Meandering through Portugal on the traditional cycle, tasting some of the oldest wines, the music of the lands, the fado, melts into the backdrop. This is slow travel. This is true luxury
By: Vasim Shaikh, Founder and CEO, The Q Experiences
Posted on: April 9, 2019
A drop of dew rolled down along the entire twine of the pristine purples and greens, from the creeper vines to the luscious grape, some of the moisture evaporating away into the air before it could meet the soil. At the cosy nook of the leaf and the stalk the little lady bug peered his head and fluttered away right in time from being drowned in the deluge of the dewdrop. This sight my camera zoomed into would touch one’s soul in any setting whatsoever; it was no miracle of nature that only the vineyards in Portugal could speak of.
However, to me, a slow traveller winding along the lanes of Portugal, it was something significant about the particular morning that dawned. As I rested my cycle against a pretty white fence, the morning mist draped itself around the soft rolling plains of Alentejo, blooming in the wildflowers of spring. A cork oak field in the distance saw men at work, singing to the harvest melodies of the countryside.
Soon I would be enjoying a hearty meal prepared by a chef, a simple açorda alentejena served with white wine - a traditional rustic delight of the lands made with mashed bread, olive oil, eggs and shrimp. Straight from the farm to the picnic table, this pop up lunch, flavoured with the authentic ingredients of the land, was a true luxury set for me beside the serene vineyards. A day out in the sun, biking, was rejuvenating but a farm fresh brunch prepared on the spot was a perfect end, something that the stomach was awaiting.
Olá, dear traveller and wine connoisseur!
When you are travelling in the countryside of Portugal, this is how you spend a day. You don’t just drink the finest of wines, you spend a day in the vineyards too. When you slow travel, you indulge in an “immersive” experience. When you take one breath at a time travelling like this, you get to enjoy a particular moment in its true entirety; even if it implies doing nothing more than going for a wine tour around a small part of Portugal.
The ciclo, the Portuguese cycle, allows you to explore the lands on your own steam. Down the tiny lanes of Portugal, I cycled by the pretty and dainty sidewalk cafes and the windswept plains and hills. The Mediterranean wind brushing aside my hair felt so soft. This was a moment of pure simplicity, yet one which had the air of the most heartfelt wellness. I have always taken my fitness regimes seriously and passionately, even when journeying. Travel is only a way of life. It is only smart if one weaves the daily rituals you hold close to your heart, into a story that is otherwise out of the world.
After a relaxing but long lap around the UNESCO World Heritage site of Evora, I decided to take a turn for a plush spa therapy at the Convento do Espinheiro Luxury Collection Hotel & Spa. This fifteenth century convent had been home to thirty monks. The royal family of Portugal had been taken care and tended for in this historically rich religious retreat. Now it is was my turn.
This was a perfect day of luxury meeting wellness, slow travel giving me the space to experience both at my own leisure. I cycled, taking in the fresh air around me and relaxed after that, at the spa. The massive megalithic structures of the past left me awestruck. While the Dolmen Chapel of Sao Brissos made me fold my hands in reverence and remembrance of the way it supported the city in times of drought, the Zambujeiro Dolmen was an architectural brilliance, being set in granite and standing tallest in the world.
With the melancholic strains of the fado subsiding in the distant, I felt myself soaking in the timeless landscape of one of the oldest and luxuriant countries in Europe. It is really when you pedal across remote towns do you get to know the soul of a place.
The oldest of wines dating back to ancestral times can only be found in Portugal, particularly in Alentejo. This quaint little town has the finest of wineries tucked in every lane and wide stretches of cork field. Did you know that half of the world’s cork comes from Portugal? Pedalling through the countryside, you will experience the humility of the city’s traditions in not only making exotic wine but corking it too and all indigenously! The limited edition Pera Manca is a wine you can’t miss tasting. Wind around the country lanes of Portugal, to the legendary wineries, where the finest porto wine is awaiting you. Swirl the oldest berries in your mouth at Divinus, the oldest wine cellar in town. Indulge in the traditional cuisine also, the scrumptious pastries and delectable meat pies of the lands.
Slow travel arose from the advent of the slow food movement. The 1980s in Italy saw a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. This was a protest against the fast food culture and the globalization of food across the world. The slow food movement aims to preserve local cuisine, local farming and traditional food preparation methods. This cultural initiative has led a whole new way of life known as the Slow Movement, which emphasizes connection with your own soil, your own way of living and adapting naturally to circumstances.
Going past traditional Alentejo, you would have pedalled your way to Vila Vicosa, also called the “Princess of Alentejo.” Like a princess’s crown studded with precious gems, the Princess of Alentejo is decked up in beautifully carved marble. Vila Vicosa is a land of churches dotted with chapels, monasteries, hermitages and convents. Living here, the perspectives you will gain of Alentejo will be well-informed and in-depth. While you have had your fill of the best wines here, we can bid farewell to Alentejo with the zingy flavor of olive oil.
After a memorable and quiet sojourn at Evora and Alentejo, I headed to Lisbon where I put up at a hotel inspired by the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo, Pestana CR7 Lisboa. A heritage walk around Bairro Alto revealed an important architectural transition in Portugal, from buildings being built in wood to those being set in stone. The façade of these buildings inspired by the French aesthetic had beautiful verandas. I was transported to the old Romantic era with trams running by and the melancholia of fado fading away in the distance. Only a leisurely stroll could have eased me so, giving me time to take in the experience of a place of ancient yore.
Downhill Lisbon, I walked towards the heart of Chiado where writers and philosophers gathered in the 20th century to discuss pathbreaking social and political insights. It was ethereal to see writers still meeting in clusters in the alley ways and patios over their coffee and pastries, creating a vibe that the place is known for.
The experience of visiting the historical center of Baixa Pombalina is also a one of a kind experience as the place was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755. Built right after the conquest of Lisbon, visit the 12th century Cathedral of Se de Lisboa and experience the picturesque Alfama, where the Roman civilization began to set in. Portugal has had its difficult times and that is what makes the place humble, quiet, rich in its history and beautiful for the traveller to take one frame at a time.
At The Q Experiences, a luxury travel organization combining remote wilderness with luxury, we mean to craft experiences that will help you write your first magnum opus. Slow travel, bringing immersive experiences, is something we aspire you to welcome in your travelogue. Experiencing Portugal on a ciclo is a ciclo in luxo. This year, we will be pedalling alongside our Wellness Ambassador Mr. Milind Soman, in yet another beautiful part of the European countryside.
Portugal on the pedal reveals itself as a relaxed and exotic countryside enabling you to experience a place at your own pace, laced in luxury and wellness.
Vasim Shaikh, a travel enthusiast, is the Founder of ‘The Q Experiences’. Hailing from a family background of travel and tourism, his interests include health and wellness, global cuisines and photography. He is passionate about all things travel, fervently supports the conservation of nature, wild life and indigenous cultures, has a soft spot for supercars and is extremely pro-fitness. Mr. Shaikh has been awarded Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 by Entrepreneur for making a breakthrough in Indian travel. The Q has been awarded Best Outbound Tour Operator 2018 by Times Travel Awards.