Today was absolutely lovely! Katie, one of my best friends from high school, came to Portugal for her honeymoon three years ago and she was the first person I asked for recommendations regarding things to do. “You have to do a tour of the Douro Valley! You absolutely have to!!” So, the first thing we booked when actually planning the trip was a day-long tour out along the Douro river. Apparently, all the grapes for port wine are grown along the river as far as 50 km away from Porto itself; being grown along the river bank is one of the criteria for being considered port wine. So, we were picked up this morning at 9:00 and driven out into the country. Our first stop was Lamego, where we saw the town’s sé (which I assume is the generic Portuguese word for “cathedral” or “church,” kind of like the Italian duomo) and then ascended up to the shrine of Our Lady of the Remedies, Portugal’s most important pilgrimage site. There’s a little church at the top, but leading up to it is an impressive staircase with about 600 steps and landings decorated with the tiles that are so typical in this region. Both were designed and built in the 18th century. We drove to the top in the van but then walked back down, which was much more pleasant than walking up would have been. Once we made it to the bottom, we had a lovely lunch at a small restaurant in the square. Sea bass and sole, plates of Portuguese cheese and salami, as well as a fabulous white wine – not outstanding, but definitely a solid meal after a lengthy walk.
After lunch, we drove to Pinhão, which is a tiny village where most of the vineyards are. The scenery was incredible: terraced hills covered in grape vines rising up from the river bank alongside whitewashed wineries, and everything surrounded by wildflowers. In Pinhão, we visited Croft, which unfortunately was the same establishment we saw yesterday, but at least this was a different aspect of production. Since we had lingered a bit long at lunch, we were rushed through the tour of the facility, had our obligatory port tastings, before going down to the river for an hour long cruise up and down that stretch of the Douro. Such a pleasant afternoon!
Everything about today was great, but once again, as with yesterday, the highlight was interacting with others in our tour group. There was a lone Canadian woman who is walking parts of the Portuguese Camino, as well as a nice British couple who were staying in Porto for an extended period. It even turned out that the husband had been a Latin teacher! Also, our friendly guide was informative and obviously passionate about the region. It was also great to get out of the city a bit and see what the countryside is like, especially since it is so damn beautiful!!! (once again, I’m hoping to have time to figure out the whole Flickr thing tomorrow; seriously, you guys need to see the Douro Valley!)
Tomorrow we get our rental car and head south to Lisbon, with some stops along the way. Hopefully the driving part isn’t too difficult!