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!

Elf in Sintra

Sintra is a place from a fairy tale reached from Lisbon by a short train ride.  It is magical but it is also very busy and seems to be designed for tourism and not all that much else.

The cheapest and most leg friendly way to get to the castle and to the Palace of Pena is to catch the hop on hop off bus.  The bus starts just outside the main entrance to the train station and costs 5 euros.  The bus goes in one direction around the sites of Sintra, you can get on and off the bus as many times as you like but can only do one round trip.

We got off at the Palace of Sintra which is impressive and gives a nice view of the valley and surrounding area, we did not pay to go in, but jumped back on the bus and headed up to the castle.

The castle of the Moors sits up on top of the one of the peaks of Sintra.  It’s a meandering walk once of the bus to reach the entrance but lovely cool gardens and stunning views.  There is not much inside the castle but the walls, but we spent a good hour clambering over all of the walks and following them up to the highest peaks.  A lot of time, energy and money has been put into the restoration of the castle and taming the forest.

IMAG1964Next we head up to the Palace of Pena which perches like a set of colourful building blocks on the second peak in Sintra.  The Palace has been renovated throughout so don’t expect an old world feel.  The outside walls are bright colours and against the beautiful blue sky it is something wonderful.  The rooms inside are set out as the Royal family had them in the beginning of the 1900.  It really is lovely and not to be missed.

Elf’s tip: Save some money by buying a tickets to the monuments that you want to enter at the same time. 

Prelude to Sintra

As a prelude to the blog on Sintra coming up this week, I would like to share the beautiful bit of poetry by Byron who visited Sintra and spoke lovingly of it.

 

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

– George Gordon Byron

Algarve Elf

Catching the train from Lisbon to Albufeira takes about three hours and takes you cross country until you can just glimpse the sea before dropping back down between the hills.  The trains are comfortable and easy to navigate.  We caught the morning train and bought our tickets on the morning that we travelled which worked well.  There are no announcements on the train so you will need to keep your eyes open the closer you get to your final stop.  Also, the tickets give you an allocated seat and cost just over 20 euros each.

13731510_10157367824900314_2645628244588734118_nAlbufeira is an interesting place a sort of multinational resort.  We stayed just outside in a town called Villamoura which was much the same on a smaller scale.  Villamoura is surrounded with beautiful public gardens and paths filled with colourful flowers so we decide to hire bikes and ride around to enjoy the area.

We also cycle up to another town nearby and then back down the paths along the beach.  The beach is beautiful, sandy and clean.  The water is cold but nice after a hot bike ride.  There are families enjoying the day together, all round lovely place to sit and to swim. (The beaches are lifeguard patrolled as well so its great for kids).

The Algarve area is perfect for driving around and pottering amongst the beautiful towns and wonderful coastline.  We hire a car and stop at a local market in Faro and walk along the old town walls and into a free museum which is lucky open on a Sunday (most things except the cafes and restaurants are closed on Sundays). 13700111_10154315321391069_9141328938881568161_n

On another day we drive to one of the most picturesque beaches I have ever seen beliche beach.  The steps down to the beach its self are steep and drop you down between the cliff faces of the coastline.  There is nothing here except a small shack that sells cold drinks and BBQ chicken.  We are told by locals that he shack is not always open so take your own water and snacks just in case.

The beach is…. just wow.

Not to be missed.

Elf around Lisbon

Lisbon is filled with small delights the every turn.

Walking trough the alfama you get a sense of history. The cobbled streets are rich with history and personality. Make sure you look up at the street lamps and look for the symbol of the city, it is a boat accompanied by two crows.

The 28 tram runs though the most historical parts of town and is a cheep and easy way to sightsee as well as get around. But as all the locals will warn you, watch out for pickpockets which are unfortunately notorious on this tram.

Head up to the castle of St George, the view from in side is spectacular but there is not much inside the castle, we chose not to go in, but if you want to its 8.50 euros. Instead have a walk around this area as it is a truly lovely part of Lisbon. There is a great gelati shop on the road the leads away from the castle, try the lemon it is zingy!

Have a wander through the streets and pop into the cathedral the cool interior is quite lovely. Follow the road that heads down the hill but away from the tram lines, there are some nice restaurants in this area but the real delight is the traditional Fado singing which is on offer in most of these eateries.