“Ladies and Gentlemen” said our host Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate partnership “now that we have finished dinner we will repair to the room through that door where there is a similar size room and table awaiting us, so that we may take vintage port and dried fruits”. We were dining in the British Factory House in the Porto home of the British Association since 1790.
In early SEPT, 31 ‘intrepid’ travellers met at Gatwick to fly to Porto on BA, a further two were already there playing golf and two more were arriving from Majorca. There were 11 members from Candlewick and 24 friends and friends of friends.
The Yeatman Hotel is located in the historic heart of Vila Nova de Gaia which faces Porto town which is on the north side of the Duoro river and next to the ancient ‘lodges’ where Port houses have aged their wines over 3 centuries. The hotel was built on the site of the old Croft Port House, one of the constituent parts of the Fladgate Partnership which includes Taylors, Croft, Fonseca and Krohn Port Houses and three 5* hotels
(Photo - View from The Yeatman- Decanter shaped pool, the old Port houses, Porto on the far bank)
At an evening reception on the Terrace overlooking the river, we had sumptuous canapes followed by a splendid dinner accompanied by some excellent red and white Portuguese wines, which were two of the four revelations to me; the others being pink port and the overall standard of the cuisine.
In the morning our coach and guide took us to the old city of Guimaraes, which has a significant historical importance due to the role it played in the foundation of Portugal. The city is often referred to as the "birthplace of the Portuguese nationality" because it is widely believed that Portugal's first King Afonso Henriques was born there. A walking tour was followed by lunch at Pousada de Santa Marinha, an old monastery.
On to Braga, half an hour away, and some 50 miles from the Spanish border to the north. Braga is not only a city but also a municipality with the oldest archdiocese in Portugal. In 1390 the Braga diocese was divided to make the Archdiocese of Lisbon, and in 1540 its territory was again divided to create the Archdiocese of Evora, to the east of Lisbon. There are some fine buildings here, among them the Cathedral of the Assumption.
Sunday morning in Oporto dawned overcast with sea fog, so one couldn’t see the north side of the river on the Porto side. By the time we boarded our cruise ship for the day, it had lifted and an hour later we were in bright sunshine. As we left Porto it was interesting to see quite a number of derelict river and cliffside properties, which had they been on the Thames would have been much sought after, a reminder, if we needed one, that Portugal is not a wealthy country. As we proceeded upstream through three dams, the largest of which had a rise of over 100ft, we were joined at one stop by many local ‘day trippers’ determined to enjoy themselves with the musical instruments they had brought along.
Photo Past Chairman Tony Gordon-James relaxing on board with the ‘hard stuff’
Some 9 hours from departure we were in the Vintage House hotel in Pinhao, overlooking the river, and definitely ready for a ‘cleansing ale’ and more splendid wines and port.
It was only a short drive next morning to the Quinta da Roeda, flagship estate of Croft on the sharply sloping hills and valleys, where summer temperatures can be as high as 40 – 45C, ideal for port grapes. Sadly, or fortunately, we were about 10 days too early to take part in the grape treading process.
Photo Q da Roeda & Croft Vineyards
Our knowledgeable guide showed us the vines and then the granite treading lagares. While the majority of ‘wines’ these days are mechanically pressed, the production of good quality port requires that the smallish thick skinned grapes are hand-picked and then trodden to ensure the pips are not completely squeezed - the humble foot is still the best way to achieve that. For the first pressing the ‘treaders’ link arms and maintain the same even pace but later may set their own pace. More info at http://www.taylor.pt/en/what-is-port-wine/how-is-port-made.
(Photo - Behind the Croft Lagares at Quinta da Roeda)
Lunch followed at Quinta do Panascal, home of Fonseca, where we were joined by Fladgate’s PR Director. Back to the Vintage House for a snooze and/or swim and then off to the Michelin DOC restaurant, and once more spoilt with splendid food and wine.
(Photo - Pre lunch at Panascal)
On the morrow we started the homeward journey, driving initially, to what the author thought would be a tour of a wine house, since the title was ‘Solar de Mateus’.
(Photo - Solar de Mateus & Gardens)
All of us of a certain age remember Mateus Rose, the on trend 1960/70s wine. In fact this Palace with gardens is considered to one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in Portugal.
To lunch in Amarante, where I had warned the group that it was ‘just a light lunch with no wine included’, since we were to dine at the Factory House that evening. To my surprise, we sat down to a 3 / 4 course lunch with copious bottles of vino verdhe - ah well.
Later we went over the bridge to Porto for dinner in the historic British Factory, where we were fortunate to have two of the 12 Directors as both our hosts and guests. One of the 12 is elected as the Treasurer (ie Chairman) for the year. Factories were commercial associations founded by Portuguese, British, Dutch, name your merchant nation, in the foreign ports where they established trading activities. According to local circumstances their headquarters could be anything from heavily fortified storehouses to more club-like accommodations, but they were all established as trading posts and were the centre of commercial activity for the relevant merchant community. The current Treasurer gave us a guided tour of the old kitchens, which were on the top floor in case fire broke out, and the well-stocked library which is being modernized.
Our final full day was spent exploring Porto and for some the 6 Bridges Cruise. Below is a splendid example on the side of Faculty of Sciences of ‘Azuelos’ – Portugese (and Spanish) painted tin-glazed tilwework .
(Photo - Tiles)
On the following afternoon we bade farewell to The Yeatman for our journey home, following for some, third visits to their new favourite tapas bars.
View of Yeatman in the top left from the Porto side showing how the hotel follows the natural contours of the slope of the hillside whereby each bedroom has a balcony and view of the Duoro/Porto and other port lodges