July 29, 2010

best kept secret

When I picked up the Travel section of the New York Times several months ago, featuring a serene picture of a vineyard in Portugal, I never dreamed we would actually go there. We knew we wanted to go to Portugal, but I assumed the beautiful bed and breakfast over-looking the Douro Valley would be way too expensive for our post-big-wedding budget. But that's what's great about honeymoons. You do crazy things. So I looked it up anyway online. When Jason looked over my shoulder and said, "Can we go there?", I had no choice. I booked it immediately.

But here's the secret: it wasn't expensive. After spending two nights at Quinta do Vallado, just outside of Regua in the Douro Valley (Portugal's Napa Valley), we looked at each other and knew that this place was about to explode. It's just too luxurious, too beautiful, too perfect...and too affordable. It was almost too good to be true. I mean, we had very decent bottles of wine delivered to us pool-side for about six euros. Six. Euros. Incredible. It was the kind of place where you feel like you could stay forever.

The other thing I don't want to tell you, but I'm going to anyway: the food in the Duoro Valley is the best I've ever had. At Castas e Pratos, I had a turnip bisque that I'm still thinking about. The next night, driving along the beautiful highway that curves around the valley, we found Restaurant D.O.C. sitting on stilts right over the river. 

This was the first of two very memorable birthday dinners (I'm kind of spoiled). Is it wrong that all I wanted for my birthday was amazing food? I don't think so. The whole experience at D.O.C. was darn near perfect.

I think the best thing about the Douro Valley is also the thing that makes me kind of sad: it's so undiscovered compared to Napa or Tuscany or Provence. I know it won't stay that way for long so I'm thankful we got a little piece of it when we did. Portugal stole our hearts, big time. We will definitely be back. 

July 16, 2010

like a gallway girl

We had so many wonderful experiences on our trip to Europe that it's hard to pick the ones to share. The West coast of Ireland? Incredibly beautiful and the nicest people you will find anywhere on the planet. Barcelona? Buzzing and full of life and more to see and do than we could have possibly made time for in four days. San Sebastian (in the North of Spain, Basque country) was my second favorite, tied with Lisbon, which is the most chic, cosmopolitan city in Europe. Now I love Paris more than I can explain, but I'm here to tell you there is something very special about Lisbon. You'll just have to go there to experience it for yourself. And then there was the Douro Valley of Portugal, which is one of the Best Kept Secrets of Europe. Trust me on this one.

I thought I'd start with Ireland, since we started there first and because it was just too beautiful. And because they love Americans, which is always a nice bonus. And because they sang to me about Gallway girls: "her hair was black and her eyes were blue", just like me. I found my people!

We spent the majority of our time in the Spanish Point area, which includes the breath-taking Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands. Along with my two brothers, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, husband (!), mom, and mom's friend, we spent four days staying in a little cottage, driving around the coast, riding bikes on the Aran Islands, cooking great food, and spending much-needed time together.

Since we cooked at the house for almost every meal, I don't have any great food stories. To be honest, the food in Ireland is quite expensive. I also happen to have a culinary genius for a sister-in-law, who spoils us rotten every time I see her. Her lemon olive chicken stewed in white wine? To die for. 

I did, however, come across this lovely little scone made by the wife of a nice Irish man selling coffee at one of the piers as we were waiting to board our ferry to the island of Inishmore. Did I want butter and jam, he asked? Um, yes please. That's what a Gallway girl would do, I bet.

July 9, 2010

Back in action.

I apologize for the long hiatus. Life is just very time-consuming sometimes! A lot has happened in five weeks. We got married, went back to work for a bit, flew on a plane to Ireland and then to Spain and Portugal, and now it's back to real life. As wonderful and hard-to-believe as the past five weeks have been, it's nice to be "back". I have two amazing birthday dinners, a gazillion pictures, a vineyard, and one incredible custard tart to share with you very soon. I promise.

p.s. The photo is courtesy of Adie Gately and Twin Town Studios. We heart her.