Alentejo – Journey to A Road Less Travelled

Having experienced the hubbub of Porto and its glitzy glamour, it’s time to dip my toes into the forgotten Portugal’s Alentejo region. Sigh…Tchau Porto… I have only known you for 2 days but it’s time to part our ways. I love every minute of my globetrotting lifestyle with a twinkle in my eye. My faithful Iphone constantly buzzing to remind me to check-in at my next hotel in Alentejo. I begin to wonder at the meaning of the words ‘a road less travelled’. Reaching out for some snacks, my imagination ran wild as our car brushed past the motorways to the undiscovered back lanes of Portugal. Our pocket felt a little hurt every time the transponder on our windscreen gave a little beep, reminding us to pay yet another 0.73 Euro cents having just passed a toll booth about 5-10 mins ago. What is Alentejo like? Tumbleweed blowing across the dusty plains, perhaps? I am not looking forward to starring in the next sphagetti Western unless Clint Eastwood is in it! A bead of sweat begin to gather on my forehead, as I started to regret leaving Porto behind. I remembered my Portuguese best friend’s voice cautioning me against this NoNo journey to nowhere, “But why? You guys cannot speak much Portuguese! How will you survive for 5 whole days in Alentejo? There is really nothing out there!”

We broke the journey to refuel. I spotted a wild orange tree, with no apparent owner, in the distance. My curiosity got the better of me. I picked some of these wrinkly thick-skinned wild oranges from the tree, feeling quite chuffed with myself for bagging free healthy snacks for the road trip. I quickly got back into the car for I love to try new things in the foreign lands. I peeled one of the wild oranges with delight. I popped an orange segment into my mouth, imagining an orchestra of glorious tastes of a freshly picked orange. Unfortunately, contrary to my wild imaginations, the orange tasted absolutely horrid and it left a very sour and bitter taste in my mouth! Consoling myself that it is full of Vitamin C, I had to finish my spoil, this time really begrudgingly. Serves me right! Having learnt my lesson, I will never ever steal from a wild orange tree again!

At lunch time, we stopped by the little town of Mealhada. Mealhada is the roast suckling pig (Portuguese: leitão assado da bairrada) capital of  Portugal, located in the region of Bairrada. I had only stumbled upon Mealhada by chance only the night before. I had googled for potential lunchspots in the comforts of my hotel room after the steak and wine dinner. I often look forward to my next meal having just eaten few minutes ago. Maybe I have a Hobbit bloodline. We had vegetable soup for starters (see Tip 1 below) and shared a massive plate of roast suckling pig and potato chips as our main. The salty taste and crispy skins of leitão is a perfect companion to the Portuguese sparkling wine. I really enjoyed my meal, maybe travelling to the lesser known regions is not such a bad idea after all. I thank my lucky stars as I was not the driver! Hah! If you are game for it, do visit Restaurante Pedro dos Leitoes in Mealhada. Psst! Mealhada is our little secret hidden gem, fellow Dreamplifiers, so let’s keep it amongst ourselves. 🙂

Tip 1: If you love vegetables, you will not get much vegetables with your meal in Alentejo. Alentejo is a carnivour’s delight. So be forewarned!

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Finally, we entered the Montemor O Novo town centre guided by our increasingly frustrating and forever lost Sat Nav a.k.a modern technology tour guide in search of L’and Vineyard Resort. Hey Sat Nav! I will sell you on Ebay if you don’t bring me to my hotel! There could not possibly be a winery in the middle of town, having visited too many famous wineries in my lifetime as a wine lover, for example Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Walla Walla and the Champagne region. Another 20 mins of backtracking on our journey passing by towns of 5 people, corktree woodlands and guided by our own common sense, I spotted this little sign of L’and Vineyard Resort and we quickly made a U-turn. Aha! Luxury hotel here we come and what a relief it was after such a long car journey!

We gingerly navigated our car through potholes on the dusty narrow road interspersed with olive trees and grape vines and what looked like abandoned half-constructed private luxury villas, casting a shadow in the setting sun in the middle of March. What a far cry from the grand entrance of a luxury resort we exclaimed before finally resting our beaten up rental car next to the brand new Bentleys lining the front of the reception. How did these graceful Bentleys manage to navigate through the potholes in those dusty roads earlier? I will let you in on the secret in the next blog. Mouthing to ourselves that we should have rented a better car for our luxury trip, we exited our car as quickly as we can for fear of looking a little less than appropriate. You looked aged as my eyes looked up resting my gaze on the paint chipped main hotel building. Have you waited for me for that long? I’m sorry and I hope I am not too late.

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I gave L’and Vineyard Resort my nod of approval as we were greeted by the super-friendly staffs who spoke fluent English. I could not find fault with the truly outstanding level of customer service received. After checking-in, we rested ourselves on the leather chairs facing a modern fireplace, with a glass of free L’and Vineyard Reserva 2012 – bio wine to sooth the nerves of us mere mortals who had clearly had had enough of the day. I found the red wine a little rough on the edges and may benefit from some more aging in an oak barrel. I asked one of the staff clearly eager to refill my glass, “So, do you age the wine?” He replied with a shrug and said “We don’t produce enough wine to keep them for further ageing. This wine had not been oak barrel aged. It’s solely for the consumption of our hotel guests”.

I feel that a great wine should have its own unique personality: a good nose should welcome you, followed by a musical of high and low notes to entice you to discover its friendship. A truly great wine may even linger on your palate long after the wine is gone and should withstand the test of time by growing more charming as it matures. I never forget the mesmerising characters of a truly great wine. A glass of wine should not be gulped down in search of its alcohol content, but it should be explored like a good book in your hands. A wine should never ever attack you like a Masai warrior by keeping his tannins in check. I have always harboured a secret ambition to be a winemaker or a master sommelier.

After attending the wine tasting session, we were accompanied by a friendly hotel employee to our villa. Such attention to detail provided us with a memorable guest experience. As we unlock the doors to our luxury villa, we were really impressed by this truly luxurious and spacious accommodation. There were 2 bedrooms, 2 en-suite bathrooms, a lounge, dining room and a private courtyard with an outdoor fireplace. I applaud the efforts of the dedicated interior designer for the villa had a truly understated air of elegance and sophistication with the clever amalgamation of wood and stone decor. I chuckled to myself for I had managed to bag this luxury villa at a 30% discount from the SLH website thanks to the hotel’s low season in March. We were welcomed by another free bottle of L’and vineyard wine and a plate of wine accompaniment (chorizo, cheese and water biscuit decorated with a solitary pea shoot) on the dining table. At about 7pm, we heard the gentle buzz of our doorbell and we were asked if we would like to partake of the turndown service. The candles inside our villa were lit to give us extra ambience and the log fire was started in the outdoor fireplace. Such luxury! We felt truly spoiled by the care and attention. Thanks L’and Vineyard Resort, Montemor O Novo!

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It had been a long day, after a quick bite of home-made sandwiches (See Tip 2), we entertained ourselves with stargazing, armed with my latest freebie app, SkySafari, on my Iphone. It’s another pluspoint of travelling to a remote location, should you be interested in stargazing. Back in the lounge, I flipped through one of the photography books begging to be discovered on the petrified wooden slab lounge table complete with its artistic natural lines, cracks and pits, before deciding to call it a day. We were too tired to check out the spa (an indoor pool, sauna and spa with grapes-inspired treatments). Too much adventure for one day! As soon as I laid my head on the comfortable pillow, I fell asleep, accompanied by the soothing crackle of the fireplace still burning brightly into the night.

Continue to follow my Alentejo adventures. To be continued….

Tip 2: If you are making the journey into the unknown, do Google for local supermarkets at your destination. A real gem of a supermarket will also have its own little cafe and gas station. If you are truly well-prepared like me, I usually get my groceries along the way to the destination. It gives you a chance to rest your legs after a long car journey. There are not many breakfast cafes in Alentejo, except for the local bakeries.

Must eat

  • Restaurante Pedro dos Leitoes
    Signature dish: Roast suckling pig

          Address: Rua Alvaro Pedro n01, Mealhada 3050 – 382, Portugal

Must stay

  • L’and Vineyard Resort

          Address: Herdade Das Valadas, Estrada Nacional 4, 7050-031 Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal

Visit http://www.l-and.com/ for further details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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