Portugal, Part 3: The Douro River Valley, where the port wine grows


Rio Douro, Portugal

I was hooked on the Douro. I wanted to see where it came from, how it had grown into such a glittering monster, pulling in the landscape and finally Porto, on its way to the sea. In Brittanica.com it says:

Rising in the Sierra de Urbión in Spain, the river crosses the Numantian Plateau in a pronounced bend and flows generally westward for 556 miles (895 km) across Spain and northern Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean at Foz do Douro.

We were confident that in the next two days we could make a dent in the 556 miles, if we stuck to the edge of the river as far as  the motorhome would allow. We headed east and drove all day in the winter sunshine. The river was the be all and end all. It glinted and blinked and squinted. It lazily smirked and then shone and beamed welcome from around a bend. It had all moods and knew all things. Each time we swung away I craned my neck to keep it in view. I leaned out of the window as we turned this way and that, photographing on the move, pretending I was a real photographer chasing a shot.  The other drivers were confident and drove fast on the winding roads. But they were not like the Armenian drivers from our last road trip -their windscreens are intact to the last car, and they used at least one hand for the steering wheel. We climbed up and up and the roads twisted more and the buildings became smallholding rustic, in a winter mingle of russet and dark grey, of milky whites and yellows. Initially, the vineyards were smallish and garden-like, with their little houses tumbling down the hillsides into them. Even the lowliest patch of of flattish ground had three or four spindly vine trees on them, knobbly and knarled in their winter state of undress; nothing was left uncultivated. The little fields swooped down into small valleys and swung back up with the vines clinging onto the crumbly winter soil.

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Portugal, Part 2: Harry Potter in Porto and the Douro River

Why do we travel if we are not on holiday lying on a sunbed recovering from work? Is it about finding the inner landscape in the outer one? As we set off to Porto I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. ‘Settling down’ has eluded me. I counted up recently how many times I had moved house and it was thirty-three. I am forty-nine next week, which means I have moved house every year and a half. And yet there I was, feeling excitement rising in my chest that I still may find a ‘forever disney home’. If I live to the age of my grandmother I am only half way through my life, so there is no pressure.

Doesn’t ‘porto’ mean ‘door’ in some languages…?

Was Porto the inner map? It was a little stressful finding somewhere to park the motorhome in the steep and winding streets of Via Nova de Gaia, the village to the south of the river where the port wine magic happens deep in caves. When we finally parked up overlooking the Douro on the way to the sea, I had a pink gin and Scott went off to get some air by the water’s edge.

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Portugal, Part 1: Motorhomes, Coimbra and a magic forest.

I had a few questions milling around in my head on the journey to Sintra to collect the motorhome.  What is the rest of Portugal like and do we want to live there? What are the people like and will they like us? What will we find in Porto – a port? some port? the point? But the biggest question was ‘will we lose the 1500 euro security deposit on our huge grown-up rental motorhome?’   Six days later, by the time we returned the van, I realised I had mostly been asking the wrong questions…

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