| Iberian Adventure:
I Left My Coração in Lisbon,
But My Wine Glass in the Alentejo
Story and photos by Tom Weber
Bennett's signature song, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, should
be playing right now on the motor coach's sound system, but it ain't.
So, the intrepid "band of merry media" and I 29 travel
journalists and photographers invited along by Insight Vacations
to sample a portion of its Iberian Adventure through Portugal
and Spain do the honors, albeit way off key, as we say adeus
under dark, wet skies, and cross over the Tagus River via the city's
iconic Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge), one of the world's
longest suspension bridges and a dead-ringer for the Golden Gate Bridge.
As we leave behind little
cable cars (elevadores) that climb half way to the stars,
the morning rain and wind chill the air, but I don't care; I'm nestled
into my business-class legroom seat as we head for The Alentejo, Portugal's
largest region, to sample world-class wines, visit a UNESCO World Heritage
city and dine on black Iberian pork tenderloin. Sounds way better than
leaving one's heart behind in a hotel room, right?
The Alentejo, Portugal's bread basket,
is a captivating area of vast, open countryside, undulating plains and
rich fertile soil, where agriculture, livestock and forestry are the
stars and their byproducts world renowned.
As Toni, aka El Guapo (The Handsome
One) and Insight's tour director, points out, "Portugal's cork
oak trees account for over 49% of the planet's commercially grown cork."
El G adds, "The harvesting of just one mature tree provides
enough bark to produce 4,000 wine bottle corks."
Speaking of wine, we've just arrived in
Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, a small village in the municipality
of Setúbal, where the quinta (estate) of José
Maria da Fonseca (JMF), one of Portugal's oldest and perhaps
most prestigious continuous wineries, is located.
The owners, the Soares Franco family, have
been making and selling wine still and Setúbal Moscatel
for over 180 years. And, we hope to uncork a few bottles of their
history ourselves. After all, we are the working press.
Branded as a "Family of Wines. Wines
of a Family," we're warmly welcomed into the historic, 19th century
Manor House by Sofia Soares Franco, JMF's Manager of Tourism and a seventh
generation member of the family that's been producing some of Portugal's
most emblematic vintages since 1834.
After a brief primer on JMF the
winery is 100% family-owned, has 34 brands, covers 650 hectares of vineyards,
exports 80% of its production to 70 countries, etc. Sofia leads
us out of the house and into the well-manicured gardens for a tour.
Under cover of those blue, oversized Insight
courtesy umbrellas, we make our way into the estate's three ancient
and atmospheric wine cellars where JMF's prized wines, like Periquita,
mature, and the oldest Setúbal Muscatels rest, some of which
are true relics at well over 100 years old.
Back in the warmth of the Manor House's
tasting room, the temperature quickly rises via red, white and
rosé as we swirl, smell and sip three of JMF's prized
vintages along with tasty finger foods. All are delicious, but I have
to give the robust Periquita Reserva, the estate's flagship brand and
the wine that started it all for JMF back in the mid 1800s, "best
of show" honors.
As we thank Sofia and staff for their hospitality,
umbrellas unfurl in unison and we head outside into the pouring rain
and take a circuitous (wink-wink) route back to the awaiting motor coach
where Helmer, Insight's designated driver, awaits.
For complete information on Insight's 112
premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, just click HERE,
or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
Whaddya say we meet back up under the shadows
of an ancient Roman temple in about an hour. From there, we'll stretch
our legs and take a stroll around picturesque Évora, count a
few bones in an ossuary, have another round of pastel
de nata (egg tarts), then gather around the table for a
traditional Portuguese dinner on Insight's dime.
Te vejo em breve! (See you soon!)
and Sintra: To the Edge of the Earth; Framing
Lisbon's Mosteiro dos Jerónimos; Pastéis
de Belém; The
Age of Discovery Began in Belém; Walking
the Decorative Cobble of Lisbon; Bem-vindo
(Welsome to Lisbon)