Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Oporto Mountain Tours

During our weekend in Oporto we took a tour with Oporto Mountain Tours. We wanted to get out of the city and have some fresh air and to try something completely unique and different. We were collected from our apartment by Ricardo and Josue in a wicked 4x4. We jumped into the back and took a spin along the motorway for around twenty minutes before arriving in the mountains.

We stopped to have a brief look into the old gold mines and even got to adorn a hard hat and venture into the dark underground to have a proper look around. I would wear trainers, it's quite slippery and the floor is uneven so you don't want to trip.

Next up was a thrilling and bumpy ride with the roof down in the 4x4. The paths are narrow, uneven and rocky and the 4x4 bounces around like a real jeep safari. You can stand and look out into the forest too if you fancy it. The views back over Porto were simply breath taking and the forest scenery was just beautiful. Think trees and rivers and wildlife all around.

We stopped the jeep at a small village with less than ten inhabitants and had a wander through. It was great to see such a historic place where traditional life is still going strong. We got to spend some time in a small bar sat outside by the river with a farmer and his goats and the local villagers. Here we were treated to wine, beer or a soft drink with bread, cheese and Portuguese sausage. The food and drink were a welcome break and gave us a chance to have a real chat with our guides.

Ricardo and Josue created Oporto Mountain Tours a year ago as an alternative activity for tourists. They have poured their heart and soul into the company and were so excited for the summer season. They grew up in the mountains so know the area extremely well. They can answer all of your questions and are genuinely two of the most approachable people I have ever met. They took plenty of photo's and a video of the group to capture all of our memories for us.

As an FYI there is a toilet stop at the village! The total tour was around four hours including the journeying to and from Porto, although if we had wanted to be out for longer it would have been accommodated. For the purpose of this review my sisters and I were guests of Oporto Mountain Tours, however, the traditional mountain tour costs 35 EUR per person, which is really reasonable for transport, food, drinks and four hours of entertainment.

This tour is totally unique and unlike any I have taken in any other city in the world. If you enjoy nature and fresh air then I can thoroughly recommend exploring the local mountains of Oporto and there will not be a better couple of guides than Ricardo and Josue. Do not hesitate to book this experience, you will not regret it.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Benares Tasting Menu

On Friday night the hubby and another of our couple friends headed to Atul Kochhar's Michelin starred Indian restaurant Benares in Berkeley Square, a short walk from Green Park tube station. The first impressions were amazing, we had a friendly welcome from the door men and had our coats and bags whisked into the cloak room before ascending the stairs to a modern and calm restaurant complete with mood lighting and water features.

As we were a little late to our reservation we decided to head straight to the main restaurant where we were seated at a roomy table for four. It was unanimous, we all decided to try the tasting menu. If you fancy this option the whole table has to opt in. There is a vegetarian tasting menu too. The menu costs £98 per person plus 12.5% service charge and you will be asked for allergies or any dislikes to ensure you enjoy the experience.

The menu begins with an amuse bouche, which consisted of sweet potato and a sweet yoghurt. I wasn't quite sure if I liked it or not as was a slightly strange combination. We also had mini poppadum's and three chutneys. The first course was a delicious concoction of pan seared scallops, broccoli couscous, cauliflower puree and pickled prawns. Everything was delicious.

The next course, which was a firm favourite of the table was a tandoor chicken tikka pie with red current and plum chutney. We were served a small pie between two people to dig in and share. This was followed by chargrilled salmon with a coconut curry leaf sauce and a Cornish crab croquette with tomato and coconut chutney. The crab was yummy but the salmon was unfortunately a little lacklustre and didn't really wow the table.

The iced sherbert was like eating a Mojito. It was a great experience and a perfect palate cleanser. To continue the gastronomic experience we had the most tender perfectly pink roasted rump of lamb as well as a tandoori lamb cutlet. The lamb two ways could not have been tastier. This was served with green beans, dal makhani, rice and the most buttery roti you could imagine. The rice, dal and roti's were unlimited should you require more. Although the small dishes were enough for us.

Dessert was a passion fruit cake and a rhubarb and pomegranate cream, which was like a lemon posset in texture but with the fruit flavours. Again, it was lovely but nothing incredible. The meal was finished with petit fours, which were a sugared jelly cube, a dark chocolate crisp and a chocolate truffle. When I compare these with the petit fours at Tamarind they don't even begin to live up to expectations.

All in all this was an incredible experience. The food was delicious, the restaurant was gorgeous and the service was second to none. We had two bottles of wine priced at £55 and £58 along with two bottles of sparkling water and the bill came to £300 per couple. I think to be honest for the price paid this was a little expensive and didn't wow me quite enough to justify what we spent. I would recommend Benares but I think it might be better and cheaper to try the a la carte options instead.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Wine Tasting from Porto

As previously mentioned my sisters and I have just spent the weekend in the wonderful city of Oporto. During our time here we chose to take a day out of the city and experience a wine tour. After much research we chose to use the company EFun Tours and went for the full day Douro Valley wine tour. We pre booked online, which I would recommend to ensure you get a spot.

On the day we were collected from our air b&b apartment promptly at 9:15am as agreed. We were in a group of eight people in a small mini bus. The entire tour was conducted in English. We drove around one and a half hours to the Douro Valley with a coffee / toilet break around half way through as well as a couple of stops to admire the insanely amazing scenery.

The first vineyard we visited was Quinta do Tedo and it was beautiful. The views were amazing and the vineyard itself was rustic and cute. We had a group tour along with an explanation of how the wine is produced in the area. Afterwards we sat in the gorgeous tasting hall and had the opportunity to try either three wines or three ports each. I went for the wines and purchased a 2011 Grand Reserva for only 25 EUR, which was a bargain for how delicious the wine was and bearing in mind 2011 was a phenomenal year for the Douro Valley.

Next we drove through some more stunning countryside before reaching a restaurant above a fire station. Here lunch was served. There was red and white wine along with water and coffee afterwards. We had oodles of bread along with rice and a mixed salad. We then had the choice of bbq pork and veal with black beans or salted cod fish with mashed potato. Both dishes were plentiful and delicious. Desert was a pineapple cake or chocolate mousse. By the end of lunch we were all satisfyingly full and a little tipsy and the group hadn't even demolished all of the offerings.

From here we drove to another gorgeous winery, which was a little more modern than the first. D'Origem produces wine and olive oil. We started with a history lesson in the making of olive oil before trying a white, a rose and a red wine along with a couple of olive oils. I purchased another 2011 Grand Reserva for 14 EUR from this vineyard.

Our final stop was a traditional Port house where we tried three different Ports. Again, the views were mind blowing and the Port was absolutely delicious. We sat around barrels to taste the offerings. I should add that all three vineyards and the restaurant for lunch had clean toilets so you weren't left desperate after all of the wine!

It was sadly time to end our gorgeous day in this stunning part of the world with another ninety minute drive back to the city. We were dropped back at our accommodation around 7pm. This was a long day but incredibly relaxing and easy on the eye and the taste buds! The whole group had an amazing time and would thoroughly recommend this excursion as something a little different to do when visiting Porto. The tour was 95 EUR per person but this included all nine wine tastings, two olive oil tastings, transport, tours around the vineyards and lunch including wine and coffee so I think this was pretty good value for a ten hour luxurious day.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Segway's in Porto

My sisters and I recently spent the late May bank holiday in the incredible city of Oporto. On our last afternoon we took part in a Segway tour through the company Blue Dragon. We took the three and a half hour original Segway tour, which was a comprehensive trip through the city.

We were greeted early at our meeting point by the big boss Angelo and our tour guide Renato. We had ten to fifteen minutes to practice on the Segway's, although would definitely have been allowed longer had we needed it. As an FYI any personal belongings can be left at their office in lockers. The guides bring a bottle of water per person as well as hair nets for hygiene. The Segway's are incredibly well maintained and perfectly safe to use. They are all named so you spend the entire trip with the same Segway. I was on Eva Mendes but my sisters on Halle Berry and Angelina Jolie!

The first stop on the tour was the historic Miragaia Neighbourhood, which is one of the oldest in the city. We had time to admire the view too. We then scooted off to the Harry Potter book shop where had we not been in the previous day would have had time to purchase a ticket and have a browse. Next was the Clerigos Tower, which we were taught about the history and given a chance to admire / pose for photos outside. We took the Segway's up the Aliados Avenue stopping to admire the world's most attractive McDonalds and then headed to the Bolhao market where we had 10-15 minutes to have a browse and a wander.

After a couple of hours of Segway'ing around the city we took a coffee / beer break with our guide where we were given the opportunity to purchase the most incredible flaky, warm Portuguese tarts for 1 EUR 15 cents per tart. They were genuinely the best I have ever tasted so was a great recommendation. There was also a clean toilet to use on this break too. After our snack we scooted off to the beautiful Majestic CafĂ© and then S. Bento train station and were given some time to look around. Next was the cathedral where again we had an opportunity to wander inside as well as look at the amazing view from the outside.

The final part of the tour was my absolute favourite. We took the Segway's across the D. Luis I Bridge. The views were insane and we were able to really pick our speed up and zoom across the flat, straight bridge. The views from the other side looking over Porto were simply spectacular. I couldn't have imagined anything more beautiful and Renato kindly took plenty of pictures for us. The tour ends by heading back over the bridge at the lower level, this is about the only time you will come into contact with traffic and cars. The rest of the tour is on pavements and only involves crossing roads at traffic lights. However, Renato kept his eye on us and we were all perfectly safe in his hands

Back at the office Renato and Angelo sat us down and provided loads of recommendations for any future Porto visits. I would consider doing this tour at the beginning of your trip as the recommendations are really useful. Also this tour is incredibly all encompassing and covers every major site in the city as well as time to head inside and enjoy the attractions. As a result aside from wandering or going back to your favourite places you will not need any other guided help.

Renato was full of history and knowledge about the city, Portugal and all of the sites he took us to. He answered all of our questions and was polite and enthusiastic for the entire tour. Blue Dragon keep group sizes small for more personal interaction and they do request you book in advance. There is no time limit on the tour so it's very relaxing and for 50 EUR per person is very good fun and good value. The Segway's prevent tired feet from hours of walking up and down the hills of Porto too!

For the purpose of this review we were guests of Blue Dragon. However, I would thoroughly recommend this trip and this company. From booking through to the end this was an awesome experience and one I would urge everyone to try on their weekend break to Oporto.