Tag Archives: Douro

Porto

Having been on the move for most of the last fortnight we decided to stay near Porto for three nights for some R&R; fortunately the site we picked more or less at random out of the camperstop book turned out to be an excellent choice.  We’re at Madelena on the coast about five miles from Vila Nova de Gaia which sits on the opposite bank of the Douro to Porto.  The campsite is about 500 metres from the beach among a mix of pines and eucalyptus which provide  welcome shade in the 30o+ temperatures that we’ve experienced for the past few days.  As it’s early in the holiday season the campsite is quiet and relatively empty, though I suspect it gets absolutely heaving during the height of the summer.  On Sunday evening we cycled down to the beach but our good intentions of going in for a swim were downgraded to a quick paddle when we dipped our toes in the chilly Atlantic which has yet to warm-up to a respectable level.

Yesterday we took the local bus into Porto and discovered why there are no Portuguese racing drivers – they’re all driving buses at high speeds through the incredibly narrow backstreets of Porto.  Given our experience in Amarante I spent the entire journey in a muck sweat- perhaps not the most relaxing of ways to start your birthday!

Porto is a lovely city built on the banks and rising cliffs of the Douro where it’s spanned by numerous impressive bridges of varying ages.  Sparing no expense we took an enjoyable  ‘six bridge’ boat trip, which would have been perfect for taking photos of the city if it hadn’t been so crowded that you dare not stand up to take a photo for fear of someone nicking your seat.

Denise preparing to do some wrestling for her seat!

Following a lunch of sardines (her) and prawns (me) we splashed out (did I mention that it’s my birthday?) on a visit to the Calem Port ‘lodge’ which provided an interesting insight into how the wine is made – with the added attraction of three complementary glasses of port at the end of the tour.  At one point I thought that Denise was about to start dancing on the tables – I offered to drink hers for her, but my generous offer was politely declined.

Heading south to the Douro

From Braganza we moved on to Chaves and were lucky to find a quiet campsite next to the river and only a short cycle ride from the centre of the old town which has kept much of its original architecture and charm.  We spent a couple of nights there before heading south across the Sierra da Padrela which is the high ground that sits to the east of Villa Real and leads down into the upper Douro valley.  The descent into the valley itself is spectacular with great views of the extensive terracing that’s been created over hundreds of years in order to make use of every inch of available space for the growing of grapes.  The soil, what little there is of it, is already baked rock hard this early in the year and it’s difficult to see how anything can grow here – let alone produce some of the world’s best known wine.  Apparently the vine roots can go down seven metres and the soil (or schist as it’s known) contains mica which helps to keep the roots cool and contributes to the sweetness of the grapes.

We crossed the Douro at Pinhao which is the collecting centre for the fermented grape juice before it’s shipped down the river to Porto in January or February each year.  It’s also the destination for the large river cruise ships which bring tourists up the river in what looks to be considerable comfort to enjoy the scenery and no doubt to sample the wine.

Sao Joaõ da Pesqueira

We spent the Tuesday night on a quiet camperstop just outside Sao Joaõ da Pesqueira, which is just to the south of the Douro valley.  Our cycle the mile or so into the village was rewarded by a beer in a local bar, where I don’t think they can see too many visitors, and on our return to the van a French couple (the only other residents of the site) presented us with a bowlful of fresh cherries which they’d just ‘scrumped’ from a nearby orchard.