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Summer In PortugalMay 25, 2009 By: Jena Tesse Fox Travel Agent
A season-long festival celebrates the country's wine and culture
Most food and wine festivals last for a weekend—or perhaps even a week—giving locals and visitors only a few days to sample the goods and see the local sights before moving on to something new.
The city of Porto sits across the Douro River from Gaia
But not in Portugal. After all, what good is a festival—especially an epicurean one—if you only get to peruse rather than delve?
The Destino Gaia—Festival do Vinho do Porto (Destination Gaia—Port Wine Festival) started on April 2 in the Douro River city of Gaia, and will continue until September 29. Combined with other activities throughout the northwest of Portugal this summer, visitors will be able to not only taste plenty of the region’s famous vino, but also explore the region and experience its culture and history—after all, the port of Gaia gave the country its name in Roman times.
Beginning in June, Gaia will serve as the “Capital of Culture for the Northwestern Iberian Peninsula,” and will offer a variety of activities to showcase the 34 towns in this region of Portugal. Some 300 events—ranging from concerts by Milladoiro (a Celtic band) and popular Fado (a Portuguese style of music) singer Mafalda Arnauth, to a cultural fair of all the region’s cities—will be spread over 90 days. There will be festivals celebrating music, children’s literature, theater and art as well as the popular Festival of São João in Porto.
As part of the festival, “several wine experts [enólogos] and chefs from around the world will be invited to come to Gaia and participate in events related to Port wine,” says says Jayme Simões, communications partner for the Portuguese National Tourist Office. “The festival is a great excuse to revitalize both the city center and the historic waterfront, add new venues, restore the feel of the oldest parts of the city and turn the city into the type of tourist destination it has always had the potential to be,” says Simões.
To educate visitors about the local vintages, the Festival will include an international conference about Port wine and sensorial wine tastings to focus the senses on the wines’ flavors and smells.
Port wine cellars in Gaia
While 2.5 million Americans visit Italy each year, only 250,000 travel to Portugal. “Those that do see a culture that is new to them,” Simões says. “Being Europe’s oldest nation-state, Portugal offers styles of art, architecture, music, food and wine that are unique. And given the Portuguese wanderings around the globe in the 15th and 16th centuries, there is a certain ‘eastern’ aspect to Portuguese culture.”
Where to Stay
For visitors who are looking to spend more than a day in the area, Simões recommends these hotels along the riverbank in both Gaia and Porto:
The Pestana Porto is set on the city’s medieval wall in an area of ancient buildings that date back to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and have have been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Mariana Lacerda, the general manager, can be reached at [email protected] or 011-351-223-402-300.
The Hotel Infante Sagres, which bills itself as “Porto’s leading boutique hotel,” is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. It features an Angkor Wat Spa Room that offers a variety of Hindu and Buddhist treatments, and is close to both the main shopping and banking districts in the city as well as the city’s main thoroughfare, the Avenida dos Aliados. General Manager Paulo Teixeira de Carvalho can be reached at 011-351-223-398-500.
The Mercure Porto Gaia is decorated with a Port wine theme, and is five minutes from Gaia’s Port wine cellars. The hotel is next to the Arrabida shopping center and the Holmes Place health club. Hotel manager Paulo Sassetti can be reached at [email protected] or 011-351-223-740-800.
TAP Portugal, the national airline of Portugal, offers direct flights from Newark Airport to Porto on Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays.
For more information about Gaia, visit www.gaiaglobal.pt/turismo (use Google’s translation service to read the website in English).