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Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Photo: Tamega River flows under bridge
The Tamega River flows under a Roman-era bridge in the scenic town of Amarante.
Photograph by Richard Klune/CORBIS
The westernmost country of mainland Europe, edged by the Atlantic to the west and south and Spain to the north and east, it’s best known as the great seafaring nation that created a global empire stretching from Africa to Asia to South America in the 15th and 16th centuries. • This rugged wedge of the Iberian Peninsula has its own long history of being overrun, but today Portugal is one of Europe’s best kept secrets, with great food and wine and spectacular countryside at some of the Continent’s best prices.

Photo: Barcos rabelos anchored on Douro River, Porto, Portugal
Photograph by Michael Melford
Port produced in the Douro Valley was once shipped downriver to the city of Porto in sailboats called barcos rabelos, anchored here along the Douro River. "We could see long cellars hunkered down on the riverbank, their slanted roofs emblazoned with the names of the port trade's biggest players: Croft, Taylor, Sandeman, Graham, Cockburn," says writer Rachel Howard. "As the light fades in the west, and the city lights come on, this is a magical time to be out strolling along the promenade that lines both sides of the river," says photographer Michael Melford.

Photo: Shepherd with dog, Quinta do Vesuvio, Portugal
Photograph by Michael Melford
A shepherd stands above a vineyard at Quinta do Vesuvio, "a grand, five-century-old estate that exclusively produces vintage port," according to writer Rachel Howard. "After the harvest, the sheep come and eat what is left of the fruit on the vines," says photographer Michael Melford. "I sat and watched as the dog and the shepherd worked as a team to direct the sheep through the vineyard and up the hill." Once known only for its port wine, the Douro Valley now also produces highly regarded table wines. Travelers here can visit vineyards and explore tiny villages.
Photo: Faded building facades in Porto, Portugal
Photograph by Michael Melford
The facades of buildings reveal Porto's faded grandeur. "Scrawny dogs scavenged in alleys so narrow they were in perpetual darkness," says writer Rachel Howard. "Lured by the mournful strains of fado, the Portuguese music dedicated to the pangs of love and exile, we stepped inside dimly lit bars in the Rua de Como da Villa. The medieval cathedral loomed above the city, almost sinister in its bulk. The double-tiered Dom Luís I bridge, built in the 1880s, afforded giddying views over the city, which appeared to have changed little in the intervening years."
Photo: Vineyards in Douro Valley, Portugal
Photograph by Michael Melford
Vineyards hug the hills near Chanceleiros village. Hiking the Douro Valley, author Rachel Howard and her friend Angelos Talentzakis encountered only the occasional pickup truck or flock of sheep. "The world's oldest demarcated wine region, the Douro had its boundaries set in stone in 1756," says Howard, "when the Marquis de Pombal put up granite pillars to define the area officially permitted to produce port. The entire valley is now a World Heritage site, and several wine estates have recognized the potential of turismo rural, offering tasting tours and rooms to rent."

Photo: Local woman walking stone street, Portugal
Photograph by Michael Melford
A local woman walks a stone-paved path at the Alojamento Senhora da Ribeira, a riverside inn where writer Rachel Howard spent the night. "It was pitch dark by the time we reached the tiny station of Vesuvio, 75 miles east of Porto. We boarded a motorboat and glided across the inky river under a dusting of stars. The immense quinta loomed out of the darkness on the south bank of the river." That night, Howard enjoyed a dinner of roast lamb with pomegranate at the inn's humble but homey restaurant.

Photo: Night view of Porto, Portugal
Photograph by Michael Melford
A night view of the city of Porto shows the Igreja dos Grilos, a church built in the 17th century. Arriving in Porto before heading to the Douro Valley, writer Rachel Howard visited the city's cacophonous Mercado do Bolhäo, the food market. "Among the garlands of sausages, chili peppers, live chickens, and plastic flowers were beef and pig tripe, destined for the city's famous dish, tripas à moda do Porto," says Howard. "Residents of Porto are nicknamed tripeiros for their long association with the dish."

Photo: Woman makes bread at Barrigodos bakery, Favaois, Portugal
Photograph by Michael Melford
At the Barrigodos bakery in the village of Favaois, "huge bundles of pine needles are used as kindling," says writer Rachel Howard, "giving their bread a delicious smoky flavor. The baker produced some warm rolls, along with homemade jam and a demijohn of port while we were there. Thankfully, there was only enough to fill one glass, as it was industrial strength. When I explained that we were walking the seven miles to Vilarinho de Säo Romäo, she crossed herself and did a little jig. I gathered that after a few more sips of port we'd be dancing all the way there."

Photo: Stormy night in Portugal

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