In the rarified world of connoisseurs there has to be more snobbery about alcohol than anything else – possibly with the exception of cigars (not just smoking apparently).
If half of the nonsense is to be believed, the Highlands of Scotland are peopled solely by wise and mystical maltmen rolling barrels of seaweedy nectar from the shores of ancient isles to the hallowed whitewashed walls of sacred distilleries. Hints of heather and notes of medicine, angel’s shares and aged casks – ‘usige beatha’ isn’t just the ‘water of life’, it’s life itself to the initiated. Not a lot of mention made here of the cheesy gift shop aspect of most Highland distilleries, the busloads of tourists swigging drams at 10 in the morning or the fact that quite a lot of the world thinks nothing at all of drowning out the peat and toffee with a half litre of diet Coke and enough crushed ice to freeze the top notes right out of even the most legendary Highland malt.
And wine doesn’t fare much better when it comes to talking a load of old booze. Travel hopefully to any of the great French regions any time of the year and if you’re looking for pretension you won’t be disappointed. Our word to the wise is watch carefully: while visitors are being seduced by vendanges, views and charming vendeuse, nearby the more drinkable wines are sold by the vrac to canny locals with empty 5 litre plastic water bottles and 10 euros in their pocket.
We’re not advocating abstinence, far from it: half of the fun of holidays is indulgence and if that’s about getting familiar with the national drink then so be it. It’s just that we like our liquor a bit more real, less ‘acquired taste’ and – philistines that we are – good in cocktails too.
That’s why we pick Porto.
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, Best European Destination 2012 and a hilly haven for lovers of art, architecture, romance, history, food, nightlife and, of course, Port.
Forget the teeny, tiny glass of after-dinner stickiness once served with a sliver of stilton. And dismiss from your thoughts Anthony Trollope’s genteel old ladies with their medicinal tipple. Now, Port from Porto (it’s not really Port otherwise) is as modern, varied, exciting and fascinating as the city itself and just as accessible.
At first glance, Porto looks exactly like the romantic image of somnolent afternoons behind fluttering muslin curtains, languidly exotic ladies with parasols and evenings spent gambling under gently crumbling arches while the colonies slip quietly from your grasp. But for all the heritage trams, historic houses and slow sailing barcos rabelas on the wide Douros River, Porto isn’t a slave to its past and closer examination reveals a city as famous for modern art and architecture as it is for Baroque Cathedrals and ancient traditions.
To give you a taste of why Porto’s never far from the top of our ‘great cities we know and love’ list, here’s three of our favourite Porto Port Caves, the reasons we love them and some insight into how they express their home city so perfectly.
Porto Cálem is one of Porto’s most prestigious caves but its warm, down to earth and innovative attitude is indicative of how easily it wears a flawless reputation. Known for rich, opulent Tawny and Ruby Ports, without hesitation it’s the award winning Cálem Whites that characterise contemporary Porto for us.
Crisp and fresh, chilled over ice, on their own as an aperitif or as the base for countless cocktails, the Cálem White Ports are the city’s astonishing Casa da Musica, warm summer evenings on the coast at Foz or Sunday afternoon sunbathing by the River Douros, Fundação Serralves art exhibitions and shopping for books on the Rua de Fabrica (where you’ll find ‘Lello’, one of the world’s most famous bookshops and a mecca for dedicated bibliophiles).
Cálem Lágrima & Tonic
1 part Cálem Lágrima, 1 part tonic water, ice
Fill a tumbler with ice, add the Lágrima, pour over the tonic, stir well and garnish with lemon or mint or a sprig of basil.
Taylors might conjure up images of formal dinners and military traditions but in Porto it’s all about luxury, elegance and heritage and if that was a drink it would definitely be the deep deliciousness of Taylor’s vintage selection.
Taylor’s Vintage is Porto’s leather seated, wood panelled tram cars and the iconic Torre dos Clérigos. Its intriguing complexities are reflected in the city’s Ribeira district and the subtle charms of the slow moving barcos rabelas. And if you just want to hang out, this is the Port that epitomises the careless glamour of Porto’s old town squares and the steampunk retro of the youthfully revived Clérigo district.
12 oz. Vintage Tawny Port, 8 oz. Armagnac, 4 oz. White Rum, the peel of 3 lemons cut in single spirals, ¾ cup of sugar, juice from the lemons, 24 oz. water, 1 whole nutmeg.
Mix the lemon peel and sugar in a large bowl, leave to sit for an hour. Stir in the lemon juice, add the Port, Armagnac, Rum and water and stir again. Carefully slip in ice cubes, chill for 20 minutes and grate 1/3 of the nutmeg over the top. Serves 20 thirsty people.
Krohn is the cool looking Porto port, its packaging more dangerous vodka than sedate ladies retiring after dinner to leave the gentlemen to their cigars. But the Undated Krohn range is our choice for companionship because it works with everything from cake or cheese to Porto’s impeccable sardines and famous tripe dishes.
And for us there’s nowhere in Porto better at food than Mercado do Bolhão. Renowned for its endless selection of everything edible, it’s where to put your port in its proper context: with food. It’s also an edifice that has to be seen, more grand railway station than marketplace any day.
Krohn Undated Ruby Martini
2 oz. Krohn Undated Ruby Port, 1 oz. Vodka, ½ oz. cranberry juice
Put everything into an ice filled shaker, do that thing, strain into a chilled martini glass, serve garnished with olives.
Far from comprehensive, a little personally biased and very port based, but hopefully a guide to give you a taste of why we love Porto (and not just for its national drink). There are many more Port Caves in the city, all of them welcome visitors and you’ll easily find them on the edge of the River Douros and snaking up the Gaia hills beyond.
Featured image by Amaury Henderick.
If, like us, you’re rather partial to an amazing view – maybe you should visit a town built on the side of a cliff for your next break. From Italy to Corsica, Mexico to Yemen, all around the world you can find quaint, idyllic villages and towns with the most exciting views, enough to leave your jaw dropped more than an MDC ballot at a Zimbabwean election.
Here are a few of our favourite cliff-side retreats. We wish you a weekend with at least two medium-sized adventures, and no pitfalls to speak of.
Bonifacio, in the south of Corsica
Acapulco, along Mexico’s Pacific coast
Ronda, in the Spanish province of Málaga
Positano, on the Amalfi Coast in Italy
Santorini, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea
Cinque Terre, five villages clumped along the Italian Riviera
Cuenca, a city in central Spain
All words and pictures from photo blogger Kirsten Alana, exclusively for HouseTrip as part of our #housetripping series.
Perhaps no other city in all of Europe has undergone more change or endured more identity issues than Germany’s capital, Berlin. Once a city divided into East and West, now it is a large city [four times the size of Paris] defined by its neighbourhoods. To understand them though, one must understand that their creation predates even the World Wars. In fact, it wasn’t until 1920 that Berlin came to even remotely resemble the city it is today. At that time, it was created by uniting many smaller cities, villages and estates. It’s these which today still form the basis of many of the neighbourhoods that are finally part of a united Berlin.
When you visit Berlin and rent a HouseTrip apartment to get the experience of living like a local, it will be important to choose your neighbourhood based on what you desire to do and how you desire to live during your time in the city.
Kreuzkölln is one of the newest neighbourhoods in Berlin and it has been so named for the way it incorporates the older neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukölln. It is one of the city’s most hip neighbourhoods. One building, situated nearer the Kreuzberg side, which houses many apartments available to rent on HouseTrip, has been engineered by its owners with design elements and furniture gathered from all over the world; they are collectors who have embraced the multi-cultural vibe of the neighbourhood and brought it inside.
This bright and trendy split-level loft apartment is a great-value choice for a group of friends looking to discover Berlin on a city break. Situated on the top floors of the building, there is lift access and stylish décor.
Cooking in such an apartment’s kitchen will give you the further experience of living in Berlin but step outdoors and you’ll have a plethora of cuisines to choose from be it Turkish, French, Indian, or Mexican. Artisan bakeries and ice cream shops also dot the area. It’s an excellent place for those interested in graffiti and street art and the mix of architecture includes buildings both very traditional and those which are quite modern.
On the other hand, Prenzlauer Berg in the borough of Pankow, is more upscale and less diverse due to fairly recent gentrification efforts. At one time it was the home of artists and bohemian youth, now it draws families and young professionals who favour green and organic lifestyles. Higher end galleries and designer boutiques, that set fashion trends, can be seen in place of the bars and clubs that once dotted the neighbourhood. During the day, parks ring with the sound of children’s laughter.
There are numerous apartment options in this area perfect for those looking for a more family-friendly place to stay. This first floor apartment for a family of three is bright and cosy, located in a leafy area near the Friedrichshain Park and really good value.
There are neighbourhoods which are not as diverse and cater to the culture of the residents who live in that area; Wedding is such an area, where a visitor will find mostly Turkish residents and cafes serving food typical of a city like Istanbul and architecture that is more modern than other neighbourhoods.
It’s a great area to stay in, however, if you’re looking for a peaceful base from which to explore the city. Many apartments have outdoor terraces for enjoying a relaxing meal away from the tourist bustle, such as this comfortable and cool converted-stable apartment.
Mitte is equally a somewhat less diverse district perhaps because it is generally considered to be Berlin’s City Center. As such, it’s very German and draws tourists to landmarks like the Brandenburg Gate, culinary icons like currywurst stands and the famous public square, Alexander Platz. It’s also the area where Silvester, one of the largest New Year’s Eve parties in the world, takes place every year in the Tiergarten. Yet there are gems such as the Hackesche Höfe, a stunning art nouveau courtyard complex, which anchor older portions of Mitte and lend to it an upscale atmosphere.
This is just a sampling of the 12 administrative districts and 23 neighbourhoods that form the now-united city of Berlin. To get a flavour of some of them from a local’s perspective it’s a great idea to try a tour during your stay. Resident Berlin expert Penelope Hassmann offers several different themed tours depending on your interests and she’s a fountain of knowledge (http://www.berlinprivatetours.com/). Wherever you choose to stay when you live like a local in Germany’s capital city, you’re sure to find a wonderful holiday in one of the most historically and culturally diverse cities in Europe.
You may have already seen one or two or three of the excellent travel videos Dave & Deb, video bloggers of theplanetD, have made for HouseTrip. They do something for a living that many people crave; travelling the world, making movies, learning and then teaching about a place we’d like to discover.
So if you’re looking for a drastic career change, or just want to learn a few tips to shoot your own amazing travel videos, join Dave & Deb this afternoon for a Google+ Hangout hosted by HouseTrip.
It’ll be fun. Even if you don’t have a webcam, type your questions into the chatbox and we can ask Dave & Deb for you.
So log on for 20 or 30 minutes, ask them any questions you have and get inspired with a few ideas to make your next holiday movie even better.
We start at 3pm (GMT).
We’ll email you later when the Hangout starts. We look forward to seeing you there!
Your HouseTrip Team
Post and pictures by photo blogger Kirsten Alana, exclusively for Trip+ as part of our #housetripping series.
Every summer, Parisians begin a mass exodus from the City of Light to enjoy the summer holidays. They say that the motorway connecting the capital to the Riviera turns into one of the world’s largest parking lots for a six-week period beginning in mid-July around the time of Bastille Day. The result is a city that bursts at the seams in the main tourist districts, yet is strangely quiet once you go into the more residential corners.
A July stroll along the Champs-Élysées, from the Arc de Triomphe, will see me stopping for dinner at a small café to watch as other visitors marvel at the famous avenue featured in so many films, while lights sparkle in the trees and headlights glinted off glass windows of designer boutiques.
Not far away is a wonderful HouseTrip apartment with a large dining and living room and extensive natural light that overlooks not one, but two patisseries, convenient to the Porte Maillot metro stop. It is my favorite place that I have lived while in Paris.
I have visited a few different areas of the country but Paris remains my favorite place to visit in France and it is where I return as often as I am able. When I do, I always visit the Eiffel Tower after dark.
It sparkles for five minutes on the hour; it does not matter how often I do so, it’s magical every time.
The museums of Paris are also amongst my favorite reasons to visit and I cannot avoid Musée d’Orsay, where I make sure to spend time with the Impressionists. Afterwards, sneaking across to the Musée National de la Légion d’Honneur, I enjoy the bejeweled awards and decorations accumulated over the centuries. It’s an unusual peek into French history and I love that I almost always have that museum to myself.
Then, I continue deeper into the Left Bank to the Musée Rodin where I marvel at sculptures such as The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell as well as paintings by Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh, which were part of Rodin’s personal collection.
Notre-Dame Cathedral draws most visitors to Île De la Cité,
but I visit this island in the middle of the River Seine mainly so I can indulge my craving for ice cream from Berthillon Glacier. The best flavor is their salted caramel yet I usually try a second scoop of a flavor that’s new to me whenever I make the pilgrimage.
Then, I sit on the banks of the river and watch the boats go by while I listen to the faint sound of the buskers who operate on the bridge between Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis.
Near the newly rebuilt area that was once Les Halles market is another place I like to linger. Place Rene Cassin in front of what was Saint-Eustache church, features the larger-than-life statue Ecoute (The Listener) by artist Henri de Miller. It’s a good place to sit with a crepe and coffee, watching children play, locals come and go and visitors wandering, in search of addresses they don’t quite understand. It’s also near Rue Montorgueil, my favorite street in Paris.
Not only is it one of my favorite neighborhoods but it is also one of the most visited and photographed areas of Paris: Montmartre.
Lingering on the steps before Sacré-Cœur it seems possible to watch the whole of the city go by and certainly to view the entire city for it is one of the best vantage spots in Paris.
In order to not miss a moment of such an iconic neighborhood, I’d choose to stay in this charming HouseTrip maison with a garden on one of the many stepped streets, near Lapin Agile Bar-Cabaret, subject of a Picasso painting, in the heart of Montmartre.
Because the Left Bank is my favorite bank, I’d consider this renovated studio in Montparnasse that is ideally located for me to wander the Sorbonne and Jardin du Luxembourg. It’s also well situated to a number of metro stops, making it very easy to explore Paris at large.
No visit to The City of Light is complete for me without a stroll along the banks of the Seine at night when that moniker is the most meaningful. Usually I begin from the carousel outside Hôtel de Ville and try to make it all the way to La Tour Eiffel.
Hopefully one day I will find myself in one of these apartments again on a summer’s evening. Until then I revisit my photographs and memories of Paris often and always smile for I am grateful that France became the place it is today; one of my favorite countries.