Quinta de La Rosa is a Port Wine producing estate
Quinta de La Rosa consists of 135 acres of A grade vineyards in the heart of the upper Douro, recently classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The property is owned by the Swedish Bergqvist family, formerly trading under the family name of Feuerheerd Bros, who have been shipping Port Wine since 1815.
In 1988 Tim Bergqvist, and his daughter Sophia, decided to re-launch Quinta de La Rosa as an independent estate. They took advantage of the change in Port Wine regulations which enables producers to sell Port direct from their estates and not through the established houses based at Vila Nova de Gaia, near Oporto.
Nowadays, all aspects of production are done on site: growing, harvesting, treading and vinifying followed by maturation, blending and bottling.
This is still one of the few Quintas, where you get a personal guided tour.
If you are lucky, Sophia Bergqvist can be your guide - she speaks Portugese/Swedish/French and German.
The Quinta has 6 rooms and 2 cataring houses, all with a splendid view over the river Douro.
10 Days in Portugal
"On the Road"
As I stepped off the plane in the Madrid airport on our brief layover before arriving in Lisbon, the first things I noticed was the prevalence of the yogurt vending machines in the terminal and the occasional, strong pockets of body odor that permeated the air. Smell is indeed one of the most invasive of the human senses, and the yogurt was just plain bizarre. I was definitely in a foreign land. The feeling of actually being in a country where I didn’t speak any of the local language combined with the new sights and sounds (and smells) was a bit overwhelming for a few minutes. Some people stepped in my way on the walk to our next flight. How would possibly I say “excuse me”? I didn’t even attempt it. Instead, a true outsider in a foreign land, I politely waited until the obstacle moved along at its own accord rather than verbally coaxing it out of my way as I would have done at home. Patience is truly a virtue, I guessed, when one is to travel in foreign lands. The meal on our next flight towards Lisbon was somehow more distinguished in my mind simply because I was expecting the differences. A salad with a piece of salty fish and a chicken breast, combined with some dark chocolate and a glass of red wine became that much more intriguing to me. Red wine with lunch… I liked it. It wasn’t anything special really, but because I was hoping to notice the differences, I found that I did. The meal somehow spoke of a culture that ate better than my own. Or at least the selection of foods that arrived to me on an airplane was more inline with my ideal than the usual “Lunchable” and a Pepsi that I would have received on a domestic flight in the States. Certainly flying first class for a change also contributed to the dining quality (thanks Dad!). I was excited for the dining that would be had on the trip for sure. What foods would I try? How would I enjoy the new tastes? Would I get violently sick like that one time in Mexico?
Arriving in Lisbon was a somewhat shaky experience. First of all, having predicted troubles with money upon reading an Internet article about the difference of ATM codes (six digits versus four back home), I was not surprised that we couldn’t withdraw money from any of the four or five ATM’s we tried at the airport. Our first foreign interaction at the airport bank was also amusing as we ran in to a fellow traveler from Chicago (a lone female, I was impressed to note), having the same money problems we were. We assumed that it was not just our cards, but hoped that it was a temporary glitch in the computer system. Still, we ate up some of our borrowed cell phone minutes (extremely handy to have on our trip) contacting our banks to be sure in order to avoid further problems during the rest of our trip. We realized that giving the credit card companies and banks a heads up of 2 weeks of out-of-country charges was better than suddenly having your card turned off from the automatic fraud detection that is in place (and probably prone to occurring right when the tab arrives at the most expensive restaurant of the trip). Better to be safe than sorry.
"Cars & Lost in Lisbon"
As we arrived at the rental car agency, I wished that I had done better research about insurance policies when traveling abroad. Would my State Farm cover me in Portugal? I guess having “State” in the name of the company should have been my first clue. The gentleman at the rental car counter was kind enough to remind me to check with my credit card company for potential coverage, despite nearly tacking on the 300 Euros he could have easily done (and I would have easily paid) for their private coverage. Suddenly having “zero liability” for an expensive vehicle in a foreign land was worth quite a lot to me. Especially a vehicle with a soft top. It turned out that Citicard covered me to the tune of $50,000 full-coverage, theft included—so with that, we were happily on our way in the VW Bug convertible we got at a very modest rate simply by booking a room at a European hotel (Europcar knocked off 30% of the car rental cost as a partner to the hotel—I luckily discovered that after booking a single night at the Ibis—the savings were worth more than 2 or 3 nights at the hotel!).
Driving “roundabouts” are commonly exaggerated in movies as the first driving nightmare you will encounter in a foreign country. There is a reason for this. Remember the Chevy Chase scene in one of the Vacation movies where he says “look kids, there’s Big Ben again?” Well, as we descended upon Lisbon roads (barely marked with street signs… the few that exist are usually on the sides of buildings), we discovered that we would fall into orbit in a roundabout nearly every mile. This seemed fun at first until we were launched into what I will refer to as the “granddaddy roundabout” somewhere in the center of Lisbon, right after we lost our way for the first time. This was where cabs roamed free as some kind of wicked automobile asteroid belt that you had to penetrate to find your appropriate exit. It was like a life sized game video game gone bad. I am proud to say that I did it in one shot. I would be lying if I didn’t mention that I got some horn honks. But I received no dents to the bumper, and that’s what is important.
Arriving at the Ibis in Lisbon, we discovered why people drive small cars in Europe. Descending into their underground parking garage reminded me of a mechanical version of Dante’s Inferno. Turns were treacherous and nearly impossible to make without executing a 20-point maneuver. Despite having mirrors to allow people to watch for our descent, other drivers would whip around the turns, clearly more familiar with the auto ant-farm than us. However, we wiggled our way into a second-level spot (we were quite sure our car was too large to make it to the third level…yes, a VW Bug was too large) and we vowed not to move the car until forced to do so… as in leaving for Sintra two days later (public transportation seemed very inviting at that point).
The Ibis was a clean establishment, the people were friendly, and the room was all that was promised for its modest rate. However, to be sure: all that was promised was a clean room. It was tiny, and the lone window was similar to what I’ve seen on city jails. Still, for a place to rest one’s head during a couple days of sight-seeing, it was perfectly acceptable. The firmness of the European beds took me a couple of days to get used to, but I knew somewhere in the back of mind that firm beds were supposed to be good for one, and after an extended day with jet lag we could have slept on concrete and been happy. One mistake we made as we killed time trying to stay awake for a full day like they tell you to do (rather than napping as soon as you arrive) was to go and see a movie. Don’t ask… they were shown in English and it seemed like a huge novelty as we bought our tickets. But as you might imagine… a boring Johnny Depp film and a darkened theater don’t help one to stay awake. We raced out to have dinner as soon as it was over. I think we both kept pinching each other to stay awake, but I can’t really recall.
"Doing Time in Lisbon"
Our two days in Lisbon (or rather, a full day and an evening) were filled with mixed reviews from both of us. At the Saldanha restaurant “Duq’s”, we made a decent friendship with one of the waiters there who proved to be friendly enough to do an absinthe shot with me on the second night (his nickel, I was the one curious enough to suggest absinthe). We got some good advice from the people we made friends with about what to see and what to avoid. Nevertheless, people in Lisbon leaned more towards the curt side, and we noted that we should strive to improve our pronunciation after being laughed at on a few occasions for saying some of the words incorrectly. It surprised us at how easily misunderstood we were for inflection and tone of voice over phonetic accuracy. If somebody approached me in Chicago asking where the “Ruck Und Rawl Mic Duwnulds” was I think I would still under stand them. Yet when asking where we might catch some of the local Fado music (pronounced “fah-doo”, emphasis on the “fah”), you’d think we were asking which exit would land us on Mars. It was entertaining in a self-deprecating kind of way to listen to the comments about “Americans” and the laughter that would transpire pretty much right in our face after our slip-ups. People were often summoned over to partake in the humor right before our eyes. Resiliently, we hoped it was just a nuance of the humor that didn’t translate as well as we’d have liked. Some good advice from my brother included only taking away what you wanted to from a traveling experience and so we imagined that they found us cute instead of daft.
We managed to see a lot of neat things in Lisbon. We saw the Palace de Sao Jorge, the Elevador De Santa Justa, many churches, intriguing city streets, pastelerias, restaurants, the subway system, and most other things tourists would do. We attended Luso for an expensive dinner that evidentially also bought us admission to the best Fado music in all of Lisbon (or so some locals told us). It was quite good, I will admit. We had to keep telling ourselves that the extreme price of dinner paid for the show too though. The general areas of Bairro Alto, Alfama, and Baixo were quite entertaining to us, and the combined history of Portugal’s maritime status as a world power along with the earthquake of 1755 that leveled a good portion of the city provided an interesting history lesson for much of the architecture that we observed. Despite Lisbon having an opportunity for a dramatic rebuild in the later 1700’s, it was still an incredibly dense, chaotic city. The main roads were laid out like a more modern city, in a linear fashion, but many of the side roads took on a sprawling, winding feel that (when combined with the lack of road signs) made it feel like a maze at times. We felt safe most of the time, but we heeded the frequently posted warnings to avoid pick-pockets on the side-streets and to stay out of certain areas after dark. It was only common sense. When an area of Lisbon was shady… it was shady, and you could tell. We just stayed away from those parts like any other city.
We were not overly saddened to be leaving Lisbon on the start of our third day of travel. We felt good having seen the sights we wanted to check off our list, but the lure of more rustic (and beautiful) surroundings held a lot of appeal after some of the crowded, awkward experiences we had in a dense, foreign city on the first nights of our trip. Speaking the language would naturally have done wonders for our experience, but there was also a certain charm in having to communicate through limited English and hand gestures. We imagined that charm would probably increase as the pace of the surroundings decreased—essentially, where people would have more patience for our sole Portuguese phrase of “do you speak English?” and what came to feel like our traveling one-liner show. We were right. As we entered Cascais and Sintra outside of Lisbon, we knew that we were finally on the right track for parts of the country that we truly wanted to explore and turn into memories. Cascais had the feel of a sleepy fishing resort town during the day, and we enjoyed lunch in a café and some shopping in the local shops. Suddenly things felt more laid back and comfortable to us. Part of that feeling was probably being less intimidated as we had been by the sprawl and pace of a big city like Lisbon. I purchased a CD of a Portuguese rock band that I had discovered playing in many of the music stores we visited, and it felt pretty good to finally feel like we were getting a bit closer to the culture (and enjoying it). Secondly, as we entered Sintra where we were to stay on our third night, we realized just how beautiful Portugal could be. Sintra was a city built on the side of a very large hill (nearly a mountain) leading up to a castle and a palace right at the summit. We visited the palace, and it was quite interesting. Surrounded by forests, charming residences, and just the right amount of restaurants and shops, Sintra felt almost too good to be true. As some of the prices reflected, it was. It was a true tourist trap. Still, we didn’t care. We gladly paid price and a half for wine and port just to try a taste of the local offerings. Later on the trip we were told that the term “port” is actually not overly appreciated by the Portuguese people. Evidentially, it is called port due to the fact that it is exported from the country, and since the residents of Portugal feel like they enjoy their national product as much as anyone else, that it should be called “genuine wine”. This name probably sounded better when translated to Portuguese, because I kept having “Genuine Draft” flash through my head (as in Miller) every time I thought of calling it that.
"Sintra & Onward"
Around dinner time in Sintra, I got the notion that it would be a good idea to see if there were any more non-touristy restaurants a little further out of the town center. This involved retrieving the car from the garage and having a short drive around town to take a look. Sarah discouraged this, indicating that there were plenty of good choices within walking distance of our hotel. But, I had the exploring bug quite fiercely, and so we hopped into our VW Bug and made a left turn out of the garage to see what we could see. Well do you remember how I said that Portuguese roads aren’t overly well marked? What was not marked this time was that we were twisting our way up through progressively narrower and narrower roads until we had ascended into what was clearly a “pedestrian only” part of the cobbled street. Somewhat frantic to escape the excruciatingly narrow corridor our car was now stuck in (with no hope of reverse I might add—we were well past that point and aggressively proceeding uphill), we climbed over the last hump in the road right in front of a small shop, only to scrape the passenger side mirror as we made our debut exit right into the epicenter of the whole town. Talk about crashing the party. Fortunately we were on a real road this time and the scratch was highly superficial—but if anything, it only heightened our alarm at doing something clearly wrong in a new city. The people watching must have known we were tourists. Suddenly, we were “those people”. As we made one last faux pas turning right onto a one-way street (again, unmarked I might add—or at least poorly), we finally got our bearings enough to conclude there were no other good restaurants outside of the city square. So, I admitted reluctantly that “I was wrong, you were right, I am sorry” and I parked the now blemished car. I was truly a husband, and I had officially inaugurated myself!
After such an incident, we truly appreciated the hospitality of our waiter that evening at the town square restaurant we dined in. He spoke fluent English, was a very talkative host, and began to share some of the most important travel tips we received with us. Evidentially, driving on the Portuguese roads required some explanation and warning. You don’t say, I thought. We gladly took this in. Additionally, he provided incentive for us to go and check out the largest casino in Europe down in Estoril (a mere 20 minute drive away, though a detour caused us some momentary alarm probably related to our earlier experiences), where we saw the truly amusing sight of people getting funky to professional karaoke in the bar. We didn’t understand how karaoke could hold a room of well over a thousand people in complete rapture, but it did. Our money didn’t last long on slot machines or at roulette… and craps (my favorite game) was nowhere to be seen. Still, we had our fill and returned home for the night.
One conversation ensued on our way home that resonates with me even after the trip. We dropped the top on our car and started to turn the radio up a little bit too loud. Suddenly, I felt like it would be drawing attention to ourselves, and so we turned the radio down to be less conspicuous. That is a funny notion though… why did we want to be inconspicuous? It’s not like anything inherently bad would necessarily come from being noticed. It was just that we didn’t want to be noticed as travelers. The fears of the unknown are often unwarranted. But at the same time, it felt appropriate to respect the unknown. Blending in felt like the thing to do. It provided a debate for the ride home at the very least… we could talk over the hushed music! Rain started pelting us in the face as we arrived back in Sintra anyhow, forcing us to put the top up on the car.
The next morning we awoke to a very chilly, fog-laden air in Sintra. We had a scenic drive in mind, and somehow it was an appropriate weather for the drive. The route suggested by our tour book would take us through some small villages and ultimately to the Westernmost point of Europe—naturally, a sailing Mecca of sorts from Portugal’s heyday. The gray photos we captured at the lighthouse definitely felt authentic with the fog and darkened skies. We sat down in a tourist café at the lighthouse and it’s worth saying that there were certain parts of the culture that we gradually became enamored with during our trip. For instance, coffee drinking had an atmosphere entirely of its own on our trip. There was hardly such a thing as “to go” in Portugal (with the amusing exception of the “McDrive” at the all too prevalent McDonald’s). Rather, you sat down (or stood up) and had your coffee in their cafes, with not a paper cup in sight. People seemed to take the time to enjoy the moment in one spot in this country, and we grew to like it. Little Nicola cafes were strewn in even the smallest of remote villages. It seemed cafes were a gathering point for conversation and gossip. Another thing that amazed us was how many people over there smoked. In the restaurants, in the shops… everywhere, people were lighting up. In one café we sat in, the manager came over and helped a boy of no more than ten purchase cigarettes from the vending machine. We could only hope they were for a parent who sent him on an errand… or perhaps not, as he seemed quite delighted to receive them. Ironically, the first two cigarette choices in nearly every one of their heavily taxed vending machines were Marlboro and Camel. The rest of the brands had interesting names like “Portuguese”. One Portuguese phrase that even I could translate easily was “these will kill you.”
"Driving, Driving, Driving"
At this point of our trip, driving became a reluctant fixture for the next few days. We slowly became less fond of our vehicle as a recreational device and it matriculated into just another “waiting seat” between one place and the next. I can attest that during the course of the 2000+ kilometers we drove on the trip we certainly did wait a fair bit too. Even having the top down eventually fell into the category of “too much hassle”, “too windy”, or “too hot”, but there were still moments where having a convertible (or cabrio as they would always say) was well worth it. It was a fun car for once you had arrived at your destination.
Our next destination was Coimbra. Our only pit-stop on the way to Coimbra was at Fatima, which is a religious site (and moneymaker it seemed) stemming from some prophecies made by the Virgin Mary to three young girls. Evidentially, these prophecies came true, and people flock to this location to feel the vibe of the religious history the spot contains. It evidently overwhelms some people of great faith who arrive there. That side of Fatima was quite impressive… it literally moved some people so much they could feel it. We stayed long enough to appreciate the history there, but we started to think that too many people were perhaps capitalizing on the faith of others. Shops to sell expensive candles and other trinkets were strewn everywhere. They all sold the same merchandise. It was like Holy Disneyworld in places, but that was merely the street-level vendors. After an hour or two in Fatima, we pressed on to Coimbra. Coimbra was Portugal’s former capital city, and it was also home to one of Portugal’s original universities. Evidentially it housed a brilliant “Fahdoo” school where the kids these days have taken the art of that music to a more fun and lighthearted level. Nevertheless, we suddenly had flashbacks of being in Lisbon as we experienced rush-hour Coimbra traffic and had a hard time finding our hotel down by the river (Coimbra is split into an “upper” and a “lower” portion and we hit the high road on our way in). We opted for a quick Italian dinner that night (by choice, as to mix up all the Portuguese food we’d been eating), an abbreviated walk around the river area, and then some rest to prepare us for our drive up to the Northern region of the country the following day. Perhaps we should have done more sightseeing as it is rumored there is a great deal of Roman influence in Coimbra (not to mention being the former capital city), but on a honeymoon you have to draw the line in some places I think.
"Beautiful Pinhao & Northern Wine Country"
As we neared Pinhao the following day after a relatively long drive, we realized that the photographs from our “Places to Stay” guide had not lied a bit. This part of the country, along the Douro River in the North, was absolutely beautiful. The juxtaposition of the blue sky, winding roads, green hills carved with grape-growing “steps”, and the river below was truly magnificent. I would go so far as to say that it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. We stayed at a winery called Quinta De La Rosa just on the bank of the river near Pinhao our first night. It had a very nice pool right near the river, and as a very old train passed by as I sat outside I suddenly felt really far from home. It was a good sensation. We ate dinner at a very upscale restaurant called the Vintage House that night in Pinhao (might I add that I earned some serious new-husband points by actually venturing out, finding the restaurant, and reserving a table in advance by myself). It was delicious, and we felt very welcome from the staff. The next morning we made a 7 kilometer trek up the winding hills near Pinhao and arrived at my favorite destination of our entire trip. Casa De Casal De Loivros was truly magnificent. A bed and breakfast style accommodation right in the center of a hilltop village, run by a charming Portuguese gentleman whose family has owned the house since the early 1700’s, the house is situated so high up in the hills of the Douro that you can see for miles. The river is at the base of the panoramic view, and the S-curve of the water with Pinhao on the bank that is visible from your high vantage point is breathtaking. We stared in amazement for hours as we relaxed at the pool. Our host brought us grapes picked (and washed) directly from the vine… he told us that once we started eating we couldn’t stop. Maybe he worked with Pringles in the past, but he was correct. We couldn’t get used to the bells that existed around every corner to summon the Portuguese maids that were an ever-present, scuttling fixture in the well-run household. I don’t think we rang for them once since we were so well taken care of otherwise. I motioned to use the bells a few times just for the sake of trying them, but I was reminded to be more polite by Sarah who seemed more sympathetic to the maids’ potential reception of my boyish glee. Dinner that night was really special for me as I felt like we got to truly bond with other travelers at the family-style dinner more than at any other point on our trip. The conversation we had with an Israeli couple, a Danish couple, and a British couple (along with the charm of the Portuguese owner) was a great and lively time. The owner of the house split Sarah and me up into representatives of the USA and Canada respectively upon his introduction of us to fellow travelers, so I think he got a kick out of bringing multiple nations together under his roof for entertainment. He joked at how we had all the different nationalities in the room (not one Frenchman present), yet we still said “Bon Appetite”. Conversation was more personal than I had expected it might be and I was glad to feel the warmth of people from all around the world, especially as we touched on some delicate subjects like September 11 and terrorism in the world today. Everyone was on the same side, which basically felt like the side of people who simply care about other people. The discussion was intriguing, and most everyone shared a great sense of humor, which I thoroughly appreciated. Even the dry, wry, British gentleman laughed loudly a few times. It was a good time and we were eventually told to head to the lounge as we’d closed down the restaurant. At our outdoor breakfast the following morning overlooking the misty hills of the Douro, we were a little sad to leave I think. We discovered that when you found a relaxing spot that you enjoy it’s worth staying longer. Live and learn.