The Presidential Train follows a path along the riverbank of the Douro Valley, where magnificent Douro wines and port are made by celebrated wineries, as far as the historic Quinta do Vesuvio, on the far eastern edge of Douro country. The one-day, nine-hour gourmet expedition, which operates just 25 or so times a year during the Spring (April-May) and Harvest (September-October), provides a taste of the Presidential experience in the company of Michelin-calibre chefs, who cook each weekend it runs.
In Porto, at the 100-year-old Sao Bento railway station, renowned for its striking tiled panel walls designed by painter Jorge Colaço, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the gleaming regal blue livery of The Presidential. Step aboard the lavishly furnished train. As you are shown to your private cabin, soak up the history and tradition evident on the train. As the train pulls away from the platform, settle in to the soft, velvety seating for an appetizer and a perfectly-matched wine.
The route snakes between vineyards but also explores a wild landscape filled with oranges, lemons, almonds, olives and figs. The focus though is on the food. As you settle into your seat note the elegant cutlery from Cutipol, and all kinds of gorgeous china from Vista Alegre, alluding to the extravagance and good taste to come. Fresh-baked bread is from Lisbon’s hip Gleba bakery. All the wines are from Niepoort, a flagship Douro brand. When it is served, you’ll enjoy a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings, all the more impressive as the kitchen brigade are working in a compact, unsteady, turn-of-the-century train kitchen.
The train’s big stop is Quinta do Vesuvio, a deserted platform in a beautiful spot. Disembark to explore the aristocratic mansion at the heart of the wine estate here. A grand, rustic winery dating from 1565 and with a longstanding reputation for producing remarkable wines, it is usually closed to the public. Explore the grounds. Join an exclusive wine tasting directly from the tonels or try private-label vintage port. Authentically experience the largely lost art of winemaking by taking part in a classic foot treading ceremony. Smoke a cigar on the terrace and toast your exquisite good taste.
When it is time for the return leg, climb back aboard the time-warp train. Relax in your cabin, take tea in the dining car or make your way to the bar car for cocktails and live music performed by a talented pianist. Before long plates of cheese and smoked meats appear. Just before the conclusion of the journey a traditional caldo verde soup is served as a troubadour strumming a 12-stringed Portuguese guitar strolls the carriages and the waiters break out the spirits.