Often the most memorable parts of a trip are not the places you see but the people you meet. That’s what made Tom and Linda Uhler’s WOW Moment in Portugal so memorable. “We saw four distinct areas of Portugal and liked them all,” Linda told us over the phone when we recently interviewed the couple about their fall trip. But what really stood out to her was “the people—how nice they were, and how happy they were to have us there.” Since this was their third qualifying trip using Wendy’s WOW List, the Uhlers had earned a WOW Moment. A WOW Moment is, of course, an exclusive insider experience added to your itinerary by Wendy and orchestrated by one of her Trusted Travel Experts—in this case, Portugal specialist Gonçalo Correia. When we spoke to the Uhlers (who are based in Sanibel Island, Florida), they shared how their WOW Moment gave them a taste not only of the Douro Valley’s famed wine but also of its people.
Q: WOW Moments usually build on the traveler’s interests. What do you think inspired your WOW Moment?
Tom: Wendy’s recommended people are very diligent about getting to know what our interests are. Gonçalo understood there were things I wanted to learn about, including cork manufacturing and harvesting (because I collect antique corkscrews), wine in general, and port. He arranged for us to visit a port house, Quinta do Vesuvio, that is not open to the public. The estate is actually the private summer home of the Symington port wine family. And our guide that day was honest-to-god port royalty: the daughter of a famous local winemaker in the region. She was the real thing—she grew up in the business.
Q: How did your WOW Moment unfold?
Linda: Our driver said, “Let’s go see more of the Douro Valley.” We had no idea where we were going.
Tom: He drove us around all these back roads, down the river, and eventually onto this property—which was quite dramatic—and introduced us to our guide. One of the things that impressed us was how hospitable everyone is in Portugal. Our guide’s English was excellent. She had this depth of knowledge, so as someone who asks a ton of questions, as I do, could not stump her. She was amazing. And then she gave us a tour of the property, including the place where they dump the grapes for stomping. Then we went to the mansion on the property, and onto their porch with a view across the water, and we had a delicious lunch with port.
Linda: We started out with a drink that we had read a lot about: white port and tonic. And I think they had homemade sausage and almonds to go with it. Then we sat down with a melon and a dish they called duck rice—a casserole that is a very traditional meal. It was filled with duck and blood sausage, which I had never had, and it was delicious.
Q: Did the experience give you a feel for the local culture?
Linda: It was like we were part of their family, like we were friends they had invited to lunch. It was just us two, plus our host and the housekeeper. And there was this magnificent view. I can still picture us sitting there. It’s a great memory.
Tom: I was interested in learning the family relationships. There are only a handful of families that control the port industry. Our host’s knowledge was just extremely deep, and she was willing to share her story. I asked her some questions I thought not everybody would know—and she knew. This is what we have trouble explaining to people about our trips arranged through Wendy’s List. They say, You did what? For example, in Sicily, when we were on Mount Etna, our guide was a licensed volcanologist with a degree in volcanology; for two days, our guides were archaeologists who could reach down and pick up potshards. It’s amazing.
Linda: We could never have gotten into this place on our own because it’s not open to the public. And when we got to Porto and told people where’d we’d been, they were like, Wow, how did you get in?
Q: How else has The WOW List improved your travels?
Tom: When we want to stay in really nice places…how do you sort through all the junk that’s on the Internet?
Linda: You probably could, but it takes time. Reading the reviews is one thing, but having someone say, “I’ve been to that room where you’re going to stay, and this is what it’s about”—that’s different. In fact, we thought we wanted to stay in one wing of a property, but Gonçalo said, “No no no, you want to stay in this other one.” We could have booked it by ourselves, but we would not have had the same experience. Also, we had our first driver for six days, and we bonded with him and learned a lot about what life is like for an average Portuguese citizen.
Tom: That’s another of the takeaways from the trips we’ve done with Wendy’s people: The drivers and guides—especially the drivers, and especially if you have them for more time—are anxious to please you. They go out of their way. I collect antique corks, and we’d had very poor luck finding them. But our driver dropped us off at one of the markets and, while he was gone, he went and bought me a traditional rooster corkscrew from that area. People just go out of their way to be hospitable. That’s one of the intangibles you get.
Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!
On every third qualifying trip, Wendy will add to your itinerary a surprise WOW Moment. A WOW Moment is an exclusive insider experience that helps make a trip extraordinary. Each WOW Moment is totally different. They vary depending on a huge range of factors, including the country you’re headed to, the timing of your trip, logistics, availability, and more. You can read a sampling of the more over-the-top WOW Moments (those most conducive to editorial coverage) here. Learn which trips qualify, and how the process works, here: Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!