Vacationing in Portugal

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Typical house façade in Alentejo

Portugal is home, more specifically, Algarve. We don’t visit as often as we would like, but try to go at least every two or three years to visit family and friends. The last time we visited was in 2016. Time to start looking at flights!

Portugal had remained the lesser known of the european countries, until about ten or so years ago, when Portugal was highlighted on several american travel publications. These articles went on to list Portugal on the Top 10 Best Places to Retire and Visit. Of course, it’s been the vacation hot-spot for british citizens for many years, as well as other european nationals. But now we have noticed more american tourists, especially in the larger cities like Lisbon and Porto.

Algarve has over 100 miles of coastline with wonderful sandy beaches, small fishing villages, and many golf resorts. The weather is mild in the winter months. Temperatures start to warm up in March, but July and August are the peak summer months. My favorite months are May and September, before and after the crowds.

But, there is more to Portugal than the beaches. I love to visit the Alentejo region everytime we travel to Portugal. To me personally, it has the best wines. The terrain is hot and dry; perfect for those earthy dry red wines that we favor. The cuisine of Alentejo is rustic and delicious. Pork and lamb are abundant in the area. Should you stop at any of the roadside restaurants, you are greeted by the warm and friendly locals, and great regional dishes. I especially like to stop in the “tascas”; small snack-bars.

Of the many wineries we have visited, we keep going back to our favorites: Esporao, Rocim and Ervideira are just a few. Esporao and Ervideira are close to each other just outside Reguengos, Rocim is a bit more south, a couple of miles from the town of Cuba. This area is rich in history, dating back to the roman times. Well worth visiting.

It seems that two weeks just isn’t enough to do everything we want to do. I think we need to retire so we can travel more. Work gets in the way…

We try to sneak to our neighbors in Spain if time permits. On our last trip, we visited Jerez de La Frontera, were we enjoyed the local sherry and the spanish hospitality. Had a great time golfing at a small golf resort just outside of town. After a few days, we drove down to the coast for some beach time along the mediterranean sea. Stopped in the small town of Estepona, were we enjoyed great sangria and paella; I like to try it in different places to see who makes it the best. (Best sangria: bartender at the beach shack @ Playa de Isla Canela) On our way back to the Algarve, we drove over to Marbella for a quick stop, knowing it would be busy; it’s always busy. It is the place to be and be seen! Next trip over the pond, we want to spend more time in Spain. Trying to plan something in the Basque region. Maybe plan it around the Vuelta!

Spanish countryside outside Jerez de La Frontera

Having grown up in the Algarve, there are many different places I consider “my favorites”. If you are travelling to the area, drop a line. I’ll be happy to share some of my many favorites spots. When is your next trip to Europe?

Southern California: Golf, Wine & Dine

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Discovering Southern California one winery at a time! I know this is hard work, but we are totally up to the task. Recently, we were introduced to the Temecula Valley Wine Country. Who knew there were fabulous wines in California outside of Sonoma/Napa region?! Well, we kinda did already (Paso Robles, Lodi, Grass Valley), but Temecula was a surprise and added bonus to our trip!

While visiting family in Southern California, we had the opportunity to explore Ramona and Temecula areas. Our home-base was the San Vicente Golf Resort. A golf resort just a few miles outside Ramona. We got to play a couple of rounds of golf; probably the earliest golf season start for us. The course was decent, but could benefit from some maintenance, which we heard they will be doing spring/summer of 2019. But, still can’t beat the fact that you run out of your guest room and get on a golf cart in less than 5 minutes. The weather was cold, for California standards, but for us, 60 degrees felt amazing. The resort had a great restaurant/bar; it’s a happening spot on Friday nights! Staff were friendly and food was very good; loved their fish tacos. In case you are considering a stay, the rooms are large, clean and comfortable with a balcony facing the course. It’s an older property, but nice.

San Vicente Number Nine
San Vicente Golf Course – Ramona, California

Temecula Valley is Southern California’s Wine Country. I’m told there are over 30 wineries in the region’s rolling hills and sprawling valleys. They produce a variety of wines, including award-winning and artisan Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. On this trip we visited three wineries; Vitagliano, South Coast and Miramonte; 27+ more to go!!

My favorite wine tasting was at South Coast. I was surprised to find wines with some of my favorite portuguese grapes: Touriga National, Tinto Cao, and Alicante Bouschet. Loved the Boulder Red 2.0. A wonderful, rich and balanced red blend. Another one of my favorites was their 2015 Petit Verdot; smooth and easy to drink.

Looking out at Miramonte

Further down the road, our next stop was Miramonte Winery. A lovely property with a great outside patio overlooking the vineyards. As you walk up to the patio you are greeted with the most amazing smells of garlic and bread that make your mouth water before you even hit the tasting room. The staff were welcoming and accommodating. You can choose to enjoy your wine in the tasting room or take it outside to the patio and enjoy the views while complementing their wines with the fabulous small plates on the menu. What a great spot to spend a couple of hours with friends or family while enjoying wine tasting and delicious food. Is there anything better? Good food and wine are among my favorite experiences to share. If you are in the area, stop by. Definitely worth it. Favorite dish: Tomato Fromage / Favorite wine: Touriga National

Our last full day was to be spent in San Diego with a trip to the beach. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and we had to adjust. We checked in to the Hilton Harbor Island for the night, since we wanted to be closer to the airport for our return flight the following morning. This property fit the bill; modern, bright, very clean and just a couple of miles from the car rental terminal. Check-in was a breeze and staff were awesome. We got a nice higher floor, with a view overlooking the marina and city skyline. Due to inclement weather, our only choice was to check out the bar, so, being the troopers that we are, to the bar we went. They had a nice, cozy bar facing the marina. We enjoyed the views, while enjoying our cocktails. The afternoon did not suck!

Marina View San Diego
Marina View – Downtown San Diego

Dinner was at a great mexican restaurant in Old Town San Diego. We had a wonderful spread at Miguel’s Cocina. Great margaritas, I’ll start with that; not super sweet, and with the right amount of liquor. The food was wonderful also, as was the service; attentive, pleasant and quick. We asked for the queso recipe since everyone enjoyed it so much. Waiter actually did share the ingredients with us, but a little google search later and found the complete recipe online. Will be making it for the next gathering. This was a great dinner choice for us on our last night in San Diego.

Overall, a wonderful trip. Hoping we will come back soon so we can actually visit the beaches in the area. But then, you do have to leave something to do the “next time”… Until we meet again!!

In the end, what’s really important…

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Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday. Like many american families, it’s a day for us to gather with family and friends, enjoy the tradition of turkey, too many side dishes and football. I forgot the pie; must have pie, or three!! On this day we slow down our busy lives, and give thanks for all that we hold dear and remember those no longer with us.

Since the holiday is not celebrated in Portugal, the first few years of being in America its meaning was not apparent to me. But like any good portuguese, any holiday that revolves around food, is my kind of holiday. I soon found myself researching its history, the why, the when and how.  As shocking as it may be to some, my first turkey was not memorable. Or maybe it was! I still recall it being semi-frozen the morning of since I didn’t realize it takes a week to defrost the dang thing; I might of forgotten the “bag” in the cavity too. I’ve since evolved! Fast forward to current times, I now take the holiday serious. I spend weeks planning the menu, table arrangements and the wine… Always the wine!

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The wine takes center stage at our house, since it’s an opportunity to blend american traditions with my portuguese ones. This year, Rocim Amphora is my choice for the big day. Rocim is among the fine wine producers in Alentejo. We have visited the estate twice in past visits to Portugal and love all their wines. The red Amphora blend includes AragonezTrincadeiraMoreto and Tinta Grossa varieties. Everytime I open a bottle, it brings back memories of Alentejo. I’m very partial to Alentejo wines; not that I say no to any wine, but wines from the Alentejo region are my favorite!

So, in the end the important thing about Thanksgiving is being Thankful. Thankful for what we have. Thankful for our health, for the friends and family around us.  I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been given. Mostly I’m thankful for my wonderful husband, for our sons and their significant others, for our wonderful family, and the amazing friends we call family!

Wishing you all the happiest of Thanksgivings. Cheers! Or as we say in the old country, Saude!

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Winter is upon us…

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As winter approaches here in northwest Colorado, our camping days are numbered. We haven’t called it a season yet; not ready to store Lily-Pad yet.

September and the first week of October had us enjoying the outdoors pretty much every weekend. There was fishing, hiking, river floating, and even some wine tasting.

On one of our many trips we visited Browns Park (border of CO/WY/UT). The area is a vast, isolated valley, on the far end of Moffat County, Colorado. In the spring, when the Green River is running at its peak, rafting is very popular. Otherwise, it’s a peaceful corner of the world where you sometimes don’t see anyone for days!

View from overlook - Little Hole, Green River, Dutch John, UT

The view from the overlook at Little Hole, Dutch John, UT

Around the corner from our campground in the Browns Park area, along the Green River, was the Historical Jarvie Ranch. Since I had some time to kill while my husband floated the river, this was the opportunity to take a glimpse on how some of the earlier settlers lived. According to BLM website, in 1880, John Jarvie, a Scotsman, built a ranch along the Green River to offer store goods to those that lived or traveled in this wild territory. Jarvie chose this location due to a naturally occurring river crossing which was used by Indians, fur trappers, travelers, and local residents. At its height, the Jarvie ranch operation included a store, post office, river ferry, and cemetery.

Rumor has it, in November of 1895, the outlaws that occasionally called Browns Park, Utah home decided to repay their neighbors for their kindness and generosity. Basically, they wanted to say thanks for not turning them in. Among those that wished to thank the Browns Park residents were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

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Floating the Green – Little Hole (Dutch John) to Indian Crossings (Browns Park)

Once in a while, we manage to include golfing in our camping adventures, and in some rare occasions, some wine tasting. Such was the case when we had the opportunity to visit Grand Junction, Palisade and Paonia, this past weekend. Weather wasn’t the best, but that didn’t deter us from our planned activities.

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Golfing – Redlands Mesa Golf Course in Grand Junction, CO

On this visit, we sampled wines at Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction and Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia. We had previously visited both wineries and enjoyed their wines. On this trip we brought our good friends and fellow winos for a tasting.

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Friends drinking wine together – Two Rivers Winery

 Mother Nature was in full display as we drove over the Grand Mesa from Palisade to Paonia. The aspens were at peak colors, especially as we drove up towards Powerhorn ski resort. A bit of snow already falling to remind us that winter is coming.

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HWY 65 – Grand Mesa, Colorado

What wine goes good with camping?

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If you are like me, no camping trip is complete without the perfect wine. And by perfect, I mean the wine I like. Because, wine is a very personal choice. What is the perfect wine for one, may not be for another.

I’m partial to old world wines, but I don’t say no to US wines either. I really love to try anything, at least once. Actually make a point to buy one or two new wines everytime I visit my local wine shop.

When we travel, just like at home, we favor the Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and French wines. We drink a fair amount of wine, so unless we are celebrating a special occasion or have company, we try to keep our wines under $15 per bottle. I’m a firm believer that good wines don’t necessarily have to cost of fortune to be good.

Back to wine and camping… For the afternoon happy hour I normally go with vinho verde (portuguese), which I love because of how light and crip it is, or a french rose. My two favorites that I always have on hand are Casal Garcia (verde) and Chateau Puech-Haut (rose). Either one goes wonderful with our afternoon smorgasbord.

For the evening, red is our choice. Too many to name, but we normally travel with a bordeaux, a portuguese red (Alentejo are my favorite, but I don’t say no to Douro wines) and then alternate between the italian sangiovese and the spanish tempranillo.

What are you drinking?

List of some of our favorite vineyards:

  • Portugal – Quinta Nova and Bomfim (Douro), Esporão  and Rocim (Alentejo), Cabriz (Dao) and Quinta Tor (Algarve)
  • France – Château Laplagnotte-Bellevue (Bordeaux), Bouchard Aine & Fils (Pinot), Nicolas Feuillatte (Champagne), Louis Jadot (Beaujolais)
  • Spain – Marques de Caceres, Los i Terrasses Laurel, Vivanco, Bilbao
  • Italy– Carletto, Pio Cesare Dolcetto d’Alba, Santa Margherita, Bocelli
  • USA – Cline, Belle Glos Clark, Meiomi, Turley, Rodney Strong, Schramsberg (recent love)