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Welcome to my first foray in [writing, publicly, about] travel eating.*

I’m in Portugal with the organization I began working for in September: The McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program. In brief, we are an international agricultural grant-making organization for projects in the Andes and Africa. Each year, our leadership team gathers for a global meeting in a “central” location, of which this is the first I’m privileged to attend! The great beauty in these sorts of gatherings is the feeling of belonging and sharing this unique microcosmic, multicultural world that is rare and obvious all at once. The nature of the work is powerful. The optimism of its champions is infectious. The spirit pervasive and strong, trumping the fact that 92.99% of this week is forehead deep in work.

Hence, Palacio de Estoi. I will be posted here until Sunday evening, after which I’ll head north with my Mamma to discover some of Portugal’s gems, including Lisbon, Sintra, the Duoro Valley and Porto.

To set the stage for the eating to come, I’ll describe where I’ve landed, and share eye candy of a different nature (though rest assured, food will promptly follow).

I have a feeling that the honeymoon effect, the instant glow of all things novel like a new place or toy (of which I’m easily afflicted of the former), won’t wear off in Portugal. I am instantly in love and have only glimpsed a speck of the possibilities…

Floating down from the sky, I train my eyes on the topaz Mediterranean, lapping against an endless stretch of sand. My homework prepared me for the boatyards gleaming with over-sized yachts and the chlorine-squares holed in the ground along the coast. Relieved, I soon discover my adventure on the Algarve coast is destined to be more precious.

I find a friendly cab driver. In the pursuit, I learn Spanish is adequate here. Italian too. We plunge away from the coast headed north into the hills. Citrus is in full bloom here. Every curb we round bears a new, tempting view of bursting trees laden with oranges and lemons, bright against their growers’ modest white homes and the blue skies crowning the wavy horizon. A blanket of delicate but determined, little yellow flowers spring from the ground, in season. An old water wheel adorns a pasture. Palms mingle with Tuscan pines. The village approaches; I know because the steeple rises, marking the center.

I begin to steal glances of a mighty palace above an endless stucco wall. I gesture to my driver; “a historic site?” He replies; “ Yes, yes! That is your hotel.” Swoon!

The air here is impossibly rich with scents. Honeysuckle. Jasmine. Sweet, sweet grass. (No. Not that kind.) I’m not pregnant, but I want to eat it. It smells that good. Orange juice? Or perhaps my breakfast, lunch, and afternoon dose of fresh nectar still linger on my palate. A freshly lit hearth. It lingers on my pashmina. The air is so delicious I breath, breathe, breathe, my lungs begging for more!

The weather is perfect. Brilliant sunshine, with just enough wisps of cloud to help with the decoration. Sixty degrees, crisp, fresh.

Need I say “I like it here”?

Though not entirely surprised, I find there are few differences between this small village, and say my last international home in Nicaragua. Goats ponder by tin shacks in a scrappy pasture. Stray dogs litter the streets, and the vestiges of a great history crumble around the doorframes. The same tilted hat from the Ecuadorian highlands appears on occasion. This is a peaceful, warm, and unsuspecting place. Country life; humble and inviting, rich with family and tradition.

Remember, my words are always that of the observer, and I stake no claims!

Now that you’ve had a chance to familiarize yourself with my new surroundings, I stand by my testament to chronicle the meals I share, enjoy, and revist before they are even over.

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The view from my room. I thanked the reception for giving me the best room in the house. Perplexed, they replied "but everyone has the same view." Glee. Everyone will be as happy as I am! Top right: the hotel room windows, built into the contemporary extension to the historic palacio. Bottom right: Lavender.
The view from my room. I thanked the reception for giving me the best room in the house. Perplexed, they replied “but everyone has the same view.” Glee. Everyone will be as happy as I am! Top right: the hotel room windows, built into the contemporary extension to the historic palacio. Bottom right: Lavender.

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Linnet smiles on our way to the conference room.
Linnet smiles on our way to the conference room.
Views from the hill top, and a secret garden I'm desperate to explore.
Views from the hill top, and a secret garden I’m desperate to explore.

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Original “blogs” on travel and eating in other place can be found here: The Kirwan Twins Adventures.

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