Old Europe, Old Port

old vintage port pictureVery Old Vintage Port

There was a time in history, maybe 40 years or so ago, when one mentioned a crusty bottle of well-aged “Old Burgundy” with a particular reverence. You don’t hear much about properly aged wines these days, like you don’t hear about “increasing the standard of living” or “power to the people.”

It’s a time that’s past, but you can relive it. Yes, there is a musty cellar with crud-covered bottles, encrusted with age and with such a delicate constitution of contents that disallows even the thought of the feather duster. You can visit it for a small sum.

velha port works pictureVelha Port Works in an interesting light

I’m talking Real Companhia Velha which sits apart—to the north and inland—from the port houses that line the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. The Real in the name of the corporation indicates a link to royalty, which is found in the bloodline of this port house, “The Real Companhia Velha was founded by Royal Charter of The King D. José I, under the auspices of His Prime Minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mello, Count de Oeiras and Marquis de Pombal.”

vintage port tour pictureOn the Vintage Port Tour

So how do you get this cobwebby tour, a tour that sets itself apart from all the others in Vila Nova de Gaia? First you make it to Real Companhia Velha, which not every cabbie in Porto knows how to get to. Ours had to make a call or two, but deducted some of the extra miles traveled by the time we arrived at the door.

Ask for the Vintage Tour. At the time of writing this set you back 7.50 euro. It’s best to reserve so you can get the tour in a language you can actually comprehend.

You’ll see a movie which is rather ho-hum. Then comes the time they drag you to the cellars, and suddenly you’re immersed this dark little world of unique wine. After you poke around a bit amongst the hoary bottles, you’ll come back to the light to taste some old Ports—not as old as all you’ll see and hear about, but old enough to let you know what you’ve missed all these years of limiting yourself to under $30 for a bottle of port.

1967 port barrel pictureOld Port

Essential Travel Information for Real Companhia Velha Tours

Contact info is here

Rua Azevedo Magalhães 314
4430-022 Vila Nova de Gaia

There are wines you can buy at the end of the tour and tasting, but they don’t bug you to buy anything, a very nice touch. The point of the place is to introduce you to the fine ports and make you familiar with the wines.

Search for the best prices for: Hotels in Vila Nova de Gaia | Hotels in Porto

Filed in: Porto, Wine


Bolhao Market, Porto

bolhao marketMERCADO DO BOLHÃO

It is an institution in downtown Portugal, this Mercado do Bolhão. Students plop down on the steps to sketch and watercolor the market, which, on that first glance inside, resembles an athletic stadium being used to house soldiers and the stuff needed to feed them (plus some flowers for that “love thine enemy” approach to war).

It all started in 1914 when the market was one of the first buildings to use a concrete and steel shell. These days the market has been declared a public interest monument in order to keep the wrecking balls away. It gets dribs and drabs of repairs and restoration. There are high hopes that the current mayor will have the political clout to upgrade the market and the contracts with the shopkeepers.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a great deal of life inside, still. The woman in front of the pile of greens notices our interest and fires up the big machine to show us how the black cabbage, like kale, gets cut into fine ribbons to be used in that traditional Caldo Verde, the iconic soup of Portugal.

market vegetables pictureHow do they get that nice, uniform chiffonade of kale for Portugal's Caldo Verde? There's a very noisy machine for that!

The best restaurants still come here. Unlike other markets in other lands, there isn’t a competition to make grand displays out of the vegetables. It’s food. Here, take this and eat.

I like that.

My measure of the creamy goodness of a market is to what degree it makes me wish I’d rented an apartment in town for a week or longer. Maybe a month isn’t long enough for Porto.

Why? Well, I could get some of that finely shredded black cabbage, then I’d go to Leandro’s:

leandro's sausage place porto pictureYou need a sausage break, try Salsicharia Leandro in the Market.

Sausage. Yes, all kinds. Gimme a Chorizo for my Caldo Verde. You probably can’t read the prices there on the back wall, but a kilo, 2.2 pounds of traditional chourico hand made by these guys will set you back a mere 5.90 euros. Imagine.

Oh, and ignore the fact that the guy in the picture seems to be giving one of those furtive glances around the joint before stealing a hunk of meat but, trust me, he works there and doesn’t steal meat.

In any case, we need a little garlic. It’s optional in the Caldo Verde, but hey, they have it:

garlic pictureThere is no shortage of garlic in Porto's Mercato do Bolhao

I mean, we pretty much have everything we need. Olive oil, another thing Portugal does as well as Italy, but in a different style, is available at the market, of course.

But all this is making us just a tad hungry, so:

Ready for a break? Stop in at the Balhao Wine House and watch the market from your table

At the Bolhão Wine Bar we can have a few artisanal sardines and some of that famous cornmeal bread and just a bit of wine while we contemplate what we might have forgotten to buy.

We’re talkin’ a fine day here.

So, if you’re like me, I’ll leave you with a link to some Apartments in Porto, just in case you’re having the same feelings about the market as I am.

And the market is very near some very interesting tourist attractions in Porto. Just look at the map:

Walking south toward the river brings you to the fantastically tiled São Bento Railway Station, then you can stay on the same trajectory to get to the fascinating Cathedral of Porto, the Sé do Porto

You can take a tour of foodie Porto, as we did, which includes the market and many nearby restaurants and eateries with Taste Porto Food Tours.

Filed in: Porto, Food


How Affordable is Portugal?

You don’t have to surf the big waves in the traveler’s online sea to hear that Portugal is a travel bargain. Some say it’s even cheap.

Well, it’s not “cheap” by any means. It’s affordable. We will attempt to put some figures on that in a minute.

But first, let’s talk about expectations and data. We’ve all seen just how cheaply one can live anywhere. Yes, go to the bakery, buy a miniscule bit of bread or some sort of mini-pizza, ask for some water, and you’re good to go. Have a coffee in a bar and hope there’s some sorta little cookie balanced on the little saucer your tiny cup goes in. Add lotsa sugar; it’s free. Meal, done.

But you don’t come to Portugal to eat like someone just having been tortured in a military prison. Or I’m arrogantly assuming this isn’t the case.

Portugal has great food. You shouldn’t miss it. So let me start at the high end. But let’s not do the high end of Lisbon or Porto, the big cities that are more expensive. Let’s start at a medium city in the center of Portugal, one I like called Aveiro.

It is in Aveiro that you’ll find Salpoente, a high-end restaurant that specializes in cod (Especialistas em Bacalhau!), built inside a defunct salt warehouse. I will show you the picture of Salpoente’s “special” table. It’s the chef’s table.

salpoente chef table pictureSalpoente: The Chef's Table

I, a lowly scribe, did not eat at the “special” table. But that’s a specially designed copper light fixture worth more than my car, just so you know what a special place Salpoente is. The chef’s name is Duarte Eira and he’s not here to wean the Portuguese off cod, but to entice them to see it in a new light.

salpoente cod martini pictureThe place is awash in modern art by hip Portuguese artists. Exhibits change often. You can get such fanciful items as a cod martini, a traditional cod soup all fluffed up and served in a martini glass with a cracker gangplank atop it, upon which cod sushi balances precariously. No kidding. The dish is there on the right. It was tasty as all get out.

Ok, so you want to know how much the most expensive tasting menu would set you back at Salpoente? The Menu de degustação, 5 plates selected by the Chef, will have you reaching into your wallet to the tune of 45€ per person. It’s not cheap, not like yesterday’s stale bread, but try to find a better deal for top notch food in San Francisco or even Peoria, for example. And remember, the tax and service is included, so it’s a better bargain than you thought.

But that’s a top notch restaurant. Let’s walk around Aveiro and see what the Hoi polloi are chowing down on. Well, there’s this:

sopa de legumes price pictureAviero: The Price of Vegetable Soup

Yes, in a place where folks get together to eat “regular” food, traditional stuff like the soups the Portuguese are nuts about, a big bowl of vegetable soup will cost you just over a Euro, say a buck and a half ($1.50).

If you’re used to paying a lord’s ransom for wine as you do in a top restaurant in the US, you will be glad to know that you’ll save even more in Portugal. There’s also a craft beer Renaissance going on, if that floats your boat.

porto wine tasting prices picturePorto Market: Port Wine by the Glass Prices

The sign is from the Bolhão Wine House inside the fabulous Porto Market, Bolhão Market, where you can taste 3 different port wines for a mere 7 Euro and get some cheese and ham for just a bit extra. The Bolhão Wine House has lots of things to nibble on—and you get to watch the colorful parade of Portuguese shoppers buying fresh vegetables and meats for no extra charge.


lodging cost sign pictureAveiro: Local Lodging with Prices

Yes, the savings apply to lodging as well. Portugal was late to the hostel game, which means they missed out totally on the “cram as many beds in a room, clean it once a month and call it a place to stay” part of the hostel game.

But Portugal has caught up. A Medium sized hostel space with kitchen access can be had for about 20 euros a person. I’m talking award winning, clean, spacious hostels. Portugal is king in that space.

Ok, so decipher this: Lisbon, Lisbon, Porto, Lisbon, Lisbon, Lisbon.

Give up? These are the first six places in the category “top 10 medium hostels” around the globe! according to Hostelworld’s Hoscars 2014. Oh, Lisbon took 9th place as well.

Of course, if you want a historic place to stay in luxury with a restaurant inside that serves fine food, there are always Portugal’s famous Pousadas, often available for less than 100 euros a night for a double, nearly half what you might pay in Italy. Look at the specials to save even more. Note that if you’re older than 55 years of age, the price can drop as low as 69 euros for a hotel room inside a historic convent or castle.

Here are some prices to check out, just so you know I’m not pulling your leg:

Lisbon Hostels | Porto Hostels

The bottom line is that Portugal is every bit as exciting a destination as Spain, France or Italy. There are great Roman sites (and Roman wine!), fabulous restaurants, historic places to stay, a ton of coastline, and fine weather. And you don’t have to pay a premium for all these things. Thank of that when you plan your European Vacation.

(A good source of the cost of common things in Portugal is found here: Travel Prices in Portugal.)

Filed in: Travel Tips, Where to Stay


Eels and Aveiro

This is pretty much a public service message for those of you who’ve developed a taste for eel. There’s not much place in the United states where one might actually acquire such a taste outside of Japanese restaurants, so I am thinking I’m speaking to a very select group of people here.

Eel is a staple in Sardinia, especially at festival time. Comacchio, an Italian city on the Adriatic coast also harvested great numbers of them in the recent past.

But Aveiro also had a past enlivened by the squirming, snake-like creature.

Fishermen in Aveiro are participating in environmental conservation measures to help restore the sustainability of a once economically valuable species: the European eel. Their participation is allowing researchers to go further and faster in their study and giving fishermen a role in assessing eels stocks, and a voice in proposing conservation measures. ~ A future for the eel, fishermen and researchers cooperate

The homey tavern/restaurant called A Tasca do Confrade serves the traditional caldeirada de enguias (eel stew). It’s one of their specialties. Here:

caldeirada de enguias pictureCaldeirada de Enguias (eel stew)

It was quite good. It was preceded with:

fried eels aviero pictureFried Eels at A Tasca do Contrade in Aviero, Portugal

I’d say A Tasca do Confrade is doing its part in bringing eel to the attention of hungry folks in Aveiro. It’s on Rua dos Marnotos, 34. Highly recommended.

Filed in: Centro, Food


Taberna do Largo

taberna do largo interiorSir! Your sausage is on fire! Get your Camera!

I always go a bit giddy when I stumble across an occurrence of young people reviving what was once a tiny bit of their parent’s past. It’s not that I’m all that nostalgic, but the world has quickly and quietly gone mad, and a little detour back to the roots under such conditions isn’t such a bad thing.

Taberna do Largo came to be after a years worth of the owner’s wandering of Portugal, looking for the best artisan foods and wine to stock it with. There is barely a need for a kitchen. Instead of a stainless steel grill there’s a little ceramic vessel you just throw a sausage on and light, as you see above.

Yes, people have been figuring out how to preserve meat and milk for millennia. By now, if you don’t let some industrial firm have it’s way with it until your food becomes unimaginably bland, they’ve got it pretty well figured out. Artisan cheese and salumi is head and shoulders above the industrial junk. And the bread! The use of corn meal and flour in the bread of Portugal makes a delightful change from plain ‘ol white bread.

All you have to do is open a space and serve all this up and the enlightened will come.

So that’s what Taberna do Largo does. It’s part of a very good trend. I’ve written about a Roman version of a restaurant like this: Tastevere KmZero and it’s a very popular article. Perhaps you are sick of industrial crap food and want some lovingly treated, preserved animal meat or milk (cheese) to grace your tongue. Well, plan a trip to Europe and let’s start discovering (and investing in the right stuff by putting our money on good food).

taberna do largo entrance pictureAt Taberna do Largo you can discover Portugal’s fabulous and underrated wines as well as the bread, olives (and olive oils), cheeses and meats that make up the cuisine. You don’t have to do it alone. You can do it in a group with Taste Porto Food Tours. Andre treated us well, gave us insight into the culture of Portuguese food as well as the current economic mess the country is in.

If more people jumped into the market with products that took lots of love and care (labor) to produce, maybe the world and its bizarre economic conditions would heal.

Oh, and what’s up with that horrible grab shot of the door up there on the right? That’s how you get into Taberna do Largo. There’s no sign you can read. The older folks around Porto can read it just fine of course. The sprig of Bay leaves over the door tells them that this is a Tavern, a place of restoration for the body and the senses.

Taverna do Largo
Largo de S.Domingos, nº69, Porto, Portugal
Closed Monday

Filed in: Porto, Wine


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