Vinous Adventures in Portugal and South Africa

My first taste of international travel, other than a couple of long weekends in western Canada, came on a trip to Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon.

I loved how a centuries-old downtown area had been preserved by designating most of the new construction to Lisbon’s outskirts and along the riverfront.

I have two vivid memories of that trip. Both have to do with food.

The first involved finishing a wonderful meal — some kind of fresh seafood, accompanied by a bottle of Vinho Verde — at a riverfront restaurant around 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night. We had arrived at 8, and dined in near-privacy the entire two hours. But just as we were leaving, the “dinner crowd” arrived en masse.

We took a 10-minute stroll along the river, then doubled back to head to our hotel. We glanced inside the restaurant where we’d dined, and were surprised to see that it was full, with a small line outside the front door.

The locals eat late in Lisbon, even on a weeknight.

The second memory involves a late morning tradition that I found to be very cosmopolitan. We were taking a walk through the historic part of the city, traversing well-worn pathways that led to an array of eclectic shops.

On what seemed like every corner — as ubiquitous as Starbucks shops in big American cities — were tiny bars with long tables and no seats. These were “stand-up” bars, and right around 10:30 a.m., we saw them fill up with locals who were taking a quick morning break.

And every one of them ordered the same thing: a small custard tart, still warm from the oven, accompanied by a small (I’d guess about 2- or 3-oz.) glass of Port.

I remember thinking to myself, “Now, that’s my kind of coffee break!”

Not wanting to insult the locals, we joined in.

I was reminded of that most enjoyable trip while perusing the January-February issue of National Geographic Traveler, which includes a story titled, “Portuguese Pluck.”

The story notes that those custard tarts are still around, and even recommends two spots to check them out:

• Pasteis de Belem Bakery, where the tarts are made “following a secret monastery recipe.”

• A Chique de Belem Bakery, which provides a little more “elbow room” for patrons with its open-air terrace.

Also in the January-February issue of National Geographic Traveler is an excellent story titled, “Vintage South Africa.”

It includes a number of winery recommendations for visitors, and also details how one estate — Diemersfontein in Wellington — is embracing the country’s post-apartheid era by helping its farm workers become shareholders.

Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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