It was time to head to the Douro Valley. A destination we’ve dreamed of since arriving in Portugal some weeks ago. Picturing lush green terraced vineyards, the river winding its way below, we couldn’t wait to get threre. It was a fair drive along the picturesque N222, hugging the twists and turns of the hillsides offering tantalising glimpses of the glinting water through the trees along the way. Suddenly we came upon a ‘miradoro’ viewpoint, with a wide lay by complete with stone picnic tables and a beautiful view. Excitedly pulling in, we jumped straight out to get our first good look at the Rio Douro in all its splendour. It was certainly a view to savour so we went back in, made a cofee and came back out to drink it while soaking up the scenery.
We carried on stopping for a supermarket shop, refuel and to have lunch before arriving at our stopover place for the night at Castelo de Paiva. There was a sprawling, strangely empty car park and not much else there so after an uneventful night we set off again early next morning until we got to Peso da Regua. Regua, as its known for short, was the first capital of the demarcated port wine producing region here in the Douro, which itself is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also the home of the Douro Museum where you can find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the region and its history of wine making. The well designed motorhome aire was right by the river with full services and an electric point all for 3 euros per 24 hours – just right.
The town itself is fairly plain but there are several wineries you can visit and an atrractive promenade and cycleway along the river. Strolling along to the end we saw several smart cruise boats docked and could easily picture ourselves aboard one gliding down the river on a 3 day trip sipping port on deck – maybe next time. The temperature was really hotting up by now and back at the aire we got out our chairs and had a lazy bask in the sun on the grass in front of Buzz, just reading and being lazy for the afternoon. The information panel inside Buzz was showing 33c outside, 31c inside! To stretch our legs and stop us falling asleep we took a breezy walk across the footbridge over the river to the other side where there’s a hotel and smart panoramic restaurant before coming back to get dinner ready.
For a while now we’ve been chatting online to Karen and Colin who are blogging for Burstner. We’d been hoping to meet up but somehow always seemed to miss each other by a day or two. After a few messages back and forth it all finally came together and we arranged to meet up in the little town of Pinhao 25km further along the N222. it was 1pm when we met in a cafe for ‘coffee’ and 1.30am when we said goodnight! Next morning we all blamed each other for opening that last bottle of wine! Needless to say we had a memorable evening sharing travel tales and swapping funny stories about similar experiences.
We’d spent the night at Quinta da Padrela in a verdant vineyard setting thanks to our forward thinking host Jose who allows a handful of motorhomes/campervans to stay on his land overnight for free. There aren’t any services but he does offer wine and cheese tasting and a tour of the vineyard, all with no obligation, and of course the opportunity to buy his wines. We were under no pressure at all but did buy a fancy bottle of red to take home with us as we enjoyed the environment and his kind hospitality so much.
After breakfast and coffee we persuaded Colin to get his drone out and have a bit of fun filming Buzz and Billy and the lovely landscape around us. It was hit and miss at one point whether the drone was going to disappear over the horizon never to be seen again but Colin brought it back with a bump landing on some rocks, no harm done. A bit more practice and he’ll be a pro – and perhaps read the instruction book! We all had a laugh and the chatter continued until almost lunchtime when we finally said goodbye and went our separate ways.
Driving back over the river to Pinhao you have to negotiate quite a narrow bridge. Visibility is poor and you can’t see what’s coming until you’re almost on it which meant we had to back up to let some cars through first. Driving all the way through the town, over another bridge over the tributary and down the road there was a stretch of wider road right by the river where we parked. There was some shade from the trees too so it was the ideal place to keep the motorhome as cool as possible.
Having tried Port in Porto where it is aged and stored, we also wanted to try it here where it is actually produced. We chose to visit Quinta do Bomfim, a winery that has been in the Symington family for 5 generations. They are the biggest landowners in the Douro valley and produce wines for Dow’s, Cockburn’s, Warre’s, and Graham’s. The tour was terrific with a very friendly host who chaperoned us around the estate giving interesting snippets of information along the way. The port tasting itself was unsurprisingly very enjoyable. We’ve yet to find one we don’t like! Our favourite though was the 10 year Tawny and we bought a bottle to take home, adding to our ever growing collection of take home tipple!
It was such an idyllic setting we really didn’t want to leave so we sat out on the riverfront terrace to stretch out the experience a bit longer. While Julian tried a Douro red wine, I tried a white port and as the perfect accompaniment a delicious cheese platter – perfect. Eventually we did tear ourselves away as we’d booked a boat trip for 2.30pm. We walked through the little town and pretty promenade arriving a bit early so treated ourselves (again) to an ice cream and sat in the shade to eat it before it melted away.
For short trips on the rabelo river boats you can choose 1 or 2 hours. We chose the 6km 1 hour trip and sat back in the breeze as the boat drifted up the river passing vineyards and wineries tucked up in the hills, spotting a dazzling blue and kingfisher on the way who shot past us like a bullet.
Later back at Buzz we sat out on the dock in the balmy late afternoon sun with a drink and a book, gazing up every now and again with a smile on our faces feeling so lucky to be there. There are places you go that just make you feel happy and the Douro is one of them. You only have to glance around to feel relaxed and as your eyes scan the curving terraces carved into the hillsides, the fresh new vines growing the new season’s grapes and the gentle river with its tranquil waters it feels like you don’t have a care in the world. Blessed with beautiful weather here in the dreamy Douro our time here couldn’t have been any better.