Fortunately, Cyclone Leslie had moved on leaving only her cloudy skirt tails. We were praying for good weather as we had booked a guided tour today with Living Tours up the Douro River valley. We gathered by Sao Bento station at 8am and chatted with other guests as we waited for our coach. We met folks from Canada, Australia, China, Brazil and the U.S.
Our guide, Daniel, greeted us and away we went. The first stop was up the river 20 kms at the charming village of Amarante. It is beautiful with its Roman arch bridge over the river leading to the town square. There we visited the Igreja of Santo Goncalo. There is a statue of him inside the church. My photo is blurry but I included it anyway because of the interesting story that goes with it. Apparently, in days of old, young girls wishing for a husband, would tug on his robe and, if something moved inside the robe 😉, they would get their wish. Today, townsfolk bake delicious pastries to sell outside the church… in the shape of, well you will see in the photos. Monica had one… I did not.
We continued up the valley, climbing higher to 500 meters for a viewpoint stop and our first look at the famous vineyards where port wine is born. The hills are extremely steep forcing the vine roots to dig way down into the slate soil to find water. The road here is narrow and winds around the side of the mountain with sheer drops over the edge. Our driver was very skilled, thank God!
Next we stopped at the village of Pinhao for lunch (included in the tour). All 30 passengers were escorted into a great little restaurant where the tables were set for us and provided with wine (as much as you wanted). The menu choice was vegetable soup to start and either grilled mackerel (me) or pork stew (Mon). Yum!
Moving on, we were now in the heart of wine county and visited the estate of Croft Port. We toured the vineyards and learned that the wine is crushed by foot. It is the best way to avoid breaking the grape seeds which would otherwise add too many tannins to the wine. After only 6 hours of fermentation, grape spitirs are added to fortify the wine and stop any further fermentation. Then the wine is sent down river to Porto to be made into Port and aged in oak barrels. In the tasting room, the guide had prepared 3 tastings for everyone; pink, ruby and tawny (my favorite).
Next on the agenda was a 1-hour boat cruise from Pinhao up the Douro to see the vineyards from water level. The entire valley is covered in vines and it is spectacular to see. No wonder this is one of the world’s most renowned wine regions. With no wind, the river was calm and the temperature just right. We met several other tour boats and even some larger cruise ships.
Then back on the bus for the return trip to Porto, stopping at a couple more stunning view points. It was thrilling to see the large white billboard names of the big Port companies on the hillsides; Dow, Warres, Sandeman, Taylor, etc. At Sabrosa, we saw the birthplace and monument to Ferdinand Magellan, 15th century explorer who charted the East Indies and first to circumnavigate the earth.
Arriving home at 7pm, it was a long day. We walked down to the riverfront for an excellent dinner of tuna and steaks. After dinner, Monica and I strolled along the quay. The night air was filled with music and wonderful smells wafting from the restaurants. Instead of climbing the 15 stories on foot, we took the funicular for 2.50€ (tired feet thanked us) up the hill and strolled out onto Pont (bridge) Luis I. We enjoyed one last time the beautiful view and night lights of Porto. That memory will stick with me forever.
Home for a nightcap of Mateus wine, made here in Portugal up the Douro valley. Here are the photo highlights of Day 18 – The Douro River.