Our Douro Valley Experience
We left from Porto early in the morning for the Douro Valley on a river cruise. It would take five to six hours to pass though three locks and get to our final destination for the night. The hills beside the river were lush with all types of vegetation. We enjoyed the view while visiting with other tourists headed in the same direction. By the afternoon the hills reminded me of the semi-arid desert landscape from my home. However, this landscape was terraced every ten to fifteen feet. On the terraces there were vines everywhere. The lined hillsides were simply breathtaking and I could not take enough pictures. After debarking the ship we and two other couples were directed to leave with the taxi. It was a ride I will not soon forget as we curved our way up, up, up the the hillsides on the switchback roads.
The next morning we waited with the couple from Paris and San Palo, Brazil with our bags. At 10:05 a.m. the Brazilian man finally spoke to the hotel staff in Portuguese about our transport. I could not understand everything, but I did understand the the guide would be there “mas o menos”, more or less; then she looked toward the rest of us and in English said, “It’s okay…this is Portugal.” …And as we found a way to visit with the other couples our guide did find his way to us.
This transport around the Douro was as exciting as the night before, however today it included the hairpin turns at fifty miles an hour. Each time we approached a turn with no visibility the driver would honk his horn twice and push on the accelerator. I learned not to watch as I could hear the gasps of Rita from Brazil. I figured that this guy had lived about thirty years in this place, driving this way; I did not suppose this would be his unlucky day.
We were told that five hundred families in the area sell their wine as part of a cooperative. We would spend the rest of the afternoon on one of those family vineyard learning about the history of the wine, taking part in the processing of wine and having a great fall celebration that included a several traditional course meal, music and dancing.
We learned that when you cut the grapes you must cut from the top as you cradle the grapes with the other hand. In this region they still cut the grapes using traditional methods; to care for the grape and prevent waste. We were to yell out a word the sounded like “Bunco” but I am really not sure as we had already been given several “aperitifs”; Anyway, someone always came running and dumped my bucket when I yelled out. I personally cut five buckets of grapes. It was enough to know that I was not going to change my profession.
At dinner we had our first introduction to a vegetable soup that is made from a potato puree with small bits of carrots and grape leaves. This first course came with a wonderful story about how a woman feed this community, with this particular soup, twice a day during a time when the vines were not producing. She promised the people that if they did not sell their farms she would feed them and in the end the land would be profitable again. I don’t know if the story is true or legend but I do know that there was a time when a pest in the region devastated the vines. The families in this cooperative held on for better days and their vines did produce again. Anyway, many places in Portugal have different variations of this soup and I am eager to perfect my own recipe when I return home.
The courses continued and the wine flowed. As soon as a bottle of wine was empty another appeared. Dinner was also interesting as there were people speaking many languages. We would work hard and use our second languages or others would interpret so we could communicate. When the dancing started the language barrier was completely eliminated.
After dinner we toke our dancing to the large granite tub were the grapes had been placed. The music continued. The landscape, well the entire experience really, reminded me of the movie “A Walk in the Clouds”. It was truly an amazing day.