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The Alentejo
Iberian Adventure:
I Left My Coração in Lisbon,
But My Wine Glass in the Alentejo
(Dispatch #8)

Story and photos by Tom Weber

crossing the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) over the Tagus River, Portugal

ony 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 to Lisbon, 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.

view of the Ponte 25 de Abril from the banks of the Tagus River

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?


Alentejo cork oak tree

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."

the Estate of José Maria da Fonseca in Setúbal

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.

José Maria da Fonseca (JMF) signage

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.

inside JMF with Sofia Soares Franco, JMF's Manager of Tourism

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.

scenes at the José Maria da Fonseca Estate winery

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.

JMF wine tasting room

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.

wine tasting at the JMF Manor House

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.

Iberian Adventure brochures from Insight Vacations

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!)

Related Articles:
Cascais 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 a Lisboa (Welsome to Lisbon)

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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