Portugal’s historic Douro Valley is known the world over for its riverside vineyards and the wine that comes from them. Pair that with local cuisine and you have one of the country’s best foodie regions. The Presidental Train combines these Portuguese highlights in the most lavish and delicious way possible. It truly offers guest a true one-of-a-kind experience.
From Porto to Vesuvio and back, This is my well-fed Presidential Train review.
Getting The Presidential Train Back on Track
Curator, visionary, and entrepreneur Gonçalo Castel-Branco credits the idea to run such a unique service to his daughter. While touring the National Railway Museum in Lisbon, Gonçalo was taken by the beauty of the Presidential Train and the simpler time it represents. It had been resting in the museum for decades and Gonçalo could not help but feel this was a shame.
Struggling to see how to get this magnificent train back on track, his daughter suggested running it as a restaurant. This idea was initially laughed off. 2 years later and several meetings convincing key partners on his/her vision, the Presidential Train rolled out on its inaugural trip.
The train itself begin service in 1890 as a way to shuttle Portugal’s kings and presidents in the most lavish way possible. After the monarchy was thrown in 1910 the train continued servicing Portugal’s presidents and distinguished guests (Pope Paul VI and Queen Elizabeth II to name a few) up until the funeral of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar in 1970.
Yes, this historic train has seen some things. Now, because of one man’s vision and his daughter’s genius idea, The Presidential Train lives on.
The Presidential Train Review
This Presidential Train review kicks off at the bustling Estação de São Bento, one of the world’s most beautiful train stations. Thanks to its iconic blue tiles depicting Portugal’s past, this train station attracts photo-snapping tourists as well as locals trying to get from A-B. Given The Presidential Train’s history, it is a perfectly fitting place for it to depart from.
Inside the Presidential Train, you won’t find AC, Wi-Fi, or power outlets. Windows are hard to open and toilets flush with the pull of a cord. This is because the restoration of the Presidential Train revolved on doing just that, restoring it to its past glory. To a simpler time with not so simple furnishings. Stepping inside truly is like stepping back in time, and that is a really cool thing.
Food and Wine
As I watched Porto’s iconic Dom Luís I Bridge disappear from my cabin window I thought to myself,
how could this get any better?
As if on cue, there was a knock on the door. Today’s first course of white wine paired with Seaweed Tapioca with Oyster Mayonaise.
Right. In my mind taking a ride on such a historic train was enough to make me happy. I forgot that this was, in the simpler sense, a foodie train dedicated to showing off the best Portugal has to offer.
Seated now in the dining car, the wine continues to flow as if it had no bottom. “Eat a lot of bread“ my Portugees table mate suggests while taking a generous chunk and slathering it in butter. “You want to last until the good stuff comes out“ referring to the waiter topping up the port in my glass.
“This isn’t the good stuff?“ I thought to myself
Wise words. The Presidential Train, in its own way, is a celebration of Portugal. A historic train ride through the historic Douro Valley calls for plenty of wine. What followed was an incredible feast inspired by the country we were slowly chugging our way through and some seriously great wine to wash it all down.
Each year, The Presidential Train offers two editions of its service – Spring and Harvest. In those editions, a hand-picked selection of top chefs are challenged to create a menu that matches the class and quality train itself. On my Spring Edition Presidential Train review, this honour went to Henrique Sá Pessoa, one of the country’s most popular chefs. How popular? His Lisbon restaurant, Alama, was awarded a Michelin Star in just one year. Based on what was presented to me, I could see why…
Much like his restaurant, the dishes served on my Presidential Train review captured Portugal’s booming food scene with local and in season dishes elevated beyond their origins. This meant mackerel tartar in citrus tomato water, and Scarlet shrimp straight from the Algarve served over a bed of rice. The presentation and flavours of these dishes were head-scratching, given the kitchen is inside an 1890’s train that is moving down a track.
Between bites, I made an effort to savour not only the amazing dish in front of me but the scenery passing by. The combo was truly intoxicating…or maybe that was the wine.
After commenting on, in my humble opinion, the incredible scenery, my table mate said, very matter-of-factly, that we weren’t even at the “true“ Douro Valley yet.
I scoffed this off and snapped some pictures but again, wise words. What looks like wine heaven was quickly nothing like with what was coming a little further down the track.
Stepping into the Douro Valley
Stuffed, yet somehow not full up enough on bread, I made my way back to my quarters to take in the now “true” Douro Valley view. My new friend wasn’t kidding. A couple hours in and the scenery truly goes next level. Steep riverbanks dotted with vineyards all while The Presidential Train hugs the Douro River. Unreal.
Quinta do Vesuvio
End of the line for The Presidential Train is Quinta do Vesuvio, a beautiful estate and vineyard. There, guests enjoy a very casual yet informative tour of a winery that has been stomping grapes the same way (by foot) since the 1800’s.
On top of touring the vineyard and cellar, guests get free range of the historic property, accompanied by cigars and of course, plenty of wine.
The Presidential Train Cost
The Presidential Train, obviously, isn’t for everyone. A big part of that is the cost. At €500 per person, this day trip is not cheap. It is, however, a one of a kind experience you will not find anywhere else.
Understandably, the cost to operate and restore such a historic train adds up. Add to it the fact that the Presidential Train is seasonal to avoid the summer heat (remember this is a train from 1890!), the sticker price makes sense.
With seemingly bottomless vintage wine and meals that rival what you’ll find in a Michelin star kitchen let alone one that is moving, you certainly do get what you pay for. The Presidential Train should be a bucket list item for any true foodie out there, or foodie and train lover like myself. At the time of my Presidential Train review, I was one of only a couple thousand people to ever ride it – and that includes royalty, past popes and presidents. It’s an exclusive club!
If not full up on food and wine yet, the trip home does it’s best to top to you off. An assortment of sweets followed by local cheeses and meats back in the dining car accompanied the ride home. All of this leading up to a glass of Niepoort vintage wine which was a fitting way to cap of the day.
Well fed and well lubricated, we made our way back to Porto. Staff apologized that there would be a delay and we would be arriving later than expected. This just meant more time drinking. A very famous local musician, or so my new Portuguese friends said, was on board and pumping out the tunes in the bar car. This was a big deal for them and added to the theme of the day – the Presidential Train does an incredible job sharing Portugal with its guests. This is done with food, wine, scenery, history, and now, music.
I left the train with this thought, something I had not expected when we set out earlier that day. The Presidential Train is so much more than a high-end meal on wheels train trip. It’s truly a uniquely Portugal experience, one that Kings, Queens, Dictators, Pope’s and now, one very well fed and drunk travel blogger have had the pleasure of experiencing.
Felicidades to that!
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Although I was provided with a media pass for the Presidential Train review,
the experience, opinions, and food coma are my own.