By Joy Hanford, Contributor (*)
With Spring arriving in the north of Portugal my family and I are ready to shake off the waterlogged winter, embrace the bloom and quickly fill up our weekends and holidays with as many day trips as possible.
There are no shortages of palaces, convents and castles to visit, hikes to take, aldeias (villages) to pop our heads into on a weekend. Our daytrip wish list is long, and rarely do we repeat. It has to be very special to command a second visit and the Quinta da Aveleda, in Penafiel (near Porto), is just such a place.
The Quinta produces many vintages of wine as well as aguardente, a Portuguese spirit distilled from grapes, but the wine they may be most known for (or at least the one I most recognize) is “Casal Garcia”.
When I lived in America one of the most common Portuguese green wines (vinho verde) I could find was Casal Garcia, a common table wine here in Portugal. In my opinion the Portuguese never perfected beer making because they have green wine.
If you have never had green wine I suggest you ask for it at your local wine vendor and pick up a bottle. Even if you are not a wine drinker this refreshing, tart, fizzy wine will surprise you, especially when served ice cold on a summer day.
When my husband, Alfredo, mentioned visiting Quinta da Aveleda last May it wasn’t the estate, garden or wine tour that caught the interest of my son Hank and I. Nope, what caught our attention was when he mentioned the quinta had a goat tower:
Alfredo: Quinta da Aveleda is open for the season and they have a tour and a goat tower.
Me: A what?
Alfredo: A goat tower.
Me: Like a tower made of goat bones like the creepy memento mori, Capela dos Ossos, in Évora or a tower for goats like a plastic castle for a fish tank?
Alfredo: The latter.
Hank: NO WAY! Are there three billy goats and will they be named Gruff and is there an ugly troll and a field full of daisies to make them fat?
Alfredo: Your reference is lost on me, Hank.
Me: It’s a book, ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’… never mind. YOU HAD US AT GOAT TOWER. I am getting my purse.
Sure the allure of a sprawling vineyard and estate dating back as far as 1600 was appealing, but who has a goat tower? And why do goats need or want a tower? This I had to see.
Once your guide finds you browsing the wine and cheese gift boxes and the pig pitchers in the reception shop you are gently lead away from the protective peacock at the front gate and into a lush oasis of roses, azaleas, camellias and dragonfly laced babbling brooks.
I could feel my shoulders relax and my mood calm as we were drawn blissfully forward met with the smell first then the grandeur of a 200-year-old Eucalyptus tree, where Hank and I dawdled to pick up as many eucalyptus seeds as my purse could carry. Possibly the prettiest and most magical seed in our seven and thirty-five year old opinions and their scent brightens a dreary pocket.
Further along the pea gravel path, after you spy an eclectically design guardhouse flanked by rhododendron, hydrangea, large maple and cork oaks, you stumble upon the goat tower. Like something straight out of Rapunzel – but with ramp access – stands a stone tower like the lone remains of a loved goat sized castle.
When I asked the guide what possessed the family to call up their local stone mason and order a goat spire, she nonchalantly replied, “Because goats like height.” But when I read the tour brochure it hinted that it had been built on a whim because I know when I think goat pen renovation the first thing that comes to mind is, “Call the mason! These goats need a tower!”
My son Hank was dazzled that there were indeed three billy goats (who may have been named Gruff although they weren’t talking) lazing in the sun in full enjoyment of their paradise pen and attention lavishing tourists.
As the tour progresses, blanketed in dappled sunlight, you meet the “Forest Lake” section of the garden. Home to ducks and swans in the center of the lake there is an island where the family have placed a 16th century window, taken from the Porto castle where King Dom João IV was declared king.
Ivy covered and aged by centenaries the window is an impressive piece of history and is the jewel in the crown of this garden. I let my imagination wonder to the generations of family members that have reenacted scenes from Romeo and Juliet while escaping to the cool ponds edge from the heat of a summer afternoon.
To say that this garden was anything less than enchanting would be an insult. Every plant meticulously placed, a magical archway or treasure tucked in amongst the green to elevate the eye and sit pretty as if it were grown there. Portals to other worlds, fountains ranging from a trickle of water to a cascading waterfall accompany the music of nature and the rhythm of life in this garden and I will admit that I wanted to turn around and return to the shelter of the trees when our tour took us out into strong daylight and long manicured lawns. That was until I caught sight of the house.
Unfortunately, the 17th century house on the Quinta da Aveleda is not open to the public, but the exterior and lawns do not disappoint. The main door to the chapel reads 1671 although many renovations and additions were made during the 19th century. This house is still in the family and although not a permanent residence, the large extended members frequently vacation there. Which made my heart sing thinking of all of the children who still grow up dancing among the dragonflies lending laughter to the magic of such a special place.
Before leaving, visitors are welcomed to enter one of the family’s adegas (cellars) where the winemakers age their famous aguardente. The smell of the fermentation, barrels and the cool of the granite building shock your senses more so than the towering eucalyptus as you breeze past casks of brew mixed with centuries of traditional knowledge.
Sadly for us, it is after these barrels and a short walk through a rose lined archway that your tour ends. An hour passed in the time it took to blink, but the tour guide does not abandon you at the gift shop, instead they lead you out onto a covered terrace where you are offered a bottle of their Vinho Verde (green wine) and another of their Rosé, accompanied by cheese and other light refreshments.
The terrace overlooks their vineyard and affords you a leisurely moment of peace to return from your garden daydream and prepare to return to the real world once more.
If you are touring the north of Portugal, I highly recommend Quinta da Aveleda. They offer tours by appointment and in many languages, including English. Beware that although the tour is family friendly, it is not stroller or wheelchair accessible. And if you are visiting with young children consider reading them The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Paul Galdone before your visit.
Quinta da Aveleda recommends visiting in early April to see the azaleas in bloom and May for the roses.
If you are a wine enthusiast there are many packages and shipping opportunities available and remember to bring your camera!
In the end, we went for the goat tower, but as with most things in Portugal we were utterly surprised and dazzled by what came along with it. Now, when I place a bottle of Casal Garcia in my shopping basket (as I do most trips), I am transported away from the bustle of the market and into those gardens once again. Quinta da Aveleda is definitely on our calendar for April. I must see those azaleas.
Photos by Joy Hanford.
* Joy Hanford is a Midwestern American writer, artist and children’s book author who just so happens to live in the North of Portugal. When she was a little girl, she know exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up then she forgot then she remembered. She spends her week filling pages in her sketchbook with stories and adventures, and her weekends searching for dragons hiding in castle corners. You can peek into her life by visiting: www.conversationswithhank.com. Her books, available in both English and Portuguese are available at Amazon, iBooks (an animated version) and Google Play Store.
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