Portugal courtesy of the New Jersey Wine Growers
So several years before this blog was born for our Alaska trip, we had the amazing good fortune to WIN a trip to Portugal. The New Jersey Wine Growers Association has a program that awards one trip a year to those who have completed their Passport program. You can take your time and visit the wineries over a year or several years. Then you submit your Passport and the odds are decent they say they get about 200 or less completed entries a year. Below is the post we wrote for their web site.
We want to thank you so much for this wonderful prize. As we visited the New Jersey wineries over the past two years and since, we have enjoyed many pleasures. First we have enjoyed the chance to taste many delicious wines and grow our repertoire of wines we enjoy drinking and sharing. We have visited many parts of our State and gotten to enjoy the diversity of lovely places where the wineries are located. We have also been proud to support local businesses and farmers, something we are passionate about. Winning the trip was certainly an added and unexpected bonus to all of these already great reasons for drinking New Jersey wines.
We got the call about winning the trip the day before our 29th wedding anniversary. We were needless to say, VERY excited. Then of course we wondered about the timing of the trip and going to a country we knew nothing about and none of the language. We were so grateful to the Garden State Wine Growers and your travel agent, Barbara, for all the flexibility in both being able to choose the timing of the trip and let us pick the type of trip that suited our interests. What we came up with together was an excellent plan that made for an exceptional trip.
With the small group tours we decided on doing, we got to see many diverse parts of Portugal and experience the beauty, the history, the culture and of course the food and wine. We got to meet both the Portuguese people who were lovely and gracious as well as fellow travelers from all over the World. We even got to do a little Geocaching, another passion of ours, which we often did throughout New Jersey as we visited the various wineries and now we got to participate in the global part of this worldwide game.
A few of the highlights of our trip are shared below, pictures are attached. We obviously tell all of our friends about the New Jersey wineries and the Passport program. If we can help you spread the word in any other way, please let us know.
Karen & Steve Kurtz
Highlights of Our Trip:
Day One – Arrival and exploration on foot of the historic, capitol city of Lisbon.
Day Two – Small group, actually just us, and our wonderful tour guide Madelena to Evora. On the way we saw and learned about the cork producing trees that, along with tourism, are the mainstays of the Portuguese economy. In Evora we saw the sites, from the Roman ruins to the ornate royal family’s cathedral and the contrasting “Church of the Bones” built for the ordinary people. We wandered the lovely little streets and alleys and had tried some Portuguese favorites at lunch, including wine of course. We finished our day in Evora with a tasting of a few local wines.
Day Three – Small group tour to visit Pena Palace on a hilltop in the town of Sintra. Everywhere we looked we saw beautiful scenery both ancient and modern. Another typical Portuguese lunch and of course more wine! On the way back to Lisbon we saw sights on the Portuguese Coast including the spot that marks the western most point of Europe’s coast. Dinner in Lisbon at an outdoor café, oh the fish is so good and fresh!
Day Four – We explored Lisbon using the “Hop on Hop off” bus, since the Metro was having a one day strike. Visited the Castle of St. George which overlooks Lisbon and is full of centuries of history and also visited the historic Belem area of the city.
Day Five – Small Group tour of sites associated with the Knights Templar. The Castle of Tomar and the Convent of Christ built in the 12th century was definitely the most spectacular architectural highlight of the trip; everywhere you turned there was something fascinating to see. In Tomar we also got to see another beautiful cathedral and a very old Synagogue that is now a museum dedicated to the Jewish influence in the area. This was very special to us. A group lunch gave us a chance to try more Portuguese specialties and we had so much fun with the people on this tour, we had dinner with them that evening back in Lisbon.
Day Six – We traveled by train to Porto, appreciating the scenery along the way. That evening we did our first tasting of Port and started our education on the complexity of the varieties and aging processes. Then we shared a lovely dinner with a woman we had met on the tour the day before on the “Riveria of Porto”.
Day Seven – Scenically and in many other ways probably the most spectacular day of an already spectacular trip. This day’s small group tour was to the Douro Valley, the heart of Portuguese wine country. Miles and miles of roads and hills are lined with stone terraces built by the early Celts to grow their grapes on these steep hills. Intermingled are olive and other fruit trees as well but grapes are everywhere. After winding through mountain roads, we finally came to the heart of the Douro Valley where we were treated to a boat cruise for an hour in the most unbelievable setting. Words and pictures can’t do any justice to the beauty here. The cruise was followed by a wonderful lunch and then off to the winery. This winery that had been here from long ago uses combinations of old practices and modern technology to produce great wines and has just started making their own Port (have to wait at least 10 years to go back and taste it). Steve got to participate in traditional stomping of the grapes in a vat that will become wine. Their wine made in this “old way” is superior to their new wine, because the seeds are not crushed in the pressing, reducing the tannins. For those who did the stomping, it was just fun and unforgettable.
Day Eight – The half day tour for this day was enjoyable though not as impressive as those proceeding. Averio is the “Portuguese Venice”, where we rode a boat through the canals that once were used to bring in seaweed and salt for processing. Today it’s just scenic fun for tourists. Came back to Porto and saw some of the main attractions, including the São Francisco Church, which is best known for the amount of gold, donated by rich families, which decorates its elaborate interior.
Day Nine – Our last full day in Portugal was supposed to be for one last tour but as I was feeling off in the morning we needed to forgo the tour. After some rest our hotel staff recommended a walking route by the Ocean near Porto. We went in and out of the rain but had a relaxing last look, followed by a relaxing late lunch in the downtown area. So these are only sketchy highlights of our remarkable journey and once again we thank you for the opportunity.