Yes: an old train built to move around royalty and heads of state!
The Presidential, formerly known as the Royal Train, was built in 1898 to serve the Portuguese royal family, and after the 1910 revolution it was taken over by the Republic. The presidents kept all the trimmings of course, which included three elegant salons, a restaurant, and a luggage wagon. The 1940’s saw a major overhaul of the blue clad train, now fitted with a modernist art deco interior. It was decommissioned some forty years ago (it runs at the breath-taking speed of 100 km/h…), but is now again at the disposal of the discerning foodie globetrotter in all its former glory.
I borded at the monumental São Bento Train Station in Porto, for a ride along the majestic Douro Valley. The program included lunch by acclaimed Michelin star chef Pedro Lemos, and a stop at Vesuvio Estate, a privately owned “quinta”. The impeccably served gastronomic feast was nothing short of perfect, and the Douro wine pairing combined with the scenery outside made for a truly dazzling experience. Once at Vesuvio I was in need of a digestive, and I was offered a glas of an astounding 1972 single harvest Tawny that truly blew me away.
Chef Pedro Lemos cultivates simplicity, yet he combines incredible creativity with top technical expertise. Using the best market ingredients, and his knowledge of portuguese cusine he masters a unique blend of sophistication and local tradition, that has earned him well deserved international fame. As he told me when we chatted, “it’s all about memories” and understanding what lies behind the gastronomic experience we are trying out. Riding The Presidential along the Douro valley posed a challenge for the guests palate and focus, but Pedro Lemos was fully up to the demanding task, and created an experience I most surely won’t ever forget.
Obviously, he is a fan of duck! That’s why he has a duck liver terrine on its regular menu at Pedro Lemos restaurant. I guess after this lovely talk, he could call it after me?
Well well, after a whole day of trying out so many wines of the Douro Valley, we arrived back to Porto São Bento train station in the evening already. I adored the experience, it’s superior organization, top notch hospitality and world class food. Gonçalo Castelo Branco, the dear enthusiast of the great journey, told us this voyage is just like “Disney for grownups”. Grownups that like to be treated very well indeed. Just like me!