Small Wonders: The king of all red-letter days

April 29, 2011|By Patrick Caneday

I now share more than just pasty skin and gangly posture with the British royal family. I share an anniversary.

And if I could suggest one place for William to take Kate on their honeymoon, it would be the picturesque Iberian town where I had the most profound bottle of wine I've ever had in my life — a taste still on my lips to this day.

Evora rests in the heart of the arid southern plains of Portugal — a two-hour drive from Lisbon, a day's train from Porto and centuries from the present day. Set in a sea of cork and olive groves, this walled city has seen the rule of the Romans, Moors and Muslims. It is a pristine, ancient European town with winding cobbled streets, ornate cathedrals and drying laundry hung between whitewashed homes with red-tiled roofs.


It was early May and everything — the flowers, trees, air and sky — was in bloom. We got off the train, my new bride and I, at a rustic station in the middle of nowhere; two lost, young lovers standing on the platform as their only link to this foreign land steamed away down the tracks, no taxi or hay cart in sight.

An old man in woolen shirt and lifeless brown leather shoes sat on a crate waiting for nothing. He pointed in the direction of a winding trail leading up to one of the entryways into the walled city. We put our backpacks on for the hike.

“Lua-de-mel?” he asked, pointing at us.

I fumbled through my Portuguese-English dictionary. Honeymoon.

“Si,” I responded.


“Muito obrigado.”

Our hotel was once a monastery, and the restaurant was four-star with a wine list that read like “Don Quixote.” At dinner we asked the sommelier for something local, something red. He pointed at a few names on the list that meant nothing to me, and I selected one in our modest price range.

He agreed energetically, as if I'd picked the exact bottle he would have. But, he told us, he'd have to travel deep into the cellar to get it. I began to wonder if I'd read the price correctly.

He returned with a dusty bottle cradled in a wicker carrier, transporting it so gingerly you'd have thought he was delivering nitroglycerin. He set it gently on the table where I examined it to make sure it was the correct vintage. I gave the nod of approval, though it was orange Fanta for all I knew.

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