Where did you go?
On this trip, I explored Portugal and Spain. More specifically, I spent time in southern Portugal in Monsaraz, Evora and Lisbon before traveling north to the coastal city of Porto. Next, I ventured through the breathtaking Douro River Valley to Valladolid, Spain, which lies about 120 miles northwest of Madrid.
Where should our guests start for unique experiences in Portugal and Spain?
I can’t recommend Portugal’s Alentejo region enough. This beautiful stretch of land southeast of Lisbon sweeps from the Atlantic Coast to the Spanish border, and contains the natural beauty, rich heritage and countryside charm that make Portugal irresistible. If that weren’t enough, it’s quietly claiming its place as a wine lover’s paradise alongside more famous European wine regions with an influx of inventive wine makers, pioneering technology and world-class vineyards.
A visit to Lisbon, Portugal’s enchanting capital, is a must. It’s a fascinating up-and-coming city with an exciting mix of old and new, historic and current—from the iconic yellow trolleys and pastel-colored buildings to Michelin-starred dining and new five-star properties.
Leave the beaten path and explore the Douro River Valley in northern Spain. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful wine-producing region with vineyards stacked on hillsides that cascade down to the river itself. Visitors can experience the valley’s authenticity by tasting its lovely vintages, looking out over its scenic viewpoints or through leisurely explorations by train.
Describe some can’t-miss experiences and destinations.
Taste authentic Alentejo cuisine in a private cooking class, where a local chef shows you how to play with regional spices and flavors before you feast on your creations. Be sure to take advantage of the natural paradise—canoe in the peaceful estuaries, drive in a 4x4 across the hills and countryside, and hike to waterfalls in the Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina National Park.
Attend a pottery workshop in Monsaraz, where you can create a one-of-a-kind keepsake to bring home with you as a token of your travels.
Don’t miss the chance to stroll Lisbon’s old town, where geometrically patterned cobblestone paths wind through historic alleyways to brick-lined boulevards. Snap a few photos of the famed streetcars, or hop on for a ride! Embark on a daytime sailing excursion along the Tagus River in Lisbon, where you can take in a fresh perspective of the Portuguese coastline and enjoy song, dance and lunch while aboard.
You stayed in some remarkable properties. What made them special?
The unique setting of the São Lourenço do Barrocal hotel in the Aletejan countryside made for a memorable visit on its own, set within a nearly eight-million-acre estate that has been owned by the same family for over 200 years.
Set within the hills overlooking the Douro River, the recently renovated Six Senses Douro Valley exudes relaxation and luxury with six kinds of steam rooms and infra-red sauna. There is even an outdoor yoga deck—the perfect way for guests to end each day or recharge for the next.
Translating to “Retreat Abbey,” the Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine hotel resort in Valladolid, Spain overflows with a tranquil atmosphere, history and superb service. This 12th-century abbey radiates Spanish countryside romance—every suite’s private terrace or balcony looks out over the breathtaking estate, where expansive vineyards are bordered by soft, terra-cotta hills peppered with trees.
Describe some of your favorite food experiences.
Every single day the food and wine were amazing!
One of the food highlights in Alentejo was the cooking class. This authentic experience provided us with the chance to make and sample local favorites such as cod soup, braised chorizo, pork shoulder with roasted vegetables, and a custard for dessert.
During our day trip to Porto, we took part in the Insiders Four Tour, where we sampled a multitude of cured meats, luscious cheeses and snacks that are regional favorites. I keep thinking about the bifana sandwich I had, which is a delicious traditional Portuguese sandwich of thinly-sliced pork cutlets simmered in a rich marinade. We had an amazing time snacking on a variety of cachorrinhos, little sausage rolls. And we ate so many of the famous pastelaria (custard pastries)—they are a must-try!
While in Spain and staying at the Abadía Retuerta abbey, we dined at LeDomaine, a one-star Michelin restaurant on the property. Their award-winning wines were a spectacular pairing to the meticulously prepared and unbelievably delicious dishes.
Describe something that surprised you about Portugal.
There is so much more to see and do in Portugal beyond church visits and picturesque villas! There are countless food tours, adventure activities, and immersive workshops and classes to create lifelong memories and experience this beautiful part of the world in a completely different way. Plus, I was surprised by how many people spoke English—everyone was so friendly and hospitable. The unspoiled beauty of the Alentejo region was another thing that astounded me. I’m convinced it is the best of Europe for food, wine, scenery, villages and history—without the crowds!