We got an email last night to say our tour pickup was 10 mins early at 8:10. So we set alarms for 6:10 - that should give us enough time, we thought. J and C were ready at 7:10 but I took a little longer as wool takes a while to dry properly!
C had previously read the weather forecast as 19 ! But when J checked last night it was 27, and this morning 28! And high humidity. So we just need to brave a short early morning cool spell until the bus. Pickup is at the Royal Hotel, just around the corner.
We had an hour up our sleeves. It was foggy and raining outside when we left - very light drizzle. We waited at the hotel around the corner and on time a young lady came up and introduced herself - Sylvia from Livingtours. We were first on the bus, and 40 mins later we were loaded and ready to go. The driver was Claudio - best driver in the world ( for reasons that will become apparent)
Onto the motorway and we headed for the Douro valley. First stop was Amarante a historical town on the river Tamega. We had a short time to visit the Igreja de São Gonçalo, the stone bridge with damage caused by Napoleon, and the riverfront. C grabbed a coffee. We passed on the rude cakes based on an ancient ritual that fits perfectly with some of the recent goings-on in the RC church, amongst others. Something to do with spinsters pulling the monks tassles.
Anyway we were off again onto the quite new motorway with a 5.7 km tunnel through the mountains. It was foggy all the way, but somewhat clear on the other side ( high cloud with peeps of sun. Sylvia kept up an interesting commentary in English and French. We kept on for over an hour, and on to narrow local roads through the vineyards, and finally to a high point with a lookout - Miradouro de Sao Leonardo de Galafura - spectacular views into the Douro valley and river, with terraces vineyards in every direction. Mainly for port production, but also table wines.
A short walk to the restaurant - the Sao Leonardo. We had a very nice 3 course meal - soup, pork with potatoes, rice, mushrooms , plus a custard tart. A bottle of red, and white also so there was no excuse! The tour group had hardly said a word up until now, but the volume level increased as the wine levels in the bottles decreased. We met a few people close to us - Polish, German, French, Portuguese, Canadian, Irish, and later, some Australians. As we were about to head off for our winery tour, we were asked if we liked roller-coasters. Then the driver turned his music system on and Highway to Hell started. Then he plummeted at breakneck speed down the narrow, one lane, guardrail free road to the river. Total height about 640 metres. It was bad enough for us sitting midway between front and back wheels, and on the outside ( ie vertical drop side), but a number of women’s at the back, some meters behind the rear wheels really thought they were over the edge (they probably were!) next song Thunderstruck, followed by You shook me all night long. Anyway we made it down, then things settled down as we arrived at the winery.
An interesting tour showing how they made the wine. Some of the terrace walls were built by the Romans and are still in use! All manual labour to tend and pick, manual ( actually foot powered) juice extraction, open to the air fermentation, oak barrels, etc. The vines are not irrigated, so the roots go very deep looking for moisture. The grape skins are used to make grappa, which is added to fortify the wine. We sampled 3 types - generous servings - necessary after the drive!
Then a short drive to Pinhão for a river cruise in a traditional Rabela that used to transport the wine barrels to Porto. The boat was called the Torga! It was a relaxing cruise and after all the wine, some were nodding off.
Where the vines have succumbed to Phylloxera in the past, Olive trees have been planted. They are also planted around the vineyards to stabilise the soil ( shale). We were told that the ‘holive hoil’ was very good and has won best in world!
A very scenic part of the world and by now there were no clouds at all, and maybe 32 degrees! We then headed back to Porto, passing by a statue of Ferdinand Magellan as we drove through his birthplace , Sabrosa. Then back onto the motorway. By the time everyone had been dropped off, J and C were the only ones left. We farewelled Claudio and Silvia at about 7:30 pm.
Quick freshen up, a real snack tea ( toasted ham and cheese bread of some sort, coffee, and a pastry. The home to pack.
Tomorrow we collect the car, so Tom has been removed from his cocoon and checked. Battery charged, Portugal map loaded, first destination point set. All systems go........( but you know Tom!)