It all began when 17 of us arrived at the magnificient Vidago Palace Hotel in the far north of Portugal at dinner time on 9 October 2014. Alexandre Barroso The Director of Golf had arranged a drinks reception in the Cellar Bar which got the tour off to a flying start. We all had a late dinner in the atmospheric bar and by bedtime we felt as though we had all known one-another for ever.
Friday morning after breakfast in the Hotels incredible Restaurant we were soon on the 1st tee for a very pleasant morning's golf in sunny conditions. Lunch on the terrace afterwards before relaxing during the afternoon in our splendid rooms before the gourmet dinner in the Hotel's faboulous Dining Room with excellent wines, food and service. Non-stop chatter around the table told us that the group had already relaxed. Vivienne's attack of cramp following the pudding sadly was little improved by Reg's enthusiastic massage. Chef Luis Borledo kindly gave us his recipe for the superb celery puree!
On Saturday we all transferred to the Hotel Casa da Calçada in Amarante but not before we had thanked Alexandre and the rest of the excellent staff at Vidago Palace for their hospitality. Most of us threatened to return for more!
Quite different but in its way equally attractive was the discreet charm of the lovely Amarante Hotel overlooking the River Tâmega in the centre of the town. The rest of the day we relaxed and dined privately in the town.
Sunday saw us at the mountain golf course of Amarante amidst spectacular scenery and some holes all in all a very sporting course with some exciting buggy rides! The Professional at the Club João Silva was an expert host and really spoiled us all during our visits. His verbal guide to the course given on the first tee to all participants was a masterpiece of understatement which left all players with a false sense of security.
An excellent lunch at the Clubhouse before returning to the Hotel to prepare ourselves for our first experience of the Hotel's famed Michelin Star Largo do Paço restaurant. We were not disappointed with the superb meal that was enjoyed by everyone in a wonderful atmosphere with great service.
Early Monday morning we were on our way by coach for a day on the Douro Valley. Ana our lovely guide looked after us very well and after a scenic drive we arrive at Pinhão and after a pit-stop at an hotel on the water front we spent a convivial hour on the "rebelo" Dona Antónia a typical Douro boat. After this a short trip to Rui Paula's famous DOC Restauramt on the bank of the Douro for a gourmet lunch of the highest quality. After lunch we went to Quinta da Pacheca a small adega just beyond Regua where we had a tour of the winery and a wine tasting. Our thanks went to Joana the Adega's guide who was most enthusiastic. It was a sleepy group that returned to our hotel for an evening without any formal arrangements.
Tuesday morning early we set off by coach to Estela Golf Club. Reasonable weather and a great golf course was enjoyed by all the players although some found it difficult. A pleasant lunch overlooking the course and the sea and we were soon on our way back to Amarante. Again there were no formal arrangements in the evening.
Wednesday dawned dismal and it was with some forboding that we went early to Amarante Golf Club. On a less than fine day only 6 attempted to play. Well done Brian and Susan as well as Rosemary, Ted, Martin and Philip who did make a start. The mood was much improved by another great lunch at the Clubhouse which left we all in high spirits ready for the excellent wine & cheese tasting at the Dolman Shop under the Hotel which had been hastily arranged by Oriol Juve the impressive Hotel manager. A short rest and then we all gathered in the Largo do Paço Restaurant for a second gourmet dinner.
Thursday which started unpromisingly gradually improved and by the time the coach had dropped us at the station of Marco de Canaveses for the trip by train up the Douro we were all relaxed. The views of the river from the train were excellent and the bewildered look on the guard’s face as he dropped us off at Ferrão was a picture. He wished us well and warned us we were in the middle of nowhere. This was not helped by the fact that the promised transport was not there. We jokingly pointed to a derelict lorry and told the group that this was our transport! You can image our amazement when an ancient Ford truck slowly chugged its way to the remote station. Most of the group clambered up some household steps into the back of the open truck and they slowly puffed their way up the hill to the equally remote Adega of Quinta do Crasto. Our hostess for the day Andreia kindly came by car to take Brian and myself to the Adega! Andreia was a great guide and helped to make our visit most memorable, a good tour of the winery with some clear introduction into the mysteries of the wine making process then some fantastic tapas with wines on the terrace overlooking the river before lunch in the dining room of the Roquete family home lunch was a really cosy affair with good food, good wines and a humourous running commentary from Andreia. Our coach took us back to the hotel and everyone really enjoyed the visit to Quinta do Crasto. Ted claimed that the trip on the truck was the highlight of the tour so far! A quiet uneventful night followed.
Friday saw us packing and checking out our hotel and most of the group were taken by coach to the Yeatman Hotel in Porto (Vila Nova de Gaia). Helena did a wonderful job of following the coach all the way to the hotel which made the journey much easier for us. The Hotel was modern but resplendent in its 5 stars and we were soon in our unbelievable comfortable rooms overlooking the Douro and the old part of Porto. We walked down the steep hill to the waterfront for lunch and then took a taxi back to the Hotel. After a quick change we went to the Taylor's Wine lodge next to the Hotel for a Port wine tasting and a tour of the lodge. Later in the evening we returned to the Lodge for a very pleasant dinner in the Barão Fladgate Restaurant.
Saturday morning we went to the El Corte Ingles department store to stock up on outsize trousers and pullovers! After buying a few prizes for tonight we had lunch in the store before returning to the hotel to prepare for our final night prizegiving dinner. We went to the bar for what we thought would be a quiet drink before dinner but what followed was like a Laurel and Hardy comic farce. Various attempts to get service and seats including calling in the Duty Manager to help brought little improvement. Eventually we were told that a group of seats in the corner had been reserved for our group! It was a full hour before we were all served and this made us very late for dinner. We had just managed to pay for two drinks when the Duty Manager announced that all drinks would be on the house!! The joy was shortwerd as we found the drinks were charged to our extras bill!!
The dinner that followed was quite different! Once we were in the hands of Luis and Catarina it was a tour de force. A cosy candle lit room with a beautifully laid table, excellent food and wines and high class service ensured the final success of the evening. Prizes for the team event at Vidago Palace were presented to Ted Horlick (21), Susan Lewis (29), Martin Fish (15) and Helena Vicente (34) who scored 74 points. A special award was made to Rosemary Digby (31) who scored 5 points on one hole! The team event at Amarante was won by Reg Auchterlonie (15), Julia Amey (21), Pat Edworthy (28) and Martin Fish (15) with 72 points. Special award went to Susan Lewis for her 5 pointer. The 3 man team of Philip Larking (15), Susan lewis (29) and Vi Auchterlonie (27) also received a special award. The Ladies prize at Estela was won by Vi Auchterlonie (27) and Pat Edworthy (28) with 27 points. The men's prize was won by Martin Fish (15) and Brian Lewis (20) who scored 38 points. For competing 9 holes at Amarante on the second visit Brian and Susan Lewis were presented with half a napkin chain each! A bottle of Taylor's Chip Dry Port was given to Martin Fish for being left behind when the coach took off for Estela. Sue Fish received a guide book to the Douro Area for being the best buggy navigator in Portugal! For all her help during the year Vivienne Cullen received an embroidered Vidago Palace pillow case. Desolation awards went to Val Garrod, David Sears and David Robinson. Martin Fish gave an appropriate vote of thanks and presented a framed cartoon by Tim Bulmer on "How to Taste Wine" on behalf of the group to Michael as a present for his imminent birthday. Martin went on to introduce Bryan Lewis whose splendid Churchill monologue brought a great evening to a memorable close!