Art at the adega

Aliança underground logoTucked away in the small town of Sangalhos is the Aliança winery. Not such a surprise perhaps, given that Portugal is the 12th largest wine producer on the planet.  But what is surprising is that the Aliança winery is more than just a wine production site and shop.  Hidden, literally underneath the winery is the Aliança Underground museum.  A tour of the museum takes you from Africa to Portugal, via the ageing cellars and back out for a complementary wine tasting at the end.

Sparkling wine ageingA little bit about Aliança first.  Aliança Vinhos de Portugal is the second biggest wine group in Portugal with both wineries and quintas contributing to its range of wines.  Aliança use indigenous grapes from each region, producing DOP wines and IGP wines from the Dão, Douro, Alentejo, Beiras and Bairrada as well as brandies and sparkling wines.



African artefactsThe museum itself is part of the Berardo Collection, a collection of art put together over many years by José Berardo.   Other collections from the Berardo Collection can be found in Lisbon and at at the BuddhaGarden in Bombarral.




African statuesAt 20 metres underground, the tour starts with a map of the Aliança underground with each ‘station’ on the stop relating to a particular collection or junction in between a collection.  The first stop is Africa where archaeological phallic burial pots and offerings to gods of fertility are displayed alongside weapons, chairs and handcarved goods.  Africa plays  large role in the collection given that Mr Berardo has spent a significant part of his life on that continent.

Photo0321Another stop on the underground tour is the mineral room.  Shaped very much like a mine tunnel and lit appropriately, this is a fine collection of minerals of all shapes and sizes in their raw form.  From quartz to lapiz lazuli, there are minerals from all over the world here including Brazil and Africa. The impressive use of light makes the display even more interesting as the minerals look so different from one angle to the next.  Moving on from the mineral collection is the equally impressive fossil collection which includes fossils from Scotland, England and France.  There’s even a dinosaur jaw there for authenticity.

The Pink Room As the underground tour moves on the wine element increases with the process of barrel ageing of aguardientes and brandies explained and a treat for the eyes in the Pink Room.  The Pink Room is a former ageing cellar for the group’s sparkling wine.





A fine collection of minerals

Finally, the tour takes you through the tile rooms, also known as azulejos.  With rescued frescos from Portuguese hotels, churches and pottery by the world famous Bordalo Pinheiro, there is even more to whet your appetite and ready you for the wine tasting at the end.  Aliança’s rose sparkling wine and a low-alcohol summer drink are included on the tasting and can be bought in the shop.  If you simply want to buy wine in the shop, you can pop in at any time.  For a visit to the museum, you need to pre-book by email.  The museum tour is just €3.50 and well worth every cent.  This was my second visit to the museum and I will definitely go again.

Porto, big on romance and sweeping views

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, a lot of folk will be pondering where to head to for a weekend of romance and love. Paris, Barcelona, London?  The obvious choices spring to mind, but what about Porto, Portugal’s second biggest city, and a stonkingly romantic one at that!

Porto from above

The city of Porto viewed from above.

Porto is a city of sweeping views, whether you’re coming in to land at their brand new airport or sailing down the River Douro aboard a rabelo boat.  It’s a city of impressive bridges, tumbledown houses, an exquisitely tiled railway station and a river front that screams, “pick a table, any table, order a glass of Port, and enjoy the company of your loved one, because this, my friend, is happiness in the sunshine”.

The Douro Valley in summertime

The Douro Valley (Peso de Regua)

Porto is divided in two by the River Douro, which flows down from Spain (where it’s known as the Duero) through the Douro Valley here in Portugal and out to the powerful Atlantic Ocean which lies along the western coast of Portugal.  The two ‘divisions’ are actually two towns which for tourism purposes, are considered one.  There’s Porto proper, the town on the right bank of the river if you look out to sea, and Vila Nova de Gaia, on the left bank.

The no 22 tram in Porto

Parked and ready for off, the no 22 tram is an old-fashioned way to see Porto.

Porto itself is home to the Ribeira district, a Unesco World Heritage Site.  It’s a maze of tiny cobbled streets, tiled shopfronts, bakeries, restaurants and, by the river side, bars and small markets.  Whether you arrive by train or not, make sure you head to São Bento railway station in the centre of town for an intricately tiled entrance hall depicting the history of Portugal in traditional azulejos.  Getting around is simple thanks to a state of the art metro system that runs both under and over ground, but the fun way to see the town, is by tram, and old fashioned trams at that.  The no 22 picks up in Carmo and heads to Batalha.  Sit back and enjoy the view. Or, catch the no.1 tram down by the river near the Palacio da Bolsa for a twenty minute journey to the Atlantic coast town of Foz do Douro – there’s always impressive waves in Foz so stay well back!

Fonseca Port lodge

Fonseca Port lodge from a rabelo boat

Rabelo boats at Vila Nova de Gaia

Rabelo boats at Vila Nova de Gaia

Vila Nova de Gaia is the land of Port.  Cross over the Dom Luis bridge (designed by a partner of Gustave Eiffel, so there’s no escaping Paris, after all) and you’ll find yourself on a quayside that looks upwards to a plethora of Port lodges, most of which you’ll spot have unusually non Portuguese names – they’re mainly British, and downwards to the River Douro and the rabelo boats – once used for bringing wine from the valleys, now used for boat trips.  In the Napoleonic era when the British and French were at war, the British needed their wine fix in a society that was growing increasingly accustomed to a tipple, and, as there was an embargo on the Bordeaux Claret that was à la mode at the time, the Brits found an alternative liquid refuge with their oldest allies- the Portuguese in the liquid joy that is Port.  They’re still the biggest market for it today… how time stands still.  Take a trip around the Port lodges for a history of the wine, the winemaking process and some samples to whet your whistle before investing in a vintage bottle to crack open next Valentine’s Day.