Portugal: Curves, Culture, Cuisine

Portugal: Curves, Culture, Cuisine
Either the flight to Portugal took more out of me than I thought or my normally nutty dream pattern has been kicked up a notch. Somewhere within the jet-lagged haze of a nap, a distant cuckoo clock chimed fifteen, paused, and began another rhythmic announcement of an hour well past twelve. Rising to locate and silence the malfunctioning clock, following the birdcall into the bathroom, I looked out over the garden of the Casa d' Obidos manor. There's no clock in sight. It's a real cuckoo!

It flies off. I pad back to bed. A cooling breeze circulates an unnatural silence through my lovely room, punching my return ticket to dreamland. When meeting me after the long flight, my host and Motocadia tour operator, Julian Cade, suggested that I unwind, sleep, and freshen up a bit before we went for a little orientation ride. Advice gladly taken, I woke, had a soak in the giant claw-foot tub, donned some fresh duds, and despite the rather uncustomary avian interruptions, I was ready to motor when Mr. Cade came a knocking.

Smooth, winding roads are everywhere in Portugal. Best of all, there's very little traffic.

As we're getting ready to ride, Julian promises that his standard seven-day tour will show me the best of northern Portugal. Most visitors gravitate to the southern Algarve region's warm beaches and robust nightlife, which is great for some, but a northern itinerary, loaded with little-used curvy roads and hearty dinners holds more attractions for avid motorcyclists like me. Julian assures me that all of that and more will be delivered in spades.

We agree on a light lunch and mount up for the short ride to Obidos. I'm riding out the drive on a Yamaha TDM900 pursuing Julian on his Yamaha Bulldog. Neither machine is available in the US, so that in itself is a treat; and the mere sight of Obidos sends the amazement factor to 11. An ancient walled city, straight out of a storybook, Obidos was given to Isabella of Aragon as a wedding present by King Dinis in 1282. This presentation of the town continued to be a traditional wedding gift to all Portuguese queens until 1834. We find a café on the narrow, cobbled streets and dive into a delicious, fresh baked roll stuffed with Portuguese chorize (spicy sausage). Julian suggests continuing to ride for a bit, as I'll have a free day later in the week to return for leisurely, in-depth explorations.

Riding through the vineyards above Pinhao leaves little room for error.

We head north along the coast at a relaxing pace, perfect for shaking out the flight cramps. Obviously very knowledgeable about the area, Julian wowed me several times on this short jaunt with spectacular views of rugged shoreline and sandy beaches.

Arriving back at the Casa d' Obidos, my guide says he knows a great place for dinner that fits my request that no American food is placed before me all week. Julian then asks if I'd like to go up in an ultra-light aircraft. I politely refuse. Climbing aboard light aircraft is unnerving enough, and any ultra-light trip without a ripcord handy sounds ultra-iffy to me. But I'm interested enough to meet the pilot. Ken McKay is the proprietor of Insideout, an outdoor adventure firm, and his easygoing, somewhat eccentric nature immediately wins my confidence. And like that, he has me in the copilot seat for a half-hour of bird's-eye Portugal that I'll never forget. Old hat for that cuckoo and McKay, I guess, but not for me. Julian has recently added these ultra-light flights as part of the Motocadia experience and it's an option that shouldn't be missed.

An appetite is the least of my day-to-day worries and I'm blown away by my first taste of Portuguese cuisine. A house favorite at O Caldeirao is a tender and delicious smoky pork served skewered and hanging from a hook above a plate of perfectly seasoned rice and beans residing next to a large and equally tasty helping of greens. The bottle, or two, of red wine that Julian orders has a light-bodied fruitiness that goes maybe a little too well with our hearty meal. Best of all, the prices are exceptionally reasonable.

Unusual rock formations are not the least bit unusual in Portugal.