Travel enthusiasts Ana Dias and Pedro Marques Lopes discover the pleasures of the Setúbal Peninsula in and around the magnificent Quinta da Bacalhôa estate.
When he first saw “the magnificent combat of Colour (…)/ and the marriage of the sea’s aroma / with the strong scent of rosemary”, the poet Sebastião da Gama (1924-1952) was inspired to write his poetic hymns to his “Serra-Mãe” (the Arrábida Mountains). That sense of wonder remains, and it’s easy to understand the writer’s amazement, as well as his burgeoning environmental awareness and the activism that led to the founding of the Liga Para a Proteção da Natureza (League for the Protection of Nature) in 1948.
Located on the edge of Parque Natural da Arrábida, the town of Azeitão is well worth visiting. Ana Dias (photographer) and Pedro Marques Lopes (columnist and political commentator) are self-confessed admirers of Portugal. Despite having seen “half the world” and recalling “the paradise” that is the Bahamas (her) or “exciting” Rio de Janeiro (him), this coastal nation still tops their list. So, it made perfect sense to take them to the lovely Quinta da Bacalhôa estate on the Setúbal Peninsula, just over an hour from Lisbon.
Southbound from Porto
Ana and Pedro were born in Porto, sharing a bond that stems from the beauty of the mountains, the local beaches and fine regional gastronomy. Another thing they have in common is the importance of communication in their professional lives. Ana usually works for Playboy magazine, mostly for the international editions of countries, like Poland, Holland, Germany, Serbia, USA and Japan. She taught at the Escola Superior Artística do Porto, after five years of study and grades that offered her the chance to impart knowledge. A fine arts degree, where she honed precocious drawing skills, eventually led her to photography. Ever since she was a little girl, she “drew everywhere and everything, especially people and my mother and father’s faces”. Working at Playboy, which she collected when she was a teenager, “was a dream come true”.
AAlthough Pedro left Porto aged just four, he retains a close connection with the city, primarily because of the “obsession” he admits having for Futebol Clube do Porto, but also because almost all of his family are from that part of the world. In Lisbon, he was called a “tripeiro” and in Porto he was called “alfacinha” (the names given to people from Portugal’s northern and southern cities respectively), forging a dual identity he retained ever since. He earned a law degree at university, but it was his MBA that inspired him to work in family distribution businesses. Political commentary, newspaper columns and TV programmes started about 15 years ago, when he decided that “life’s too short not to do what you enjoy”.
It’s historically probable that Maria Mendonça de Albuquerque, the woman who owned Quinta da Bacalhôa in the late 16th century, acquired the female version of the nickname given to the man she married, Jerónimo Manuel, who was also known as “Bacalhau” (Portuguese for cod). That said, it’s more certain that, for most Portuguese, the name Bacalhôa is associated with wine production. Truth be told, it was an American, Orlena Scoville, who bought and revived the estate in 1936 before getting her grandson Thomas Scoville to turn it into one of country’s largest wine producers. Production increased in 1998, when the Berardo Foundation took over the project. With this and other acquisitions, such as Aliança, Quinta do Carmo and Quinta dos Loridos, the estate now has 1,200 hectares of vineyards.
The company organises visits to Palácio da Bacalhôa, which is a fine example of Renaissance civil architecture and classified as a National Monument. Erudite and classic-style building and renovation were undertaken in the 16th century at the behest of Brás de Albuquerque (son of the famous governor of Portuguese India, Afonso de Albuquerque), who also owned Casa dos Bicos, in Lisbon. The palace is part of the Arte, Vinho e Paixão (Art, Wine and Passion) project, which can be found on several of the company’s estates, which includes painting, sculpture and tile exhibitions. Quinta da Bassaqueira, where Bacalhôa’s headquarters are located, is also home to a collection of African art, art nouveau, art deco and Portuguese tiles from the 16th century onwards.
Visitors can taste wines in the shop, but doing so in the vineyards of Cova da Ursa, with views of the Tagus River and Lisbon, and in the company of winemaking director Filipa Tomaz da Costa, is a serious upgrade. What better way to enjoy the most common grape varieties in the Setúbal Peninsula Wine Region, which is located between the River Sado, the Atlantic and Arrábida Mountains.
We visit the Mercado do Livramento in Setúbal, where Ana discovers a wealth of fresh produce, colours and aromas. Pedro retains his urbanity but still enjoys the place and the stall holders’ spontaneity. Nearby, at the De Pedra e Sal restaurant, the conversation takes a global turn.
Ana says that she uses her photo shoots to discover different countries, recalling the Dead Sea, the Bahamas, Japan and Iceland, while Pedro is moved by landscapes, like the time he arrived in Rio de Janeiro and shed a tear as he gazed at Guanabara Bay from his hotel window. He remembers places he’s visited while following Futebol Clube do Porto on away games, like Istanbul, which he describes as “extraordinary”. He says that Buenos Aires and Sydney are “fascinating”, and regularly returns to Colombia and Brazil. He’s “conservative”, mostly choosing the same restaurants and hotels, like he’s seeking “home comforts” in the places he visits. He highlights London, “capital of the world”, where he indulges his passion for theatre. Lisbon and Porto are in another “league”. “If I were a foreigner and arrived in Lisbon between April and October, I’d never want to leave. It’s very difficult to find such a beautiful city anywhere else in the world”. Porto “has another mystery and mystique: at first it feels strange and then it gets under your skin”.
We feel something similar here, seduced by the beaches and blue water of Tróia and Arrábida, the wine route, Azeitão cheese, fresh fish and Setúbal’s famous fried cuttlefish. We’ll be back.
by Augusto Freitas de Sousa /// photos Enric Vives-Rubio
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