Quinta de Tourais (http://www.quintadetourais.com) proves to be a perfect base for touring the beautiful Douro Valley, not only because it is so comfortable but also because it sits in the centre of the valley, which makes for easy access to the area.
We start our day with a wonderful spread at breakfast, with different breads, cheeses, ham and Manuela’s homemade conserves and quince paste:
Fernando suggests an itinerary for the day. The plan is to start with a small boat trip up the Douro River, from Pinhao to Tua and back, then on to lunch at a small village before visiting some other villages on the way to visit the Palacio Mateus Rose and then back to the Quinta. He even draws us a map:
But, the best laid plans often go astray – despite his assurances it turns out we did need to book for the boat ride on a Sunday as the boat is full when we arrive. After much debate over coffee, we decide to do the boat tour the next morning and continue on with the rest of the plans.
We have a wander around the little town of Pinhao, where, except along the river where the tourist boats are, not a lot is happening. It is possible to catch a train from Porto along the Douro, and the Pinhao train station is quite lovely:
From Pinhao we drive along the narrow, winding roads of the Alto Douro – marvelling at the terracing of vines. Reminds us of the tea plantations in Sri Lanka, but in this case it is grapes not tea that is being cultivated. The terraces go as far as you can see – from the bottom of the valley to the very top of the hills. It is quite incredible – and even more incredible to imagine the difficulty involved in maintaining, cultivating and picking the grapes. Interspersed with the grape vines are olive groves, as the Douro is also a big olive oil producing area.
The Douro Valley is one of the oldest wine producing areas in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We hear later that there are some 30,000 wine growers in the Douro with an average of 1.5 hectares (but, we can’t vouch that is true) – but to balance this, there are some major wine producers in the area, like Graham’s and Sandeman (the Sandeman man dominates the skyline above Peso da Regua).
And although the area became famous for port, it also produces table wines, most of which are from grapes specific to Portugal – anyone heard of touriga nacional, tinta roriz, touriga franca, or sousa? ?
Harvest is currently underway, so , just as in Rioja, there are small trucks laden with grapes on the roads (not to mention huge tour buses, normal trucks and other cars). However, here the roads are narrow, and very windy, so driving is a challenge. Hairpin bends and steep drops are the order of the day – as are impatient local drivers who feel we are going too slow and overtake us, despite the bends! The boys definitely earn their evening drinks after two days of driving in the Douro.
We head to a little town perched high in the hills – Provesende – where we stop and have a wander around. Fernando had recommended a small cafe here for lunch, but a) it is a little bit too early and b) when I open the door to enquire the not very friendly lady doesn’t speak English but asks if I speak French. I, of course, say Oui, un petite peu , so she says some long sentence in French, I nod and back out – having no real idea what she said, but heard the words lunch and reservations. Anyway, we decide to move on.
The next town on Fernando’s map is Sabrosa, but when we get there it seems like a nuclear bomb has gone off and we are the last remaining people on earth – there is no one around, and nothing open on this Sunday afternoon. By now we are hungry and thirsty, so decide to push on to Mateus (after a failed attempt to have lunch at Quinta do Portal, which only had a set menu of 40euro +).
Opposite the Mateus Palacio we find a very sweet cafe, run by a charming multi lingual family. We sit upstairs in their small dining room, and enjoy cod fritters, the local bread toasted with olive oil and oregano and olives as starters – all of which I must add arrive at the table unasked for; no, the owner wasn’t being kind to us, you pay for all the items if you eat them, even if you didn’t order them ( we knew this, but did think the fritters were a gift as he had put them on the table saying he only had three left, so we thought he was getting rid of them! But, it was all very tasty, so what the heck). Hazel and I then have a salad, the boys are lured by the grilled local sausage – which turns out to have a fairly unpleasant mushy texture hidden under its crisp skin. We thought we should wash this down with a bottle of Mateus for old times sake, but the waitress quickly talks us out of it when she tells us it is sweet and slightly sparkling (can’t recall that from our youth).
Fortified , we wandered over the road to visit Mateus itself. We had missed any English tours for the day so opted just to wander around the grounds instead (7 Euro each). The Palacio is beautiful, and behind it sits a small formal box hedge garden. We enjoyed our walk in it.
We then return to our Quinta, but first stop in Regua for supplies as we have decided to eat in tonight. Despite the fact that the streets are jam packed with cars, we can’t find any shops open. After asking numerous people, including some bewildered teenagers, we eventually find the supermarket – it only took us an hour! We definitely needed a relaxing rose or two when we finally got back to Quinta de Tourais, before the Master Chefs hit the kitchen:
And of course, we have to try their wines over the course of our stay – and I am glad to report that they are very good, and very reasonably priced (8 euro for the Touronio Rose, White & Red and 15 euro for their better end Red, Miura).
After the boat returns we follow Fernando’s map for the day, which proves to be a bit of a mistake as it is too much to do in an afternoon so we end up missing Sao Joao de Tarouca ( which we later discover in Lonely Planet sounded interesting) and arrive in Lamego at dusk. The Cathedral, which is older than Portugal itself and a declared national monument is closed. And, after walking the stairs to the church and seeking out yet another supermarket, gets us home at around 8pm – exhausted from a long day.
But, we do have a local meal at the restaurant he recommended at Ervedosa – the Toca da Raposa, where the serves were hearty I must say. Not sure I can say that I am thrilled with Portugese cuisine yet though. I had the octopus – goodness, what a big tentacle it had! It was covered with chopped onion, and served with grilled potato and peppers.
We then retrace our steps, after a failed attempt to find the lookout at the next village, and drive on through the villages of Armara, Salzedas and Ucanha. We have now moved into fruit growing country. Lots of apple trees laden with fruit, but they don’t seem to be picking them as there are so many apples on the ground.
As mentioned, we arrive in Lamego at dusk. We head to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Remedios (Igreja is Portugese for church) and climb the 550 steps to the top. The church is one of Portugal’s most important pilgrimage sites. The interior of the church is also beautiful, with its Wedgwood blue ceiling and gilt altars.
We then make our own pilgrimage to yet another supermarket for the evening’s salad, and wend our way home (now driving in the dark, yikes). We open yet more bottles of their excellent wine and toast the end of our visit to the beautiful Douro Valley. Tomorrow it is on to Porto for two nights.