Porto and the nearby Douro Valley attract many tourists from around the world. The old city with its classical architecture, majestic bridges and riverside scene; have made this a great destination since before Francis Drake paid a visit all those years ago. Reliable weather, fine sea food and of course the famous Port wine; have drawn maybe too many tourists in recent years. Tickets sellers for river excursions line the docks where sailors once stood. Restaurant terraces are almost falling into the river where fisherman once unloaded their hard earned catch. Tourists from all over the globe, now walk; where locals only once walked to work and to church.
A visit to Porto is not complete without a day trip to the nearby Douro Valley to visit the vineyards of the various houses of Port wine. An expensive boat ride or a overcrowded train ride; will bring you to the towns of Peso de Regua or Pinhao where the local industry of winemaking is slowly being turned into a tourist attraction too. Land trains, tourists buses and expensive wine tasting bars line the streets.
However, I felt the need to escape the madding crowds and relax in the hills of the Douro Valley, far above the town. Studying the maps, I spied a viewpoint above the town. The ‘mirador’ is named after Saint Anthony; the patron saint of all that is lost. So I took it as a sign that I too could find myself again and relax in the solitude of these hard to reach hills.
Finding the way out of town
Arriving to Peso de Regua on the slow train from Porto, I walked out of the grand old station to face the Douro Valley. It was midday now, so my tummy was rumbling from a lack of a decent breakfast. Finding a highly recommended restaurant; I sat down to a hearty meal of steak, with rice and tomatoes. Whilst I waited for my meal; I studied Google maps, Wikiloc and Strava for the best way to reach the Viewpoint of Saint Anthony. Memorising the route; I enjoyed my meal as I looked forward to my great escape. As I settled the bill, I asked for a large bottle of water from the jovial proprietor. It was early May and the temperature was climbing in to the high twenties in Celsius.
Taking care to not make a wrong turn in the stifling heat; I headed up and out of town. An unmissable landmark was this brilliant white church. Reaching this splendid edifice; I followed a road to the left of the church walls. Here, the route goes from a gentle gradient to almost one in three! The heat reflected off the tarmac and taunted me as I focused on fighting the law of gravity. Climbing into a small hamlet with high walls I managed to escape the sun in the shadows. The route then turned to rough track and high hedges helped me on further.
Amongst the vines and cherry trees
After several twists and turns on this steep route; the hedges gave way to vineyards that stretched as far as the eye could see. The change in altitude was now rewarding me with a gentle breeze and I felt happier with every step upwards. From the garden of every modest house I passed; orange trees groaned with their juicy treasure. Neat rows of vegetables followed the swept garden path. What a contrast to the homes of many expensive houses in England across the world. Give me a vegetable patch over a porcelain patio; the world seems sad and mad in so many ways.
Climbing further, I passed beneath a row of cherry trees on the bank above me. Here the road was almost red with last years fruit having dropped and been squashed by passing tractors. I picked up a bunch that had survived intact and they still looked as fresh as the ones that I have seen in the supermarkets of England!
Being surrounded by this more real, humble, natural way of living; I felt more relaxed than I have ever been in any fancy house in England or the great cities of Europe. I hope that these old ways of living are not lost, and a new generation rediscover that happiness and contentment; comes from appreciating the basic things in life.
The mirador of Saint Anthony
Climbing further up on a metalled road; I missed a very rough and very steep track to the viewpoint and arrived instead to this bench. In the cool shadow of a great pine tree; I sat back on this bench and drank in the view. I took off my now sweat soaked tee shirt and let the gentle warm breeze dry my back. Here I felt I was really in Portugal, really in the Douro Valley and really experiencing the natural views of this beautiful place.
I sat for at least half an hour, here on this lofty throne. I had found happiness and found myself; so I retraced my steps and climbed further to the viewpoint, to honour Saint Anthony. If he can look down, I am sure he would have joined me on the simple bench on the terrace below. For this abomination of paving and parking; did nothing to honour Saint Anthony, it was a sad place. A water fountain had been broken by vandals, benches were broken and litter lay around bins like a sick monument to all that is wrong with society. Apart from a large layby for businessmen and tourists to rest after a heavy lunch; this place was god forsaken.
After resting again in the shade of tree; I decided to make my descent when two drunken tourists arrived, with their voices raised between each heavy drag on a odorous cigarette.
Returning to the inferno of the valley floor
Feeling relaxed, feeling wiser and more content, and feeling the advantages of gravity with every step down; I headed back down with a final waypoint in the valley below.
Stopping at a old fountain; built for both man and beast. I poured water over my head and back; to regain a fresh feeling and help my physical body relax too. Then walked, skipped and sometimes ran as I enjoyed the wonders of mother nature around me.
Passing the white church and reaching the town of Regua once more; I headed towards a winery on a back road out of town. Porto Reccua Vinhos is a relatively modern company, whose aim is to bring the best produce from local vineyards of the Douro Valley and deliver quality wines to the wider world. Seeing on Google maps, that it was possible to buy Port wine on site; I arrived unannounced. A polite and smartly dressed gentleman met me at the door.
Instead, of just selling me bottles without introduction to their history; he put on a short documentary of the history of local winemaking. Afterwards he could answer all my uneducated English questions on this fundamental part of Portuguese life. If you are in the area; I would highly recommend this winery. Find out more for yourself: www.portoreccuavinhos.com
Slow train home
After buying a sweet twenty year old port; I bid the good man a good evening. Strolling back across town to catch the late train back to Porto; I smiled to myself. I had made the most of my day in this beautiful place. I had spent very little money or had to follow the other tourists off the train. Nature was my tour guide and she led me to find a real but relaxed part of Portugal.
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