There are many places in the world that I want to visit both with my family, just my husband and solo. Whilst I have heard so many things about Portugal, it generally is the southern region that I hear more about. Two weeks ago, I not only got the opportunity to explore Northern Portugal for the first time but I also got to experience my very first villa holiday.
Having never stayed in a villa before, I had my reservations about a few things and I also had assumptions of what it would be like. After four days in Northern Portugal and staying in two different villas along with visiting a few other villas nearby with James Villa Holidays, I knew my reservations and assumptions had been completely wrong.
When choosing a destination and an accommodation for my family holiday in the past, I have always gone the easy route. I search for a hotel that has family activities, a pool, in a location that has good weather. My experience as a family vacationer is still in infancy because both my kids were babies or toddlers when we have gone abroad. Now, they are 3 and 4 years old and getting older we are looking to get more out of our holidays abroad. A home away from home is more suitable for us now than being crammed into one hotel room and hiding in the bathroom at 7pm, come the kid’s bedtime so they go to sleep. I know, I am not the only parent that has done this!
Having now experienced a villa holiday, I realize you can still have numerous family activities at your door step and even someone to cook and cater for your family in a villa just as you would a hotel, if you choose. The huge difference is you have an entire villa to yourself. That means everyone has their own bedrooms, everyone pretty much has their own bathroom, there is a living room and tv for evenings (no more bathroom hiding), there is a kitchen and dining room to have family games or meals at both inside and outside, you have the pool to yourself, and so much more. If that doesn’t convince you, like it did me, that villa holidays seem far more relaxing than hotel holidays, let my experience with below convince you otherwise. A villa holiday doesn’t even have to be just for families. My first villa holiday experience in Northern Portugal was a gathering of inspiring, creative people that came together to experience #thejamesway with James Villa Holidays. You can see below just how much it has to offer the adult holidays as much as it does for family holidays.
Northern Portugal isn’t a place that immediately pops into my head for a holiday destination but once you land in Porto and start your journey to your villa, trust me, your judgments will be changed immediately. I was impressed with the beauty of the landscape, the culture and cuisine and what Northern Portugal has to offer in the Costa Verde and Duoro Valley region. Have a look for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
DAY ONE: Saturday 11th June – Costa Verde
Our amazing journey started with a tour of Porto. It’s a buzzing city, full of colorful balconies, vibrant tiled buildings, history, culture, food, wine and let’s not forget the Port! We walked the streets with our tour guide pass the famous place that inspired parts of Harry Potter and those famous stairs. There were people playing music in the streets with cafes and wine bars lining the alley ways. We made our way through Liberdale square towards the waterfront. As I walked, I took in the history of this lovely city from our tour guide and made a mental note of all the places I would take my husband or kids when I return.
After a morning of leisure through the city of Porto it was time to be traditional and sample the fine Port of Graham’s Port Lodge and a tour of the Port Caves. I have never had Port before so it was definitely a first and a novelty for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The tour of the Port Caves gave me a better understanding of how Port is made and the various types. We got a sneak peak at some of the oldest Port bottles as well as the Queen’s collection of Port. I was impressed before it even touched my lips.
After sampling a variety of Ports, I concluded there were a few that I quite fancied. I can see why it’s a drink of choice, for a dessert. I imagine the next visit I make to the Graham’s Port Lodge will definitely have to be with my husband. He would find the Port out of this world, the views from the terrace mesmerizing and the Vinum Restaurant & Wine Bar at Graham’s amazing, serving delicious cuisine. I tried my very first oyster for a starter, accompanied by the most succulent Sea Bass ever and finished off my lunch, of course, with a nice glass of Port. When in Porto drink Port. What a great t-shirt slogan that would be.
We had a chance to visit the little town of Ponte de Lima. There was a festival on so it was full of music echoing down the river. The landscape was gorgeous and the fresh air was enticing. It would be a great day out with friends or family, depending on who you are traveling with. There is numerous activities you can do in the area like watersports, riding, golf or spending the day on the beaches available.
It had been a very eventful first day in Northern Portugal but so amazing. We retired back to our villa, Quinta de Casal Maior for an amazing catered dinner, alfresco style. When I walked out the patio doors and saw this view below with fresh cooked prawns, mozzarella salad and wine being poured, over looking the sunny pool, I knew I was in love with the villa life. I was blown away with how much food came thereafter and the amazing chef and her assistant were so lovely. We had music playing in the background and it was a great evening. I can imagine my own friends or family gathered around the table,enjoying something similar on future holidays to come. A private chef cost €23 per hour for the cook & assistant, plus food cost which I thought was so reasonable. What a lovely way to kick back and fully take in villa life, your home away from home, and not have to lift a finger. Now that’s what I call a holiday!
DAY TWO: Sunday 12th June – Costa Verde
On day two of our Northern Portugal experience, we had the opportunity to take a tour of the 7 Lagoons of Serra D’Arga. The tour company is called Descubra Minho and our guide was such a nice man named Agostinho. I can’t thank him enough for guiding us through such a beautiful part of Portugal to see what mother nature really is capable of. When I got the chance to swim in my very first Portuguese lagoon, you better believe I jumped in immediately, ignoring the icy temperature of the water. It was a chance of a lifetime. What an experience as the waterfall continued to crash behind me, right into it. Agostinho made it even more magical when he guided us up further on the mountain and presented us with a tasty treat, a picnic. We gathered around the picnic table, surrounded by the forest, listening to the water run behind us and there before us laid a delicious lunch with all the local Portuguese trimmings.
I love the fact that everywhere we went to eat or drink, it was all locally made, locally grown, by someone local. It’s one big community that supports each other and local businesses. What a great thing to experience too when you are eating out. For me, that’s huge when I visit somewhere new. I don’t want foreign restaurants serving me dishes from around the world. I want to live and experience the local cuisine and culture like a native.
After a long day of hiking, swimming, and eating, we set off for more wine and food. That’s my kind of itinerary. By the time we hiked back down the mountain, had a quick drive over to Spain from Caminha, we returned hungry and thirsty again. The wine tasting at Cozinha Velha in Ponte de Lima was one of my favorite. I think, I liked every type of wine we tried there. The food was even more mouthwatering than our lunch that day, if that is at all possible. I tried octopus for the first time along with Portuguese cod cakes both quickly became my new favorite foods. We had the opportunity on the first day to see the cod cakes being made in Porto which was great to see. If you couldn’t tell by now I am a huge foodie. Most of my traveling, in my life, is centered around food and family.
We had the chance to be entertained with Fado music. Fado music is Portuguese music that dates around 1820s and is usually heard in pubs and cafes It is renowned for its expressive and profoundly melancholic character. It was great to experience something so different up close and personal.
DAY THREE: Monday 13th June – Duoro Valley
Our third day, I really experienced #thejamesway and true villa life in our villa. I was awake early so I snuck down to the pool with my coffee and a new book in hand. I was going to read in peace with a view, on holiday, for the first time ever. Do you see a pattern forming on this James Villa holiday experience – so many firsts! There weren’t other hotel pupils to splash about and ruin my quiet moment. I dived into my new book, something I haven’t had the chance to do in forever and enjoyed a few chapters before getting ready for the day. That’s another thing that’s amazing with staying in a villa v.s. hotel, I didn’t have to wait until the pool opened to get a good seat nor did I have to worry about being splashed by some naughty teenagers. I had it all to myself.
It was time for us to travel to the Duoro Valley from Costa Verde. It was a beautiful drive and only took about two hours to get there. First on our list was to visit Villa Quinta das Brolhas and a wine and olive tasting at the villa owner, Macario de Castro’s estate. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as olive tasting. I can definitely say after my experience with olive tasting, olive oil at home just doesn’t taste the same anymore. It was fuller in flavor and thicker on the bread. Bread dipped in local olive oil and local wine straight from the vineyard was being served and the two go hand in hand. I was only worried I wasn’t ever going to leave the Duoro Valley. It’s a beautiful place to visit.
We headed to lunch at Folgosa. Once again, I was presented with new cuisines to try, this time goat! If there is one thing I did do on this villa holiday experience, it was try some many new foods. I like stepping out of my comfort zone. I noticed most places only offer the local cuisine so it almost forces you to branch out.
We had the chance to drive up the mountain to visit James Villa’s Villa Casa S’Markinhas. I immediately was blown away. Overlooking the entire valley and river, the views were breathtaking. The Villa itself was paradise with it’s infinite pool that appears to run off the very cliff the villa sits on to the hammock that I am sure everyone in the family would fight to lay in. As we had a tour of this villa, I instantly knew this would be a great one for just me and hubby to visit in the future. The master bedroom has a panoramic view of the valley as well . Who wouldn’t feel like they were in paradise waking up to that view?
It was time, after another packed, adventurous day to retired back to our Villa in the Duoro Valley this time, Campo de Eira. It’s stunning gardens will have you stuck outdoors for hours instead of inside where it’s equally as beautiful. We had a lovely dinner before we all called it bedtime, exhausted but minds buzzing from our day. Ana and Fernando are the owner’s of this villa and the Casa de Juste B&B next door, they took such great care of us all while we stayed there. The food couldn’t have been more delicious with a variety of options and they were always available if you needed something different. Breakfast the next morning was just as appetizing and prepared us for our last day in Northern Portugal. The Casa de Juste B&B is next door to Campo de Eira and you can book dinner there and walk over for €32 per person for a full menu with half a bottle of wine included and breakfast is €8 per person per day. So you can still enjoy someone else taking care of the cooking and serving, if you prefer. I love that you have that option at this James Villa Holidays location.
DAY FOUR: Tuesday 14th June – Duoro Valley
On our very last day of our trip, we had a relaxing morning at the villa Campo da Eira. Then we were booked in to one of my favorite parts of my villa holiday, a cookery class. We were taught how to make Portuguese scrambled eggs, Portuguese chicken pie, and Portuguese chocolate tart/cake. I can’t decide which was my favorite as I think I had second helping of all three. Everything was made from scratch, home grown, home raised, and made with hard work involved. I have a few inspired recipes I will be sharing with you in the coming weeks ahead.
There is so much more that the Campo da Eira has to offer including the following activities which are available for James Villa Holidays clients to book locally if they wish:
Cookery class & lunch – €95 per person,
Garden tour – €4 per person
Vineyard tour – €8 per person
Wine and cheese tasting – €11 per person
I have to say a HUGE, HUGE THANK YOU, to James Villa Holidays for inviting me on this amazing experience. I had so many firsts, and made so many new memories and friends. I can’t wait to bring my family back and experience another amazing villa holiday #thejamesway with James Villa Holidays. It truly was an eye opening on what villa life really was like and how much there is to offer in Northern Portugal. It’s a trip, I won’t forget for so many reasons. You can clearly see how much there is to do for family and friend holidays in Northern Portugal.
Check out my vlog from our trip and see for yourself just how beautiful Northern Portugal is.
*I was invited on this press trip for the purpose of my opinion and experience with James Villa Holidays. No monetary amount was exchanged for this review. All photos and opinions are my own. For more information on James Villa Holidays click here.