Trip up the Douro to Pinhao in Alto Douro

SV Jenny
Alan Franklin/Lynne Gane
Wed 3 Sep 2014 19:00
Dear Family and Friends,

A special thought for all my friends from Sutton High School who have just gone back to work! Wish you were here!

Sunday 31st August, Monday 1st September

We were invited to join fellow ralliers Nick and Patsy, from Hayling Is. to join them in a hire car, to go up the river Douro to the Port vineyards. We spent a memorable 2 days travelling through this country, relying on tourist maps with insufficient detail and the hope that there would be signposts, (nowhere we stopped had any decent maps,) we navigated by keeping the river on our left and the morning sun on our right! We travelled through rural villages, ate in authentic hilltop restaurant, crossed some mountains eventually coming to the river, the vineyards and the stunning Quinta rural da Silval. A vineyard hotel, built within the high Douro, and sitting atop its own hill, we sat in the pool with almost 360 degree views of the wonderful vineyard views, after a very hot day, absolutely perfect! We ate dinner in the barmy evening temperatures on the balcony, overlooking the valleys, drinking the estates own white and red wine, simple but well cooked food, their own fruit and olive oil, and to finish their own port, if you are ever near I highly recommend it! In such heat the ground and the granite radiate heat back in the late day, it was wonderful to be warm late into the evening although during the day, air con in the car is a must.

The second day we took a river boat trip from Pinhao, (you would have thought we had had enough of boats!) up into the steep vineyards reached only by river and by train. The hillsides proudly proclaim familiar names such as Croft, Sandeman, Nova, Dow as well as the less familiar. Some vineyards seem impossibly steep, hundreds of miles of stone terrace retaining walls attest to the toil of centuries, the famous quinta’s have immaculate row upon row of vines and grounds, more local based ones perhaps less so. The market for port must be thriving as you could see new vines being planted. They are harvesting the white grapes grown here at the present time and will pick the black grapes around the 15/16th of September, mostly by hand. There are patches of vines always on slopes, grown in small irregular plots, there are single or double rows of vines zigzagging up the hillside with a steep drop of 5-10' between it and the next set of rows, it must be worth it to farm in such difficult terrain! Olive trees are also grown on the terraces, the landscape giving way to giving way to their groves or to native trees. Surprisingly both crops are grown to almost the top of the mountains in places. Otherwise the landscape here is strewn with granite outcrops, scrub and low trees. I can imagine these high pastures looking wonderful covered in spring flowers, just now it has the straw and brown hues of the approaching autumn, walking amongst it crushing the wild mint, is a wonderful aroma.

Tuesday 2nd September

We took the city sightseeing tour, the top floor gave a great view and we enjoyed the highlights of the city, waterfront and Vila Nova de Gaia, the port region on the south side of the river. The old is often juxtaposition with the new city, abandoned buildings with propped up facades, narrow cobbled streets with washing hanging from the balconies, wonderful churches, the Champs d Elyses of Oporto, grand buildings in the french style, steep hills rising from the river, sardines and the like cooking in the street.

In the evening our hosts provided a splendid meal at the marina restaurant.

Wednesday 3rd September

Some of us took a bicycle tour of the city, going to hidden away places and having a Portuguese perspective on the city, finishing in a typical restaurant of the region with soup and pork ribs or grilled fish, bread and olives for 5.5E. We cycled across one of the 6 bridges, to the port district. Authentic boats that used to carry the wine to the city line the key and are part of an annual festival. Another festival is that of St John on 23/24th June, where everyone used to take to the streets with St John’s leek or nowadays a plastic hammer to gently tap people on the head as a welcoming and friendly gesture, our guide this is fine for the first hour but after that you wish that everyone would lose their hammers! The celebrations finish with a huge firework display but everyone is still celebrating until 7am the following day. The other celebrations are Christmas and when Portugal/Oporto wins the football cup, (quite often, 20 times in 25 years we were told.)

We visited the Churchill wine cellars, and following a short tour, had some very good ports to taste, as you would expect, there were the 3 styles, white, ruby and a 20 year old tawny. The 10 year old white port, with a dry style was just perfect as an aperitif, well worth looking out for in the UK.

Unfortunately this left us with bikes to get back to the marina, the cycle route is built out over the river with rails and a considerable drop, I wobbled along it trying my best to avoid fishermen, other cyclists, runners and walkers, its not all that wide and I felt distinctly uneasy. Never mind, Alan and the others seemed to be just fine!

More photos to follow,

All our best wishes to you, Lynne and Alan