The “float” part of our “Float and Bloat” tour, whether on water or wine, has been front and centre. Although we have eaten well, only the roast lamb dinner was truly memorable. Today we learn that you can’t always stop eating even when you really want to.
After passing the dam we paddle to Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, the flagship manor for the Graham’s brand, one of eight port brands owned by the Symington Family, which controls about a third of the country’s port production. Symington is obviously not a Portuguese name; it is, in fact Scottish and the family has been involved in port since the 17th century. A gracious hostess leads us on a brief tour before lunch. No, that’s the wrong word; we sit down to a feast. I won’t detail the whole menu because I can’t remember it. The main course is salt cod in cream, with the texture of soft, thick macaroni and cheese, flavour that a pantheon of gods would praise, and enough calories to see us through the rest of the week. It’s a serve-yourself dish, and most of us return for generous second or third helpings. Feeling sated we don’t really look forward to dessert, but it comes anyway: the most delectable chocolate mousse I have ever eaten. Surely that’s all! Now they put five different cheeses in front of us. I refuse; I’ve already eaten far too much. Then I see the looks of bliss on the faces of those who have risked a small taste. I try one cheese. Then another. Then a third. Utterly delicious! I’ve never had an experience like this; I love fine dining, appreciate exquisite cuisine and sometimes overdo it, but I have always been able to push away from the table before my body screams “Help!” Not today.
Needless to say, we couldn’t have paddled any farther that afternoon; I’m surprised we were able to stuff ourselves into the vans for the drive up the hill to Casa de Casal de Loivos, where we spend the next two nights. This magnificent white mansion boasts one of the world’s best vistas.
We are met by an impeccably clad host who would not have been out of place on Upstairs, Downstairs. Too stupified with food to pay much attention, we retire to our rooms, vaguely aware that pre-dinner cocktails will start in a couple of hours. We must seem like the most ungrateful of guests; we manage to drink the port, of course, but can only stare numbly at the lavish dinner that is served.
The following afternoon, after a final paddle on the river, we are able to appreciate the house and our accommodations. Each of our rooms opens onto a terrace overlooking the valley.
The ground floor now serves as a hotel, while the owners’ quarters are upstairs.
Opulence and elegance, understated but fundamental, reflect 350 years of history.
The old kitchen is incorporated into the decor of the modern one.
The family quarters are relatively modest and steeped in history. Many of the old books on the library shelves are in Latin.
Good weather allows dinner to be served outside on the terrace. Torches are lit, reminding me irrationally of that awful TV show, Survivor.
After a final deluxe breakfast we board the vans and head for Oporto, our trip through the Douro valley but a memory now. There will be a farewell dinner in the city, sad goodbyes, promises to keep in touch and exchange photos, but we will not all be together again nor share the same sun, wine and water.
Finally, the guides from Explorers’ Corner (now Natural Habitat Expeditions) who made this trip so incredibly memorable. Thank you.