Our day began enshrouded in mist but ended with a glorious pink and peach setting sun.
We booked a tour through the Douro Valley with a wonderful local guide, who in a previous career, had traveled throughout much of the world. We thoroughly enjoyed both his company and his in-depth knowledge and passion for his native land and specifically the Douro Valley.
Pedro picked us up at 8:00 am and our first stop of the day was in a quaint little town called Amarante. When we arrived the town was completely cloaked in fog so before heading out to explore on foot, Pedro suggested we stop for coffee and sample some of the town’s delicious and fresh pastries. Yum! By the time our light repast was over, the fog had lifted and we were greeted with a stunning cityscape.
The town of Amarante may have only 10,000 inhabitants but this town once played a significant role in Portugal’s history.
A Domincan friar by the name of Gonçalo, (1187-1259) after a pilgrimage to both Rome and Jerusalem, settled in Amarante and is credited with developing the town. He constructed many of the buildings, a small church and erected the infamous stone bridge that crosses the Tâmega River. In the 16th century, the church was expanded and converted into a large Dominican monastery. In 1763 the stone bridge was destroyed by a flood but then quickly rebuilt.
Amarante is proud of its historic role in defending against the Napoleonic invasion during the Peninsular War. The French army needed to keep a connection to Spain open and after numerous unsuccessful attempts elsewhere to cross the Tâmega river, the army arrived in Amarante in April 1809. The inexperienced and poorly armed citizens and clergy were able to resist the experienced Napoleonic forces from crossing the Ponte São Gonçalo (stone bridge) for 14 days and there is still visible evidence of the battle and bullets in the facade of both the Church of São Gonçalo and the damaged pyramids along the bridge. The town was awarded the Order of the Tower and Sword, which is displayed on its coats-of-arms to this day.
Mateus Palace in Vila Real
Our second stop of the day was at another major venue, The Mateus Palace located in Vila Real and home to the sparkling pink and slightly sweet best-selling Mateus Rosé.
The three primary buildings at Mateus are the imposing baroque manor, winery and chapel. The elaborate palace was built between 1739-1743 in a style referred to as Portuguese Northern Baroque. We climbed the flamboyant double staircase and just as we entered into the palace we looked up to see the prominent family coat of arms mounted above the entrance.
Inside we enjoyed a private tour through a peaceful library which houses books as far back as the 16th century, the Four Seasons room where 18th century furniture, artworks, Chinese porcelains and fashions can be seen and a small museum housing beautiful pieces, a prized Portuguese poem first printed in 1572 by Luís de Camões and the largest collection of religious relics we have seen outside of Rome.
We were invited to visit the 16th winery buildings and try a tasting from the home of the famous Mateus Rosé wine followed by a stroll through the manicured gardens, the unique fruit trees and absorb the views of the large vineyards. We loved this ‘bug hotel’ nestled beneath the edible fruits of a group of arbutus unedos, commonly known as strawberry trees.
Favaios – Lunch
In the wine growing parish of Favaios a pleasant and private multicourse luncheon, serving local specialties of cheese, soup, meatballs, wine and port, was waiting for us at Quinta da Avessada. The quinta is more than 160 years old and sits on the highest plateau in the region offering dramatic views in every direction of the vineyards below.
After our meal we had time to explore the gardens and capture photos of the tiered vineyards and vistas. A charming old model Borgward truck parked out front was a beauty. The company ceased operations in 1961 although, apparently, China has recently revived the brand and has begun manufacturing vehicles.
After lunch we continued driving the narrow winding roads enjoying the many quintas (farms with vineyards) dotted throughout the picturesque valley.
We were headed to the pretty town of Pinhão, located in the very heart of the port wine country. Our first stop once we arrived in town was to visit the Pinhão railway station. Similar to the larger railroad station in Porto, Pinhão’s station walls are also decorated with lovely azulejo tile murals. The large tile murals portray historic scenes of the surrounding wine producing area and show what the Douro looked like and how it was used before the dams were built.
Next we stepped aboard a small boat, called a rabelo, for a private tour on the Douro river. These curiously shaped rabelo boats were used traditionally to transport the raw port wine from the Douro Valley down into the cellars in Porto, where the port would be aged, blended and bottled.
A short drive after our refreshing tour on the water we arrived at our final stop. It was, naturally, another port wine estate, this time the well-known Croft’s, Quinta da Roeda.
Founded in 1588, Croft is one of the oldest and most distinguished of all the Port houses that is still active as a family run Port wine producer.
We were able to taste Croft’s renowned Vintage Port – undoubtedly our best tasting of the day.
The extensive wine shop is also part museum and part gallery highlighting the history and culture of the vineyard and its port wine. We spotted this straw raincoat that was in perfect condition in the Croft museum.
We also learned that one of our favorite Portuguese explorers, Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) who is credited with organizing the first expedition to circumnavigate the earth, was born less than 20 km from Pinhão in Sabrosa, Portugal.
All in all it was a magical day during this strange pandemic and one we hope can be experienced by travelers again soon.
Amamos este país complexo e bonito.
Saúde from these Portuense,
Ted + Julia