History has already been more than detailed, but for those who don’t know, the Presidential train was built in 1890 and transported presidents, kings – such as Isabel II – and Pope Paul VI. It traveled for many decades, until in 1970 it was placed in the National Railway Museum. After being restored in 2010, entrepreneur Gonçalo Castel-Branco decided to create the luxury experience The Presidentialwhich since 2016 has taken tourists on this train from Porto to Douro, and the respective return, with lunch cooked by chefs with Michelin stars and a stop at Quinta do Vesúvio, once considered the quietest place in Portugal.
The project was born after Gonçalo Castel-Branco saw the carriages in the museum. Since its inception, which began as an experience in partnership with the Algarve restaurant Vila Joya, and later became the The Presidential. received the attention of average and the tourism sector, having been considered the best public event in 2017 by the Best Event Awards.
However, despite the success, the trips come to an end this year. Gonçalo Castel-Branco, mentor and promoter of the Presidential explains that the last trip was to have taken place in 2020, but with the pandemic it was postponed and the contract ends this year.
The question is obvious, after so much success, is there no desire to continue? The person in charge indicates that the Presidential “it could have been one of the best things that were done in Portugal. I say it without false modesty. And I’m sorry it’s going to end”. But he adds: “Objectively, it arrived at a place where I don’t see how it could continue. It met and exceeded its objectives, especially for its partner, the National Railway Museum. But the project was never aimed at making a profit, it never won a euro. And obviously , after five years I would like to take the project to a place that would make money, but that place doesn’t seem to exist. I’m sorry, yes. But rationally it has to end”, explains Castel-Branco.
“The idea is to show the best of Portugal on that trip. The best chefs, the best wines and the landscapes of the Douro. We tried to invite the best talent from Portugal and, instead of having one chef a day, we are going to have two”.
The question that follows is that, if it is a project that has brought more qualified tourism, with tourists who spend more money and stay in the country longer – something that many government officials agree with and appeal to -, could it not have been supported by the sector? “O Presidential brought out the best and the worst that the country has. The best in the tear, in the almost impossible idea of putting up a train that has no electricity and serves meals, the quality people who gathered around this project, and which was born from many people and not just me. On the other hand, he appealed to envy, to noise. An idea was created that I would be rich with the project because the ticket costs 750 euros per person…”.
And he adds: “No, it wasn’t a political issue. Portugal has a problem with money. Everyone says it’s necessary to bet on qualified tourism, but then they don’t support it.”
All this made Gonçalo, who is also the creator and promoter of the festival Chef’s on Fire and that it is preparing to do so in other countries, to give up the bet it had thought for rail tourism in Portugal. “It is very difficult for me to invest in the railway, with my great regret, because a segment of railway tourism in Portugal could be created”, he emphasizes.
the last trips
But until the end of the trips – the last one takes place on October 23rd – there is a program to enjoy. “The idea is to show the best of Portugal on that trip. chefs, the best wines and the landscapes of the Douro. We tried to invite the best talent from Portugal and, instead of having a chef a day, we will have two.” Namely: Rui Silvestre, Henrique Sá Pessoa, Diogo Rocha, José Avillez, Marlene Viveira, João Rodrigues are some of the names that will cook the meals (lunch) on board (the complete program is on the of internet of Presidential).
On the trip, which, as already mentioned, costs 750 euros per person, there are other details that Gonçalo Castel-Branco tells the DN that make the difference: such as, for example, the soundtrack of the trip created by Casa da Music that plays in the carriages during the nine hours that it lasts; the scent on board was created by Castelbel from berries and seeds from the Douro, which cannot be bought anywhere.
A total of 64 people can board each trip at São Bento Station. “There are historical obligations that cannot be changed and this does not allow us to add carriages”, explains Gonçalo Castel-Branco.
And don’t think that the train only receives foreigners. According to the promoter, 60% of passengers are Portuguese “rich and people who have been saving up for a year to celebrate a special date. And of course, foreigners attracted by the landscapes and gastronomy. “We have people from all over the world who make the your holidays around the train dates”, he adds.
Departure takes place at 11.00 am at São Bento Station, in Porto. Then it’s 3h30 minutes towards the Douro, with a stop at Quinta do Vesúvio, where there is a tour for the property, with proof of port, “many of them not commercialized”, and still a cigar lounge with cigars from Nicaragua.
Nine hours after the experience The Presidential, the train returns to Porto. “It’s a love letter to Portugal and, at the end of October, it will be for good. And it costs a lot to finish a love letter. It will be very emotional”, concludes Gonçalo Castel-Branco.