Competition Winners Alfie and Fatima on their Stunning Prize to Portugal

Competition Winners Alfie and Fatima on their Stunning Prize to Portugal

Fatima and Alfie at Belem Tower.

Last year the House of Krone in partnership with Amorim Cork’s new Helix twist-off cork product held a unique competition, with the winning prize being a trip to Portugal. And the winners were an energetic and fun-loving couple from the Vaal Triangle, about an hour outside Johannesburg. Alfie Branchina, an engineer sale executive and university lecturer Fatima de Abreu were overjoyed to have won – Fatima is a 2nd generation South African of Portuguese descent and Alfie being a fanatical supporter of the Lisbon soccer team Benfica.

 No surprise, thus, when shortly after arriving in Lisbon Alfie headed-off to see the Estádio da Luiz home-ground of Benfica. Fatima, a confessed foodie, had other priorities and wanted to get to Pasteis de Belem to sample the world-famous pasteis da nata.

 “In order to do this, we had to very quickly work out the Metro routes in Lisbon and familiarise ourselves with the buses,” says Fatima. “Getting around Lisbon can be very easy and cheap if you figure out how. We only had one day in which to take some of the sights in Lisbon and the city did not disappoint us.”

 With Alfie having done his pilgrimage, which included buying a new Benfica soccer jersey, Fatima took charge in search of Pasteis de Nata Heaven! “Before getting to the bakery we followed the crowds to some of the famous sites in Belem. The Cloister of Jeronimos Monestry, Belem Tower, Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument and the Palacio Nacional de Belem. By now we had walked for many hours, smiled for many photos and were very hungry. The next stop was the Pasteis de Belem Restaurant where we enjoyed Bolinhos de Bacalhau (cod fish cakes), pasteis de camaroa (prawn rissoles) and finally the pièce de résistance, pasteis de nata.”

 The next day Alfie and Fatima were in the hands of Amorim with a trip to the cork region of Coruche. “Our chaperone provided us with plenty of background information on cork and cork oak trees on our way. We were fortunate enough to see how the cork bark is removed expertly using a long-handled hatchet from the cork oak trees,” she says.We also visited the site in Coruche were the bark is stored, treated and sorted and it is a fascinating process – from know we will have maximum respect when pulling a cork from the bottle!”

 Then it was off to Porto which began with a tour of the Graham’s Port Lodge and an extensive tasting of this magical elixir. “One word – marvellous!”

 The sight-seeing tourist bus took Alfie and Fatima around the main areas, and this was followed by doing as the local do: a meal of grilled sardines overlooking the Douro River.

.Alfie and Fatima agreed that if there was one highlight, it was the visit to the Alfama district in Lisbon to experience a fado performance.

 And the food? “We both love food,” says Fatima.  “We were determined to eat as much authentic Portuguese food as possible. Probably the most memorable meal was a plate of grilled sardines (in season) overlooking the Rio Douro in Porto. The Portuguese are experts at making potato chips whether round or straight cut. Their chips are always super crispy.

 On the Amorim Cork connection of their trip, Fatima says they will never look at cork in the same way again.

 “The process from stripping the bark from the tree to producing a cork is so involved. The standards in cork making practised by Amorim are incredible. I was amazed how nothing is wasted in the process; offcuts of bark or reject corks are just ground into granules to produce other products. I also loved the recycling of used cork projects that some of the restaurants participate in. The process of removing the bark is also excellently regulated and controlled to ensure that the trees will continue to provide jobs for many generations to come. The patience required to wait for the tree to reach maturity before the first bark is harvested and then letting it rest for nine years before removing the bark again I think makes this industry unique.”