Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Villa Quinta Dos Agros, Portugal

September 20 - 28 2019

Click Quinta Dos Agros to see more photos of our week together

Ten of us met up in the Porto Airport and Business Hotel the previous day. We had come from all directions. Six of us had flown from Palma, Mallorca to Porto. The Carvers had flown from England where they had been hiking in the Cotswolds. Barry and Sheila had been on a driving holiday in Spain and Southern Portugal. The waitress in the airport hotel had a hard time getting us to stop talking long enough to order our meals, we were so eager to see each other and catch up on news of the previous two weeks.

The next day we all drove to Villa Quinta Dos Agros. The Carvers and Burnhams were cooking the first communal dinner. Ray had researched the best route to stop in Marco de Canaveses, about 17 km from the villa, where we could pick up food supplies at the Supermarché.

Pat and Bruce Marshall were the last to arrive, just in time for dinner, having flown from Toronto that day. We all arrived without incident, excluding some problems finding the best roads. Those who depended solely on Google Maps for directions were led astray when Google chose the shortest route, regardless of the whether the road was a turnpike or a cattle track. The result was often finding yourself on a very narrow, rutted road winding through the hills and sometimes through even narrower back alleys. That is the downside of travelling in the ancient hills towns in Europe. The upside is the spectacular views and interesting old towns.

The property of Quinta Dos Agros consists of several hectares with a large football or games field, vineyards, wooded areas and several private homes. We were met and shown Quinta Dos Agros by Dominique, who lives in one of the houses on the property with her family. The villa was built in the 1970s in a chateau style by the father of the current owner, Dominique's brother, David Azevedo. Outdoors is a large swimming pool for the use of tenants of the villa and residents of the private homes. A few of our group braved the pool just once as it was unheated and the weather was cool.

The entrance level of the villa had a bar and lounge area on the right side of the entrance and a reception desk in the center, left over from the time the property existed as a hotel and served meals and drinks to residents and casual customers. On the left of the entrance was a raised area with a dining table large enough to comfortably seat all twelve us for our meals. A large kitchen in which to prepare our meals formed the back of the main floor, complete with a washing machine and door to an outdoor balcony where we could dry our clothing. On the two floors above the entrance were nine bedrooms with ensuites.

Our routine was established that first night; drinks and snacks in the bar area of the villa followed by dinner and glasses of local wines. Breakfast was make your own from the communal supplies and lunch was either in a restaurant wherever you were that day, or a sandwich made at the house. It always seems to work out very well.

Activities during the day were not a group decision. The Carvers and Ray and I found some short walking trails to explore the area. Pat and Bruce were more adventuresome. They had arranged for a guide to take them on day long hikes in the Douro Valley and hills. The Andrews, Dunphys and Sheila and Barry took driving tours to visit some of the interesting towns in the area, including Peso de Régua and Pinhão. They also drove to Porto for tastings at some of the Port Wine Lodges.

Our guidebook listed the scenery along the Douro between the towns, Peso de Régua and Pinhão. Because there was no direct road along the river, the Carver-Burnham quartet decided to take the train. We thought we could get on the train at one of the smaller stations along the route, but that was not to be. Some of the smaller stations are just whistle stops, so we drove to Marco de Canaveses, a regularly scheduled stop with a ticket office.

If I had any Portuguese language skills we would have not encountered any problems. However, the trip provided one of those "life lessons learned". I asked the Ticket Agent which track was the train to Pinhão and he told me Track 2. We all made our way to the train sitting on Track 2, picked our seats and made ourselves comfortable. Shortly after, we were approached by a woman who asked if we were going to Pinhão. When we answered yes, she informed us that the train we were on was leaving in two minutes, headed to Porto! We all got up quickly and rushed out the door just as it closed behind us.

Wow, that was a close call, but where is Claudia? We tried to tell the station agent who was signally the engine to start that Claudia was still on the train. He didn't understand our problem. Neil said Claudia would be panicked, as she had no ticket, no money and no ID with her, as he had taken responsibility for everything. What were we to do?

Another train agent, who spoke good English, approached and asked about our problem. We told him what had happened and he ran off managed to solve the problem. He returned to assure us that the phone calls were made to the Porto bound train and the train that we were supposed to be on headed for Pinhão. As per instructions, both trains stopped at the first small station after leaving Marco de Canaveses and Claudia was transferred to the train headed for Marco de Canaveses and Pinhão. We were finally able to join Claudia when the train stopped at Marco de Canaveses. We were all together again.

Claudia explained that her sun glasses that attach magnetically to her regular glasses had fallen on the floor as she attempted to get up. By the time she picked up the glasses and got to the door, the door was locked and we were outside. She said she was approached by a man in the Porto train, as it was headed to Porto, who assured her that everything would work out and thankfully it did. We also think that we got on the wrong train in the first place because the signs identifying the direction as Porto were not in place. Each of us now checks very carefully that the train is going in the right direction and that we each carry our own ticket, ID and some money.

We arrived in Pinhão just before lunch. We were approached by a fellow who suggested we go to a new restaurant, Writer's Place, with a good view of the Douro River. We followed him to the restaurant and table with a good view over the river. The restaurant was just opening for lunch, so we were one of the first table to order. We still had to wait longer than usual for our food and when it came, half the order was still missing. We were told by the waiter that we could not share an order as the portions were small. That was not the case. We had more food with the half we had received to satisfy all four of us, so we asked the waiter to cancel the rest of the order. After some discussion, they agreed to bring just one more dish, not two. We concluded that the view was good and the food was good, but the staff needed more experience both cooking for the lunch crowd and being honest about portion size.

The Andrews and Dunphys made plans another day to drive to Pinhão to board a tour boat at 4 PM for a two hour sail farther east on the river. We had told them about our experience at Writer's Place, so they decided to go and just order a mixed cheese and meat tray, hoping that the simple order would come in time for their departure time a little more than an hour later. That didn't happen. The food took so long to come that they left with doggie bags of the order to eat on the boat. Maybe the restaurant will do better next year, if they last that long.

The next train ride for the Carver-Burnham Quartet to Porto, went very well. We spent the day following Rick Steves walking tour. We had time to enjoy a coffee break on a small square dedicated to Firemen who saved the city from total destruction in 1888. I was interested in visiting Irma and Irmão Bookstore, the inspiration for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, but a visit entailed an hour wait in line, too long for me. Lunch was delicious rectangular slices of gourmet pizza, bought from a small shop near Clérigos Tower, and ate it on a bench in Henry the Navigator Square.We ended our walk at the waterfront, along with all the other tourists enjoying the warm afternoon.

Click Porto to see photos that combine our visit to Porto with the Carvers and a second visit with the Andrews.

David Azevedo recommended the Paiva Walkways along the Paiva River, in a conservation area about an hour or so from the villa. The park center is set up for swimming in the river, but the weather was better for walking. We followed a large guided group up a long series of wooden stairs leading to a ridge with a good view in all directions. There was a large billboard advertising a long pedestrian suspension bridge to be completed next year. It would span the river canyon giving access to waterfalls on the other side of the canyon. The large group proceeded on foot for a much longer hike. We weren't prepared for a long afternoon hike and merely returned to the center for a sandwich lunch before driving back to the villa.

The Caarvers had booked an early morning flight home to Canada on Saturday, so they had arranged to stay Friday night at the Porto Airport Hotel. We drove them to Marco de Canaveses train station where they boarded the train for Porto, where they would get a connection to the airport hotel. 

The rest of the day gave us time to explore some of the sights near Marco de Canaveses. Ray and I drove to the spooky abandoned ruins of Obras Do Hidalgo, Vila Boa de Quires. In the mid-18 century, António de Vasconcelos Carvalho e Menezes, a wealthy landowner started to build an elaborate Baroque mansion. It was never completed. The theories as to why it was not completed include the main architect of the project dying and the prospective owner losing all his money and abandoning the project. All that remains is the facade of an impossible dream. 

That same day we also visited Tongóbriga, Roman ruins that hint of a once prestigious city. It is not in the same category as Pompeii, but the ruins are partially excavated and are being promoted to schools as a local archaeological project.

The Douro has become one of the most popular cruise boat river. There are five dams on the river for boats to navigate. The first built, Carrapatelo Dam, was quite near the villa. We drove to Carrapatelo, arriving just in time to see a mid-sized cruise boat navigate through the lock. It took a long time for the boat to drop 35 M before continuing on to Porto, quite an engineering feat.

And so ended our week together at the villa, celebrated with an elaborate last meal prepared by Pat and Bruce Marshall.

The next morning we said our good-byes. Some of the group were heading home to Canada, some of us were staying longer in Portugal. Ray and I joined with Suzanne and David Andrews for a last road trip, starting in Porto and visiting several towns on the way south to Lisbon Airport.

If you haven't yet seen our photos of our week together, click Quinta Dos Agros 


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