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Casa Guedes (Porto, Portugal)

As I mentioned in my review of Café Santiago, Porto loves its sandwiches, and pretty much any Porto tourism or dining guide will recommend that you find one of several joints and try out a Francesinha. But Porto doesn’t just limit itself to the Francesinha; the pork products (both fresh and cured) of Portugal, and their love of fresh Portuguese-style rools (papo secos) make for a lot of great sandwich possibilities, so all sorts of other cafés around Porto offer up their take on the “sande” (sandwich). And if there’s any place that’s almost guaranteed to be on most any recommendation list alongside a Francesinha, that’s going to Casa Guedes for a Sande de Pernil.

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Café Piolho (Porto, Portugal)

After a morning of wandering around Porto, including some spectacular sightseeing from the Torre dos Clérigos, we were ready for a light lunch. This lead us to the nearby Universidade do Porto district, which has a nice selection of small cafés and bars that cater to the students of the University. It’s an interesting part of town to hang around, since Portuguese universities have a strong set of traditions (called “Praxe”), part of which is still maintaining an academic wardrobe. So several of the places by the University have a lot of students roaming about in their distinctive black cloaks and dresses. In a jokingly referential manner, one of the cafés in the neighborhood, Café Piolho, is named after these students (the name mean “louse”, so they literally are saying the café is infested).

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Café Santiago (Porto, Portugal)

After closing out our stay in the Douro Wine region with a pleasant breakfast, winery tour, and a tasting session at Quinta de la Rosa, it was time to head back to Portugal. Unlike our trip out from Porto, this time the trains were indeed running and strike-free, so we had a very scenic train ride down the Douro river valley until we arrived back in Porto at São Bento station in the early evening. After hauling our luggage back to our hotel room and exploring more of the town, we needed a light dinner, and decided this was a good time to try one of the local well-regarded cafés, Café Santiago.

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Quinta do Bomfim (Pinhão, Portugal)

Back when we first arrived in Pinhão, one of the main attractions in the town itself is visiting one of the several Quintas that are located right in town. Quinta do Bomfim is run by the Symington Family Estates, who produce several of the well-regarded Port wine labels (Graham’s, Warre’s, and Dow’s), and over the last several years, they’ve converted the Quinta into a pleasant visitor center. It’s still a working winery (indeed, they were processing grapes on our visit), but it’s also got a nice museum and a great tasting room (note: reservations are strongly, strongly recommended). After a pleasant tour through the Quinta and a nice tasting session in the room (complete with 40 year old Port), we then realized we had made a tactical error: most of the rest of our tour then took prepared picnic baskets and headed off to the vineyards to have a picnic dinner. Lacking a reserved basket, we missed out, but when our itinerary brought us back through Pinhão, we decided that on our second pass we’d actually reserve a picnic basket and head up to the hills.

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Cozinha da Clara (Pinhão, Portugal)

After 6 days of trekking on foot through the various towns and quintas of the Douro wine valley, we ended up back where we started in Pinhão. For our last two nights in the Alto Douro, we were staying at another quinta, Quinta de la Rosa, located just west of Pinhão right on the banks of the river. And when I say we were staying at the quinta, in this case it’s pretty literal, Quinta de la Rosa is actually quite an active Quinta (indeed, getting to the guest rooms means literally walking right by the vats where they are stomping the grapes), and they’ve also got a nice variety of vineyards and hiking trails to explore as well. And, with their latest renovation, they added a modern tasting room and a restaurant, Cozinha da Clara

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Quinta do Portal (Celeirós, Portugal)

Our first day of hiking in the Douro valley involved hiking from our hotel in Pinhão, up the Pinhão river valley, climbing out of the valley to the village of São Cristovão do Douro, then further climbing up to the ridge to the scenic town of Provesende, and then returning to the Pinhão river valley through the town of Vilarinho de São Romão to eventually end up in Celeirós at Quinta do Portal, one of the area’s larger wineries. In addition to operating the winery itself, in their attached vineyard Quinta do Portal runs two different guest houses (Casa das Pipas, the “House of Pipes”, and Casa do lagar, a former olive pressing house), a restaurant, and tours of the winery and cellars. Casa das Pipas itself is quite a nice, inviting guest house, literally in the middle of the vineyards (the vines come all the way up to the swimming pool), and with our reservations in the room came quite a few amenities: free tours of the Quinta, a discount on purchased wine and olive oil, packed picnic lunches each day, and, most importantly of all, dinner.

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Restaurante Bar LBV 79 (Pinhão, Portugal)

Compared to the rest of the Douro, which generally is quite calm and free of a lot of tourist traffic, Pinhão is the epicenter of activity in the Alto Douro; almost every day there’s at least one river cruise ship coming or going (day trips from Porto are popular, as are cruises headed further up the Douro to Spain), and it’s also the largest concentration of both hotels and restuarants (although the Douro valley still seems to be catching up with tourism; most Quintas having to implement reservations, and several places having recently added accommodations). Enjoying the sunset After completing a tour and a very enjoyable port tasting at Quinta do Bomfim, and eyeing the bountiful picnic baskets that some other guests had reserved there (we’d come back and do that later in our trip), we were actually getting a bit hungry, so as the sun started to set we were looking around Pinhão’s harbor for dinner. The first place we looked for, Bar Restaurante Veladouro, apparently was temporarily closed (they were open the next weekend when we returned to Pinhão), so we ended up at the place next door, Restaurant LBV 79 (run by the same people running the LBV Guesthouse that we were staying at up the hill… if you are wondering about the name, LBV is short for “Late Bottle Vintage”, a regular Port wine term).

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Ó-Por-Co (Pinhão, Portugal)

After a night in Porto, it was time to head out for the main purpose of our trip, a week-long hiking trip in the Douro Wine Valley. After waking, having a pleasant breakfast at our hotel, and heading out to the train station, we hit the first complication: a “greve” (Labor strike). All of the trains and ticket offices were shut down, but the folks arranging our trip at Portugal Green Walks were able to easily arrange alternative transportation, so instead of a scenic train ride up the Douro river valley, we instead had a surprisingly scenic drive across Portugal, seeing the Serra do Marão mountains and passing through the recently-opened Marão tunnel and Vila Real, getting dropped off at our guest house in Pinhão mid-afternoon. In all that shuffle, we hadn’t really had a chance to grab lunch, so we headed down into Pinhão to try and find a light snack to tide us over to a later Portuguese dinner. This is always a bit of a challenge in Portugal, since while various travel guides insist that Portugal doesn’t do the siesta of neighboring Spain, especially in the rural parts of Portugal, they essentially do observe it: the vast majority of restaurants, and a good fraction of other businesses, will be closed in the afternoon, with a smattering of cafés starting to open in the mid-afternoon if you want to sit around drinking coffee or beer while watching futebol. But we found one major exception to this on just down from Pinhão’s train station: Ó-Por-Co, a simple little café serving an assortment of wine and petiscos (small plates).

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Taberninha Do Manel (Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal)

Carol and I try to pick a different, quirky destination every year to continue our geographic and culinary exploration. Originally, we planned to do a trip to the Azores this year, but various scheduling and logistical issues kept that from happening during the ideal weather months. But the idea of visiting Portuguese islands got us thinking a bit, and when looking into alternative destinations, we realized that October was actually quite a good time to visit Porto and the Douro river valley. So, with the assistance of Portugal Green Walks, a touring service that arranges itineraries and manages luggage transfers between hotels, we booked a two-week stay in Portugal. If you are into “walking holidays”, I highly recommend them. Arriving after a rather long day from a red-eye flight from Boston to Madrid, followed by a long layover and a short flight to Porto, we soon found ourselves settled into a hotel in Porto and setting out to do some modest exploration and dining before calling it and evening and leaving for Pinhão the next morning on the train. After a short walking tour checking out Lello (the famous bookstore), seeing the old city and Ribiera, and crossing over on the Dom Luís I Bridge, we spend our early evening relaxing and drinking port wine, and then decided that before we keeled over from hunger and exhaustion, we should probably get an early dinner and head back to the hotel. For those that aren’t aware of it, the Iberian peninsula is renowned for their generally late hour of dining, so looking for a table around 7pm is more than a little early, but being a tourist town, we found Taberninha Do Manel

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J. J. Hapgood General Store and Eatery (Peru, VT)

There are a lot of little corners of Vermont that I haven’t done much culinary exploration in, simply due to the fact that I seem to pass through those parts during the wrong time of day. Peru, VT is one of those little towns that I’ve driven through probably a hundred times (it’s on Route 11, one of my preferred east-west routes through Vermont), but it wasn’t until I had my parents visiting in September that I finally had a reason to stop and check out downtown Peru, which is just off of Route 11 (the highway diverts about a 1/10th of a mile around the downtown), and, arriving right before noon, we found ourselves at J.J. Hapgood General Store and Eatery in downtown Peru.

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