley, the region famous for those fortified ports and its stunningly beautiful landscape, leads the way.

Continue reading...

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10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Portugal

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10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Portugal

With its cities fast becoming chic hotspots and gorgeous coastline where you still can escape the crowds, Portugal is entering a new era of cool. So what are you waiting for? Here are ten of the most beautiful places to visit in Portugal:

Lisbon

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Being the capital of Portugal, Lisbon is an obvious place to start. It receives around half the fuss of other European capitals, but can easily equal them in beauty and charm. A lot of its attraction probably lies in its deep-rooted history, coming second only to Athens in the oldest European capital stakes. It’s actually a beautiful mix of old and new, and alongside the city’s endearing old-fashioned qualities, there is also plenty to please the boutique crowds. Visit the Gothic cathedrals, historic cafes, vintage trams and narrow lanes of Lisbon’s lovely backstreets and don’t forget the vibrant coffee bars and fabulous restaurants. The city is built on a series of hills, meaning that everywhere you venture within Lisbon you are practically guaranteed to have a gorgeous view.

Sintra

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Lord Byron’s favourite Portuguese haunt is this exceptional village, ripe with richly coloured buildings and breathtaking architecture. Palaces, turrets, a romantic Moorish castle and a misty dense forest are all part of this sweet little place. The vegetation is lush and exotic due to the microclimate. There are a host of historic buildings to take a look at, as well as clusters of leafy mansions with immaculate lawns and stunningly decorative features.

Porto

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With its 14th century walls, medieval winding streets, colourfully picturesque houses, bell tower and ornate tiles there is much to see in the newly fashionable city of Porto. Sit under the arches at Placa da Ribeira (the riverfront square) and watch the boats float past. Most apartments in the area have terraces that overlook the tranquil waters. Declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, it’s a combination of old worldly charm and bustling metropolitan culture, making it a very intriguing travel destination.

Douro Valley

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The river Douro winds through Spain and Northern Portugal. It was once a wild turbulent river, but the clever introduction of eight vast dams has tamed its spirit and it is now is very tranquil and peaceful. The beauty of the area isn’t limited to these still and shimmering waters, though. Bordered by stunning sweeping hills and expanses of delicate almond blossoms, it really is a beautiful part of the world. The area remains, for the most part, unspoilt, with roads zigzagging through the mountains and cruise boats softly pressing through the water. The Douro Valley is famed for supplying grapes to the best Port companies. In fact, you can see all of the major names proudly displayed on the hillside vineyards, which change colour through the seasons as the vines mature.

Óbidos

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This is an ancient fortified town located in the Estremadura Province. In the 13th century, Portuguese Queen Isabel was so enchanted by the village of Obidos that her husband, King Denis I, gave it to her as a present. This prompted a tradition of Portuguese kings buying this picturesque village for their queens, which lasted for many centuries. When you visit this beautiful spot, you’ll understand exactly why Isabel fell in love with it.

Cascais

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Once a sleepy little fishing village, Cascais is now a chic coastal resort famed for its glorious beaches, sophisticated nightlife, water sports and adventure pursuits. Always popular with artisans, writers and artists, due to its exquisite scenery, it boasts a remarkable selection of art, proudly displayed in The Conde de Castro Guimares Museum. Another of the town’s attractions is the smart new marina filled with yachts which shimmer and glisten in the bright sunshine.

Praia da Marinha

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Because of its proximity to the overly touristy Algarve region, many dismiss the beautiful beach at Praia da Marinha. It is certainly worth visiting though, as it is considered by many to be the best beach in Portugal and is classed as one of the Top 100 beaches of the world. Ideal for snorkelling and striking rocky cliff faces, it’s no wonder that this destination is so popular for luxury 5* holidays in Portugal.

Marvão

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Marvao is a beautiful medieval mountainside town in Alentejo that still has its original 13th century walls. The streets wind seductively between the surrounding walls, making Marvao a very beautiful place to visit. As you can imagine, the views from across the town are not to be missed. The lovely hotel Pousada do Marvao, Santa Maria, is the ideal place to stay. It consists of two of the village houses that have been converted, ensuring it is in keeping with the rest of the town.

Salema

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Situated three hours South of the capital, near Cape Sagres, Salema is a beautifully tranquil beach. Although located in the package holiday favorite the Algarve, this pretty village remains comparatively untouched by the ravages of tourism, offering just a scattering of eating places, a traditional outdoor market, one small main street and clusters of pretty white stucco houses. This peaceful fishing village is located between two sharp cliffs with a glorious sandy beach rolling between.

Évora

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Évora is a Portuguese city in the municipality of Évora. The beautifully preserved historic town has been classed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and when you visit, you’ll soon discover why. It’s home to a 2000 year old Templo Romano, a 16th century aqueduct that can be followed by foot for five miles and the incredible Capela da Ossos – a sinister crypt – which displays the full skeletons of over 5000 Evora residents.

Source: www.globalgrasshopper.com

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Do you surf? Portuguese app has all the info on the best spots!

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Do you surf? Portuguese app has all the info on the best spots!

The app SurfinPortugal has detailed information on more than 180 surf spots around the country.

Established in late 2012, the startup that organizes surf trips aboard minibuses now launched a new application: the location of the best places to surf every day and detailed characterization of over 180 spots around the country are available in the app of SurfinPortugal, who pretend thus providing a comprehensive guide to surfing.

"This app is the result of 20 years of travel between Peniche and Sagres. We wanted to leverage our expertise in an application that could be useful, especially for foreigners, who do not know the country. The app tells them where they are and how they can get where they want, with information on the conditions in each of the locations. Instead of graphics, we chose several times a plain text precisely to clearly explain to people how to get to the sites, rather than having an arrow pointing the way, "explains managing partner of SurfinPortugal, Manuel Moura.

The application is free and, for now, is limited between Peniche and Sagres, reporting on the conditions of the sea and the wind in places like Ericeira, Sintra, Cascais, Lisbon, Porto Covo, Vila Nova de Milfontes and Lagos, among others. It also has an automatic link to Google Maps, so users can get directions from the location where they are up to more than 90 beaches identified there or services, from restaurants to gas stations. The SurfinPortugal will soon include information about Nazareth, extending a little guide. "But I loved that in two years we had information for the whole country," confesses Manuel Moura.

Download

IOS: https://itunes.apple.com/pt/app/surfinportugal/id788747997?l=en&mt=8

Droid: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.surfinportugal

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Portugal off the beaten track

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Portugal off the beaten track

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Most Brits head to the Algarve when they go on holiday to Portugal, but it's safe to say they're missing a trick. The relatively unkown area of Alentejo is wildly beautiful, relatively tourist-free, and provides a wonderful alternative to the well-travelled coastline Brits know so well.

First things first: this region is vast. This off the beaten track area covers one third of Portugal but has a population of just 700,000 (ie, just seven per cent of the population). The emptiness becomes increasingly noticeable as we drive further away from Lisbon and approach our destination, Amieira Marina on Lake Alqueva. By the time we arrive, there's hardly a soul around, and this solace continues throughout our stay (we didn't encounter a single diner in either of the restaurants where we enjoyed our evening meals).

It matters not, though. In fact, that's why we're here, a hardy bunch of journalists bought to discover the region and spread the word of all the area has to offer. Alqueva is Europe's largest manmade lake, covering 250 square kilometres (most of it in Portugal but some of it in Spain too) and as soon as we arrive we begin to discover all sorts of things about the region's fascinating history. This area was only dammed in 2002: until then this was one of Europe's most arid, drought-ridden areas. The dam, which reached its current water levels in 2010, was built to provide irrigation and boost local industry and tourism.

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And it's this watery haven that will provide our accommodation during our stay: a houseboat on the lake. After the obligatory training and sailing lessons, we're keen to set out into the large expanse of water. The boats have a maximum speed of 10mph (probably to prevent the tourists from pretending to be James Bond in a speedboat – shame!) and the fastest never feels like more than a mooch. The lake suddenly feels even bigger as we travel from place to place at a sedate pace.

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Fascinating stops abound. First there's the rebuilt village of Luz, which is an eye-opener. The building of the dam meant that the original village had to be submerged and its inhabitants relocated to a new village, complete with a reconstructed church and cemetery. The museum here is fascinating and includes a room showing footage of the villagers before and after their home was sent to its watery grave: the final goodbye to the old cemetery is moving beyond belief. Windmills and even a castle are now submerged in the lake's depths: it could be a scuba diver's dream if someone wanted to develop it.

In the afternoon we drift off to the medieval hilltop village of Monsaraz which has amazing 360 views over the whole region. Walking around the old castle remains, we're lucky enough to be treated to a spectacular rainbow in the distance, and take many stunning panoramic photos.

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Nightfall brings fresh excitement for us all. Alqueva is a stargazer's dream: it was the first site in the world to receive the Starlight Tourism Destination awarded by the Starlight Foundation, supported by UNESCO. In other words, it is one of the rare places in Europe where light pollution is still minimal, and it has cloudless nights for more than half the year. The hotels in the area have been lent high-tech telescopes and I am astounded to be able to see the rings of Saturn as I gaze through one of them.

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Our trip isn't complete without a visit to Evora, the state capital, a UNESCO Heritage-classed town that is a great mix of Roman ruins, medieval walls, crumbling megalithic structures and 17th century palaces. Here you'll find lots of shops - it's the most touristy part of the region. Many of the items on sale are made of cork, which is grown a great deal in the region. You'll find cork bags, mats, wallets, hats and clothing... we even spot a cork wedding dress!

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This town is also home one of the strangest places I have ever been: a creepy chapel made out of human bones called Capela dos Ossos, created in the 17th century by Franciscan monks. As the town expanded beyond its medieval walls the graveyards outside them were dug up so they could be built upon. Rather than letting all the bones go to waste the monks used them to cover the walls and pillar of the surch to remind anyone entering that life is a fleeting thing.

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As we head home to the airport I think about who I'd recommend Alentejo to. It's certainly for those who like a bit of peace and quiet and who are keen to visit a relatively little-known part of Europe, ripe for discovery. The sedate lifestyle, fascinating history, beautiful landscape, starlit skies and laidback people make it a place to remember, and brings a lovely change from the usual hustle and bustle of Europe's more touristy destinations.

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Photos by: Getty, Alamy and Melinda Rogers

Source: www.flightjumpr.com by Melinda Rogers

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What is Portugal? 10 words that define an indefinable country

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What is Portugal? 10 words that define an indefinable country

RESILIENCE

The country with the oldest borders in Europe, the first to adopt its local tongue as its official language, has against the odds survived nine centuries of battles, wars, earthquakes, revolutions, the creation and loss of the world’s first global empire. The Portuguese resilience and adaptability makes certain that no matter what crisis the country goes through, there will always be a nation named Portugal, a bright city called Lisbon, the Tagus, the Douro, and the hills of Sintra

MONSARAZ | VILA VIÇOSA CASTLE

MONSARAZ | VILA VIÇOSA CASTLE

GLOBAL

With such an inviting coastline, Portugal has never been limited by its borders. Being the first Europeans in so much of Asia, Africa and the Americas allowed the Portuguese to transplant their culture in every corner of the globe. The result is that now Portugal has the broadest global spread of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of any country. There are Portuguese forts, churches and other monuments in the oddest, most unlikely of places – from China to Iran, Morocco, India, Malaysia, Kenya… And walk around Brazil and you’ll feel Portugal in a more tropical climate, including in Rio’s beaches, with their Lisbon-inspired wave-patterned pavements. Go to Thailand and the desserts you eat are of Portuguese influence. Learn Japanese and you’ll find that many words originate from Portuguese. Portugal is, more than any other, a global country.

SAGRES (ALGARVE)

SAGRES (ALGARVE)

TIME

Money can’t buy time and Portugal values time. Everything is discussed and decided over a long lunch or dinner where eating is less about being fed and more of a social ritual meant to be well savored. Portugal feels confident and mature enough to just sit back and relax, like a wiser old man who’s had a long fulfilling life and pauses to appreciate the views or a good cheese and bread, a fresh fish just out of the ocean, a glass of wine… Making time, being present and enjoying the now is what makes Portugal so seductive. Spend a few days in Alentejo or even in Lisbon and you begin to feel the clocks ticking slower, telling you to enjoy the moment. Time is Portugal’s wealth.

CASCAIS

CASCAIS

INDIVIDUALITY

It’s Mediterranean but it’s on the Atlantic, it’s Iberian but it’s not Spanish, it’s European but focuses more on the ocean, it’s Latin but with a more reserved Nordic-like temperament. Portugal is difficult to define in familiar terms, a low-profile land with a feeling of apartness, in its own little world that’s more ocean than dry land, more an island than part of a peninsula. It’s a tiny oasis of peace that prevents it from showing up on the radar screen of world news, making it an inconspicuous, indefinable, often overlooked country in a world driven by flashes, categories and trends. It’s a soulful place with a rare individuality, with a consciousness of its unique character, and with little-known treasures that make it so enigmatic and magnetic.

QUELUZ PALACE | ALENTEJO

QUELUZ PALACE | ALENTEJO

DISCOVERIES

Portugal was the pioneer of world exploration, giving “new worlds to the world” five centuries ago, but the country remains a land of discovery today. It probably has the most beautiful places you’ve never heard of and it’s very likely that it has the biggest variety of landscapes per square mile in the world — from the volcanic craters of the Azores to the subtropical world of Madeira, to the plains of Alentejo, the mountains of the Beiras, the verdant parks of Minho and Trás-os-Montes, to the ocher cliffs of Algarve. If the Gerês National Park or the medieval villages of Monsaraz or Marvão were in Italy, France or Spain they’d be filled with tourists at any time, but they’re usually deserted in Portugal. This is a country of constant surprises and unexpected, unsung wonders.

CABO DA ROCA | PORTO

CABO DA ROCA | PORTO

SEA

A small rectangle on the edge of the Iberian Peninsula which only takes two hours to cross from east to west really doesn’t have an interior. Portugal is therefore just one long coastline, a natural port that’s the entrance and exit point of Europe with an endless stretch of sand. Best of all are the mystical capes of Espichel, Sagres, Carvoeiro or Roca which still give you the feeling of being on the edge of the Earth as they did centuries ago before everyone knew the planet was round. It’s not surprising that the Age of Discovery and globalization started here by crossing the horizon as the West looked for the East.

Portugal is still energized by the ocean and the rivers that flow into it, getting from them much of what it eats and drinks – from the Atlantic, the Douro and the Tagus. Some of the country’s biggest icons also float on water – the rabelo boats, the old caravels and the colorful moliceiros of Aveiro.

SÃO LOURENÇO'S CHURCH, ALMANCIL | ÓBIDOS

SÃO LOURENÇO'S CHURCH, ALMANCIL | ÓBIDOS

BLUE

You may paint the word “Portugal” blue. That’s the color that covers the country, and not just because of the Atlantic. It’s also the color of the skies (Algarve is the region with the most sunshine hours per year in Europe and Lisbon is the sunniest capital), the color of the Azores stunning lagoons, and above all the color of the tiles (“azulejos”) that decorate the country from north to south. They’re in almost every church interior (and exterior, as seen in Porto), in train stations, in palaces, and in ordinary homes around Lisbon. Blue also colors the edges of buildings in the many mostly-white villages such as Obidos and around Alentejo. Portugal is blue.

SÃO FRANCISCO'S CHURCH, PORTO | ALGARVE

SÃO FRANCISCO'S CHURCH, PORTO | ALGARVE

GOLD

Portugal is also golden. That’s the color of Algarve’s cliffs, of the profusion of jewelry used in Minho’s folklore and traditional costumes, and of the filigree of the local handicrafts. But then there’s the extraordinary gilding in the churches and palaces, perhaps second only to the azulejos as Portugal’s national art. And gold and blue often go together around the country, presenting some of the most artistic and unique baroque art in Europe (in fact, the word “baroque” derives from Portuguese).

ALMENDRES CROMLECH, ALENTEJO | MONSANTO

ALMENDRES CROMLECH, ALENTEJO | MONSANTO

STONE

One of the most curious and fascinating aspects of Portugal is its abundant use of stone and how well preserved its pre-historic heritage is. From the world’s biggest outdoor Paleolithic art gallery in Foz Coa, to the numerous dolmens and stone circles in Alentejo, to the dinosaur fossils and footprints around the town of Lourinhã that is a real Jurassic Park. There are also the works of art in cobblestone that cover almost every city, the marble towns of Alentejo (Vila Viçosa, Estremoz), the well-preserved Roman mosaics of Conimbriga, or the Manueline architecture that stuns for its carvings. And the countless medieval castles or entire villages made of stone like Monsanto, Marialva, Sortelha, or Piodão… And every town of any importance has a “pelorinho,” stone columns or pillories, symbols of municipal authority transformed into works of art, usually richly decorated with Manueline motifs.

ALENTEJO

ALENTEJO

“SAUDADE”

Using “Portugal” and “saudade” in the same sentence may now sound like a cliché but it’s true that one word defines the other. Saudade has no exact translation in other languages, and it’s much more than nostalgia or melancholy as it’s often explained. It’s an intense passion for life, an acceptance of the incomplete, an appreciation of achievements or generating strength from the good and the bad times. It’s being aware of the passage of time, knowing that you can’t always control the randomness of fate, an insatiable appetite for romance and romantic images; it’s closing your eyes for a moment as you enjoy the image of a fantasy that you don’t dare say out loud. It’s filling the heart with a good memory brought about by a smell or by a feeling caused by a sound. It’s enjoying the view, feeling the serenity of a moment of silence as you sit in the sun or gaze out to the sea and the horizon. It’s finding happiness in simplicity and in small pleasures. It’s living with passion in small steps and being at peace between reality and desire. All this is caused by Portugal, through its history, its geography, its Fado music, its traditions and its “gentle ways.” So to truly understand Portugal you have to be consumed by “saudade” and that only happens after spending some time in the country. Saudade is Portugal and Portugal is saudade.

 

Source:http://www.lisbonlux.com

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Alentejo: Away from it all

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Alentejo: Away from it all

by Fiona MacLeod

A guest lodge owner tells how he was seduced by the unspoilt landscape of Portugal’s sparsely populated Alentejo region.
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Frank McClintock, owner of Quinta do Barranco da Estrada, with his parrot on the bank of Santa Clara lake
This article was published by Finantial Times on September 14, 2012. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7485e294-f812-11e1-828f-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz26uPETDPH

Twenty-five years ago guest lodge owner Frank McClintock set off from his family home in Dorset, in southern England, in a pale blue double-decker bus with first world war aircraft painted on its sides. It was loaded up with most of his possessions, and his new wife. Their destination was Portugal, and he has lived there ever since.

The couple had just returned from their honeymoon in southern Portugal where they had discovered the natural beauty of the sparsely populated Alentejo region, in particular the area among the rolling hills of cork forests (montados) bordering Santa Clara lake.

“Going to Portugal initially was a chance thing,” says McClintock. “We had no money and someone offered us a flat in the Algarve for our honeymoon. We had travelled by car and on the way south had come across the stunning countryside of the Alentejo. The Algarve, by comparison, was just flats and high-rises, dust and sand, not what we were after at all, so we drove every day up to the Alentejo to explore its unspoilt landscape. I completely fell for it and we decided on the spot to make a go of living there.”

On their honeymoon they struck up a friendship with a local Alentejo resident who had stopped to help them with a puncture. Although they couldn’t speak the same language, the Portuguese man managed to communicate that, if they were keen on finding something to buy in the area, he could find them a place to stay. “Nobody around here speaks anything apart from Portuguese but I’ve never found it difficult to speak with my hands and a smile,” says McClintock.

The couple decided to collect their possessions from England and to try Alentejo for three months. The double-decker, purchased in a field in Wales, was for McClintock the cheapest solution to moving lock, stock and barrel across Europe. “It took three days to drive to Portugal, including a bit of a detour to Belgium, where I wanted to visit Wilfred Owen’s grave. We picked up hitchhikers on the way.”

They soon blew their limited budget on 12 acres of land on a waterfront plot on the banks of the Santa Clara lake. Three small wooden shacks already stood on the site, providing some sort of base to live in at the outset. “In such an isolated area we knew we would have to earn a living through tourism, and the attraction of being on the water was a must.”

Twenty-five years on, Quinta do Barranco da Estrada is well established as an idyllic hideaway guest lodge that offers bird and nature tours and is run full-time by Frank and his second wife Daniella. A long, low building with several verandahed bedrooms sits in the grounds of a subtropical garden: agave, yuccas, date palms and Australian bottle brush grow there.

“The key to creating a garden from scratch, as we have done, is to grow some trees for shade and to install irrigation, as the heat can be searing here,” says McClintock. “It was a barren plot when we came but we now use all the waste water from the Quinta to hydrate the garden. We have a solar-powered pumping system that brings water from the lake up to a reservoir we dug above the buildings. This supplies all the water for the house and for a garden irrigation system at more or less zero cost.”

Most of what exists at the Quinta has been created through the hard labour and often hastily acquired skills of McClintock and visiting teams of friends, family and volunteers.

“When we came to the area it was very primitive – nothing much had changed since the 1930s, or even the 1430s. The locals used horses and carts and mules for transport on predominantly dirt roads,” says McClintock. “We had a Renault 4, which struggled to transport our heavy loads of building supplies up the miles of rough, bumpy track, so we used to bring everything across the lake on a boat and then barrow it up the hill to the building site. In those days everything had to come from the Algarve and nobody would deliver.”

Years later, inaccessibility still provides hurdles and frustrations. “We are 13km away from the main road but it is illegal for us to put a sign there, as the law says you can only advertise an attraction up to 9km away. Even though we are providing vital employment for local people in a very poor area, bureaucracy forbids something that would make a huge difference to the viability of our remote business.”

State administrative inefficiency is an aspect of Portuguese life that McClintock finds most exasperating. “It took me fully 18 years to legalise the building and business that we have here. I think most people would find that excessive.”

While there are downsides to living in such a remote area, McClintock says it has mainly been a source of pleasure, for him and his guests. “Although we are quite cut off, we have our own dinner party practically every night at the Quinta, hosting people from all over the world. One of the consequences of being so remote is that we have had to survive by marketing ourselves constantly.”

McClintock can’t see himself ever returning to England. “I really believe that what we are doing here in a small way makes a positive impact on the world. We provide local employment and by doing that help to keep the countryside going.”

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www.paradise-in-portugal.com & www.birding-in-portugal.com

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Portugal: One man on a bicycle in a land of beauty

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Portugal: One man on a bicycle in a land of beauty

David Baxter pedals through the idyllic landscape of the Alentejo region to find castles, standing stones – and sweet custard tarts

Visiting Alentejo

When the rain stopped and hazy sunshine emerged, I climbed off the bike and gazed around. The landscape was not dramatic, but it was utterly entrancing: an undulating expanse of green meadows dotted with cork oaks, holm oaks and olive trees, seemingly devoid of fences or walls. From this country road only the faint, tingling bells of unseen grazing animals and the call of birds could be heard. It was April and wild flowers were out in force, the meadows carpeted in yellow, white and purple, the waysides thronged with vivid poppies, rock roses, bugloss and alkanet.

I was in the depths of the montado landscape of the Alentejo region, which stretches across southern Portugal south of the Tagus and north of the Algarve. This corner of it lay close to Evora, the regional capital. The area has few big hills, but it is by no means flat – a fact that the cyclist quickly appreciates.

The montado may appear wild, but it is actually a tended ecosystem designed to produce a valuable crop – cork. Portugal produces three quarters of the world's cork, most of it used as wine-bottle stoppers. Cork oaks are harvested for their bark every nine years, and each tree is numbered to show when it was last stripped. Underneath their branches, sheep and goats crop the grass; pigs fatten up on the acorns.

My week-long, self-guided tour involved covering modest daily distances between towns. I'd been given detailed route maps and notes and my baggage was transported for me from one place to the next. All I had to do was pedal. The rainy day was an exception: most of these spring days were sunny and dry.

This area has long been a frontier, first between Christian and Moor, then Portuguese and Spanish. My itinerary connected several towns – including Monsaraz, Vila Viçosa and Estremoz – that clustered around castles which are now notable for their magnificence, when seen from afar, and for the views from their ramparts. Some, like Monsaraz, have become beautiful museum-pieces.

Imposing churches, convents and paços – fortified baronial palaces – abound, often displaying an array of Islamic, Gothic and Baroque elements. They remind visitors of grander times and flaunt the flamboyant native Manueline style, with motifs from Portugal's golden age of discovery and trade. These days, door and window surrounds are picked out in pastel blue, yellow or grey, a charming effect against stretches of white walls.

Lodging in Alentejo

Approaching Evora, I cycled along country tracks to several megalithic sites such as the Almendres cromlech, rediscovered in 1964 and one of the largest and oldest in Europe. More than 90 monoliths, typically around 10ft tall, stand on the hillside, as if enjoying the view. Some experts believe the two eliptical arrays of stones are, like Stonehenge, set at a latitude that captures the Moon at its zenith.

Evora itself is a Unesco-recognised gem, its cathedral, well-preserved Roman temple and museum, grouped conveniently at the end of narrow lanes winding up from the main Giraldo Square and arcaded shopping streets. Its historic mansions include one that belonged to the great explorer, Vasco da Gama. Rather more macabre is the ossuary lined with the bones of 5,000 people.

For lunch, I indulged in the first of many visits to a pastelaria, where a coffee and a small chicken pie, or a pastel de nata (custard tart), can be had for less than €2.

I moved on 30 miles towards Reguengos de Monsaraz. At the pottery at São Pedro do Corval I seized the chance to buy two small olive dishes, which promptly smashed when my parked bike fell over, a few hours later. Reguengos, now a wine centre, is where the inhabitants of Monsaraz moved when they got tired of their water-less hilltop fortress.

Next day, before tackling the climb up to Monsaraz, I paused on the banks of the Alqueva – a vast reservoir created by damming the river Guadiana. Its full extent was visible from Monsaraz's castle ramparts, along with swathes of the Alentejo and Spain. Below, along the Rua Direita, black openwork balconies stood out against the bright white walls of old houses.

Vila Viçosa, my next destination, was for centuries the base of the Bragança family, who supplied Portuguese kings and an English queen: Catherine, Charles II's wife. The imposing Paço Ducal is full of the finest artefacts, from azulejo tiles to Aubusson tapestries. Fascinating museums of archaeology, carriages and hunting are divided between the palace and the nearby castle, from where the Tapada Real, the royal hunting park, was visible. I wandered along streets of handsome town houses to the main square, flanked with orange trees heavy with fruit.

My hotel for the night was a delightful conversion of a 16th-century mansion, the Solar dos Mascarenhas. For dinner, I ate an açorda, a mixture of fish, bread and pennyroyal baked and served in a hollowed loaf, which I washed down with a glass of red. Alentejan cuisine is admired in Portugal: poverty, it is said, compels imaginative use of simple ingredients. Pork, bacalhau (salted cod) and dogfish are also much in evidence.

Around Vila Viçosa, a wasteland of marble quarries interrupts the rural idyll. The "white gold" is exported and is also used locally. I peered into deep, marble-lined pits and watched machines slowly cutting the blocks. Then, for lunch – as suggested by my tour notes, I stopped at a simple country restaurant and ordered the speciality: rabbit. It came in a huge earthenware dish with chips, salad and bread – all for less than €10.

I spent my final night at Estremoz's medieval castle, now a luxurious pousada with grand public rooms. It was here that I encountered my first tour group – I'd often been the only tourist in the small hotels I'd stayed in. The next morning, I wandered around the lively Saturday market with its array of cheeses, cured meats, live chickens, handicrafts, bric-a-brac and plants.

Estremoz should be one of Portugal's busiest places. After all, it's where the E90, the European superhighway between Madrid and Lisbon, meets the IP2 (the main north-south road). But the Alentejo seems miraculously untainted by the 21st century.

Source: The indenpendent

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