The past two days have gone very quickly as the weather has been beautiful as we have traversed down the Douro River through the world famous Port Wine region of Portugal. The scenery has been breathtaking and a camera cannot capture what we have been witnessing along the steep and rugged banks of this peaceful river valley. We also enjoyed witnessing the captain skillfully manoeuvre our floating hotel through winding narrow channels and through locks that had only a few feet clearance on either side of the ship. Each morning we have also experienced a taste of the Portuguese history and culture.
Wednesday morning we were on the buses early to wind our way out of the Douro Valley to a small medieval village called Castelo Rodrigo which remains surrounded by the original stone wall and where less than 70 people continue living within the very narrow streets relying on tourism and government support to maintain the remaining historic buildings. Before returning to the buses we had time for a bit of shopping in the small private gift shops and sampling some local wines and many different flavours of coated almonds which had been harvested from nearby farms.
Back on board the AmaVida we had a light lunch as we sailed off to Pinhão where we would dock and spend the night. Most of the guests on board spent the balance of the day on the top deck soaking up the autumn sun and taking in the sights and experiencing a rare opportunity to descend almost 200 feet by way of two lock systems on the Douro.
Thursday also began with a bus ride but we could not have been prepared for the spectacular views we witnessed as we made our way up the steep river valley walls on our way to the Mateus Palace and Gardens. The very steep drop on the right side of the bus took our breath away but most of us were distracted from any fear of heights by the amazing tapestry of colours and textures looking down on the vineyards and olive orchards on the hillsides below.
Once at the Palace we met an elderly man at the gate shaping aluminum wire into miniature bicycles and motorcycles as a means to carve out a living. Needless to say he enjoyed a brisk business before we left.
The tour of the 18th century palace was fascinating as we were captured by the ornately carved chestnut wood ceilings throughout the many rooms of this expansive historic building. We were equally impressed by the garden that surrounded the palace, amazed to learn that the entire grounds were cared for by a small team of people including a fourth generation gardener in his 70’s.
The day had actually just begun as we returned down the winding mountain valley back to the town of Pinhão to enjoy a delicious buffet lunch and a tour of the vineyard at the historic 14th century Croft Estate Winery. After a brief amount of free time in town we returned to the buses to enjoy a very scenic ride along the south shore of the river until we found the ship docked in Régua where we would spend the night. What an amazing two days and more new sites of Portugal to experience in the days to come.
– Terry Petkau