Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Douro Run

Kids, stay in school, go to college
Today we set off on an excursion touring the Douro valley, the premier wine producing region of Portugal. The van picked us up in front of our hotel, and it was just us and an older Dutch couple, Harri and Lucille, on the tour. We thought we were going on a river cruise up the Douro, but after a long drive inland, we began to realize that perhaps our expectations were incorrect.

Monastery of Santo Goncarlo
 Our first stop was at the town of Amarente, where we got to walk through the monastery of Santo Goncalo. Goncalo was a pilgrim who left his town for many years, and when he returned the townspeople no longer recognized him, he had changed so much. There is a bridge across the Rio Tamega next to the monastery that is the scene of a famous battle against Napoleon's troops where the villagers stopped the soldiers from crossing the bridge. There was also a street fair going on. We didn't have enough time there to look at the goods for sale closely, but it appeared that everything from clothes to melons were on sale.

The gardens and statuary of the sanctuary
Next we stopped in Lamego at the Santuario Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, where there is a nice little church and some lovely gardens. There is a series of stairs and little landings that goes all the way down the hill a couple of kilometers to the city below. It was pretty quiet there, but it looked like a great spot for a weekend picnic.

 We paused for lunch near Regua, on the Douro river, finally, at the Douro IN. We shared a table with our new Dutch friends, who spoke English quite well, and had a great time comparing our cultures and talking about traveling. They've been all over the world over the twenty years, and are in their eighties, hoping to keep going a bit longer. They both had the stroganoff do peru (turkey), and Michele and I had the pescada frita con salada hosa (fried whitefish, I believe, with a mixed vegetable salad). I decided to get adventurous after the meal with a new desert - I thought - and ordered the ananas, which turned out to be a slice of pineapple, very sweet. After cafes, we got back on the road once more.

At the Port Winery
 We went up the Douro river to Pinhao, and up a long winding stone paved road to the Quinta do Panascal, where they grow the grapes to make the Fonseca lable of Port Wine. We took an audio tour of the vineyards, then returned to the winery office for a sample of both the white and red ports, which I found much better than the last port I tried several years ago.

The way back would have passed uneventfully save for a blowout of the rear tire about 30 km from Porto. We had to wait in the van until a repair truck arrived to change out the tire, but fortunately it didn't take too long and we were only about an hour late getting back to our hotel.

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