On the way out of Coimbra we picked up our newly formatted laptop (in English not Portuguese as we’d feared when they told us the day before that they were having trouble installing our Windows 10) and headed northwest. We realized we were in the Douro valley when the highway began big elevation changes and popped us out into the river valley. The hills have been farmed for grapes for probably thousands of years and every available acre of elevation was “cornrowed” with grape vines.
Nestled along the Douro River, we arrived in the small town of Pinhão.
Because it’s situated at a confluence of the river, it’s famous for its amazing views and since you can get there by train from Porto, it’s also famous for its quaint, historic, tiled-facade train station. Finding a place to park the car was a little challenging, but we managed to find a spot near the pedestrian bridge over the tributary. Hungry and not feeling like a fussy sit-down meal at the handful of fancy cafes by the water, we headed uphill and found a mom and pop sandwich shop several blocks up from the train station with a terrace overlooking the tributary. We sat on the terrace and sensing English was not spoken here, Cynthia, in Portuguese, asked the old woman for a menu. Instead of answering, she beckoned and Cynthia got up and followed her: wending their way though the tables, they stepped out the front door to a picture menu in the shop window. The menu was limited and even more so because half the items seemed to not be available (a point by Cynthia and a shake of the head, No, by the women confirmed that). We enjoyed a warm ham and cheese baguette sandwich, two glasses of wine and a bottle of water for less than 5 Euro. (and it was really good wine – hard to get a bad wine in the valley!).
Now, fortified with food, we set out to find some wine to taste and buy. We had the car, but the daunting steepness of the narrow entry roads we’d seen and the worry that, as in other areas of Portugal, you’d have to be part of an arranged tour, we decided to see if we could find some wine tasting in town.
Across the street and just a few doors down from the sandwich shop we found what looked to be a wine tasting shop called Barefoot Wine & Tours. We were the only ones there and were able to taste a variety of wines offered by the gregarious host. We were fascinated by the hills: the vines were often on slopes so steep we wondered if they hired mountain goats to harvest them. Our host said we should be here in September when 3000 workers flood the town. Because of the slopes, all the grapes are hand picked; there is one vineyard where the slopes are so famously steep that it is called “Hells Vineyard”. At one point another American couple came in speaking fluent Portuguese to our host until they realized he was speaking English to us and they were making him switch . Since they were off to Lagos, we gave them some advice via notes on her phone and she insisted of her husband that they provide us some insight into Porto – so with a recommendation written on Cynthia’s tiny cork notebook for Tasca Casiera restaurant (more on that in the next post), we moved on to touring the town which meant a 2 minute walk to the train station and back and then a short walk over the pedestrian bridge to view the town from the other side.
We drove to our hotel, Hotel Folgosa Fuoro in Armamar. We spent a little more on this hotel, just under $100, but we got an amazing room with a river view, a complimentary small bottle of port and a bed that Cynthia swore was as big as 2 doubles put together. We spent the afternoon just lazing around looking at the river. Not willing to drive anymore, and since the hotel restaurant was closed, they made reservations for us at the restaurant across the road right on the river called Doc. It was definitely 5 star, with very attentive wait staff everywhere and a 5-star prices to boot, but who cares. It was right on the water; we had a lovely evening on the river enjoying great food and great wine.
See more pictures in the Duoro Valley gallery.