For just about everyone everywhere, 2021 was 2020 on repeat. For Tom and me, the year ended as it began, circling back to lockdown in a slightly updated form. Almost as soon as we had celebrated the freedom of vaccinations and boosters, along came Omicron. We left it to others to brave the (often unfriendly) skies for long-haul travel, and stayed put, still not comfortable with traveling the way we like to: at a whim and up close and personal. Instead, we chose to spend the year close to home. For the second year running, Porto and nearby locales served as our área de descanso, our place of rest.
In Porto, we enjoyed several outdoor events such as the art and light shows at the Serralves Foundation and Porto’s Botanical Garden. We daydreamed about places and activities we long to return to when we feel the time is right, and welcomed several friends to Portugal. And during the pandemic’s autumn lull, we ventured to Morocco, for a long-delayed—and too short—stay in our house in the Fez Medina. Small pleasures—and there were many—brightened our days through the ups and downs of 2021.
After spending the first half of 2021 looking for a new home, we devoted the summer and early autumn to packing up and moving across town. We settled into a spacious condominium with a marvelous outdoor space. In the process, we also continued with the downsizing we thought we’d already done when we relocated from Switzerland to Portugal in 2016. Where did all that stuff come from? No matter, it’s gone now, hopefully bringing joy to someone else.
When restaurants opened, and especially after double-vaxxing, we began to enjoy occasional restaurant meals again, seeking out local venues with outdoor dining. Some of the best cafes in Porto, Matosinhos and Foz do Douro have great terraces, so morning walks with coffee brought a feeling of normalcy, and made our self-imposed isolation not seem so, well, isolating. My birthday luncheon at Rui Paula’s Casa de Chá de Boa Nova delivered an exquisite tasting menu-with-a-view to celebrate the occasion, along with a dose of fresh sea air.
We continued to prepare most of our meals at home, although with many bakeries again easily accessible, I climbed down from the sourdough wagon. I carried on with Skype cooking, meeting up with friends in Germany, Malaysia and Morocco. This shared activity turned out to be a pleasant holdover from the early days of pandemic confinement. I baked, tried Tik-Tok food hacks, and read old cookbooks for inspiration. No fancy results, mind you, but a relaxing sidebar to our day-to-day.
Very local wine travel
In late summer, we spent an afternoon at the World of Wine (WOW) in Vila Nova de Gaia. WOW’s Wine School is a fine new venue for wine education, with a range of classes. Our lively class with Wine School Manager José Sá reminded us of what can make a glass of wine an enjoyable and, sometimes memorable, experience. And of course, the view of Porto from across the Douro is one of the best anywhere.
Timeout in Lisbon
One of our few excursions during the year got us to Lisbon, for an art infusion and several change-of-pace meals. We stayed in Chiado, a neighborhood usually aswarm with tourists, but at the time of our visit, charmingly walk-able and with restaurants and shops eager to welcome us. The beautiful ruins of the former Carmo Convent were practically across the street from our hotel and home to the Carmo Archaeological Museum, with its fascinating collection of abandoned pieces of sculpture from old monasteries, collections of pre-Columbian archaeology and prehistoric artefacts from around Portugal. A stop there provided an eclectic counterpoint to Ai Wei Wei’s powerful Rapture exhibition at Cordoaria Nacional in Belém.
Getaway to Galicia
For our wedding anniversary, we popped across the Spanish border for a couple of nights in the Ribeira Sacra wine region. For several days, despite rainy skies, it felt almost like our old days of travel: sightseeing in a new landscape, visiting an old wine-growing region that was new to us, enjoying delicious meals.
Alas, many of the small wine producers we had hoped to see were closed or in partial lockdown in October, but we spent a very pleasant few hours at Adega Algueira. After a tour of the winery and sampling the varied wines on offer, we enjoyed a celebration meal in the bodega’s O Castelo restaurant before a warming fire. Of course, we brought a few bottles of Galician cheer back to Porto with us, to relive the moment—and recall those stupendous Ribeira Sacra views.
Return to Morocco
Also in October 2021, Tom’s photos of the Fez, Morocco medina featured in a joint exhibition with calligrapher Mohamed Charkaoui, and we traveled to Fez for the launch. Our first plane trip in almost two years—a short, uneventful journey across the Strait of Gibraltar—also gave us a chance to spend some time in Dar Borj Dahab, our house in Fez.
We enjoyed the change of scene wholeheartedly, despite the ongoing closure of many restaurants and tourist venues. We gloried in sunny afternoons on the rooftop terrace and readied the house for guests, our first post-pandemic bookings. In a year of fits and starts, for a brief time, things seemed to be on course for a return of tourism to the Kingdom.
Time for a travel reboot?
2021, our fallow year?
“Fallow” is how a farmer describes the land not planted with crops, to improve soil quality and produce a higher yield. From the optimistic vantage point of a new year, we have designated 2021 our own fallow year.
Through another year without major travel, we continued to be reluctant to encourage the travel of the Before Times: cruises, long-haul flights, and group travel. And as the year slogged along, we had few experiences of the sort we love to share with others.
Now, however, with guarded optimism, we look to 2022, with its days, weeks and months of opportunity. Will this be a year for renewed energy, and—fingers crossed—a return to travel, long and slow? Will we travel differently now? More sustainably and responsibly, now that the need for it is more obvious than ever? With more intention, after two years of not going anywhere?