Thursday, March 28, 2013 (A post by Janel and Linda)
Bom dia at Vidago Palace: blogging, brunch, balconies. We’ve somehow managed to entangle ourselves in yet another Michelin-starred reservation this evening, so I take it as easy as possible on the sausage and mustard.
Ever since we left Pena Palace in Sintra, Janet has been working on a score for a new Disney movie. She is certain that Disney should create a movie with the theme “She Needs Another Palace.” She pitches the idea to us and we agree. We can all imagine the main character leaping and dancing around the room singing “I Need Another Palace,” while the furniture, teapots, lamps etc all chime in (Beauty and the Beast style) with “She Needs Another Palace.” Janel offers to demonstrate some of the choreography.
Another B of alliterative goodness. It’s only kind of drizzling this morning, so a quick bike excursion is just the thing. Vidago turns out to be hilly and quiet. A clothes market softly buzzes with morning activity.
During our morning ride around the town we come across a ghost of what appears to be an old hotel. It is beautiful in its decrepit state and we can only imagine what it was like in its heyday.
We head past the Palace a bit out of town to spy a bit more of the unplayed golf course. It is so simple and sweet. I am regretting not giving an attempt to at least play nine holes between the rain showers. Next time.
There are two goals for today: procurement of great olive oil and land in Amarante at Casa da Calçada. When we asked last evening at Qunita Dos Calvahos where he procured his olive oil he told us we would not be able to find it in Vidago. We needed to go to Chaves (wherever that is). Ok. Done. We must go to Chaves (wherever that is).
We reluctantly check out of Vidago (waiting until the last possible moment of the noon checkout time) and ask at reception about the “haunted hotel” we found when riding bikes. We are told that there are several abandoned hotels in the area. Apparently, Vidago was a hot vacation spot in the late 1800s due to the mineral water springs here. When that fell out of fashion, most of the grand hotels shut down. Sad.
Once again our little car is packed up. Janet’s bag almost leaves us. The bell captain has put it in the trunk of the wrong vehicle. Fortunately, we noticed it before they took off!
Chaves, here we come. First a little stop is made at our old hotel to show Janet what we discovered.
With Janel navigating, Linda driving and Janet backseat driving we wind our way to the town of Chaves. We find the center of town easily since there is a huge castle there!
We pull into a public parking lot where a resourceful young man is trying to “help” us find a spot (there are many). He motions and waves to us, but we didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. This is a PUBLIC parking lot and we ignore him while pulling into another empty space. We stick around and watch the action for a bit as unsuspecting tourists are taken in by him and then left to pay him for his “service.” (There is a slight nagging feeling as we walk away that our car/luggage may not be there upon our return…). The castle grounds are beautiful and the view over the town is fantastic.
But we are on an olive oil quest. Janel leads us through the centro historico where there are cobblestone streets and shops of all kinds. No oil. She will not give up. She has a nose for such things. We simply follow and try to keep up.
Very soon she gets a big grin on her face.
Three nice bottles of olive oil are in hand (5 euro each – would be about $20 each at least in the US). But wait – we are in a Portuguese pastry shop and need fuel for our journey. I read the little menu above the pastry display and spy “Pasteis de Chaves.” Chaves has its own pastry? How bad can that be? I ask the woman behind the counter which ones are the Pasteis de Chaves? When she immediately turns around and goes into the back room I am certain she did not understand my attempt at Portuguese. That is until she comes back with a warm from the oven flaky piece of heaven. We’ll take 3 por favor. They are 60 cents each…
Wow. What a surprise – they are savory inside! And unbelievably delicious! The Chaves pastries are puff pastry wrapped around a savory mninced meat filling that is awesome. We can hardly believe our luck. Where can we find Pasteis de Chaves at home?
Time to motor. The drive to Amarante is only an hour on the freeway. Of course, Janel navigates us on the most winding, beautiful backroads she can find. By the way – HUGE shoutout to the iPhone app “Pocket Earth.” The road(s) she chose have spectacular scenery. THIS is northern Portugal. We can hardly believe the views. I can hardly believe the curves. Fortunately it is not raining and visibility is pretty good today. We enjoy every minute.
At one point we pass a sign that intrigues me and I must turn around:
What in the world are Sepulturas Medievais? I think we need to find out. We make the turnoff and soon find ourselves on a narrow rocky road to nowheresville. There are really cool rock “corrals?” everywhere and we are very curious about how they were made. We drive on for a while, but never really figured out what exactly sepulturas are/were. When I looked it up on a translator online it said they were “tombs.” Hmmm
Onward to Amarante. One in the town we need to find Casa da Calçada. We know it is in the historic center and see where we need to go, but we can’t figure out how to get there. There are one ways and pedestrian only streets everywhere. Leave it to Janel. She winds us around the back way and we see the entryway. However, the turn to actually get IN the entry looks impossible and the actual entry is teeny. I make a feeble attempt to maneuver the car into the slot, but am afraid I am going to scrape the side or back out into traffic. Janel offers to trudge up to the reception to ask for help.
The valet comes down in a flash, takes over the driving and slips our car neatly into the entry. Whew! That was the only stressful part of our day. Check in was a breeze and we are shown to our beautiful room at Casa da Calçada. The hotel was built in the 16th century to become a master palace of Count de Redondo. It has gone through many changes and was restored fully in 2001 to become the luxury hotel that it is today.
The view from our room is directly across the Tamego river looking straight at the Church of St. Gonzalo.
We want to explore a bit of Amarante, but first we have to print our boarding passes for our RyanAir flight tomorrow. We find the “games room” and I fiddle with the computer while Janel and Janet play.
We take a little tour of the garden/pool area and it begins to rain. Then it begins to really rain. So much for our outdoor exploration. Janel’s mood has danpened along with the weather and she hangs her head as we go back to our quarters. When we get in our room I discover a very pleasant surprise that lifts Janel’s mood (and mine, too) considerably.
A couple of glasses of Portuguese sparkling wine, a tin of cookies and chocolate and we are once again 3 happy girls. We read, blog and relax until dinnertime.
We have an 8:30 reservation tonight at Largo do Paco – the Michelin starred restaurant inside of Casa da Calcada. We get all dolled up and head downstairs. The dining room is stunning. We love the colors – mustard-y yellow walls with red accents on the chairs and in the glassware.
One thing to note is the fantastically draped chairs. They are each covered in a brocade sort of fabric that ends in the back with what we are calling a “chair hood” complete with tassel. They may play an important role in tonight’s dining experience.
There are several different tasting menus and we each choose a different one so that we may taste each other’s offerings. Janel and I will partake of the wine pairings (I don’t have to drive!) and Janet chooses a glass of the special Casa da Calcada Vinho Verde.
Every course is outstanding and the service is impeccable. After a while we are the only diners in the place. We like that.
The wine pairings are wonderful, but maybe a bit overboard. We start discussing the chair hoods and an idea takes shape. I am goaded into putting one on… I have to time it carefully so that the servers are out of the room. Finally, the right moment arrives and I make my move much to the utter delight of Janel and Janet. (Janel claims she almost had an aneurysm from laughing so hard!)
I am SURE I am not the first person to ever don the chair hood. Wouldn’t you try it?
Somehow we manage to calm down as Janel is presented with her birthday dessert.
This was the perfect choice for our last night together in Portugal. All we have to do tomorrow is drive less than an hour to the Porto airport. Once again we managed to close up the joint and pad upstairs to our sweet little room. Good night.