Friday, April 23, 2010

Douro River Cruise, Part 2

I‘m sitting on the small balcony of our cabin trying to publish one more posting before our early flight tomorrow morning. These trips seem to pass by much too quickly--more so this time because of our shortened cruise time due to river flow. We've traveled with a wonderful group of friends, both old and new, and we hate to bid them farewell.

We thought the monastery dinner would be hard to beat, but that was before our dinner at the Quinta das Carvalhas the following evening. We sailed most of the day from Bitetos to Pinhao, a tiny port in the heart of prime Port wine country that serves as an important stop for river cruise vessels like the Amadouro. It‘s obviously a popular spot for tourists, too, because a few campers had already parked for the night, and several trains make regular stops at the ornate tile-adorned train station.

Our motorcoaches took us to the top of one of the highest peaks in the area with incredible views of the hillside vineyards and winding river below. These very steep slopes, as well as the soil and climate, are critical to Port production.

We were greeted by the overseer of the land who explained his contribution to the wine-producing process and were impressed by his dedication to the land and to his workers. The vineyards span 2-3 hills, the highest one topped with the building where we ate that is used as a special events venue. Again, the AMA staff prepared and served dinner, carting all of the food up the mountain prior to our arrival. Only the fine wines from the quinta were served that evening. Delightful.

On Tuesday we sailed back to Regua, which was the largest regional center with river access in Portugal 300 years ago, growing into a major port wiine warehouse. Although most of the trade has since moved further upstream, the city remains an important crossroads. Our afternoon excursion took us to Lamego and a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies, a lovely church atop a steep hill accessible by road or steps--732 of them. We know. Ben counted on our way down (not up!)

Tomorrow we test the airways. Most of the group heads to the airport in Porto and on to connecting flights in Paris, London or Madrid. Keep your fingers crossed that everything works as planned. Perhaps I‘ll get a chance to write again during a layover about our tours of the Mateus Palace, Santiago de Compostela, Porto and Nova de Gaia.

My new keyboard is working quite nicely!

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