Although snow is not rare here in wintertime, it’s the fiery August sun that infuses the grapes with sugar in the high Douro Valley. In this land of granite and shale, where nothing else grows, even the smallest plots are planted with vines. They cling to the terraced cliffs and surround the quintas, winegrowing estates whose immaculate white buildings are topped with pink-tiled roofs. After the grape harvest, the wine is mixed with brandy and hauled to Vila Nova de Gaia, at the mouth of the Douro, to be aged in barrels for as long as 50 years. The journey along the river, once accomplished by single-masted boats called rabelos, sees the landscape change from abrupt cliffs to the lower hills that nurture the vines of vinho verde, a young, slightly sparkling wine that goes marvelously with shellfish.
— and replete with small restaurants serving bacalhau (cod, which the Portuguese can supposedly prepare in 365 different ways) as well as myriad other varieties of fish from the market on the port.
Another river, another city. In Lisbon flows the Tagus, wide and regal, slowly making its way to the Mar da Palha (“sea of straw”). During the day, the air is filled with the rumbling of the “electricos,” the swaying yellow trams that climb the city’s seven hills. And in the evening, the 12-string Portuguese guitar accompanies the sad but lovely voices of the fado singers in the Alfama district, with its white Moorish buildings, and the pastel-colored Bairro Alto, while the last rays of sunlight cast a golden glow on the ocean.