Sunday 12th May
We drove for a couple of hours north east (staring into the brilliant morning sunshine), over majestic hills, at one point passing a signpost saying we were 1000m high, and down into the Douro Valley.
The Douro Valley is synonymous with wine and particular with port wine. Wine has been grown here for at over 2000 years and used for port wine since at least 1675. The grapes used to be taken by river downstream to Porto and, legend has it, here they began fortifying it with grape spirit so that it kept better for the Portuguese sailors in the age of Discovery. In the late 17thCentury. British merchants were banned from trading with France because of war, so they began importing wine from Portugal. This led to the Methuen Treaty in 1703 where Portuguese wine could be imported tax-free into Britain in return for no tariffs on English cotton going the other way. In 1756 the Douro became the first wine region to have a formal demarcation.
The Douro was a treacherous river and frequently the Rabelos, small, shallow-draughted boats that were designed specifically for the transport of wine to Porto, were wrecked and lives lost. Indeed Joseph Forrester, an English man who later was made Baron Forrester by the Portuguese for his services to the wine trade, was drowned as he completed the first survey and mapping of the river in 1861. Now the river has been turned into a lake by a series of dams that stretch from Porto well into Spain, no longer dangerous, but not as atmospheric either and the Rabelos have been replaced by large cruise ships that ply the placid waters between Porto and Vega de Terrón on the Spanish border.
We stopped at a purpose-built camper van aire in Pense da Régua, on the banks of the river, underneath the stately arches of the old and new road bridges spanning the Douro. For the princely sum of €3 we received a level pitch with integral drainage, water and electric hook-up. All within easy walking distance of the town centre, bread shops and bars.
To be honest there is not much to the town apart from its water front, where it is a regular halt for the river cruisers, as indicated by the stalls selling tourist tat – you wouldn’t believe how much rubbish can be made from cork!
We reckon it was the hottest day so far at 27°C or more and the river front was busy with families enjoying the glorious Sunday afternoon. We joined them and then took an hour’s cruise down the river and back to properly regard the glories of this part of the river.
We had spotted a couple of possible places for tonight’s meal where the station’s railway sheds have been tastefully converted into a number of wine shops, wine bars and restaurants; not all of them open this evening. However, fate took us down a different alley. The alley led us across the railway tracks to a bar that had caught Andy’s eye. A quick look inside and a chat with the owner proved his hunch was correct, it was worth stopping and trying his wine.
The only minor problem was that we couldn’t take the dogs in. However, the dogs by this time were ready for a kip, so we tied them up inside the shady porch and popped in for a quick one. The drinks were served and then came some tapas; “A gift!” said the proprietor. We had hit pay dirt in Andy’s pursuit of tapas Nirvana. What else could we do but order more drinks and our pick of the menu, including some particularly scintillating grilled peppers.
Meanwhile the dogs slept on, occasionally lifting their heads to take the tasty morsels the owner offered them.
We strolled back to the vans ‘extremely pleased’ with our evening’s work.