We left Lisbon that Tuesday morning — the eight of us and our luggage (and shopping bags) divided between two rental cars — and headed north. One of us, Allison, is a wine importer with connections, and others of us are avid wine drinkers. Allison had one vineyard in particular she wanted to take us to; we all wanted to visit the city of Porto; and there was someone very special Rosa wanted us to meet. So Jaime and Amber, in their trademark way, had found this ridiculously amazing Airbnb in quite the remote spot, which was roughly an hour or two’s drive to each of our intended destinations over the next few days.
The winery was Bulas (the s is a sh; Bulas rhymes with goulash), in the Douro river region (aka “the Douro”), and while Allison had tried to describe the uniqueness of the Douro to us — and though we took a thousand pictures — there are no words or images that can begin to adequately convey the landscape. (A UNESCO-designated World Heritage landscape.) Six of us did the periodically nail-biting drive across skyscraper-tall bridges, through sprawling ranges of steeply sloped mountains, up and around and down into the spot where Bulas sits, surrounded on all sides with grapevines planted in perilously narrow terraces carved all the way up every slope of land, as far as the eye can see — and then some. Think of the rice terraces of Southeast Asia and now mentally plant each narrow ledge of soil with a single row of grapevines, and you still can’t begin to imagine it. It’s breathtaking.
We had a fantastic time at the winery. (Four of us dressed all in handmade — that’s Keli, me, Jaime and Amber above, looking hilariously glamorous for how sweaty we were. Pattern details here.) We were given the farm tour by Isabel, of the Bulas family, Joana the winemaker, and the nicest farm manager whose name I regret I’ve forgotten, who wished in Portuguese that our French were good enough that we could all converse that way instead of English, so he could understand. The wines (white, rosé and port) were fantastic, and we acquired a fair share of bottles before making the twisty drive back down to restaurant DOC for a posh late lunch on the river (indoors, though — it had begun storming furiously outside), arriving back to the house at twilight for makeshift light dinner of tinned fish and olives and wine and whatnot, and a late swim in a light rain. Seriously: idyllic.
But what you really want to hear about is Teresa, who Rosa took us to meet the following day. Teresa hand-spins Rosa’s Bucos yarn (bucosh), and had agreed to give us a demonstration of her technique, with Rosa there to translate. It was hot — although one of the less suffocating days of the week — and so Rosa brought Teresa and her stool out into the shaded fern patch across the lane from her house. Step by step, she demonstrated — teasing out the fleece, carding it between her two giant brushes, then spinning on her large bobbin, talking rapidly the whole way — and invited us to give it a try. Amber and Jaime being the spinners among us, they stepped up. Amber held her own at the carding, and Jaime gave the spinning a go, even though Teresa’s rig is not much like the drop-spindle Jaime teaches. Teresa has a disstaff that goes under her arm and into her waist tie, and she parks a wad of fleece on its tip. From there, she draws it out and onto the top of her bobbin/spindle/whatsit, winding it artfully around and up, and catching it just under a notch in the tip. She’s fast and skilled, and was very proud to show us and to stand for photos. She was striking such poses I fell completely in love with her and her spirit, even though I couldn’t understand a word she said. And she spoke to me persistently and at length, seeming to have faith that if she just kept it up long enough I’d eventually start to understand her. And maybe I would have — I hope so — if we’d had more than an afternoon.
Teresa also knits from her handspun, and I was the only one with big enough feet to justify buying a pair of her socks. She knits traditional Portuguese men’s socks, which are generally lace and interesting to knit, as compared to the traditional women’s socks, which are plain. She’s also a weaver, and told us (through Rosa) about weaving blankets as a girl, with her mother, and then they would pile them folded onto their heads and walk them into the village to sell them. A cousin had borrowed her loom (how long ago I don’t know), but she was eager to introduce us to her friend Ana, who weaves with Teresa’s handspun as well. So off we went to Ana’s house, where Teresa wound bobbins for Ana to weave with, and Ana proudly showed us her 100-year-old handmade loom, built and passed down by her father. Ana also asked us to speak French with her, and we managed. And eventually the two of them broke into song! They were amazing, and we hated to say goodbye, and they couldn’t believe we weren’t staying to eat and drink, but we hadn’t realized that was an option and so hadn’t planned accordingly.
To really appreciate them — especially seeing Teresa spinning and chatting away — go find them somewhere toward the middle of my Instagram Portugal Story, where you can see them in motion and hear them sing. In that photo at the top of this post, Teresa is (very briefly) modeling a heavy wool cape that’s traditional for the region, which Rosa had brought out to show us.
We had a dinner reservation in Porto and only about an hour to roam around ahead of that, by the time we made the hour-ish drive from wherever Teresa’s house was, but we all fell instantly head-over-heels for this city and swore we’d go back when we can. We had just enough time to take more tile photos and selfies, peer into the bookstore that inspired Harry Potter from the sidewalk (such a tourist draw it requires an entrance fee), and visit our third A Vida Portuguesa — the biggest of them — before winding our way through the streets to our teensy restaurant, where we sat in the window and ate so much of everything on the menu that we had enough bacalhau left over to make a big “bacal’omelet” the next morning before heading higher into the mountains for the most epic phase of our adventure, which I’ll tell you about tomorrow.
PIT STOP NAZARÉ
On our way from Lisbon to the Porto region, we stopped for lunch in the sun-drenched little beach town of Nazaré, which is apparently quite a tourist scene at peak season but we hit it about 10 minutes before that, so it felt local and charming. We had lunch (lots of bacalhau and other seafood, of course), put our feet in the ocean, and stopped into a little fabric shop Rosa recommended, called Casa dos Escoceses, where they sell Portuguese wools and traditional plaid fishermen’s shirts and rustic handmade clogs and loads of colorful scarves. I bought a big, bright blue, paisley cotton scarf because I was so smitten with all the little old ladies of Nazaré, who have a very distinct sartorial way about them: layered knee-length skirts, patterned elbow-sleeved blouses tucked in, and scarves simply draped over their heads, not tied under their chins as you’d expect. I adored those ladies, and treasure my Nazaré scarf. (We also stopped there for a night — at the Hotel Magic! — on our way back to Lisbon at the end of the trip, which is when the twilight images here were taken.)
DRIVING IN PORTUGAL
Several people on Instagram asked about this. They drive on the right side of the road, and while the road signs are obviously different, they’re easy enough to get the hang of — and with GPS, it’s really no big deal in that regard. The only challenging thing is how narrow the roads are in so many places; learn to beep your horn a lot on your way around narrow blind curves. We had designated drivers and navigators in each car (I was a navigator, and my hat’s off to the drivers), and as long as someone was monitoring the GPS and the signs and talking the driver through it, it was all fine. However, to drive in Lisbon is not a thing I would ever want to do. (And I say that as someone who drove in San Francisco for years without ever thinking a thing about it.)
. . .
D O U R O + P O R T O T R A V E L D E T A I L S
• Calçada do Souto Farm
Stunning Airbnb that’s like a tile-roofed stone fortress that opens up to a backyard pool with amazing views out over a valley of vineyards. Quite remote (I believe it was about an hour or hour-and-a-half drive from Porto), but if the location works for you, the house can’t be beat.
Wine and Dining
• Bulas Wines
Traditional Vinho Verde region wines, including white, red, rosé and a variety of ports. Jaw-droppingly beautiful place and lovely people.
By far the poshest place we ate in Portugal: chic minimalist interior, impeccable service (of the invisible sort), world-class food — from the amuses bouches to the entreés — and the most picturesque setting, right on the river Douro.
• Taberna dos Mercadores
Teeny tiny and authentic, on a steep Porto street just up from the river. Casual vibe and fantastic service — we really enjoyed these guys. Be aware that the portions are huge: 5 of us ordered bacalhau and that alone was enough fish to feed the whole table plus the people waiting on the sidewalk. Big portions are apparently typical in the north of Portugal.
• A Vida Portuguesa
If we could only have gone to one location of this made-in-Portugal emporium, I’d pick the Porto one — it’s large and stunning and has some of everything that the other two stores had, plus more in the way of books, pantry foods (tinned fish, olive oil, salt, tea, etc), Burel blankets, baskets and lots more.
PREVIOUSLY in Portugal guide: Part 1, Lisbon and Portuguese knitting
Photo of me and my Teresa socks © Anna Dianich; remaining photos © Karen Templer