Valley Girls

What a massive day! We got up at the absolute crack this morning as we had a tour guide picking us up at 8am (or so Jenny had read).

The sun hasn’t even come up yet!!!

Brekky didn’t start until 7.30, so we had to be at the door ready to grab our plate so we weren’t late. However, when I double checked the paperwork, I read that – yes 8am was written in the body of the tour description, but 9am was the actual time of the pickup. Confused, I did think that Lyn, our fabulous travel Agent, if given the choice and knowing I’m not a morning person, probably wouldn’t have booked an 8am start, so we just hoped it was the later time and got on with brekky. Because the coffee in the restaurant is undrinkable, we popped back to our room to have a quick espresso as we thought we had plenty of time…

I know – would you look at this fab, arty farty photo!

and then slowly made our way to reception to wait out the front of the hotel and watch the world go by until our pick up at 9…… but as we got to the front door, a man was looking around and approached us – “you’re not the Browns by chance are you?” “Why, yes we are….. what time were we meant to meet you?” “8.30 – I just got here.” Well, that was clearly meant to be!

Our guide was Tiago. A lovely chap, very knowledgable, very friendly and a great sense of humour – I mean he got all the jokes. He was driving us out to the Douro Valley – the absolute pride and joy of northern Portugal.

Our first stop was the village of Amarante – This town enjoys a small degree of fame for being the home town of Saint Goncalo, Portugal’s Saint Valentine. He is the target for lonely hearts who make pilgrimages in the hope of finding true love. You are meant to pull this bloke’s rope to help you find a husband and why they make the ‘fertility’ biccies….

Um…… you can rest assured that no biccies were purchased and no rope was pulled!

And this is the church in which Goncalo sits. There is a bridge outside that has been important over the centuries as it is one of the only river crossings in this part of the valley. In fact Napoleon once fought there – right on that bridge. I love knowing that we’re standing right where people in history have stood. I say ‘stood’, but he was probably on a horse, so he could see what was happening.

Inside the church there is this amazing organ made from wood (and pipes) and somehow stuck high on the wall. Did they have super glue back in those days?

The Cloisters
Little St James – those columns are covered in grape vines. St James looks out for the pilgrims walking the Camino, which passes through Alarante… if you look carefully you can see his little camino shell on his cape.

This little car drove over the bridge just as we were standing there – how perfect!

We had about half an hour of free time here, so Tiago suggested that we head over the bridge and down a lovely little street filled with pastry shops. #shrugsshoulders Ok, if we have to!

Besides the penis shaped biccies the village is famous for its patties and eggy custards – we went for the ‘Nun’s Belly’ – an eggyolk and almond treat covered in sugar. Well, we shared one, cause they were a bit sickly, if I’m honest.

It was also suggested that we try the dry meats of this shop, but when we got there the tiny space was jam packed full of men and hanging hams. It was decided that we’d eaten enough jamon to sink a Douro cruise ship, so we just gazed from the outside like kids who have been told they’re not allowed in the lolly shop…. if there had been glass on those windows, our faces would have been pushed up against it.

View down the river. This yellow building used to be somebody’s home, but now it’s a hotel with a Michelin star restaurant.

Our next stop was into the valley, through the vineyards and up to the most beautiful panoramic view spot…

The land is covered in either terraced vines, olive trees, or other crops – not an inch of land is wasted.

Check out the size of the bees up here!

We were then treated to a typical Portuguese lunch of vegetable soup and ‘slices of pig meat’, finishing, as you do, with pastèies nata.

Then down the mountain we went for a boat ride along the Douro…

Things look different from the water…

Then we were taken to Croft’s for a little tour and port tasting…

Valliam showed us how they crush the grapes – a large percentage still with their feet…

We wandered briefly up into the vines – only the ones closest to the lodge though and were able to taste a couple of grapes.

Planting olive trees near vines has been done for 1000s of years – it’s all to do with where they grow and when they ripen… it’s fascinating, but I won’t bore you here – that’s easy stuff to google (MLD, you’re welcome!)

Inside the lodge there was a display of olden day vineyard stuff…. this straw garment was what the grape pickers used to wear to keep the sun and rain off them while they picked the grapes – sure, some would say its a little over the top and possible impractical. The basket is what they would pop the grapes in and the green vat is where they would ferment….. Nobody can say they don’t learn anything here in The Shell Collection!

After a LONG day and a lot of listening – Tiago was full of funny, fascinating stories, but even he was tired of his own voice by now, so he shared with us some of his favourite Portuguese music. Now I know what you’re all thinking – ‘but Shell, you and Jen loathe the folkloric’ and you’d be correct, but this was really lovely and the fact that Tiago was so passionate about it, he was able to give background information on the singers and musicians that made it sound even better. We even had our first listen to Fado – traditional Portuguese music – but that will be for another blog post entirely.

Tiago dropped us off near our hotel, but he couldn’t get close because the road was blocked off with this… It was a video, but I can’t seem to upload it – they were playing a lovely song as they followed some people who were following some men in religious robes carrying a gold tarp type tent with sticks – it was lovely.

So this is where we sat – drank sangria and ate clams!

Also…. isn’t this the best idea when you only have a small space?

Obrigada e até mais tarde

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