The Douro valley experiences

The Douro valley on a warm, golden autumn day is a great place to be. There are people who travel half the world to get to see it, and I am so privileged to live nearby! Last weekend, the time has come to pay a visit to the region, passing through Mesão Frio, Peso da Régua, Pinhão and Quinta do Seixo, where I spent most of the afternoon.

The Alto Douro region has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 and it is one of the world’s oldest recognized and protected wine production regions. And its contemporary life is flourishing amazingly!

An average Portuguese is probably as much as a wine expert as a professional enologist in countries with less wine culture. Wine is a part of their everyday and a major pillar of the national economy. Never forgetting the traditional modes of wine production (which can be known from azulejo panels or learned about in museums), they however opted for the use of latest technologies in this industry nowadays. So there are robots, computerization and wine institutes with highest precision instruments involved to get the best of what nature has to offer.

Actually, Portuguese wine producers don’t hesitate to take the best of both worlds, and that can be seen in Quinta do Seixo: in 2007, the old structures there were recuperated and a modern winery constructed, upon a design by Cristiano Moreira & Associados. Cristiano Moreira (1931-2012) was a professor at the University of Porto, with significant experience in industrial facilities, and, in my opinion, refined approach towards the beautiful Douro landscapes, both cultural and natural.

Voilà, here I am at the Quinta do Seixo: at first glance, it seems to be an immense complex of vineyards, with a well-maintained old building, perfectly integrated into the landscape. During the tour, I discover lots of contemporary elements invisible from the outside. And later, with some a posteriori research, I realized the scope of construction works done!

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The quinta (the wine production estate) is situated near the village of Pinhão. The view to the wavy hills in all shades of green and earthy autumn colours is breathtaking. And there I come to the recuperated building itself. There is nothing in it that is not in harmony with the landscape. The technology is only visible from the inside: the robot-presses for the grapes instead of human labour and steel barrels for the wine to be preserved up to highest standards, the video-projectors everywhere and the latest-generation illumination. Maybe even a little too contemporary presentation, if you ask me!

Update: the interior design is a project of another architect, Paulo Lobo, who is responsible for many interesting contemporary interiors in Porto (thx Marta Costa!)

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But then, after the theoretical part, I get to taste the port wines, and that is an experience involving all senses. From the dark and elegant exposition and interpretation spaces, one gets to the bright, sunny tasting area, opening towards the landscape. Oh, how cleverly were the mirrors used to reflect the western sun and create shades and reflections! The division towards the outer space was nothing more but the thin glass surface that stretched throughout the entire length of the room. However, I was blessed with the best possible weather, so I spent most of my time outside at the terrace. The view stretched from Pinhão in the distance to the green terraced landscapes all around. The building and the terrace were just……nature rearranged: the layered stone façade with rich texture, the earthen esplanade with touches of grass and moss, and the shiny spotless glass surface reflecting once again the landscape.

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Silence is broken by glasses tinkling in a toast. And then, a sip of vintage ruby port crowns this magic experience.

Photos: all mine except the first one, which comes from http://www.afaconsult.com/portfolio/29911/92/adega-da-quinta-do-seixo.

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Galo Louco, Part 3: Platu (getting to know Portuguese designers)

“Platu” is not merely a beautiful object: it is directly linked to interpretation of the Mediterranean nutrition pattern, and thus to promotion of the intangible culture of the country. So, let’s tell the story!

Thanks to a recent transnational initiative, Portugal has just got its second inscription into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity: in 2013, the Mediterranean diet was added, based on the joint proposal, also including Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Morroco, Italy. In the inscription document, the Mediterranean diet was defined as a “set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food”. Every country that submitted and application has designated a representative municipality that best reflects contemporary presence of the Mediterranean nutrition tradition. For Portugal, the city of Tavira in Algarve has been selected (note to self: got to go there!)

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“Platu” (2008, with recent update), a work of the Portuguese designer Miguel Pinto Félix, is dedicated to one of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet – the olive oil. It is the plate meant for the refined experience of olive oil tasting. The form resembles an olive tree and bears to mind fluidity of the oil. It is “an olive tree designed for olive oil”, explains the designer. This example shows how much vitality contemporary design can gain through connections to tradition and local inheritance.

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The intangible Portugal.

Heritage is not only about the material structures, of course. There is a whole range of oral traditions, performing arts, rituals, festive events, practices and skills to be thought of in that sense. People still have a basic need of physical and mental belonging to a particular context and those intangibles are still living and so much needed in the present times.

However, until recently, the traditions, practices and skills have been treated separately, country by country. Namely, the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is quite a 21st century thing and it has been just 10 years since its adoption now.

There’s a world intangible heritage list, with one entry from Portugal so far – the Fado, which was inscribed in 2011. It’s defined as the popular urban song of Portugal, emerged at the beginning of 19th century and associated primarily with Lisbon and maybe Coimbra. The keyword to fado is saudade (the untranslatable word for longing and melancholy and feeling of loss).

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Another intangible asset of Portugal, shared with several other countries and planned to be inscribed in the world heritage list is the Mediterranean diet. There have been some problems in the course of inscription, as far as I know, but having been to Portugal I can say there’s no better example of a living tradition! Something to be investigated and lived in-depth, so I hope, as there are senses and heritage and present time in the mix!

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There’s a museum dedicated to fado in Lisbon, they mapped a few fado-related things, which can be seen here: http://roteiro.museudofado.pt/

There will be an exhibition in Tavira (Algarve) dedicated to the Dieta Mediterrânica – Património Cultural Milenar, linked to its inscription, something to keep in mind for next February/March. Link: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00482&activityID=00094

Francesinha.

Portuguese eat well and diversely. One of the most memorable (and comforting) meals I had there was “francesinha”. The urban legend says it was invented in 1960s by a Portuguese immigrant who returned from France (“francesinha” means “a little French girl”). There are many Portuguese living in France, by the way, which is a consequence of immigration wave in 1960s and 1970s, caused by the burden of dictatorship and modest living conditions in their homeland at the time.

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The main ingredients are: bread, ham, linguiça sausage, meet (steak), all with melted cheese on top, bathing in a special sauce and accompanied with french fries.

The real “Francesinha” is primarily linked to the city of Porto. Oh yes, they even organize “Francesinha” festivals!

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It’s not merely a cookbook, it’s a “journey through Portuguese gastronomy”, as the author, chef Ljubomir Stanišić presents it. It was first published in 2011, following his success in MasterChef Portugal and in running a fancy restaurant in Lisbon. There is also a TV show based on the book; I have seen some episodes on the Travel Channel, but it’s the book I prefer. eb5773952eca4796ff0fccc2e2e2ba34

How does a foreigner who loves and knows Portuguese culture and lifestyle see and interpret them in his domain? How does he link senses, heritage and geography of Portugal? Something to be investigated in my further work! The important thing is that we’re coming from the same cultural context …

Papa Quilometros was a present from a dear person, a serendipity that started an avalanche of ideas and actions bringing me … where? To be found out within some weeks.

O Estendal do Bairro (Cod Fish Clothesline)

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Ljubomir Stanišić, the chef of Yugoslav origin and the owner of a restaurant in Lisbon, invented this dish in 1998, after he arrived to live and work in Portugal. The dish is a multiple-coded creative work, engaging senses and evoking associations: it is a reinterpretation of clotheslines seen in old Lisbon neighbourhoods, which also reflects his contemporary vision of the essence of Portuguese cuisine. A dish made of dried cod stomach brings about the memory of life in old times, when not everyone could afford best meat, and the remains (in this case tripes) had to be used among common people in most creative ways to make a quality meal.

According to the chef, the way the dish is served is meant to evocate Alvaro Siza’s canopy of the Portuguese Pavillion, which he saw at the Expo 98 upon arrival.