Taking advantage of Portugal’s hospitality and simple luxuries, this journey provided the perfect mix of relaxation, adventure and culinary experiences.
The more that I travel, the more I find that I am redefining what a luxury getaway means to me. An attempt to see every site and monument in a new city or country is not only unrealistic; it is also exhausting. Having learned my lesson, I decided to take a relaxing seven-day road trip through Portugal, allowing myself the luxury of being present in each moment.
Day One – Setting the Tone
I rented a car in Porto, and began a scenic drive to the serene Douro Valley (the oldest demarcated wine region in the world). The goal was to slow down, get in a good sleep pattern, learn how to better incorporate exercise into my travels and take time to stop and smell the roses (or was it stop and take time to sip some wine?). With these goals in mind, Six Senses Douro Valley was the natural choice.
As an enrollee in their Sleep Program, the room was already setup with an amenity package of sleep supplies, including bamboo fiber pajamas, a SHOKAY eye mask, ear plugs, nose strips, nasal neti pot, jasmine sleep spritzer and a worry journal.
Considering the jet lag that I was already experiencing, an early dinner was perfect. I enjoyed the regional cuisine in the relaxed fine dining restaurant, Vale de Abraão, which was personalized with the sommelier’s excellent pairings of local wines. Favorite dish: Prato d’Enchidos Regionais (mixed grill of regional sausage). Favorite wine: rich and fruity 2008 Borges Dão Reserva Tinto.
I ended my day with a spritz of the jasmine sleep aid, a hot cup of chamomile tea, and then turned on the soothing sleep machine and drifted off to sleep with the sounds of waves crashing on the beach – simple luxury.
Day Two – Discovering Douro Valley (and Yoga)
For the first time in over a year, I enjoyed eight hours of excellent sleep. Ready to start the day, I enjoyed a quick (yet very impressionable) visit to the “kitchen” for an amazing breakfast – fresh detox smoothies, vine ripened fruit and the fluffiest egg white omelet I have ever tasted. Delicious!
Tranquil views of the terraced vineyards were the backdrop for a morning yoga class. The calming sound of my instructor’s voice (Lise) gently guided me through the positions, as my mind and body began to awaken and prepare for everything that the day had planned for me.
Later in the day, I hiked up the nearby hill to “Port Knox” where I met with fun-loving Port producer, Miguel Braga, of Quinta do Mourão Vineyards for a full assault of Port tasting in a seriously dark cave. We sipped 12 varieties, some directly from the casks. Favorite Ports: 10 year old and the 1972 – Mother of the 30 year old Port. Both were strong, but smooth.
There was a nap somewhere in the late afternoon, not because I had too much Port, but simply because I could! A pre-dinner wine tasting of four vintages in the Wine Library at Six Senses was not only enjoyable and delicious, but also very educational. Having arrived with such little knowledge about the history of Port and this region, I already found myself with a huge appreciation for the Douro Valley, and the wines of Portugal as a whole.
Day Three – Off the Beaten Path in Amarante
The more than two-hour drive to Amarante took a bit longer than expected – largely due to the hills, twists and turns along the way. Plus, I could not resist stopping to snap photos of every picturesque peak and valley along the way.
Once I arrived, I checked into the romantic five-star Relais & Chateaux Casa da Calçada in the quaint village. I was immediately drawn to its architectonic heritage, and could not help but to begin exploring on foot even before unpacking. The Amadeo de Souza Cardosos Museum and the São Gonçalo Church were completely mesmerizing.
An impromptu lunch at Estoril, a total hole-in-the-wall find that served lunch family-style, proved to be the unknowingly perfect solution. The back patio hung over the Támega River, providing incredibly peaceful views while enjoying a simple yet tasty meal of chicken, rice, salad, root vegetables and fries. The house red wine in a glass jar completed the understatedly delicious meal.
More afternoon exploring involved more stairs than I could count, along with the multiple elevations along the way – all resulting in me being famished. Fortunately, dinner was at Casa da Calçada’s phenomenal one Michelin-Star restaurant, Largo do Paço, where I left not one crumb on my plate – delicious luxury.
Day Four – Blue Skies and the Bright Colors of Porto
A casual day trip to Porto proved to be spellbinding. I have always been amazed at the photos that I have seen of Porto, but seeing the cascades of colorful roofs in person exceeded even my greatest expectations.
Lunch at the art deco Majestic Café was a feast for the eyes, and for the taste buds. Nearby shopping in several great boutiques proved that these local artisans had discovered how to take the inspiration from the wondrous colors of the city when developing their creations. Meandering through the back alleys, quiet streets and serene parks was a treat. Experiencing Porto like a native was priceless.
Back at “home” in Amarante, I caught a poetic dinner at the refined restaurant Probe Tolo. The local favorites of Crocante de Queijo c/ Chutney de Maçã (Fried brie with apple chutney) and the Tranches de Pescada de Anzol c/ Arroz Caldoso de Tomate (Hake fished with a hook with tomato rice) were prepared to perfection, and oh so delicious.
Day Five – Spiritual Stop and a Seaside Siesta
Heading south towards the coast, I felt the need to stop and simply reflect. I visited the Parish of Fatima, which is one of the most important Catholic shrines in the world that is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. I attended mass at Capelinha(Chapel of Apparitions), where I was honored to witness a gathering of faithful pilgrims who were painfully crawling across 1,000 feet of marble after their long journey, inching closer and closer to the chapel. Once these pilgrams arrive, they are able to enter a side door that is reserved for those who successfully make the arduous journey in search of a miracle. What a luxury this was to witness such a moving tribute to their faith.
Feeling uplifted, it was an easy (and beautiful) drive to a fort that has been transformed into a five-star property, Hotel Fortaleza do Guincho. Located in the trendy resort town of Cascais, this bright yellow fortress stands out against the bright blue Atlantic water and pink sandy beaches.
Most of the rooms here have ocean views, and I felt lucky to have one of the best options. Room 210 has two balconies, complete with panoramic views of the cliffs and surf that seem to extend forever. The interior design has some catching up to do in order to match the natural beauty of the hotel’s surroundings, but the breathtaking sunsets and rhythmic crashing waves more than made up for the outdated décor.
Hotel Fortaleza do Guincho is part of Relais & Chateaux, so I naturally expected a marvelous meal in their one Michelin-star restaurant. Sous Chef Gil did an outstanding job representing fine Portuguese gastronomy. He nailed every dish in terms of flavor and texture; and each course was plated elegantly and uniquely. The wines were paired superbly; and the apricot colored sparkling wine (a blend of Pinot Noir, Baga and Touriga Nationale grapes) was definitely my favorite.
Day Six – Natural Beauty and a Day Trip to Bustling Sintra
A morning stroll through the National Park just seconds away from the hotel was a great way to begin the day. Walking along the boardwalk within the sand dunes, I was able to appreciate the natural elevations that allowed me to take in the imposing views of Cabo da Roca (mainland Europe’s most western point), which was once considered as being the place where the “land ends and the sea begins.” Breathtaking.
The day trip to the tourist town of Sintra was charming (but also a bit stifling). The fairytale Pena Palace(UNESCO World Heritage Site) and The Castelo dos Mouros(centuries old ruin and major feature of the gardens of the Palace) are two of the main attractions perched grandly above the city. Although I adored seeing the eclectic mixture of architecture (Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance), the attractions were teeming with crowds, making me feel a bit claustrophobic.
The charm of the town lies in the hillside restaurants and shops. Tip: It is quite a steep walk from the town below, and queues for buses are long. Tuk-tuks (small three-wheeled vehicles) are a fun and convenient way to get up and down quickly.
Day Seven – Let’s do Lisbon
The transition from the breezy coast to the steamy city was easier than expected, thanks to the hospitality from everyone at the Four Seasons Ritz Lisbon. A cool and refreshing fruit smoothie was waiting in my lovely room, which I enjoyed while sitting on the shady balcony that overlooked the Eduardo VII Park.
There was no way that I could do Lisbon justice with only one day to explore, but I did enjoy the highlights from the open air hop-on, hop-off tour buses, and it saved my legs for a massive workout in the absolute best hotel fitness center that I have ever experienced. The rooftop track has killer panoramic views of the city, and the gym has virtually every piece of weightlifting and cardio equipment that a professional athlete would ever desire.
Even though my time was short in Lisbon, I felt surprisingly fulfilled while crossing off many major sites from my bucket list, and completing a hearty workout. My getaway to Portugal was the epitome of luxury – simple, healthy, delicious, relaxed, spiritual, nature-filled and fulfilling.