Bev and I are back from another gratifying weekend with the Goldwing Clube de Portugal. We always enjoy these gatherings with club members and this one was no exception. We seemed to cram a lot into a short time. We visited two interesting wineries, saw some lovely artwork, did some shopping for bike gear, ate lots of Portuguese food, and covered over 900km on the bike. We also met some new friends, which highlighted the friendliness of fellow members, and Portuguese people in general.
The December gathering was the sixth event on the club’s 2019 calendar. Each meeting is held in a different location, and this time is was in Setúbal (about 48km from Lisbon). That’s a distance of 353km from Porto, requiring a drive of at least three hours (if you don’t stop). A group of seven of us (on four bikes) made the trip south together, with a planned stop in Cartaxo along the way.
On Friday, we rode the 250km from Porto to Cartaxo without stopping, so we were definitely ready for the delicious lunch at Restaurante “A Cernelha”. The octopus was tender and delicious and the ‘punched potatoes’ covered in olive oil and garlic were amazing. A flavourful start to the trip.
With lunch taken care of, we headed a few kilometres down the road to do some shopping. Bike gear from the Dainese store in Cartaxo, and leather goods from the adjacent Casa das Peles. Thankfully, we had the trailer with us to transport our purchases.
As we rode south, we saw gradual changes along the way. The terrain became flatter and we began to see sheep in the fields as well as large stands of cork oak trees (neither of which are common up north). The final segment to the hotel in Setúbal included a ride over the Vasco da Gama Bridge – Europe’s second-longest bridge, that extends for 12.3km over the Tagus River. We arrived at the Hotel do Sado Business & Nature about 5pm – 6.5 hours after leaving Porto. Our room was very spacious and had a balcony with a partial ocean view. I enjoyed watching a colony of bats as they flitted outside our window, presumably feasting on whatever insects they could find.
The hotel bar was busy by 8pm, as members gathered for pre-dinner drinks. The bikes were parked and dinner was at the hotel, so we only had to walk ‘home’ to our rooms. The buffet dinner featured a variety of Portuguese food, and plenty of it. Wine was also flowing freely as we renewed acquaintances, met new friends and enjoyed the first night of the event.
After breakfast on Saturday morning, members gathered outside the hotel, ready for the group ride and the day’s planned activities. The main feature on the itinerary was a visit to Casa Ermelinda Freitas, a winery that was founded in 1920. Ermelinda Freitas currently owns 440 hectares of vineyards, growing many varieties of grapes.
We were taken on a guided tour of the winery that included information on the facility and its wines, as well as a walk through some of the rooms used in the winemaking and bottling process. Wine was being bottled and boxed as we watched.
The winery also has a small, interesting museum that catalogs some of the company’s history. Some family history was depicted on signage and some old equipment was on display, ranging from corking tools and weighing scales to distilling equipment and lagares (in which workers would tread the grapes).
With the educational and history components completed, we moved on to the wine tasting. A variety of white and red wines were offered for tasting, along with a nice selection of traditional and locally sourced snacks. All very nice!
The wine-tasting provided a time to relax and chat before we had lunch in the winery’s dining room. As you may have gathered, food and wine were frequent features of the weekend.
Lunch in Portugal is often a lengthy process, so it was after 3pm by the time we mounted up and headed to our next destination. We crossed the Vasco da Gama Bridge, to reach the ‘headquarters’ of our club in the outskirts of Lisbon. This is where the club’s various trophies and awards are on display. And trophies were the reason for our visit, as the 2019 Winger of the Year awards were to be handed out. The annual ‘Winger’ awards go to any member who has ridden his/her bike to attend all of the club’s events during the year (members who only miss one event are also eligible). In 2019, there were six official events, so members had to attend at least five of them to receive the award. Having personally attended all six 2019 events, I was pleased to be one of the recipients.
At 6pm, we were back on the bikes for the one-hour ride back to the hotel, once again crossing the Vasco da Gama Bridge. Riding wasn’t the focus of the day, yet we still covered 184km.
Saturday evening’s dinner was once more in the hotel, but in a different dining room. Time for more food, wine and friendship.
On Sunday morning, we had to get breakfast, load up the bikes and check out of the hotel prior to the morning’s scheduled activities. We had enjoyed two dry-weather days, but mist and light rain had descended overnight, impacting the plans for the morning.
The morning mist would have hampered the planned ride up into the mountains. Instead, we stayed at sea-level and spent some time alongside a beach on the Sado estuary.
About 11.00am, we rode to the main destination for the morning – the Bacalhôa Palace. I had no idea what to expect, but it proved to be a highlight of the trip for me.
The Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal company is huge, operating 1,200 hectares of vineyards across 40 farms and in seven of the regions of Portugal. It participates in wine tourism at several locations, including the Bacalhôa Palace in Vila Nogueira de Azeitão – the site of our visit. The history of the palace dates back to the 15th century but the land has a much longer history. I was fascinated to see a couple of gnarly old olive trees that date as far back as 650BC, having been planted by the Romans.
Painted replicas of China’s terracotta army and a big blue dog give clues that the owners are art collectors. But they don’t prepare the visitor for the beautiful artwork that is on display inside.
Once our tour entered the building, the artwork immediately captured my attention. The first vision is a sculpture of a dancing woman, standing on one leg, with a flowing skirt and what appears to be an armoured chest plate and helmet. She dominates the entrance foyer.
Our guide led us to the first display room, that featured items from the art deco period. Unable to understand the Portuguese narration, I contented myself by walking around and enjoying the beautiful items that were on display. The collection included furniture, paintings, sculptures and stained glass windows. But some of the more beautiful items were ornamental decorations and pottery ware. At the end of the room was a magnificent carved wood door and surround that was very impressive.
The best was still to come. As a lover of African art, the next collection dazzled me. The Out of Africa collection features art from Angola. I loved it! As the tour group meandered onwards, into the wine area, I lingered and admired the many pieces that were on display. I was the last one to leave the room and could have stayed much longer. The art was well displayed, in an open area decorated by Angolan fabrics. I particularly appreciated that none of the pieces were locked away inside glass cases. There were some exquisite masks and an intriguing collection of nkisi fetish power figures, covered in nails and holding containers of magical medicines. Overall, it was an impressive collection. At the end of the room was another pair of carved wooden doors, with elephant head handles. Passing through those doors led us to the next phase of the tour.
The next stop on the tour was a dark, temperature-controlled room full of barrels of wine. But around the entire room was a diverse collection of azulejo tiles. They were difficult to photograph in the low light, but here is a sampling.
The final stop on the tour was the shop and the wine-tasting. Knowing that we had a long ride ahead of us, I only took a couple of small sips of the three wines on offer.
Another short ride got us to Restaurante Dona Isilda in Palmela, where we ate lunch. What a place! It was like Sunday brunch on steroids. The restaurant was packed and looked like it can seat at least 300 people. Groups were squeezed together on long tables. Dining was buffet-style, with everyone serving themselves. With that many people in the same room, the noise level was high, so it was difficult to speak to anyone unless they were seated next to you. But there was a good variety of Portuguese food and it tasted good. Again, I avoided the wine. Not only was the ride home going to be long, but we also faced the possibility of rain and it would be dark by the time we reached Porto. Not a good combination.
Lunch was the final feature of the weekend. From there, members left in all directions to their homes throughout Portugal. A small group of us were heading north together, to Porto and beyond. We left the restaurant about 2.45pm, fuelled up and headed for the motorway. As expected, we encountered some light rain and mist along the way, making the riding less pleasant. But we pushed on to the Leiria service area where we enjoyed a short break to get more fuel and to stretch our legs. Then we pushed on for the second leg, all the way home. We arrived home about 7.00pm – tired but happy to have enjoyed another excellent weekend with our club.