Honeymoon in Portugal

Romantic ideas for your honeymoon in this Iberian hotspot

Traditions die hard in the Douro Valley, the rustic wine-growing region of northern Portugal where some old-timers scoff at modern grape-crushing machines and prefer to do the job by foot. “Please! Come back and help us stomp during the harvest,” pleaded one of our new vintner friends when my husband, Bill, and I visited the steeply terraced hills in the sultry summer heat. The grapes were still pistachio-hued babies and the valleys spectacularly verdant. “Well, maybe,” we told him, unsure about the stomping part but mesmerized by the countryside that oenophiles hail as the next Burgundy, Tuscany or Napa.

The valley’s red-roofed quintas, old manor houses morphed into luxury hotels, and chic restaurants make it alluringly romantic. And Portugal itself, long eclipsed by its Iberian Peninsula neighbor Spain, is suddenly trendy. On our visit, we enjoyed the tropical charms of Madeira, a cache of turreted castles in the countryside, and the soulful sounds of fado (a musical genre centered on love, loss and destiny) in the newly vibrant capital, Lisbon. Best of all, we found that Portugal is a relative bargain, with five-star hotels and dining at prices one-third lower than the rest of Western Europe.

Meandering around Madeira
Our trip began on a 460-square-mile volcanic island in the Atlantic, off the coast of Africa (it’s a 90-minute flight from Lisbon to Funchal, the main city, on Portugal’s national carrier TAP, which also flies nonstop from Newark to Lisbon and Porto). I’d heard about Madeira’s eponymous dessert wines—perfect when paired with dark chocolate—and its famous lacework, but the chameleon quality of the island surprised me: Thanks to England’s early involvement with the wine trade, Madeira has British formality interspersed with wild terrain and, as we discovered, several peculiar diversions.

On a full-day island tour, our guide Elevterrio (“Call me Terry!”) started off by bundling us into a wicker toboggan—picture a sleigh without snow. Then two white-clad carreiros, toboggan drivers in boater hats and goatskin shoes, pushed and pulled us with ropes down a steep hill, and jumped onto the back of our wheel-less chariot when we got too close to honking cars, zipping scooters or stone walls. Years ago, these wicker sleds carried wine barrels from the mountain vineyards to the coast. Today, trucks transport the wine, and the carreiros offer thrills and a touch of the past to visitors.

Our next adventure was an ascent into layers of forest as Terry drove us high into the mountains for a day hike. Extraordinary flowers—birds-of-paradise, wild orchids and azaleas— painted the landscape, which is accessible via a unique system of irrigation canals, or levadas, transformed into hiking trails. On one levada walk to the balcoes (balconies), we enjoyed a 360-degree view of mist-shrouded mountains and a half-mile drop to the forest floor.

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