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North Portugal Golf and Regional Holiday Tour ….. We Will Return ….. a 12 Day Holiday Journal, Following our First Hand Experiences

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Introduction:-

Last year was our first trip to Porto via a week’s cruise down the Douro River, brilliantly organised by PortGolf. At the end of that week, Peter Evens, who runs PortGolf, suggested we should return for the festival of S. Joao and perhaps play some golf. This seemed a good idea so on our return to the UK we organised a dinner for two other couples, one of whom (Gerry and Catriona) had played golf around Porto and Jim and Margery. We discussed the idea and it was agreed that eight would be a good number. Shortly after we had supper with another couple, John and Marion who volunteered to join us. None of us had ever holidayed together before so it would be a test of friendship. Due to other commitments Gerry and Catriona and John and Marion would stay for a week whilst we and Jim and Margery would stay for twelve days.

There follows a Journal of that Trip:-

Thursday 21st June 2007

We decided to catch the first Porto flight out of Gatwick at 6.30am whilst the others were catching the 1.30pm flight. We were met at Porto Airport at 9am by Peter Evens who whisked us off to the four star Hotel Fenix, conveniently placed close to the Boa Vista area. The weather was bright with a light shower around midday. Having unpacked in our spacious room on the 9th Floor with splendid views of a truly magnificent cemetery and the city we set off on our first adventure to walk to the city centre and explore the area. We had a pasta and wine lunch at the Simbiose Restaurant (€30) overlooking the river and watched the Port wine boats ferrying people to and fro. Walked back uphill to the hotel calling in at the local supermarket for gin and whisky for nightcaps. The rest of the gang arrived at 6.15pm somewhat late due to delays. Having checked in we all got into the lift to travel to the 9th floor. Now this lift has a notice that says it is for 10 persons – unfortunately, they mean 10 Portuguese persons who happen to be somewhat smaller in stature than 8 Brits for the lift decided to descend to -5 floors before coming to a halt with a resounding bang. Not exactly the start we were looking for, but we managed to extract ourselves and walk back to the ground floor we proceeded to travel in the 2nd lift and the service lift – time for a drink! Peter found us in the bar at 8pm when we were taken in two vehicles to the Maria Moita, a local Porto restaurant for dinner. Peter stayed on to interpret as not much English is spoken and take photographs of the evening. Fun food with an interesting menu and carafes of wine. Bed by 11.30 somewhat exhausted.

Friday 22nd June 2007

Up at 8.15am, dry, but grey with a smattering of blue. Breakfast, then a quick look round the local shops. Peter and Paolo collected us at 12.30 for our first game of golf at Estela.

The course lies about an hour from the centre of Porto on the Atlantic coast. The drive was pleasant and informative and the entrance guarded by two automatic gates. A drink and a toasted sandwich started the event which was a four ball better ball with husbands partnering wives. Typically for a links course, the wind blew like hell and was a contributing factor to the round taking 4½ hours. Gerry and Catriona were the winners and copious amounts of gin & tonic and beer was consumed. Showered and change before whisked off to Casa do Frango in a nearby town – problem was our driver dropped us at the wrong place which held up proceedings, but didn’t stop the wine flowing before the chicken and chips arrived – turned out to be a fun night and tested some people’s ability of alcohol consumption. On our return to the hotel John and Marion joined us in our room for a nightcap and left at 1.30am.

Saturday 23rd June 2007

Up at 8.30 am and a glorious summer day. Everyone into city centre to sightsee, but for us it was to shop for prizes meeting up with the gang at Majestic café – the In Place to be seen – coffee and brandy was the order of the day. Off to lunch to Foz at Praia da Luz, a super restaurant on the beach which we had sampled last year – great food and wine with a variety of local dishes, ridiculously cheap at €30 per couple. Back to the hotel at 4pm to rest before the night’s activities. At Midnight Porto celebrates the Festival of S. Joao!

Peter and cab collect us at 9.10pm and we are taken to Taylor’s Port Wine Lodge where the atmosphere is electric – a couple of hundred people are seated at round tables for a set menu of Kale & Potato Soup; breads; sardines; Roast Kid & Vegetables followed by Almond tart and ice cream. The best wines are served and we try a couple of bottles of 20 year old vintage Port. The lodge is situated at Gaia on the southside of the Douro River and at 12.05am we adjourn to the terrace to watch a firework display over Porto which was out of this world – we are all stunned by the magnificence of the scene. John & Marion have to leave by cab due to John’s bruised Achilles heel while the rest of us have to walk as no vehicles are allowed in the area other than for medical reasons. The crush is worse than a cup final at Wembley, but everyone is in such great humour and it seems the whole of Porto’s inhabitants are bashing you over the head with a plastic hammer or a long garlic plant (both old traditions) – we eventually stagger across the bridge, which had been closed at one point due to too many people on it causing it to sway. Street parties, dancing and singing all the way back to the hotel and so to bed at 3am having survived a most enjoyable adventure.

Sunday 24th June 2007

Up for breakfast, lots of orange and black coffee seemed to the order of the day. Later collected to go to Amarante Golf Course another hour drive away. Seems we had the course to ourselves. Said to be hilly, true, difficult to find your way round at times; some spectacular holes accompanied by bangs all afternoon as S. Joao continued to be celebrated. Men versus Ladies this time, the men had no chance. Showered and changed off to a restaurant in Amarante – problem was our driver seemed to have forgotten until he was informed by Peter via mobile phone then he proceeded to drive at 120 kph to get back on track. No English spoken at all at the restaurant which made life a tad difficult. Food quite nice, but we appeared to be in a quieter mood – at our age very late nights can play havoc with some people’s constitution.

Monday 25th June 2007

Today we are moving to the Oporto Cricket & Lawn Tennis Club, so its bag packing time as six of us are off on an adventure – a day trip on a boat up the Douro. Gerry & Catriona have done this trip before so they go back to Estela for golf. Superb weather and the trip is just fine with breakfast and lunch provided and the river is so peaceful. We make friends with Lourdes who is the tour guide. Later she is surprised to find us drinking champagne – she asks what we are celebrating, we tell her a birthday, she asks whose birthday it is and we tell her we don’t know, but we are pretty sure it’s someone’s birthday somewhere. We arrive at Reguá at 4.15pm and are taken by coach for about 200 yards to the railway station where we are to continue our adventure by train back to Porto a journey of about 2 hours. Peter meets us at the station and takes us to our new quarters at the O.C. & L.T.C. a little oasis in the middle of Porto. Very colonial style and every one is so friendly. Shower and change and meet for drinks in the lounge before walking a couple of hundred yards up the road to Capa Négra 2 a local restaurant where we are served by Olivetti who speaks good English and advises on the local dishes. Plenty of wine and a fun evening all for the princely sum of €30 per couple. John and Marion insist on having a nightcap in our room – another late night.

Tuesday 26th June 2007

Breakfast at 9am then walked around the grounds of the club and inspected the tennis courts, cricket pitch (thought we would bat first) and the swimming pool. We got ready for golf and soon we were on our way to Ponte de Lima on a lovely sunny day. Again about an hour drive to the golf course, but very scenic and somewhat mountainous – buggies a necessity. Drinks and a sandwich first, but you never need to be in a hurry in these places which was a good job as the round took over five hours, something we are just not used to, but we’re on holiday so what the heck. A quick shower and drink before setting off to Restaurant Acude. A limited menu and quite expensive for the region, but we enjoyed it. Drove back to the club and home by 12.30am – a long day.

Wednesday 27th June 2007

Up at 8.15am nice shower and a leisurely breakfast. Today is a relaxing day where we all do our own thing. A day by the pool for some, shopping for some of the ladies and bridge for others. We all meet in the bar at 8pm for tonight we are eating in the club’s superb dining room and prize giving. It worked out that everybody got a prize of sorts and Margery and Jim won Peter Evens “PortGolf” prize for the best score on the Stroke Index 1 holes on all the courses we played. Food, wines, service and atmosphere could not be bettered a fantastic end for those departing the next day. Somewhat late to bed!

Thursday 28th June 2007

Missed our farewells to Catriona and Gerry, but managed them for Marion and John who were catching a later flight. Today Peter is taking Margery and Jim and us for a road trip up the Douro Valley. We set off at 9.45pm again with glorious sunshine. Our first stop is at the winery of Quinta de Aveleda.

A guided tour including tastings with cheese. We wandered round the grounds which have beautiful gardens including resident peacocks. In the shop, a loud mouthed American, who was buying a six pack of wine, was boasting to the young lady at the counter that back home he had a thousand bottles of wine – to which she replied, And now you have a thousand and six, sir. – priceless!

Our next stop was at Amarante to see the famous bridge and a quick walk round the town, very pretty. On through rolling hills filled with vines to Regua and stopped for lunch at the Pousada. Sat outside in the glorious sun and admired the views across the valley. We moved on to Quinta do Panascal – Fonseca winery/ port lodge, had a guided tour through the grape terraces with the aid of an audio tape and earphones giving a history and the workings of the company. Back to the lodge for more tastings then a return journey via Vila Real through mile after mile of hills laden with vines from top to bottom. Back to the club for a shower and change before Peter dropped us off at the Oporto Restaurant. We were all intrigued to see Jim’s starter as he had ordered Fish Soup in Pastry. (the pastry was on the top!)

Friday 29th June 2007

Breakfast at 9am – today we are back to Estela golf course, but what a difference, loads of sunshine and no wind. Girls versus the Boys (yes, of course the Girls won, but only at the 18th) – back to the club for a rest and shower.

A special evening as we meet Peter’s wife, Anabela, for the first time and we go to Praia de Luz for dinner. A great meal with lively conversation and a beautiful sunset, of which we have several photos if anyone wants a copy. Home to bed another long day.

Saturday 30th June 2007

Despite last night’s sunset, we wake to a grey sky and much cooler temperatures. The girls, (I use the term loosely), go off shopping to Vila Nova de Gaia, Corte Ingles. Us chaps do our own thing reading and watching the members who are barbequing for lunch – Jim tries the sardines. Lorna and Margery arrive back at 2.15pm and after hearing of their adventures we have tea and scones – how civilized.

Peter collects us at 6.45pm as we are to have drinks at his house at Senhora da Hora. We meet up with Anabela again and also later with Jacquay one of his twin daughters who entertains us on the piano. Then we are off to a fish restaurant, O Manel in Matosinhos – no English spoken and we struggle with the menu, not the best place to eat in our opinion, also quite expensive. An early night for all.

Sunday 1st July 2007

A free day – weather a bit grey and not very hopeful. Margery and Jim decide to tour the city by open-top bus whilst we decide to walk to the Palacio de Cristal a spacious park which houses a circular building for concerts; there are also some nice views of the river and across the city. We continue our walk through to S. Bento Metro Station where we attempt to purchase from a machine two day tickets – we fail miserably despite the help of a couple of locals, but were rescued by a station security guard who helped us to purchase the correct tickets. The Metro is very modern and is a cross between a tram, a trolley bus and an underground train – very clean and quiet. Out first journey takes us across the very top of the Ponte do Luis and up to the terminus outside “Corte Ingles”. We return back down, but alight at Jardim do Morro where we have been advised there are some good photo opportunities across the river. We then decide to walk over the top of the bridge rather than ride. In hindsight this was not a good idea as we reckon that the bridge is similar in construction and height to the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia – we wouldn’t walk across that even if they do chain you to the railing so what on earth are we doing here? So being English, we put our heads down and just keep walking until, somewhat relieved, we get to the other side – phew! I have to add that the Metro trains are passing by you just inches away which tends to add to the excitement. We did get some nice pictures of the trains crossing the bridge and entering the tunnel below us. With shaking legs we descended hundreds of steps and through winding alleys to get to the riverside where we had a bottle of wine and lunch and watched the world go by. We returned to the station and went as far as the Estadio do Dragáo, a recently completed stadium before returning back down to our nearest station to home, the Casa da Musica. The weather had much improved by this time so we walked back to the club in sunshine.

We met with Margery and Jim by the pool and exchanged stories and adventures, then snoozed for a while before getting ready to embark for our last night to the Cafeina Restaurant. A very smart establishment and nice food, but again would not be in our top five. Peter collected us and returned us safely back to the club.

Monday 2nd July 2007

One wonderful attribute of the club is that clients are not required to vacate their rooms until midday. We took advantage of this by having time to pack in a leisurely manner and having stored our bags we were collected by Peter to take us for lunch at Ar de Rio, a modern riverside restaurant in Cais da Gaia. We sat inside by an open wall looking out across the Douro River in glorious sunshine. Peter collected us and took us to Crofts Port Wine Lodge for a tour and tasting – a lovely way to end a holiday in Porto.

We collected our baggage from the club, said our goodbyes to the staff and Peter dropped us off at the Airport in good time for the flight which was delayed for fifty minutes.

All in all a most enjoyable holiday, well organized by PortGolf in the shape of

Peter Evens whose care and attention of his clients is second to none.

Without a doubt we shall return once again to this most interesting of cities.

Mike & Lorna Gizzy

June 2007

As specialists in Tourism in North Portugal you can contact Peter Evens (00351) 966618332 and he will Call you back, email portgolf@netcabo.pt or look at the website http://www.portgolf.com/cervyferias.htm