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Aerial view of the Caldeira de Sto. Cristo from the hillsides
One of the most visual ways to describe the island of Sao Jorge in the Azores is to say it is like an aircraft carrier, long and narrow and sporting dramatic cliffs that dive down into the sea. While most of its coast is still accessible, the steep cliffs and ocean combine to create isolated peninsulas in certain locations, much like the "golden cage" of Kalaupapa that we loved so much on Molokai. One of our favorites on Sao Jorge was the village of Caldeira de Santo Cristo, located on the north side of the island and only accessible via foot or a small four-wheeler/ATV.
It is here that you can really see and feel the influences that make the Sao Jorge coast what it is. The wet and foggy climate, active seas, rocky coastline, and tropical vegetation combine to provide a mix of a western Scandinavian fishing village with tropical Hawaii. Visitors will see stone-built houses, surrounded by stone-wall property liners, against the backdrop of lush, wet hillside terrain.
Now that you know what to eat when you visit the island of Sao Miguel, let's talk about where to go to burn it off. The island is filled with natural beauty, including a rocky coastline and rolling, hilly highlands. But the main attraction, without question, is the volcanic crater of Sete Cidades.
It's not hard to see why. Sete Cidades is the name of a town that sits at the bottom of a three-mile long volcanic crater that features two back-to-back lakes, the "Blue Lake" and the "Green Lake," each named for the color of its water. The color difference of the lakes is extremely obvious on a sunny day, which, combined with the lush green hillsides that line the crater, makes for a dramatic, picturesque atmosphere that demands to be explored.
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The ground-cooked Cozido of Furnas on the island of Sao Miguel
The island of Sao Miguel is the largest and most populated of the Azores, a chain of nine Portuguese-owned islands about two hours (via plane) from both Lisbon and Porto. Dairy products, grass-fed beef, and seafood are the top locally sustained food choices found throughout the islands, but the most dramatic dish in the Azorean culinary scene is found only in the small, volcanic town of Furnas in the highlands of Sao Miguel.
The Cozido das Furnas, or simply the Cozido, is a traditional dish that stems back to the early days of settlement on the island, when the natural heat of the volcanic terrain was used as an oven to cook food, such as fish, beans, and even cakes. That old-world process continues today for the Cozido, a word that translates to "baked," and the process is as much of an attraction as is its consumption.
Notice the difference in color between the roofs on the left and the roofs on the right
While the actual grape growing takes place several hours upstream in the Douro Valley, the city across the river from Porto, Gaia, is where the majority of the wine is stored and aged after it is shipped downstream. It was chosen over Porto because of its location on the southern slope where there is less sun and cheaper real estate. Today, Gaia is where you head if you want to wine taste, to a string of wineries that the locals call the "wine caves" (because "kahv" means "cellar" in Portuguese).
As you walk the hillside and taste your way through Gaia, you will notice that many of the terracotta-tiled roofs have turned black. From certain vantage points, you can really see the color difference between the roof of a winery and the roof of a non-winery, as shown in the foreground of the photo above. What's up with that?
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As you gaze across from Porto to Gaia, the "wine caves" will stand out for two reasons. The first, as we discussed yesterday, is that many of their terracotta-tiled roofs have turned black. The second is a bit more obvious. Regardless of where you are on the Porto side of the river, you will be able to see the huge signs on top of the wineries that announce their respective brands.
Despite the fact that the wine-producing region of the Douro Valley has always been culturally associated with Portugal, many of the vineyards have British roots that go back to the 1700s. Although most have changed hands over the course of time, there is still one brand, Taylor’s, that has remained owned by its original British family since it opened its doors in 1692.
Aside from its continued role as one of the region’s top port producers and a continued innovator within the style, its history also lends itself as a good place to start for some perspective on Port.
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Last week, we recommended grabbing a seafood dinner in Matosinhos before heading back into Porto proper for some nightlife. But where does one find the drinking crowds? Porto is a blue-collar town at heart, and the best place to take in its glory is in a neighborhood known as "The Galeria."
It is here that you will find a high concentration of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, and where you will experience firsthand the lax laws that allow for a regular night out to feel like a full-blown festival. Even when seats inside are available, large crowds pour out into the streets, a tradition that locals will tell you trace back to times when Portuguese houses did not contain proper living rooms. Instead, porches, front steps, and sidewalks served as venues for social gatherings.
Behold Porto's flagship cheese-smothered sandwich, The Francesinha
Don't let Porto's beauty and the fact that it's well known for its wine mislead you: It's a blue-collar town at heart. Its infrastructure peels with character, and lax local laws allow the city streets to double as beer gardens.
Neighborhood restaurants and "snack bars" sport the stay-awhile casual vibe of a roadside New Jersey diner, and the cuisine encourages you to dig in, push back your chair, and extend your legs. Steaks are typically smothered in something, fish is served split open and whole, and the sides are generous servings of potatoes, bread, and cheese.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Porto's most famous sandwich, the Francesinha (pronounced fran-seh-zheen-ya), is a food coma waiting to happen. It packs such a punch, in fact, that a food writer from a town famous for its meaty sandwiches - Philly - had to say uncle and walk away from the plate. It flexes its muscles the minute it's put in front of you, its protective layer of cheese shining brighter than a knight's armor.
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You know you're getting close to some of the best seafood in Porto when you come upon the traffic circle and see the huge net waving in the wind, the ripples moving and shifting the shape of the sculpture like a jellyfish in the current. Known as She Changes, the larger-than-life artwork is the gateway into the city of Matosinhos, a "beachtown suburb" adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean.
It's also the home of the Leixões Sea Port and a major fishing community, the main reasons why the area is so well known for its seafood restaurants. Today, you can head to the Old Quarters in Matosinhos or north of the harbor to Leça da Palmeira to see what the buzz is all about. You can find a wide range of opportunities, from beach-side grills to fine-dining restaurants.
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In the same way that only sparkling wine from Champagne in France can be sold under that name, only dessert wine made in Porto’s Douro Valley can be labeled as “Port.” Later this week, we’ll take a walk through one of the region’s most famous wine lodges to get a sense of its varieties and history, but today we want to take a glance at how Port is being consumed in the present.
You’ve all no doubt seen the small after-dinner sipper glasses used when it is drunk in the traditional way, but did you know that Port has gone trendy? It has found new life in Portuguese bars, restaurants, and homes as the base ingredient in cocktails.
View from Gaia across the Douro River to Porto
Last year, we spent a week exploring Lisbon, Portugal's capital and largest city. We loved it so much that we celebrated it as the 2013 destination of the year, diving head first into into its Fado culture, personable neighborhoods, and undiscovered nature. At the end of our trip, we vowed to return to explore more of the country, and this week we landed in Porto, Lisbon's rival city up north built alongside the Douro River.
It may be much smaller than Lisbon, but it sure doesn't feel like it as you walk its streets. Numerous vistas provide expansive views of the rolling terrain and snaking river that stretches inland. Across the Douro, you can see Gaia and its wine lodges, and from certain locations you can even see the Atlantic Ocean, just a 20-minute drive from downtown.
It's that time of the year again, the time when the year just plain ends. Alas, we can't just let 2013 go that easily, especially since travelers spent it both up in the air and up in arms over a crazy range of topics. Needless to say, we're ready to get going into 2014, but first we're taking a brief look back at the best of 2013 with the Jaunted Travel Awards,or as we fondly refer to themThe Jauntys.
We learned a very valuable lesson very early on in our journey through Portugal: The fact that a city/town/country has been on the map forever in no way means that it has been discovered.
From our first steps through the streets of Lisbon, the Portuguese city upon the hill, it became clear that Americans have, for whatever reason, been ignoring Portugal. Even the most basic of observations we made were raising the eyebrows of our colleagues and friends back in the Statesa good example being that Lisbon looks just like San Francisco.
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After the warmth of the holiday season fades and January and February begin to sink in their teeth throughout most of the country, you won't be alone if you find yourself dreaming of the ocean. You could always cruise out to So Cal, but we're recommending an extended winter vacation this year, one that you should start planning now while the cash is already flowing from your wallet. Don't wait for those holiday bills to come -- at that point, you'll be too discouraged to cough up any more.
Given the popularity of resolutions, the beginning of the new year is a great time to try something new. And since we're talking summer, how about holding up in a small beach town and learning to surf? Here are three destinations we visited this year that will have you hanging ten in no time.
So far, organic growth thanks to newfound tourism has created a local, pleasant surf town vibe in Sayulita that is not found in the hustle and bustle of nearby Puerto Vallarta. Even though many of the businesses are most definitely there because of tourism, the town has done a nice job overall of keeping them authentic and feeling local -- something we greatly appreciate.
Surfboards can be rented right off the beach for less than $25 a day and multi-person bungalows can be rented for as little as $90/night (there are also cheap hostels and a campground). We recommend you not hesitate, because as great as the town is at the moment, we see small signs of infection – such as annoying beach vendors and aggressive restaurant greeters – that could very well begin to change the feel of the town in the coming years. We have our fingers crossed, but we aren’t holding our breath given the direction most other Mexican destinations have gone with their approach to tourism. So, go!