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  • Day24

    Exploring Northern Portugal

    April 17, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Last Friday, Mike and I left Porto and turned the Peugeot north to the Minho Region known for its vino verde. Minho is a very mountainous region which borders Spain and has been fought over many times over the centuries. It is also the area which first broke free from Spain and became the original territory of modern day Portugal. I won’t explain any more than that because as best I can make out, the history of Portugal is about as convoluted as Italy’s. Well maybe not that bad, but more than I can take in on this trip.
    Mike planned the week and wanted to focus on hiking first in the National Park which covers much of the north area and includes a number of mountain ranges including the Serra Peneda where we landed. On Friday we arrived almost at the end of the road in the village of Soaja where long- horned cattle and their droppings were plentiful. Turns out tourist season doesn’t start until May when the weather is better. So we were the only guests in a big, stone house - Casa do Andro. They threw us the door keys and told us to report to the cafe for breakfast in the morning. We found the one place open for dinner and then shivered the night away in our very cold, personal casa. Those stone walls sure do retain the cold. Must be great in the summer.
    Next day we drove further east to the very , very end of the road. Up, up,to Peneda where we visited the huge church dedicated to Our Lady of Peneda - mostly a day trip for people coming from other places.
    . There are 12 very elaborate chapels -each one displaying one of the stations of the cross. I guess in September, the place is so packed with pilgrims that you can’t get past on the road . There are lots of well signed walking trails and We bundled up against the cold and did a beautiful hike through the forest. That night, once again , we were the only guests rattling around in the Peneda Hotel.And again, given the remote location, we only had a single choice for dinner - the hotel- but everyone fussed over us and the proprietor was very chuffed that we were Canadian. In a combination of Portuguese and French he explained that he has three relatives in Montreal (or maybe that he had been to Montreal 3 times, not sure. Three of something. ) We just kept nodding enthusiastically and he treated us to a very nice Reserva red from the Douro Valley and then Port. We left Peneda with woolly heads the next morning. Also we didn’t pay the bill because their bank machine wasn’t working but they didn’t seem too fussed . We paid it yesterday as soon as we could find the correct bank.
    Mike has been doing such a great job driving on these roads. They are very steep and there are loads of switch backs and sheer cliffs where we’ve been the past few days. In the park we saw lots of wild horses that roam around the area. ( I’ll enclose a picture of the wild horses for Malcolm and Mason)
    On Sunday we made a stop in the very well preserved town of Guimares which was the first capital of Portugal but was moved because of all the attacks on the area and from the Region changing hands. It is a lovely medieval town a bit like Colmar in France. There was lots to see just walking around including the requisite drafty, medieval castle.Brrrr
    Finally , yesterday we found the sun and warmth back in the Douro Valley. We had a day visiting this area with Laura and Helen and have had another 2 lovely days in the village of Provezende - a very twisty, 12 km drive outside of Pinhao which is the main tourist spot. Wére comfortably settled in a very old country house which is the family home of the vineyard owners. They’ve converted some of the buildings to host visitors. We have done 2 very challenging walks in the area. Each one about 10km with punishing climbs and then steep tracks down, down. They’re is a reason I go to the gym! On every hike we have been rewarded with spectacular views over the wine region. Miles and miles of vineyards on the slopes , all the vines so perfectly lined up and held back on old stone walls. Small villages clinging to the edges of steep slopes. It is very peaceful walking around this area. We’ve met no other walkers and all the Riverboat cruisers get bused directly to the vineyards for tastings. The prevailing sounds are of tractors plowing the areas between the rows of grapes and theunceasing sound of yapping dogs - and their owners yelling at them to shut up.
    Today our hosts gave us an area map that included 5 small chapels and we hiked up and down to see each one. This afternoon we braved the roads again to visit Favairos which is famous for their muscat wines (a bit sweet for me but nice in small doses) and also their bread cooked over very old wood-fired stoves so it comes out more like pizza crust than bread. Tonight our hosts provided a full meal with wines from his vineyard. An enjoyable evening. We have certainly had a chance to taste lots of local wines and ports and to chat with many Portuguese people. Interestingly, our French has come in very handy as it seems that many Portuguese of non-professional classes have immigrated to France, Switzerland and Canada and then returned to Portugal.
    Tomorrow we head south and we’ll be following the sun. Mike is checking the weather forecasts as I write this. I believe he is suggesting hiking around Evora. Our aim is to be back in the Algarve by late Friday
    That’s it for now. Sorry to heat about snow in Alberta, rain in BC and ice in Toronto.
    Love Heather/ Momx
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