Blog David MOnteiro

Walking in the Douro Valley

5:09 PM David Monteiro 1 Comments Category : , , , , , , , ,

From the belvedere of São Salvador do Mundo (Saint Saviour of the World) we can see the majestic River Douro. There is 493m separating us from the river bed, a long slope completely filled with vineyards from where the fabulous port wine and Douro wine are produced.

Looking around, the river dominates the landscape. Is like a long snake on its way to the ocean.

Almost all we can see from here are steep shores with vineyards. In the few little spaces that Man is not be able to extract wine from we will find proud olive trees whose fruit will produce one of the best Portuguese olive oils, the Douro Valley olive oil.

This is an overwhelming location, a high point from where I can see a huge number of other summits, there are countless mountains around here, spread as far as the eye can see.

Down the steep slope, very close to the River, I can see the train that slips through the railways, it looks like a toy. I can hardly distinguish it and sometimes it seems like a caterpillar being swallowed by the landscape, is in fact the train going into some tunnels existing along the railway.

The walks that can take you to these highest points are not easy, especially if you lack of training but with some patience and walking slowly one will win the strong inclination of the trails and finally will get the reward for the effort that are these breathtaking landscapes.

I prefer the first hours of day after hot days. The river steam condenses in the air leaving a very slight mist which gives a mystical ambiance to the Sunrise complementing this idyllic setting. This is gold for photography lovers.

Going down towards the River, we will notice an increase of temperature, especially at half hillside and we understand why these grapes ripen so early, we understand how life can be hard around here for those who are harvesting vines.

A large part of these grapes are harvested by hand and, during harvesting season, there are numerous teams of people hired from everywhere to participate in the harvest. In other post I will detail a bit more matters concerned with the port wine, the wine production and the harvesting.

Continuing to descend and already very close to the river banks is time to take another trail. Here the air is fresher, tempered by river moisture.

The trail goes quite close and along the railway line of the infrequent train and, when it passes, is always cause for joy and excitement. Every time it the passes I imagine what the people inside will think about the group of walkers who apparently are in the middle of nowhere.

The train stations are perfect locations for brief stops to eat a snack and we can also admire the hand painted tiles.

There is a long tradition of hand painted tiles in Portugal and we can find impressive tile works in these train stations.

Some stations retain their tiles in very good conditions. The Pinhão train station is a good example with its tile panels of the Aveiro Tile Factory, produced in 1937. These hand painted tile panels were done with traditional colors, blue, yellow in white background representing scenes from Douro Valley daily life.

The train is a very important element in the Douro Valley, not only because it brought a quick, effective and less expensive way to transport the grapes and the wine to Vila Nova de Gaia but also, on the opposite side, opened a transportation door to Spain and from there to the rest of Europe.

The Douro railway line began to be thought of in 1867. The Porto/Régua line section was opened in 15th June 1879. The complete line that runs from the Porto up to Barca d'alva (border) and it was completed in 1887. Nowadays the train does not go so far anymore, the ride ends at Pocinho, around 30km’s before Barca d’Alva.

In addition to the olive trees the almond trees stands out in number and, the closer we get to Pocinho, the almond trees become more numerous. Is in the Algarve and Trás-os-Montes regions where there are greater abundance of almond trees in Portugal.

Around here the arbutus (also known as Pacific madrone) is also quite abundant. I do not know whether these trees grow wildly or if they have been planted at any given time.

I love the arbutus with their white florets, red berries, standing out in the middle of the dark green foliage. One day I will get some of these berries and find someone to teach how make “aguardente de medronho” a liquor done with these fruit, a kind of rough brandy ... is an idea I’ll undertake someday.
The Douro Valley is a land of extremes, very warm of very cold but in the few months in which we can walk is a dream made reality.

Basically, between April and the end of May and between mid-September to late October the Douro Valley is just perfect to visit and to walk around. There is no time better than the other, there are different seasons and with very different scenarios.

Between April and May we have the olive trees showing their white florets, the almond trees with their tiny “pinkish” white flowers and an almond aroma in the air, this gives a very sensual touch to the place together with thousands of small wild flowers everywhere. During this timeframe the dominant color of the Douro Valley is the green of the vines leafs.

Visiting the Douro Valley in September/October you will see the end of the harvesting season. The vines have dark red leafs and the scenario is an impressive spectacle of shades of red and one can take amazing photographs.
The harvesting is probably the most important time of the year and all around there are people carrying baskets of grapes in a huge frenzy. 

The soil in the Douro Valley is basically composed by shale and to plant vineyards in these steep hard slopes was developed a system of terraces you can find all across the Douro Valley.

The rock was blown up, dropping rocks and causing cracks in the shale that vines have taken advantage of in order to take their roots sometimes up to 25 meters deep to find water.

In a landscape dominated by the River, the hike could not finish better than with an excellent ride on a Rabelo boat, the wooden typical boat of the Douro River that was once used to transport the barrels of wine to Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto) from where the port was then taken for the rest of the world.

The river waters are usually calm and the Rabelo boat, with its wide hull, is a very stable and comfortable vessel, sailing toward the mouth, to the West.

Ahead of us the sunset, is the end of a fabulous day, a treasure to save.

David Monteiro