Casa da Companhia, Vignette Collection highlighted on The Times UK Magazine

1 July, 2024
Casa da Companhia, Vignette Collection highlighted on The Times UK Magazine

Source: The

The Times UK Magazines has featured an article on Portugal, highlighting the "Ultimate One-Day Train Trip" - where Casa da Companhia, Vignette Collection has received distinction for its prime location in Porto city. 

Set amid the Douro Valley, the new Comboio Presidencial combines fine dining, great wines, a visit to a port-making quinta — and no small amount of nostalgia. An article by JR Patterson: 

On a recent Saturday morning i was up early, skipping a damn good breakfast at the Casa da Companhia hotel in central Porto and running through a deluge to the city’s main Sao Bento railway station to catch the maiden voyage of the relaunched Comboio Presidencial train. A luxury addition to the Portuguese railways, the Presidencial features a new fine-dining experience as it follows the Douro line, which runs east for some 120 miles from Porto alongside the river.

It crosses increasingly rural landscapes all the way to Pocinho, a village on a shim of land among the vineyards and orchards of the upper river. The schedule promised a late-morning start, a meal of some three hours, a stop-off to tour the Quinta de Vargellas — the vineyard that supplies Taylor’s Port with its grapes — and a return to Porto by 10pm. It is a fine day trip to fit into any larger journey to Portugal, or a short break in the city.

At first sight, the Presidencial’s regal dark blue was a considerable improvement on the despondent grey of the regular rolling stock. The platform was a milling crowd of Presidencial travellers in smart-casual clothing, photo-snapping trainspotters and nosey parkers, TV reporters and documentary crews, and the train staff, who were unfortunately dressed in ashen grey uniforms and absurd half-bowler, half-fedora headgear.

It was a little after 9am when I boarded and already a throng of guests were milling about with glasses of port and wine (red, white and rosé from a single vineyard — in our case Ventozelo, although it changes each week). I took a glass and made a quick stroll through the train past wood-panelled seating compartments, past a Texan couple clutching their little tulip glasses of port (“Now, that there’s a mighty lovely red” and “How did you say it? Obri-gada?”), and finally to the dining cars, trim and crystalline with pastel bouquets on each table.

In Portugal you are fed nostalgia, paired with a glass of corked tradition, almost everywhere you go. Saudade, the Portuguese word for incomprehensible angst, has been levered into a national state of being, accompanied by mournful fado music and a backwards glance at the atlas of 1494, when Portugal dominated half the known world. While I take issue with nostalgia’s muslin-eyed belief that better times are behind us, that civility lies in the past, it can occasionally kick up something interesting. Luxury trains, for instance — slow and august, they are as soaked in tradition as an olive in brine, arriving today from some indefinite golden era of travel when dressing for dinner was the rule.

There is no disguising the dream of the Presidencial. It wants to be a time machine. It was built in 1890 and was the official locomotion of Portuguese heads of state until 1970: monarchs until 1910, a dozen years of unstable republicans, and then, from 1922, members of Salazar’s Estado Novo dictatorship. Kings and autocrats are testy topics in Portugal, especially this year, the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, when the dictatorship was finally routed. Never mind that. This was Portuguese legacy at its most sentimental: the original brass fittings were polished, the drop chute toilets were a lesson in fluid dynamics, the scallop-backed green and pink furnishings were from the same Portuguese upholsterer that makes chairs for the Pope. Put your nose close to the wood panels and you could smell the embedded smoke of ten million cigarettes.

Earlier I said “maiden voyage” but this was not the first iteration of the Presidencial. A previous version, which ran between 2017 and 2022, featured a similar itinerary: a day-long return trip along the Douro capped by a stop at a vineyard, fortified by “gourmet lunch and wine harmonisation” created by a rotation of awarded and fêted international chefs.

This time the food was a 12-course set menu overseen by Chakall, the mononymous Argentine chef, a celebrity in Portugal, who is interested in bringing good, accessible food to everyone — a kind of Latin American Jamie Oliver. It was his name on the wine glasses, his name emblazoned on the menu card that lay resting at each table setting, and the man himself appeared from the kitchen car in his trademark turban to greet guests. As we graced the outskirts of Porto, the Texas matron sidled into the chair beside me. “I figured you’re the one to ask,” she said, her face at a conspiratorial distance from mine. “We’ve already spent a considerable sum but do we … leave a tip?” No, I told them. Portugal is far too civilised for that.

Read full article, here!