Olive Oil and Wine Tasting

IMG_0775Today was the olive oil and wine tasting day. Four of us headed out at 9:45am for a preliminary wine tasting. We needed to buy wine for the next 5 nights dinners and so my Dad, my brother-in-law, my brother and I went to one of the nearby wine farms for a tasting. The owner’s wife did the tasting for us. They produce 2 million bottles a year (which is a massive amount). There are strict wine laws in Italy about what you can put on the label depending on what grapes you use and how long the wine is matured in oak barrels. You can (for instance) only put ‘Reserva’ on the bottle if it has been matured for at least 2 years. You can only use the word ‘Chianti’ if 80% of the grapes used are Sangiovese. We are staying near Rufina which is one of the Chianti regions and so if they meet the requirements the bottles must be marked ‘Chianti Rufina’. Rufina is the smallest region in Italy that produces the Chianti wines.  After we had tasted and indicated that we wanted to buy so said the price varies by whether it was for private consumption or not and whether we wanted a receipt or not. You can see how this country works – not too dissimilar to Greece it seems.

We then waited down in Rufina for the rest of the family to pick us up. They were picked up at the Estate by two large taxi’s that seated 18. We didn’t want to spend the day wine tasting and then drive ourselves afterwards. Not only would that not be a good thing given the state of the roads, I also couldn’t imagine it would be a good experience getting arrested for drinking & driving in Italy.

IMG_0776It was about a 40 minute drive to Castello del Trebbio. That was where we were going to do the olive oil tasting, wine tasting and also have lunch. It is a Castle built in the 12th century. You can only imagine the history in a place like that.  It is lived in by the owners of the castle and wine estate which apparently is quite rare these days as you can imagine a castle is a not a great place to live in the winter. We were given some of the history of the Castle and its owners which included a famous Italy family called ‘Pazzi’. They tried to assassinate the Medici brothers and only managed to kill the one and the other escaped and then took immediately revenge on the Pazzi family and ended up hanging them all in Florence.

IMG_0781The Pazzi coat of arms (which is still over the main entrance) was designed by Donatello. That piece must be worth quite a bit by itself. Inside they also had a painting by Raphael. There is another copy of the same painting and the other copy is found in the Louvre in Paris. The painting must be worth a reasonable amount and so that immediately got some of the family members plotting about how it could be stolen. We had a brief tour of the Castle and then we were taken down into the cellars where they showed us the oak barrels and then into the dungeon which still has the original hooks and clasps used for tying up prisoners.

We then went to do an Olive Oil tasting. They explained what makes a good olive oil and how you can discern a good one from a bad one. The guide taught us that you should never use anything else but Extra Virgin Olive Oil and nothing else and it should always be in a dark coloured bottle as light affects the oil. Anything else is actually bad for your health and not good. Italians use olive oil for cooking all the time and the guide said that on average a family uses 1 litre per week (to which we all gasped and she laughed and said that is always the reaction she gets and she can’t understand why we think that is odd). We all tried the olive oil and my Dad almost coughed himself to death when he tried the first one. While she had told us what to look out for, in the end none of us could really tell the difference between the 3 and we realised we were rubbish olive oil tasters.

IMG_0785She then moved onto the wine and that we didn’t need much instruction on. We tasted their Chianti Rufina and then Chianti Rufina Reserva was what was served with the lunch. Lunch was a typical Mediterranean lunch of salad, bruschetta, salami, cheese, pasta with tomato, tuna & olives and a tomato and bread dish. All of it was excellent (as has been the case with every meal).

It was the hottest day in Tuscany this year and when we got back to Rufina the temperature was reading 42 on the car (in the shade). Fortunately the Estate is on the hills above Rufina and it is 5 degrees cooler up on the hills (i.e. 37 at the Estate). Still pretty hot and so most people spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool or in their rooms have a short siesta before dinner. Dinner this evening was (fortunately) slightly lighter with salami with figs, bresaola with rocket & Parmesan, bruschetta with tomato and then gnocchi with a mince sauce. Dessert (note spelling Rachel) was pannacotta with chocolate sauce.  Again excellent as we have come to expect and no one could say they went away hungry.

After dinner the ‘older’ folks shared some thoughts about the past and the things they didn’t have when they were growing up and the things they did.  My Uncle (Bill) told us how they used to play in the storm water drains as kids and my Dad told us how they blew up the corner of the street while trying to eradicate some snakes. You just realise how stupid you can be as kids and how God has preserved us all despite our stupidity sometimes. The end result is a family reunion of 33 people!

Until tomorrow …

P, H, S, L, M, O, C


Estate of Petroio

Today was a leisurely day around the estate. Helen was up way too early and decided to go for a morning swim as her daily bit of exercise. The estate consists of four separate buildings and we have them all. There is the main building (where Helen and I have our bedroom) and then there is a smaller main building and two other smaller units. Breakfast is self-service and happens in one of the two main buildings. Our kitchen is right next to our bedroom so we really have everything close by. The only drawback is that each kitchen really only has plates & cutlery for about 6 people so breakfast has to be in shifts and fortunately that works well because everyone woke up at different times anyway.

After breakfast most people headed to the pool for the balance of the morning. It must have been up at 30 degrees already at that point and the shade and the pool seems to be the best place. After a morning of a little bit of cricket and then swimming and trying to cool off, it was time for lunch. Not sure where the morning went but it simply slipped by. After lunch I did what I usually do on a Sunday afternoon and that was to take a nap. Given the heat (which must have been around 35 degrees), you can see why in places like Italy and Spain an afternoon siesta is a good idea.

At 6pm we had a church service. We make up our own congregation with 33 people. Oli had brought her flute along (she is a very accomplished flautist) and we sung with that as an accompaniment. The singing was pretty good (I thought at least). My Dad preached as my sister had ‘kindly’ said to him it may be the last time he gets to address the whole family together. To show I was paying attention, he spoke from Ephesians 6.

Dinner followed which tonight was starters of smoked salmon & watercress and melon & prosciutto. This was followed by pork with apple sauce and chicken breast with a sage sauce accompanied with beans & potatoes. Finally there was a desert of what they called cream tart with fruit. I didn’t see much cream – it was more like a tart with fruit. No idea what the desert was like because I very seldom eat desert but the rest of the food was excellent. The table seating was changed so that we got to sit with different people again tonight. Helen and I sat with my brother-in-law and my two younger nephews (Collin and Jack) and it was a good evening just chatting to them.

Over dinner we also had a little fun in that we were given 24 little known facts of the people present. Now as you can imagine, in a family context that is pretty difficult to find things that most other people don’t know about you. I couldn’t think of anything to submit actually but some of the things were outrageous. For instance one person wrote “I was asked if I was a drug dealer”. That turned out to be my oldest sister. I still haven’t gotten the low down on that incident and even her husband looked amazed. We also had ‘I have mild Thalassophobia’ which you will now no doubt have to Google to find out what it is.  Some other interesting ones (that I can remember) were ‘My grandfather made shoes for the Queen’, ‘I had a state trooper stop five lanes of traffic on the motorway for me’, ‘I was engaged twice, married twice but never divorced’ (and no we don’t have bigamists in our family) and ‘I was a divisional wrestling champion’. It is amazing how you sometimes don’t even know things about your own family.

After dinner we went for a walk up the road from the estate. And it really was up. After about a kilometer some of us turned back and immediately on getting back we headed for the pool to cool off while the light finally faded. The evening is the best part of the day as it is marginally cooler at least.

Until tomorrow …

P, H, S, L, M, O, C

(PS: Sorry about the lack of photos. The wi-fi has stopped working in the main villa it seems (no idea why) and I tried to upload some photos using both my phone and Helen’s phone and neither worked either. I am hoping I can at least send this out without the photos.

Italy Here we Come

We were up at 4:30am this morning as we needed to leave for the airport around 5am. We dragged our bags from the hotel up to the terminal (and I specifically said ‘up’ because it seemed to be uphill the whole way. This being Portugal, the check in counters were not yet open though they were meant to open 2 hours before the departure of the flight (which was leaving at 6:45am so they should have been open from 4:45am). We checked in our 8 pieces (no light traveling) and even though some of the bags were over their weight limits the guy checking us in didn’t seem to care. Time is relaxed in Portugal and so are regulations (fortunately). We flew from Lisbon to Milan and I was expecting the flight would be empty given that it was a 645am flight and who travels from Lisbon to Milan anyway? But I was wrong – the flight was packed full.

IMG_0753We landed in Milan at about 10:15am and then waited for our luggage for almost 30 minutes. We had moved from Portugal to Italy where time seems even less important (if that is possible). It is not that the airport was extremely busy – it was just that no one seemed to be working. Eventually the bags appeared and we headed to get the cars (again two station wagons so that we could fit the luggage in). Stephen and Michael went to get Italian SIM cards and eventually at about 12pm we finally left the airport and hit the road south to Tuscany.

What I quickly learnt about Italian driving is:

(a) speed limit sign posting is non-existent – you have to telepathically guess it seems what the speed limit is (or in our case look it up on the internet)
(b) use of lanes is entirely optional – fading over a lane or changing lanes with or without indication is perfectly acceptable
(c) just because there is a stop sign doesn’t mean it applies to motorcycles
(d) if there is a 3-lane highway, everyone uses the middle lane except if you want to overtake then you use the left lane – the far right lane remains unoccupied except if a car is using it to enter onto the motorway and then move into the center lane
(e) there are thousands of cars in Italy and they were all on the road today

It was a VERY long and strenuous drive. Almost 5 hours (when we thought it would be about 3 hours 30 mins) and with constant traffic on a two or three lane highway. Add to that the driving tactics of Italians and you could never say it was a leisurely drive.

We stopped twice on route to Rufina (the nearest town to our Villa) at the services on the motorway. The services are themselves a little chaotic and after ordering our lunch and paying from the one point we then weren’t sure whether they charged us for the drinks or not (and we couldn’t check because the lady who did the sandwiches took the slip). After much debate we decided to just walk past the cashier and see if they said anything. They didn’t. We are still none the wiser – we might have rightfully paid for them or we might have stolen 7 cool drinks.  Not sure we will ever know.

IMG_0755We had to stop at Rufina today to buy drinks and lunch for tomorrow. There is only one supermarket and as we were arriving we discovered that Daniel (my favourite nephew 🙂 ) had just arrived on a train into Rufina as well. He asked whether we could give him a ride to the Villa. We reluctantly consented. And then when we pulled into the supermarket it turned out that my Dad, my sister, my brother and my cousin were all there as well. From that you can tell that it is a week of family reunion on the cards. After doing the necessary greetings we managed to get our food sorted out and then headed up (and I do mean ‘up’) to our villa.

It is a 21 minute drive from Rufina to the villa (Estate Petroio). We had been warned about the road but no warning could truly prepare you for it. In England it would have been deemed to be a Health & Safety hazard and all traffic would have been prevented from driving on the road. It is a narrow single track road and you just pray that you don’t meet any cars coming down. I met 3 on the way up – one of them being my brother-in-law going to fetch his daughter and son-in-law from the train station. We also met the owner’s wife and she had to actually get out of her car and explain to me that she couldn’t reverse and so I had to pull over and then I watched them pass within millimeters (no exaggeration) of our car. At this point I was no longer concerned about Helen driving behind me and came to the conclusion of it being every person for themselves.

Fortunately we made it safely up the hill and to the Estate. It is a sprawling estate and we have the whole place to ourselves. Given there are 32 of us (I think) you can understand why we need the whole place. We are spread over four buildings and over the next week I will try to give you a perspective of the estate and how it is all situated. As it turns out, Helen and I are in the main building and we have Daniel (did I mention my favourite nephew?) and Michael with us on the same floor. There are numerous other bedrooms also in the building but it is a labyrinth and finding a room can be easy and then seemingly impossible the next time you look for the same room. We have 3 kitchens in the main building and so far I have only found 2. Not sure how many other people are staying in the building but most of the girls are here as well.

It is also sweltering hot. When we arrived it was 35 degrees and that was at 5:30pm. Most of the younger generation and a few of the older generation headed straight to the pool (of which there are actually two). There was not a lot of time to unpack and cool off before dinner as dinner was starting at 7pm. The dinner tonight was split into three tables – one large table of cousins (and girlfriends and husband) and then two smaller tables of the older generations. Dinners catered by the owneIMG_0759r and his chef and tonight it was vegetable crudities & bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar followed by Risotto (with Parmesan cheese) and then Wild Boar (didn’t know you got tame boar) with broccoli and mashed potato. That was the part that mattered to me because afterwards their was Tiramisu with strawberries (which I don’t eat so I don’t really care about!). It was really good food accompanied tonight by Petroio’s own Chianti wine and finally concluded by Port (which I brought in from Portugal). Apparently there is a substantial amount left over and we can eat that for lunch tomorrow so not sure why we bought lunch at all it seems!

It was a lovely meal with good company and enjoying catching up with family we hadn’t seem in a while. Looking forward to the week ahead.

Until tomorrow …

P, H (because she handled the drive so well today), M (because he navigated so well), O (because I she said I owed her to move up after some comments I made), S, L & C



Vilamoura to Lisbon

IMG_0737Helen and the girlfriends went for their usual morning run and seemed to cope better this morning as it was not as hot as previous days. The rest of the morning was just spent packing and doing some last-minute sun tanning (in the case of Helen who now looks Portuguese after a week in the sun). Lunch was made up of eating all the leftovers and then after lunch we hit the road back up to Lisbon. It is about 250kms on motorway the whole way up to Lisbon. It is a fantastic road (which you pay for the privilege of using – €20) and at times it seemed we were the only car on the road. We must have driven for 20-30 minutes without seeing another car on our side of the road (and it is a 2-lane and sometimes a 3-lane highway).  There is also really not a lot to see. Some farming and pretty much nothing else. It does look remarkably like parts of South African landscape though. Part Mpumlanga, part Karoo desert, part Malmesbury.

We arrived at the hotel at about 5pm. We are staying at the airport hotel again (same one we stayed when we arrived) as our flight is at 6:45am tomorrow morning. We didn’t get the executive floor this time but the rooms are still quite nice and comfortable. As we had the evening to kill here we decided to head in central Lisbon for a walk around and then have dinner. It was quite a nice evening (around 24 degrees) and being a Friday night it was very vibrant. Taxi’s are also quite cheap in Lisbon and it only cost us €10 to get from the hotel to the city centre. IMG_0740We had Ayrton Senna as our taxi driver (and if he keeps driving at 100km/h in the city centre – not kidding – then he will end up like Ayrton Senna too) and Helen reckons they had Sylvester Stallone driving theirs!

There is a large pedestrian zone in Lisbon and we got the taxi’s to drop us at the start of it and then we ambled down to the sea and back up again. We had done this in January when we were here last and there were a lot fewer people and it was a lot colder too. There aIMG_0746re people playing music (someone playing the panpipes this time) and a few fire eaters even. At the sea there is a Plaza and they were setting up for a concert and doing sound checks etc which added to the atmosphere. It also seems that we stopped at every store selling sunglasses for everyone to try out some new glasses. This seems to have become ‘a thing we do this holiday’ though I haven’t yet seen the attraction or tried on a pair yet. Everyone else has and today Lara (yes Bryan I assume this is another essential living item) and Helen bought themselves a pair.

IMG_0745There are numerous side-walk restaurants and everyone tries their utmost to get you to come to their restaurant. Everyone has the freshest fish, best cuts of meat and today someone even offered us a free bottle of wine. We eventually selected one and everyone was very unimpressed by the pictures on their menu – they were quite off-putting. However, as we had already ordered drinks we just stuck it out and the food was (fortunately) much better than the pictures on the menu. Someone needs to give them a hand on selection of pictures for the menu!

Taxi back to the hotel and hopefully an early night for everyone. It is amazing that even in the taxi’s we have kept the same groupings – Michael, Oli & I in one vehicle and Stephen, Lara, Chloe and Helen in the other.

Until tomorrow

P, H, S, L, M, O & C (no particular reason for the order today and everyone finally behaved themselves and didn’t offend me)


Last Full Day in Vilamoura

IMG_0723Today was our last full day in Vilamoura. Lara & Oli went for a run this morning and Helen chose to remain in bed (for the first time since we got here). It was again a little cooler this morning but by mid-morning it was mid twenties and by the end of the day it was just touching 30.

Michael and I had another round of golf this time at Oceanico Pinhal. It was the first time Michael and I had played it.  We have now played 4 courses in Vilamoura and still at least 3 to play. We prefer playing by ourselves but today we were paired with another father & son from Scotland. He was an ex-professional soccer player (played for Dundee United) and now works for Scottish Football Association. His son was about 10 or 11 years old and pretty small but he played remarkably well for his age (he out drove Michael on the first few holes). Michael played significantly better than the round earlier in the week and had numerous birdie opportunities (unfortunately he converted none). His best chance was on Par 3 (picture included) which was only about 1 meter away and unfortunately he missed the putt. IMG_0725

We got home to find the rest of them hadn’t left the house and spent the day tanning, swimming, watching TV, reading and sleeping. This evening (it being our last evening), we headed to the Marina for dinner. There are numerous restaurants at the Marina so the choice is whether you want to walk further or just take the first place you walk past. Given we were hungry we took the latter option and had dinner at the Mayflower Restaurant (not a very Portuguese restaurant name). Three of us at least had seafood (you can’t really sit on the Marina and then have steak but 3 of my family managed that) – the girlfriends at least know how to order seafood at Marina restaurant.

IMG_0732We had the mandatory after dinner ice creams on the way back to the car. We also spent 2 weeks here last time and despite my Dad telling us about the ‘Old Town’ we could never find it. He emailed this morning to say not to forget to visit the ‘Old Town’ so we figured we better give it another try. Thank goodness for Google Satellite because we used that and found it immediately. IMG_0734The biggest issue is that it is called the ‘Old Village’ and not ‘Old Town’ and so we had been looking for the wrong thing the whole time (thanks Dad). But we did find it tonight and had a quick walk around the area. There are some restaurants and pubs and interesting architecture. Now that we have found it we can give it a try the next time we are back. What was quite funny is that it was right next to the golf course that Michael and I played today.

Until tomorrow …

P, M (because he played golf with me and found the Old Village), H, S, L, C, O (while others tried, I think she was only the one that managed to insult me today)


A loafing day

IMG_1130Helen went for her early morning run as usual (10kms) at some early time in the morning. It was partly cloudy the whole day and a lot cooler today as well (got up to 26 degrees only). It kept looking like it was going to rain but it never did (and doesn’t look like it will now) – though the sunset is quite beautiful with the reflection off the clouds (that is the view from our top balcony).

IMG_0718We didn’t do a lot today. We all went to the Algarve Mall again this morning. I just wanted to buy some ‘hardware’ items like light bulbs, super glue etc so that we could do some maintenance around the house. However, Helen and the girlfriends wanted to do some more clothes shopping and so they stayed on until about 3pm and hopefully completed their Portuguese shopping. Not sure Lara could have any money left after today.

We really didn’t do much else except lounge around, watch TV episodes (in the case of the S, L, M & O), read and lie around the pool. I did some work including having a telephone conference call but that was about it.  Isn’t that a sign of a good, relaxing holiday – just doing very little and unwinding? Michael did have a 30 minute (at least, not kidding) conversation with the gardener (who spoke impeccable English – or at least so says Michael). The gardener told him the previous owner paid €1.5m for the house and then went bankrupt (hence why he had to sell). He also persuaded Michael that we need to trim the trees, put cork into the garden (only in Portugal would you put cork in the garden), change the irrigation system and make various other garden improvements. Michael told him to put it into writing and send it through for my approval!

We had bought what looked like lobster tails for dinner tonight. They turned out to be Lobster Surimi – looks like lobster but made out of a meat paste (and who knows what meat and feels like rubber i.e. not really edible). That is the problem of not being able to read Portuguese and only using a translator on the key word (in this case lobster).  Fortunately we had sausage and chicken as well. Only Stephen and Oli ate any significant amount of it (and well done to them and for that alone they are worthy of a promotion on the blog order of merit).

Until tomorrow …

P, O, S, H, M, L & C




IMG_0663Normally Stephen would sleep to around midday while on holiday but the value of having a girlfriend on holiday with him drove him to get up early and join the ladies on their morning run. They went to Quarteiria this morning for a run along the promenade and Stephen joined them on his skateboard. It was overcast this morning and much cooler but quite humid. In fact the whole day was much cooler and didn’t get above 27 degrees (and most of the day was 23 degrees).

After they got back and had breakfast (and fortunately showered), we decided to visit Loule which is about 25 minutes drive from Vilamoura. It is a major town in the area. It is known for its market which is open every day and is situated in a renovated 19th century market hall. They sell fresh produce (fish, meat, fruit and vegetables) and also other types of things like port (very important – bought a bottle or two for next week), spices etc. IMG_0668

After a leisurely stroll around the market we headed toward the old town center of Loule which has a Castle from the 7th century. We did a quick visit to the Castle and the museum next door (the museum was much more interesting than the Castle). It is interesting to see how your view of history can be altered by who writes it. One of the history pieces said the Moors built the defenses to keep the Christians out. Most often when you read Western European history it is from the perspective of the current occupants and not that of the Moors.

IMG_0665Loule’s old city has cobbled streets (as most old European city’s have) and a significant amount of it is only accessible for pedestrians. They put ‘sails’ over the streets which keeps it cool and is quite beautiful as well. We walked the streets and did some window shopping and then stopped for an early lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes.

A leisurely afternoon of napping (for some), swimming and sun tanning. Stephen and Lara came with me to get some food for tonight. I have been mocked mercilessly because I like the butcher in the supermarket in town.  IMG_0717Even though he is situated inside the supermarket, he runs his own business and you pay him separately. He is very helpful, speaks English and the meat is pretty good. It also amazes me that it isn’t that expensive when you compare it with South African prices even. All of this gets me mocked mercilessly because I like the guy and want to support him. It has now become a standing joke and it is generally the reason why Stephen is always at the end of the list of people on the blog. He takes it to another whole level.

IMG_0716We had another braai for dinner tonight (pork strips and rump steak) and then Helen, Chloe and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. The number of houses that are closed up in the area is quite remarkable. I can only assume that they are owned by people who live in Lisbon and maybe come down for weekends or a holiday period. They are quite nice houses and I am sure probably cost €1m (or more). That is the anomaly of Portugal though as you find properties of €1m or more and then right next door is what looks like a dilapidated block of flats. I will have to remember to take a photo or two to prove the point.

Until tomorrow ..

P, O (because she actually defended me today), H, M, L, C & S (he is probably going to be permanently there and disinherited soon too)