Portugal's oasis for oenophiles

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Monverde Hotel in Amarante offers several wine experiences and spa treatments.
Monverde Hotel in Amarante offers several wine experiences and spa treatments.

Upon witnessing a window display of shelves piled high with phallic pastries drizzled with white icing, your first reaction might be disbelief -- and this is before your eyes have registered giddy young girls biting into the cream-filled doces falicos (Portuguese for phallic sweets).

All through the riverside town of Amarante in northwestern Portugal, such pastries are baked in honor of Sao Goncalo, the 13th-century saint celebrated with an annual fertility festival.

Amarante is a part of the Vinho Verde region, a place that challenges preconceptions not only about its pastries but also its viticulture. Designated a specific region in 1908 for its emerald beauty and the production of green (or young) wine, Vinho Verde received its EU-regulated DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) designation in 1984.

Wine tourism has flourished with the conversion of palaces, estates and manor houses into luxury accommodations such as Casa da Calcada (Relais & Chateaux), Pousada Mosteiro Guimaraes (Small Luxury Hotels of the World) and the 75-acre Monverde Hotel situated amid the vineyards of Quinta de Sanguinhedo in Teloes, Amarante.

Originally imagined as a country house for oenophiles, Monverde has evolved into the region's most luxurious wine experience resort and spa. The wood-and-stone complex of olive-green and ochre buildings merges seamlessly into its fecund environment. Cobblestone pathways meander through vineyards, leading to 29 sleekly furnished rooms with views of the neighboring Green Mountains.

Monverde offers numerous wine experiences, including tastings, winemaking, wine painting and grape harvest picnics, as well as cocktail workshops, cooking classes, cycling trails, geocaching and wildlife tours.

Treatments at Monverde's spa feature red grape skin and vine leaf therapies, black caviar facial treatments and wine hydrotherapy. The spa's pools are complemented by a Turkish bath, sauna and fitness center.

At Monverde's soaring, two-level restaurant and wine bar, a sculpture of nearly 400 wooden vine leaves floats above the contemporary furnishings. Monverde's sommelier showcases wines from every region in Portugal, and an impressive cellar is stocked with rare vintages.

A member of Unlock Boutique Hotels, Monverde recently opened an additional complex of Wine Experience Suites, each of which features a pool, fireplace and private wine cellar. In keeping with Amarante's local traditions, regional pastries are served at turndown -- in which case, you might be surprised at what turns up at your bedside. Room rates at Monverde start at $175 during high season.

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