The Presidential: In Douro with history, luxury and gastronomy

A sunny and warm morning in Porto was the preview of a nice trip to Douro, but not just any visit, a trip in a historic train, once used by kings, dictators, and presidents, now baptized as The Presidential.

While hundreds of tourists were enchanted by the tiles of the extremely beautiful São Bento Railway Station, some more attentive eyes were landing on this train, some pictures here and there, and this presidential train could easily compete with the TGV, and win in terms of fame and beauty!

On time, we are invited on board in the former press wagon (the most distant from the presidential wagon) and we see the promises of this party with a glass of white Port, a beautiful Niepoort Dry White,  always a good way to welcome friends.

The train starts moving and among the bustle and excitement, we meet our travel neighbors, a British couple just arrived in Porto, with whom we would spend the rest of our lunch and travel.

We started with stories and toasts (renovating the stock of Port wine) and the noise of the conditioned air, also known as “open window”, us being living an historic experience!

The least interesting part of the trip was therefore done, et voilà, we are invited to the dining room, in this case, a lunch, to spend the next two and a half hours enjoying the chef Miguel Rocha Vieira’s cuisine, while watching the astonishing Douro scenario and the staff’s juggling!

Ivo Peralta, Fortaleza do Guincho’s sommelier presents the first wine of the lunch, a sparkling Bairradino Água Viva from Niepoort 

We started with the sea and its representations, being the sea one of the most important elements of Miguel Rocha Vieira’s cuisine at Fortaleza do Guincho. Among delicate snacks, like the “edible” shells and the butter, also representing the sea, we highlight the mussels with pepper and the red pepper and the seaweed butter.

  Impressive technical detail put into the sea elements recreation

While we enjoyed the appetizers, with also the always delicate Acushla olive oil, we could already sense in the room and hallways, the aroma of the shellfish broth that would water the sea soup to follow.

Perfectly cooked seafood, with an accomplished contrast of textures and a sea flavor explosion, quickly taking us to the opposite direction of the train. A dive into the ocean, nicely accompanied by the white Redoma 2016, mineral, fresh and with a delicate salty touch that makes all the difference.

The wonderful Conciso, the red Niepoort produces in the Dão region

Seabass, artichokes, and Azores squid 

After the soup, the fish! A nice portion of sea bass, with Azores squid, artichoke, and a red wine sauce. Sea elements, combined with earth notes that are usually the signature of the chef’s fish dishes. Very good! And very well combined with a Dão wine, served at a lower temperature, demonstrated all its power and versatility. A very elegant wine!

While the landscape becomes even more amazing – one of Douro’s magical features, as we enter through it, and travel on its route, it becomes increasingly beautiful and imposing – we also travel to Alentejo with a dish of black pork.

 The art of putting the sauces on the plate during the trip is one of the funniest moments; you sure need a steady hand and some luck! 

A great homage to the animal and its region, with a pork loin, corn puree, acorns and a xárem. A nice dish, I wouldn’t mind seeing recreated with a more moist and tasty cut. On the glass, we ride back to the Douro, with the classic red Redoma 2014, less concentrated than in previous years, with an excellent acidity and a very charismatic vegetable side.  

 Algarve’s Delicacy, with carob, almonds, and figs

To finish our travel around Portugal, we went to the Algarve, in a very well accomplished fusion of usual the sweet elements of the region, a fig and almond cake, orange flower ice cream, carob and crunchy biscuit, all very nicely connected with an English sauce. Great ending, even more, when enjoyed alongside a rich White Port 10 years, where the dry fruit notes went perfectly with the dish.

But the pleasures don’t end here, not in this presidential train that wants to make our experiences unique. After Pinhão, we continue our travels to the amazing Quinta do Vesuvio, one of Dona Antónia’s great passions – the famous Ferreirinha – nowadays in the proud hands of the Symington family.

The access gates to some of Quinta do Vesuvio’s vineyards

We disembarked in Vesuvio, the train and the staff head to Pocinho to a deserved lunch and rest. Meanwhile, Gonçalo Castel-Branco, the mentor of this project, invites us to visit the Quinta and the Cellar where some of the most classic Ports and table wines of the region are produced, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet of Douro, in the terrace.

 Quinta do Vesuvio

Knowing this Quinta quite well from other journeys, we opted to enjoy the good weather felt and the calm of this place to enjoy a cigar and some Symington wines, namely Graham’s Single Harvest from 1972.

A wine with an interesting history for the current Symington generation, being the first wine selected for ageing, by Peter Symington, after acquiring Graham’s, and that years later, his son Charles, his winemaker successor, came to bottle. Rich, endless and super complex, a Tawny that completely fulfills me.

Back on the train, we are received with piano notes at the Bar, while the sun starts to set and Douro gets an amazing colour.

 Time to head back and try to discover some of the charms of the river and the landscape we left unnoticed in the ride in. Proof you really can’t resist Douro and after several hours of train travel and some hours at Vesuvio, we still can’t take our eyes off the view, despite how many charms and moments the train provides for us.

After Pinhão, we are again at the table for a little snack, a Portuguese homage, with noble products, showing the excellence of our products, with canned goods, Qualifer sausages – the emblematic Pinhão’s butchery, worthy of a visit, cheeses, with highlight to the Queijo da Ilha, 24 months cure, and, of course, the delicious Gleba bread, that no one can stay indifferent to.

There was also time for more wine! Always with the Niepoort stamp, always a synonym for satisfaction, and some sweets, produced by the resident chefs Vitor Areias and Rui Santos.

And in between, a visit from one of the historic candy sellers from Régua, and the sound of the Portuguese guitar, full of emotions and a very Portuguese sentiment.

After nightfall, we head back to our cabin to end the journey comfortably and have a nice chat, where the obvious topic was the retrospective of the magical day aboard the train.

Almost in Porto, with our hearts more than conquered, the team decided to warm our souls and stomachs, with a recreation of the classic caldo verde, perfect!

As the journey ends, it’s time to say goodbye, congratulate the organization and the entire staff, for becoming true actors allowing us to merge into a unique scenery. A true show!

Now what? We must wait for 2018 for a promised return.

The Presidential

Versão Portuguesa

Photos: Flavors & Senses 

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