Puttin’ on the Ritz: the chicest dining at Sintra, Portugal’s Arola

The mysteriousness of Sintra, Portugal even extended to my lunch at the Penha Longa Resort’s Arola, owned by the Ritz-Carlton. I was happy to be hosted to experience it!

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A guard at the gatehouse inquired as to the people in the vehicle. On a foggy, overcast day, the grounds of the resort were noticeably empty. What was going on? The heads of the European Central Bank were meeting there! I spied lots of armed guards. This is definitely a place where you want to make prior reservations and confirm them.

By the ladies’, I noticed some impressive honorary members of the resort’s golf club, including the late President Bush and Prince Andrew.

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The interior of Arola has a distinct modern, industrial vibe. The lounge is flooded with royal blue lighting, but the restaurant utilizes natural light during the day.

The table settings have a clean, modern, designer look.

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I was able to try some of Portugal’s famous Vinho Verde (green wine). This is wine harvested from the country’s far north. This denotes a young wine, released 3-6 months after harvest. It can be of any color or even a late harvest wine. At this stage, the wine has a slight natural carbonation, which makes it lovely for an aperitif.

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They served an interesting, participatory opener: it was kind of a do-it-yourself brushetta, with bread toasts, a garlic clove that you cut and rub on the toast, then spread a tomato tapenade.

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Tomato bread makes for a simple, tasty opener all by itself.

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Portugal has ready access to some of the finest, freshest seafood in the world. Many of the locals I asked admitted to eating about 80% seafood in their diet! Sea Bass ceviche was mild, though it looked like pickled herring in the dish.

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Creamy, slightly stronger Azeitao sheep cheese from Portugal makes for addictive little cheese croquets!

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Spanish Patate Bravas get the elegant Portuguese treatment in mini tot form, with a Sriracha-type aioli.

Here is another delightful Portuguese wine, Douro. It’s a deep, dark red that’s still very smooth and drinkable. Even those Portuguese not from Douro sheepishly admit that Douro is their favorite.

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Portugal loves its creamy, eggy desserts!

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