Elf Down the Douro

Next stop on our Northern Portugal adventure.  We pick up a hire car and head off into the countryside in search of quiet, views and more wine!

We head out of Porto and choose to avoid tolls for cost saving and nicer driving.  The countryside is beautiful and lush.  We drive through the morning, it takes about 3 hours but we do not notice the time as we are blessed with the wonderful views.

Slowly we IMAG2868start to climb into the vine country before we dip down again along the riverside.  Then we start to ascend properly passing the vineyards that below to the Port Houses and Cellars that we saw and visited in Porto.  We turn of the main roads and head high into the mountains.  Its not a great drive for those who suffer carsickness or vertigo, but on we go.  We reach a small town close to Armamar.  IMAG2869

 

The view is simply incredible.

 

Stretching out in front of us, a church nestles between the vines and chimes as we clamber out and head into the most wonderful villa.  We have splashed out a little (60 euros a night) so that we can have the privilege of a swimming pool, views and a BBQ.

The next few days pass in relaxation heaven. We spend our days driving the countryside and stopping in little towns.  We visit Armamar and shop in the local bakery, butcher and shops before heading home to cook outside and enjoy the evening slowly passing.

It is perfect.

 

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Fire Elf

On one of our evenings in Porto we decided to head out in the evening for pudding and a drink only to notice some fire.  We headed towards the fire and stumbled on this amazing art instillation spread across the city.   Here is a little clip just a small part of the experience.

 

Tawny Elf

We’ve been away and with the new addition to the Elf clan, we have also been very disorganized and didn’t get anything lined up on the site for our away time.  So now we are back and back to business!

We’ve been in Porto and into the Port wine (especially the Tawny, my new favorite thing). 

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We arrive on a Friday morning and catch the metro from the airport into town before walking to our Air B and B.  The metro is relatively easy to use and find within the airport.  Have change with you for this, it makes it so much easier.  You buy a card for 60 cents and then add trips to it.  Two important things to remember: 

1. Once you chose the type of trip (day travel or individual trips) that is the only type of trip you can use the card for.
         2. When you use the machine for the first time remember you need a card per person. When you select 2 trips you will get one card with 2 trips on it.  So best bet is to do them individually. 

Right, boring information bit over.  

We spend our first two day wandering in the streets of Porto.  We walk up the hill into the Cathedral, which is lovely but not as nice as some of the little churches that we discover as we walk around.  But the view from the Cathedral beside the Bishop’s IMAG2822Residence is lovely.  This is a lovely area and well worth a visit.  

We duck into 3-4 different churches which are beautiful all inlaid with gold our favorite is Igreja de Sao Francisco.  Porto is a wonderful place to wander in and the views that open out as you turn a bend in a little alleyway.  The tiled houses with their different colours and the terracotta roof tiles make this city lovely to look at. 

Head across the big iron bridge called Dom Luís I Bridge built by Théophile Seyrig, there are two levels and you can walk across both.  The view from the top level is spectacular. The bridge connects you to Vila Nova de Gaia, which is where the port cellars are.  The view back across the river to Porto is fab.

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Once you are in Vila Nova de Gaia, you will see all the signs pointing you along the water front to the different Port wine cellars.  The different companies offer a variety of tours and tastings, tours only or tastings only.  The best tour and tasting combination (as recommended by a local) is Crofts, to get to Crofts head along the waterfront and past Sandemans and you will see the signs. 

For a good quality tasting head along to Quinta do Noval.  If you want to tour here you will need to book well in advance, at the moment of publishing this blog, the next available tour is in September!  But if you want a good tasting, this is a great place to start.  It is a little more expensive than other options but the quality and different types of wines and ports that you will get to try make it well worth it.  We split the 40 year old taster between four people at a price of 40 euros.  The tasting comes with explanations of each of the wines and ports, how they are made, what the difference in ageing process is, bottling and so on.  Also…wow, so tasty.

More information about Noval here

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More from our Northern Portugal adventure soon!

Bonie Elf

We talked about our trip to Scotland in the last blog and visiting Aberfeldy, here is a poem by Robert Burns about the wonderful little town.

“The Birks of Aberfeldy”

Bonie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go,
Bonie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldy!
Now Simmer blinks on flowery braes,
And o’er the crystal streamlets plays;
Come let us spend the lightsome days,
In the birks of Aberfeldy!

 

 

Ps.  photo is of the Hogwarts Express…because I felt like it.

 

Flashback to Scotland

A couple of years ago we headed off for a weekend in the highlands.  This is a hazy half remembered reminiscence of that wonderful trip.

We started in Edinburgh which is a wonderful old city.  The buildings are stately and imposing and keep the city looking elegant.  The walk up to the castle is like stepping back in time,  the castle an imposing sight.  Well worth the cue and the cost to get in and explore.

From Edinburgh we head up through Glenroth and on to Aberfeldy.  Aberfeldy is a small and cute market town with  a distillery, the main attraction is the Wade Bridge.  Its a town from a chocolate tin lid.

Back on the road and we head into the highlands proper.  The whole landscape is different to anything else that I have ever experienced.  Apart from the heather which turns the ground purple, it feels almost barren but still manages to be devastatingly beautiful.

After wandering in fields of heather we’re back on the move and make it up to Inverness for dinner (haggis of course).  We walk beside the river as the sunsets and watch the lights of the bridge change colour.  IMAG0569

The next morning we make it to Loch Ness wherefor some mad reason we take a swim.  Locals are in full 5mm wet suits as we wonder in, in our swimmers.  Its freezing, we turn blue and get out pretty quickly.

The more I reminisce about this trip and remember the amazing-ness of the place and the craziness of seeing the Hogwarts Express…well we might just have to go back and do it all again.

Touring with tourists

We have guests, which is wonderful for so many reasons.  We get to hang out with our
fun friends, we get to eat awesome food and most of all we get to do touristy things!  Hurrah!

IMAG2641We catch the bus into Kensington, there is no traffic because everyone has headed out of London for the bank holiday so we wiz through town.

Its Easter so first of all its time for a treat. We head down to the Hummingbird bakery to tick of a “must do” for Phill.  We each choose something different and wonder over to Kensington Gardens with our treats.  Sitting in the sunshine near the Prince Albert memorial with views of the Royal Albert Hall we dig into our cakes…yum!  Definitely worth it.  Next we walk though the gardens and head over to the ponds and up towards the Palace before heading into Hyde Park and make our way to the Serpentine Gallery.IMAG2642

The Serpentine Gallery houses modern art exhibitions.  These change on a regular basis and on this occasion we went in to see “A World View: John Latham”.  I’m not going to say that I 100% understood what was happening, but this was interesting and worth having a look at, its free to get in.

Next we walk to a very beautiful pub called the Victoria, its old and stunning.  The food looks good, but the real gem is its old world feel.

A bit of something for everyone.

 

 

Mersea Island

Mersea Island is a large estuary island in Essex, close to Colchester.  You can grab a train to Colchester or the easiest option is to head out in a car.  It’s about an hour and half in the car and the scenery is lovely especially with the sun shining away.

I love London but sometimes you have to get out of the city and into the green or onto the sand.

Driving through the countryside laughing the time passes easily and we arrive via Colchester, which is quiet a pretty old Roman town.  Colchester is one of the UKs oldest towns and is steeped in history, and was once the capital of Roman Britain before being destroyed during Boadicea’s time.  There is a castle, museum and Roman walls, but we’re on a mission to the seaside!

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A little bit longer in the car and we head into Mersea and follow the signs to the seaside.

There are lots of families and everyone has their dog!  It’s great, we walk along the beach and follow the coast around and then along the coastal path.  There are swans in the water and one side and sail boats the other, we wonder and enjoy the sun and the fresh air.  You will need to keep your shoes on and don’t expect sand between the toes or palm trees.  Its brisk and the sand is full of oyster shells and muscle shells.  Its rugged and stark but wonderful.

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We’re hungry and we’ve a hankering for fish and chips.  My favourite.  We jump back into the car and head back towards West Mersea’s famous oyster bar.  It looks little more than a harbour shed with a pungent fish smell, but inside its full to bursting we are lucky and manage to get a seat.  The girls order oysters…the devil’s snot, not for me.  But, we also have haddock and chips with mushy peas and homemade tartare sauce…and it is amazing, seriously the best fish and chips I think I have ever had (and I eat a lot of fish and chips…it’s my favourite, my go to in pubs across the world).

Such a good day out.  Really everyone should go. Get out in the sun and enjoy.

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