From chilly Edinburgh, where our yearlong grand tour officially ended, we went to the splendid Atlantic coast city of Porto in Northern Portugal, where we shed some layers, soaked up some welcome sunshine, saw cobalt skies for the first time in months, and attended Wine Pleasures’ 2011 International Wine Tourism Conference.
As wine, along with food, had been such a big focus of our grand tour, and as we’d had so many experiences of wine tourism over the twelve months of our trip, we’d been invited to the conference to present a case study of Grantourismo and advise wine tourism operators how they can embark on social media projects, as well as join media and blogger trips around the Minho and Douro wine regions before and after the event.
We were exhausted after a year on the road in which we essentially moved house every two weeks to set up home again in another of HomeAway Holiday-Rentals’ fabulous properties. And if you’re getting tired just thinking about the idea of it, I have a secret to share: it was actually our fifth year on the road, living out of our suitcases, not our first.
So as much as we really just wanted to get on a flight to Australia, to my uncle and aunt’s welcoming country home and garden and their friendly dogs and cats, where we occasionally hole up to rest and write, we dragged ourselves off to Porto instead.
The temptation of spending eight days talking about wine, food and travel, meeting lovely people from around the world, touring the countryside, and tasting scores of Portuguese wines, was simply too great to resist. After working 365 days straight (and then some), we also saw it as our little reward.
Of course we didn’t stop working during our time in Portugal, we simply punctuated our work with a whole lot more drinking, eating, and socializing than we usually do.
But before all that would come there was a full day of travel from Edinburgh via Heathrow and Gatwick to Porto; a midnight tour of Porto by the well-meaning manager of our holiday rental who thought he was doing two weary travelers a kindness by showing them the sights in spite of the late hour; an all-too-short night’s rest in a waterfront apartment on the Ribera on the edge of the Centro Historico with spectacular views of the Ponte Luis I, a majestic iron bridge built by a partner of Gustav Eiffel; and a whole day wasted trying to get access to the internet and to get several USB modems to work…
By the time we finally met Anthony of Wine Pleasures, and the rest of the wine writers, bloggers and photographers who piled onto the bus, we were more than ready and perfectly willing to hand ourselves over to a Portuguese guide and join what suddenly occurred to us was a press trip, and our first at that after all these years travel writing! For the first time in our lives as professional travellers we were happy to let somebody else take charge of the itinerary, transport, meals, hotels, and visits – and we did it with pleasure!
Our Porto apartment was in a terrific location, slap-bang on the Ribera, the pedestrianized waterfront, with stunning vistas of the river and the splendid historic port-makers’ warehouses on the opposite bank.
The views are truly spectacular at night. Immediately behind the building are the steep skinny streets of the atmospheric old town and a short ride on the funicular up the hill is the commercial centre.
The apartment is clean, modern and spacious, with a well-equipped kitchen, but be warned, it’s on the third floor and there’s no elevator, so travel light so you’re not carting heavy bags up those stairs.
We’d also been informed there was internet access, but unfortunately the USB modems we were given didn’t work. Buy a Portuguese modem at the airport on arrival.