Finding a Guide in Portugal
by, 10-22-2012 at 11:09 AM (1386 Views)
Years ago, for the most part, we gave up on organized day tours when visiting unfamiliar cities in foreign countries. A crowded van or bus with a guide reciting statistics-filled scripts are usually intolerable. We sometimes use a rental vehicle abroad but we feel we are missing more than we are seeing. We have come to grips with our lack of fluency in most languages other than English (OK, we get by in Spanish).
We've had much better success dealing with independent personal guides. They will transport us when and where we want to go and share tips usually on known to locals. Finding a compatible individual is the second goal we pursue, after selecting a new destination.
Not being in need of a 'nanny' to babysit us, we are looking for someone who has:
- An interesting background
- Suggestions (not standard guide book rhetoric) about their city or region
- Above all, knowledge and good communication skills
We have discovered these individuals actually exist and often their services are not overly expensive. We have located compatible matches in Central and South America and in many Western European countries as well as in East and North Africa.
Simply stated, we try to find a 'shepherd' who can keep us pointed in the right direction and keep us out of trouble, if and when we wander.
Recently, before heading to Portugal, we started looking for someone to help us explore the city of Porto, visit smaller villages in the northern part of the country and assist us in learning more about local food and wines. As the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, the Douro Valley has been on our 'to do' list for sometime. We have a preference for table wines, especially those not common to our local wine merchant or grocer; so this visit would become a journey of discovery and different tastings for palates.
After researching a number of guides and transportation services, we connected with Miguel Ribeiro, who specializes in, but does not limit his service to cruise ship shore tours. Miguel was born in Porto and spent his early years there. However, most of the past 15 years, he held one of the top positions of responsibility in restaurant management with one of the top luxury cruise ship companies in the world. Additionally, his own personal travels have taken him around the globe, and his knowledge and experience in food service and background with wines is impressive. Lastly, he has intimate knowledge of the Douro Valley and could help us better understand and appreciate Port, the iconic fortified wine of the country, as well as the emerging excellent table wines being produced in the area.
We decided Miguel could be a very good fit for us so we submitted our previously scheduled appointments and 'wish list' as well as proposed travel dates. We asked him to review our schedule and fill in the blanks (we had purposely left open days in hopes of unplanned happenings).
He responded with a detailed proposal and an extensive list of ideas for our consideration.
- We were holding Luxury Link reservations at Casa da Calcada in Amarante. Prior to our arrival, he visited the property and managed to secure a much-coveted corner suite for our stay
- He arranged a 2+ hour private cruise on the Douro River aboard the sailboat Libertu's with Captain Antonio Pinto. We didn't even know the boat or excursion existed
- He suggested a private tour and wine tasting at Palacio da Brejoeira on a day when it was closed to the public
- He set up a personal luncheon and wine tasting at Quinta do Portal
- He orchestrated gastronomic experiences from the simplicity of The Casa de Pasto Canastra Azul and Taberninha do Manel to the sumptuous offerings at The Yeatman and the extraordinary DOP Restaurant owned and operated by Portugal's renown Rui Paula.
Miguel was punctual with our transportation. He displayed endless patience in answering questions, stopping on request for photos, and even picking fresh figs and Kiwi fruits (we didn't know they grew in Portugal) from roadside trees for our enjoyment.
On our last evening in Porto, Miguel and his lovely wife Jennifer prepared and served a delightful 'going away' dinner in our honor at their own home.
A personal guide such as Miguel is not necessarily an expensive luxury, but rather a bargain, when all of the extras and unexpected interactions are considered. Most of all, for us, he became a direct conduit to the heart and soul of Portugal and so many of her wonderful people.