Douro Valley Wines and a River Cruise
I’m in Portugal waking up from my first nights’ sleep. After a casual day of exploring Matosinhos on foot and eating egg custard tarts until I almost exploded, I am ready to hit the road and explore the countryside. Today my plans involve driving from Porto to the town of Amarante, then onto Peso da Régua for lunch and where I will hop on a Douro Valley river cruise. The day will end in the village of Provesende where I will sleep in a manor house hotel that has been in the same family for 19 generations. It’s a full day that includes a lot of driving, some wine, more pastries and a river cruise. Epic!
After a quick breakfast at our hotel in Porto, my travelling companion Luis and I hit the road. I could have rented a car through Air Canada Vacations when I booked the trip, however, I love having a driver so I can focus on the sights along the route. Besides he knows the way better than any Google Map directions I’d be following.
Unfortunately, I’ve arrived in Portugal during a rare cloudy stretch in June. Normally the skies are as blue as sapphires with nary a cloud in the sky. Today it is a little grey and overcast. Almost no rain but the clouds ruin what I was hoping would have been some great photos.
As we make our way to our first stop in Amarante I am in amazement of the local countryside. So different from what I am used to seeing in Canada. Plenty of rolling hills along the route but instead of lush forests and farms stretching out as far as the eye can see, there are terraces on each slope. Some are filled with grape vines others with trees I can only imagine are fruit bearing.
The town of Amarante straddles the Tâmega River and boasts a very impressive church named after a Dominican Friar named Gonçalo. He was beatified by Pope Pius IV in 1561 and many pilgrims still visit the town today because of him. The Igreja de São Gonçalo is named after him and is a very impressive church. When we arrived service just happened to be taking place so a tour inside was not in the cards.
Once we found a place to park we were able to get out and explore a bit. Amarante is well known for its pastries so I was on the lookout for a cafe. Plus I needed an espresso. Right near the stone bridge that connects the two sides of Amarante, we saw the Confeitaria da Ponte. In this location since 1930, they have been making “convent candies” since the day it opened.
Walking around Amarante there is plenty to see. In fact, it is just fun to wander the streets capturing the sights and sounds of this ancient city. If you are lucky and in town around early June you may even be able to buy a local pasty in the shape of a penis. It is often given as a gift by a young man to a lady he is courting. Amar is Portugues for love so maybe this town is lucky for lovers.
We head back onto the road towards our next stop, Peso da Régua for lunch at Castas e Pratos. Located within a converted rail station alongside a few shops it is a great stop on your way to the boat launch in Régua.
To call the interior design of the restaurant gorgeous is an understatement. The lower floor is stacked with floor to ceiling wine racks and a long high table perfect for drinking a glass or two of wine from the Douro Valley.
The second floor is the restaurant where we were treated to an outstanding menu all paired with amazing Portuguese wines. I often find it best to leave the wine choices to the locals when I am not familiar with the various varieties. I’m rarely let down and this time is no exception. Our meal consisted of four courses 1st course – Ceviche with Mustard Ice Cream paired with Valle Pradinhos Reserva Blanca 2015 2nd course – Grilled Octopus with Quinoa paired with Covela Edicao Nacional Avesso 3rd course – Veal Medallions with Roquefort Sauce and Mushroom Risotto paired with Piorro Reserva 2011 dessert course – a delicate ice cream bomb paired with a White Port from Vista Alegre Colheita 2007. Talk about amazing. Wines from Vinho Verde and the Douro Valley.
After lunch, it is a quick drive to the boat launch where I am to board the boat that will take me on a cruise down the Douro River. I am doing an abridged tour where I sail down the river, through the locks, under bridges and end in Pinhão where I will be picked up and we will drive to our final stop, the village of Provesende.
The views from the river are simply amazing. It is a fantastic way to see the Douro Valley from a perspective you don’t get in the car. You also get to see a ton of wineries that dot the hillsides.
Our final stop is the village of Provesende and the manor hotel named Morgadio da Calcado. The 17th-century manor house is almost untouched by renovations and is still a family home to the 19th generation to own it. I am sleeping in one of 8 guest rooms that have been made by converting the former stables into modern guest suites. All of the modern conveniences are there without destroying the history of the buildings.
Let me take you on a tour of my room in teh stables.
It is simply amazing. Dinner this evening is actually with the owner and his partner in their kitchen. Casual family style. This is not a normal experience so I feel very privileged and chose to not bring my camera in honour of the private experience.
What you can experience though is an amazing stay and if you get the chance to speak with Manuel Villas-Boas ask to get a rundown of the family history and make sure to try some of the wine that is produced from the grapes grown on the property.
Well, that was day 2 of my Northern Portugal adventures. Day 3 looks to be just as grand. This itinerary was made possible thanks to Air Canada Vacations Europe Your Way, vacation packages.