Cooking up an Iberian storm


ACTIVE Gourmet Holidays offers a week of cooking in Portugal’s Refugio da Vila Cooking School in Portel, a small town outside Evora.

At the school, which lies one hour from the Spanish border and 90 minutes from Lisbon, visitors learn about the country’s Mediterranean cuisine and hands on cooking techniques using the local flavours and herbs of the Alentejo. The specially designed kitchen within the hotel includes a fireplace for baking Portuguese breads and curing sausages.
The hotel is a housed in a Vila manor complete with pool and patios, with luxuriously furnished accommodation in suites, twin or single rooms.
The itinerary offered by Active Gourmet Holidays includes a welcome reception and dinner at the Hotel Avenida Palace (or similar) in Lisbon on the first night, and on the second, guests drive to the small Alentejo town of Portel and Refugio da Vila Hotel where the first cooking class takes place in the Portuguese kitchen.
On day three visitors learn about the importance of fish and olive oil in Portuguese cuisine, after which they can sample their own cooking. Non cooking partners are eligible to join at the table. In the afternoon visitors are taken around the Esporمo Wine Estate, which uses both ancient and modern winemaking techniques. The nearby Arts and Crafts Center of Reguengos displays a collection of Alentejo wares, and nearby is the site of the one thousand year old village of Monsaraz.
The focus is on local produce on day four, when a lecturer explains the sourcing of local food on farms and ranches. In the afternoon, there is a tour of the nearby Evora, a UNESCO world heritage site and the cultural centre of the Alentejo.
On day five the cooks take a day off and the class drives into the northern Alentejo, for lunch and a visit to Renaissance Ducal Palace and the historical town of Estremoz, enclosed within its ramparts and overlooking a plain of gnarled olive trees and wheat fields.
The next day concentrates on discovering the region’s aromatic herbs and wild flowers and their use in local traditional dishes, and the following day cooking with flavours of the south are discovered, with a finale of dinner and entertainment from a local folklore group.
On day eight it is the transfer back to Lisbon.
Tours for 2008 are available in most months of the year apart from July and August, and costs start at $3,581 for double occupancy which includes seven nights accommodation with daily breakfast, lunch and dinner (with wine), five cooking classes, all supplies, tours with English speaking guides, and land transfers to and from Portel. Airfare and personal expenses are not included.