Variety Cruises – Glories of Spain & Portugal: Part 3

Bobby Charlton and Halle Berry

Jerez de la Frontera also has the Cathedral de San Salvador and an Alcazar which represent its Gothic Cathedral and Moorish fortress credentials but we were really here for the sherry. Jerez even means sherry and the city is obsessed with it, even removing the humble cockerel from a weathervane and replacing it with a bottle of sherry. Sherry weather vane With approximately 20 producers to choose from, we visited one of the largest, Bodegas Gonzales Byass but more famously known for its Tio Pepe brand. Our tour started with a short film hosted by Tio Pepe himself (an actor playing the uncle to the founder) explaining how the Phoenicians kicked it all off. The film outlined the history and process that led to the products of today. A guided tour of the Bodega’s racks of oak barrels included an explanation of the blending process that ensures the consistency of the product each year and introduced Gonzales Byass’ move into brandy production. Barrels were on display, signed by royalty, plus the rich and famous, who have visited the Bodega over its many years of production. Our royal family were there, together with football royalty Bobby Charlton (in 1966 long before he became Sir Bobby). Strangely I wasn’t asked to sign a barrel! Next we got down to the hard part of the visit, the tasting of three of the Bodega’s output. The first 2 didn’t do much for me but the 3rd was divine and I managed to pick up a couple of bottle at about 50% of the U.K. Price in their shop. 

Sir Bobby's barrel Our base in Cadiz was largely as a launchpad for our excursions to Seville and Jerez but fortunately Panorama’s dock gave us easy access for a brief exploration. Said to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe, it has a charm that we easily managed to sample on foot. It’s also said that its layout and fortifications provided the inspiration for many of Spain’s excursions in the Americas and we could see the resemblance to the sea walls and forts of Havana. The producers of the James Bond movies thought so too, as the shots of Halle Berry wearing a bikini in Cuba in Die Another Day were actually shot in Cadiz.

As calm seas rocked us gently to sleep, Panorama II took us out of Spain and into Portugal and in the morning we awoke in Portimao. Our excursion took us to Silves which, although largely destroyed by an earthquake in the 17th century, it is home to one of the best preserved moorish castles in the Algarve. As well as walking the fortress walls with great views of the surrounding countryside, we saw the deep well and 5m water cistern built in the 12th century, claimed to be able to supply the castle with water for a whole year when full. Stork The town itself is quite steep and it’s pretty mosaic style limestone blocks have worn smooth over time and are quite slippery underfoot but there is often a renewed section that offers more traction. Perhaps most notable are the large (government protected) stork nests that are everywhere in the town. So whenever there is a wall, post or a chimney, (even if it’s all that remains of a derelict house) there is normally a stork and nest on top of it which cannot be moved or destroyed. I also loved the way the council jazzed up their street utility boxes, with each displaying a unique piece of street art. Trees are also dressed with lace on the riverfront as a reminder of the lace trade here.

From Silves we moved on to Monchique, a small town on the Monchique mountainside. Our route was flanked by woodland, notable for its many cork oak trees. Our guide explained that, after the bark is stripped, the trees are then numbered to ensure that they have sufficient years to recover prior to the bark being harvested again. Dr Humberto Messias We also saw a wood yard containing the stripped bark, much of which goes on to make the corks for wine bottles (a very noble use). The town is more famously known for its fiery and potent medronho a liquor made from the fruits of the Arbutus tree. I was impressed by the life-size bronze sculptures we found there. Jorge Melicio created 5 sculptures in the main square in homage to Dr Humberto Messias, an important Portuguese surgeon and native of Monchique. Another sculpture on the bridge provided a good opportunity for a photo with the bag.

Our final night onboard was to be at sea heading for Lisbon but unfortunately the weather was against us, and with his passenger’s comfort and safety in mind, the Captain decided not to proceed. So our final night with our new found friends and wonderful sailing companions was in the safe waters of Portimao port, with our much shorter journey to Lisbon completed by coach the following morning.

We have visited the wonderful city of Lisbon and its surrounding attractions before. Read my previous articles about Lisbon and Sintra.

Steve with the Silver Travel Advisor bag Variety delivered another great cruise where we were treated to impeccable service by the captain, hotel manager, cruise director and the rest of the crew.  This was combined with the interesting and enjoyable company of our fellow passengers, in an intimate environment.

What a great way to explore this stretch of coastline and in 2018 the itinerary will get even better when:

  • It will cruise up the river to Seville
  • Include Tangiers in Morocco
  • Terminate at Portimao, eliminating that tricky bit of sea to Lisbon

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Variety Cruises

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Steve Aldridge

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