| Iberian Adventure:
Never-Ending Views on a Never-Ending Day in The
Story and photos by Tom Weber
foreboding skies, the "band of merry media" and I, 29 handpicked
travel journalists and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight)
to sample a portion of its premium-escorted Iberian Adventure
through Portugal and Spain, are buckled into our business-class legroom
seats aboard a sleek Mercedes motor coach cruising its way further into
the spacious Alentejo
We've got a full plate today, literally
and figuratively, as we're scheduled to charge up a hill to visit a
whitewashed village, hop on a barge and set sail across a lake, and
put on the old feedbag not once, but twice to consume
a bounty of mouthwatering regional Portuguese cuisine.
Are you ready? Vamos!
Perched atop a rocky hill, with spectacular
views of where Portugal embraces Spain, is the charming, pedestrian-only
medieval village of Monsaraz.
Overrun by the Moors in the 8th century
and reclaimed by Christian crusaders in the 12th, Monsaraz, once upon
a time, was occupied by the mysterious Knights Templar, who dismounted
and stayed for a spell in this quiet-as-a-mouse village.
Cobbled streets lined with uneven-walled,
whitewashed cottages topped with terra-cotta roofs are the main attraction,
along with a 14th century castle and its sturdy ramparts that take you
halfway to the sky.
Way down below, spread out as far as the
eye can see, is Portugal's Grande Lago, or Alqueva Lake, an immense
artificial lake, the largest of its kind in all of western Europe at
250 sq. km (150 sq. mi).
Via a narrow gangplank, we board the Westlander,
an early 20th century, 50-foot, Dutch sailing barge, and shove off from
the marshy shore like the seven castaways on Gilligan's Island
for a three-hour tour.
Tiago, the boat's captain, and his anonymous
first mate, steer the craft out into open waters, and away we go, quietly
and effortlessly, as if we were cat burglars leaving the scene of a
During the voyage, Tiago conducts an Alqueva
Lake 101 class and we're all ears.
"This artificial lake," he explains,
"is the result of the opening of the Alqueva Dam in 2002 that was
built on the Rio Guadiana to bring much needed irrigation to the arid
and impoverished Alentejo region." The skipper adds, "When
the length of all of the lake's fingers on both sides of the Portuguese-Spanish
border are added together, the total distance is greater than Portugal's
943 kilometers-long coastline (586 mi)."
Now, that's one heckuva body of H2O.
The lake primer now over, the good captain
and first (and only) mate unfurl the lone, burgundy colored sail and
we begin to pick up speed, along with a knife, fork and plastic cup.
Like all good Portuguese hosts, Skipper
Tiago breaks out the on-board rations and starts passing around plates
of succulent Iberian ham, sausages and cheese, and then hands out cans
of cold beer, soft drinks, and my fave, plastic cups filled to the brim
with local vinho tinto (red wine) poured from a large plastic
I just hope, for his sake, that he brought
along enough liquid provisions. There could be a mutiny on board. After
all, we are the working press.
Back on terra firma, we re-board the Insight
galleon for the short ride over to Sem-Fim
(meaning, Never Ending), an unusual restaurant-olive mill-art gallery,
located in nearby Telheiro.
Like the Dutch sailing barge, this 3- in-1
eatery is also owned by Skipper Tiago. Swapping his sextant for an apron,
he settles us around a long table and gives us a quick overview of authentic
Alentejo cuisine as the parade of dishes begins.
In a nutshell, this big fertile region,
comprising a third of Portugal's landmass, is unabashedly the country's
breadbasket, her gastronomic soul.
Rustic and wholesome, dishes of the Alentejo
are rich with ingredients born out of its soil and cultivated by hard
working people: succulent black Iberian pork, fruity olive oil, nutty
sheep cheeses, juicy tomatoes, wild mushrooms and asparagus, to name
a few. Add to all that bounty, half of the country's wine production
is harvested in the Alentejo.
From the moment I savor the first forkful,
I know immediately that I'm in for a memorable treat enjoying a leisurely
and lengthy lunch, on Insight's euro, of authentic, mouth-watering Alentejo
fair prepared by Skipper Tiago and Gloria, his true first mate and wife,
Uh, feel free to grab some cutlery and
join in the feast. Saúde!
Back on the motor coach things are surprisingly
quiet as the "band of merry media" catches 40 winks during
the return ride back to our hotel in Évora. We'll all need to
be rested, as we'll be putting the feedbag back on for another feast
within the next couple of hours.
Sometime during each and every Insight
journey a Club Bon Voyage dinner party breaks out and returning
Insight guests are given a special nod and toast. Yours truly happens
to be one of a handful of seasoned road warriors so honored tonight,
having traveled previously with Insight on its Bohemian Rhapsody
and Country Roads of Italy itineraries.
After a celebratory aperitif okay,
two in the bar of the M'AR De AR Aqueduto hotel-spa, our digs
while in the Alentejo, we head into Degust'
AR, the hotel's superlative restaurant inside Sepulveda Palace
with tantalizing signature dishes created by Chef António Nobre,
an expert of the Alentejan kitchen.
Surprisingly, I'm starved
The night's still young, but I'm pretty
much toast, so I bid my tablemates a good night and take the stairs
up to suite 223 where I hope to fall fast asleep dreaming about all
those never-ending views and never-ending dishes of the Alentejo.
For complete information on Insight's 112
premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, just click HERE,
or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you right after dawn's early light
when we'll say Adeus! to Portugal and ¡Hola! to
Spain and head for Seville. Along the way, we'll stop long enough to
see how some black Iberian piggies go to the market while others stay
Boa noite. Zzzzzz.
Évora, Portugal's Laid-Back Museum City; Sampling
World-Class Wines at the Alentejo; Cascais
and Sintra: To the Edge of the Earth; Framing
Lisbon's Mosteiro dos Jerónimos; Pastéis
de Belém; The
Age of Discovery Began in Belém