Fermín Calbetón Kalea, 27, 1º
20003 Donostia/San Sebastián

The Professional Retreat

In Good Company with Your Company

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Oftentimes the best way to focus on your work at hand, to envision a plan for your company’s future, and to get to know your employees and colleagues on a deeper level is to step away from your day-to-day, delegate to your team at home, and set off together on a once-in-a-lifetime retreat. We all know that a change of scenery and pace can reset your energy and creative process, and it also allows you to see another side of those with whom you work and to connect with them in a more personal way. The head of a large East Coast company knows this well, and each year he treats his core team and their spouses to a special adventure. In 2017 we had the privilege of organizing it for them, and for this VIP trip, we were able to pull out all the stops and deliver a truly magical week in Lisbon and the Douro Valley. With nearly thirty guests and many details that had to be executed perfectly, two of our team headed west to oversee the activities.

Upon arrival guests were welcomed to a reception in the breathtaking Pestana Palace, their home for the next few days. The sprawling botanical gardens, original 1904 frescoes, and classic Portuguese, French, and central African décor make you feel a world away from the bustling capital city just outside the gates. (The presence of a certain “Material Girl” who was living on a private floor of the hotel added to the sense of exclusivity! We may or may not have spotted her in the hallway.)

Between a few meetings and team conferences, the time in sunny Lisbon city gave guests--both seasoned overseas travelers and first-timers alike--a chance to learn about the local culture and history as well as enjoy only-on-this-trip experiences. We provided each guest a gift basket filled to the brim with traditional Portuguese goodies like cherry liqueur and chocolates, and everyone received a luxurious handmade burel cape, modeled on the rustic shepherds’ cloaks that protected against the elements in times past.

During a sunset sail on the Tagus River in a 1910 schooner, we were serenaded by a tuna, which is a group of university student singers and musicians, a tradition in Portugal and Spain that dates back to the 1200s. A guided tour took us to some of the city’s culinary hotspots for wine and petiscos in the bright daylight hours, while in the evening we took a privatized streetcar to a speakeasy supper club with a secret cabaret show to boot! The time in Lisbon was wrapped up with a white-tie gala in a palace opened just for us, where dinner was punctuated by the songs of a fado singer, whose mournful notes bounced off the candlelit walls.

The journey continued up north to the Douro River Valley, one of the world’s most famed wine regions and a major river in the Iberian Peninsula (the Duero River in Spain crosses the border and becomes the Douro River in Portugal). While flowing water and growing grapes know no nationality, the winegrowers certainly do: centuries of backbreaking viticulture have shaped the Douro Valley hillsides into terraced vineyards, and Portuguese winemakers became the first in the world to boast an official geographical designation for their production (in 1756!). In making the decision to take his team to this region, the group’s host wanted to not only show them a unique UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also to show the results of hard and diligent work through countless generations.

With the city left far behind, the days in the Douro Valley were filled with sunshine and adventure. Some guests braved a tree-climbing ropes course, while others relaxed at the spa. The whole group took 4x4s for a breathtaking ride through the vineyards, sweeping views of the Douro River down below. The expert drivers twisted and turned their way up and around rocky dirt roads until we reached the destination of a gorgeous picnic lunch at a winery. The group had a beautiful welcome dinner with fire pits lit at dusk. Another dinner took place under twinkling lights strung from the tree branches on a family estate winery. Yet another dinner was in the soaring barrel room of a winery, where singers, dancers, and musicians came to share traditional harvest songs. No trip to the Douro Valley at harvest time would be complete without some good old-fashioned stomping, so formalities were tossed aside, shorts and t-shirts were donned, and a lagar full of grapes was stomped until legs were stained purple and everyone was ready to collapse in a fit of laughter. A better team-bonding activity couldn’t be dreamt of by the world’s best coach!

The retreat culminated with an exclusive experience downriver in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, home of the port wine lodges that blend, age, and store the fruits of the Douro Valley. With a special visit to a private winery, the group toured the museum, had lunch in the cellar, and participated in a wine blending masterclass with the only female master blender in the Port houses.

A wide-ranging set of activities, from casual walking tours to relaxing sails to formal dinners, gives retreat guests an escape from the daily grind and a chance to slip into different roles, sharing other facets of themselves with their colleagues and superiors. Spending unstructured time together allows relationships to form or strengthen, and it helps a team unite around a common goal, important for the bottom line back home. By treating his staff to truly unique experiences, this company’s head shows his appreciation for their hard work and rallies them for the next phase in their professional lives.

For small companies, large corporations, and everything in between, a carefully curated retreat can boost morale, provide time to reflect, and reduce stress amongst colleagues. Leaders and department heads can see their staff in a new light, uncovering hidden talents or interesting stories, and employees feel valued and appreciated while broadening their horizons in a new environment. At Tenedor Tours we pay attention to every detail, making sure that trips like these flow smoothly, so that the focus is on you and your team.