After having spent a few days in Porto, we headed east in our rental car to meander through the Douro River valley. The valley is spectacular, the Douro snakes through the region cutting a deep valley into the terrain. The hills are high; I saw some road signs indicating that we were at 1500m in elevation. Because of this, the roads twist and turn and there are countless switchbacks as you drive up and down the countryside. I am a wimp when it comes to travel and get motion sickness very easily. Luckily, I discovered Psibands a few years ago and use them every time I travel. They are acupuncture wristbands that are worn as a pair and, for me, work marvelously to combat motion sickness. However, I wasn’t wearing them as we set out on our drive, and we had to stop so that I could put them on and get some air before continuing the winding drive. Nearly all of the hillsides are terraced with grapevines.
It would be wonderful to go back to the region in the fall when the grape season and harvest are in full swing. We only saw the young, naked vines.
That night, we stayed in a charming guesthouse called Casa Cimeira, perched atop another high hill lost in the Douro countryside. The home was beautiful with several buildings, a giant lemon tree, and a pool (which wasn’t yet open for the season). We were greeted by Arturo and his wife (whose name I missed, but I think it was Maria) and ushered us into what I thought of as a “man-cave”. It was a large den with stonewalls, a huge fireplace and a giant barrel-shaped bar. We were served glasses of Porto from the property, which, after a long drive, was just what I needed.
We mostly relaxed for the rest of the evening and then joined all the other guests for dinner. Dinner was served at a massive table with five other couples. There were two Portuguese couples, a Portuguese-German couple, a Brazilian couple and a German man by himself, apparently his wife was ill. The cuisine was traditional and homemade and the quantities were superlative. We started with a kind of chicken noodle soup made with orzo pasta. The flavor of the soup was exactly what I remembered from eating chicken noodle soup as a child. The soup was followed by a wedge of flakey meat pie. The soup and the pie would have been more than enough for me, but they were followed by a main course.
The main course was the traditional bacalhauserved with steamed potatoes and a green veggie that resembled broccoli rabe. Each couple had an enormous platter piled high with fish, potatoes and greens. One platter was enough to serve at least six people and I had a hard time eating more than one piece of fish considering the soup and meat pie. I feared dessert, but luckily it was on the light side, a simple plate of sliced strawberries. The whole meal was accompanied by the house red and a port wine with dessert.
After dinner there wasn’t much left to do but crawl up the stairs and roll into bed. The next morning we were the first to reach the breakfast table which was laden with all sorts of breads and cakes, ham, cheese, homemade jams, coffee, tea and juice. We fueled up and then set out for another day of driving.
Our plan was to drive south toward Caldas de Rainha, where one of Laurent’s friends lives, but to stop in a few beach towns along the way. We took the highway instead of the twisty roads and I felt much better. A note about Portuguese highways and roads in general, they are in excellent condition. The roadways are very smooth and, because of a recently implemented toll system, the highways are practically empty, which makes for fairly peaceful driving. Before reaching Caldas, we stopped in Nazaré, a pretty little beach town with a long boardwalk with a wavy Calçada Portuguesa design and a vast, golden sand beach. This time of year it is much too cold and dangerous to swim in that part of the Atlantic. We only saw surfers in thick wetsuits brave the waves. We had coffee and ice cream, let Louis romp in a playground and saw ladies dressed in traditional garb selling fish. After our detour in Nazaré, we drove on to Caldas de Rainha.
To be continued…
Rua do Cimo do Povo
Valença do Douro