One day walking in the Douro Valley, Portugal
That was not an ordinary day walking in the Douro Valley. That was THE day.
They say in the Douro Valley, there are three months of winter and nine months of hell due to the frequent hot weather you can usually find there.
It’s funny how outside the valley nobody seems to have heard this expression.
I have long lost count of the number of walks I have done here, but there was a specific day I have it as a mental picture.
It was March, and the days were warmer than usual for the time of year, and, in a tour of “walking in the Douro Valley”, I walked with clients from Covas do Douro to Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo.
The walk itself is neither complicated nor demanding, we walked along a side road.
I don’t usually use roads for hiking. The tar doesn’t allow a comfortable walk, it annoys me to feel cars passing by, and it lacks the mystique one can find in a mountain range or in the woods.
But this case is one of the rare exceptions.
It is not a busy road at this time of the year, and the view is breathtaking.
I definitively underline this time of the year because, during the grape harvest, you often get small trucks back and forward on this road.
From here, the view over the Douro Valley is so overwhelming that it makes us forget foolish arguments like tar makes our feet hurt. As it is said in Portugal, you forgive the evil because of the good it does.
I tried to remember another route I also consider good despite being on tar, but it was not easy to remember. I only remember one road in the Aquitaine area of France.
When I go for a walk, I’m looking for more intimate contact with nature. I love the trails crossing woods and mountains, those we can’t see cars, and sometimes not even houses splattering the landscape.
But I can also understand there are exceptions and, as famous Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, said, everything is worthwhile if the soul is not small.
Anyway, I also need to say that walking in the Douro Valley is not only about walking roads. There are trail walks as well and I will write about them.
After we had started walking from Covas do Douro, and after the first curve, all the walkers get the initial impact when staring at the inclined road they will have to overcome.
It is a one-mile-long uphill road until a spot I call “miradouro”, the viewpoint.
This part of the walk is the warm-up stage, and there are always those who grumble, and that day was no different.
You can’t go wrong here. You just have to follow the road towards Quinta Nova so, each one went at their own pace.
After the viewpoint I mentioned, the rest of the walk to the Quinta is like walking on a long balcony over the valley, slowly doing downhill.
While we were walking, in front of us or on our left, we had the valley wide-open.
Down the valley, the river Douro. On the opposite bank, the slope went back up to the nearest peaks.
But, despite the warm day, the night had been cold, so the air was clear, letting us see all the peaks to the horizon.
As the peaks were further away, they became less clear and overlapping with each other until they looked like the teeth of a saw.
And, as if this landscape by itself was not enough to make us surrender to its beauty, at the bottom of the valley, the Douro River seemed to stop time.
I can’t calculate the number of photographs that I have taken over these years repeatedly to the same places, week after week of passing here. Still, that day, once again, I added some dozens of pictures to my extended collection.
The sun was warm, but in the shade, nobody stopped for long. It felt like there was still a long way to go before the days of hell arrived.
Beauty was not only in distant landscapes but often at the distance of a touch.
Around here, the strawberry trees gather in red bunches, with their reddish-white flowers, during the fall season. Still, in March, as was the day of this walk, the almond trees were naked of leaves but covered with half-pink flowers.
In the summer, on those hellish days, I dream about something I could never do here, walking at sunrise.
Even on those warm summer days, when the sun rises, there is a cold that makes me nostalgic for old sweaters, those with home softness and comfortable aromas.
The light of dawn is a friend of any photographer, and I can’t escape its charm. Dawn brings with it a soft light allowing us to see what gets hidden by the shadows of daylight.
The cold air of the morning not only brings the light and the good freshness. As if that weren’t enough, that moment also carries a very peculiar aroma. This pungent odor reminds me of Portugal, the scent of the rock roses on hot days.
On that day, the customers had already forgotten that they were walking along a road, and it was time for a stop when I saw the ideal curve.
“I ask your attention to that building down there, that’s Quinta Nova!”
In an almost biblical setting of hillsides covered with vineyards, the river, and an immense wall of blue sky, Quinta Nova was framed in the landscape. This setting gives you the feeling of order and balance we only find in old traditions.
In the Douro Valley, there are plenty of wine farms. Some are more spectacular than others.
But of all these Quintas, there is a small group that makes the elite of the Douro Quintas and Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo is on that list.
While the road turns west, we could see the river flowing to Porto’s direction, more than one hundred kilometers from here.
It is comforting to think that far away to the west, where the Douro river meets the sea, we can find many Portwine warehouses. That wine is produced with the grapes we see planted here.
Wandering through these thoughts, we passed by a detour leading to Quinta da Veiga. I have mixed feelings about this Quinta, but I will have the opportunity to develop this idea in another text.
After a while, we arrived at the gate of Quinta Nova.
Although it was not summer, the heat made a set of oleanders welcome us with their sweet and addictive fragrance.
Although the walk wasn’t long, there was a combination of new stimuli that seemed to have spent the participants’ energies.
As clients approached the reception area of the hotel, the “ah”, and the “uuauu” began. Yes, the hotel is fabulous, and it was the end of the walk.
Through the glances of complicity from my journey companions, I felt they too had experienced a different day. It was much more than a walk.
I like that.
PS: although the photos are from tours I lead in the Douro Valley, at the walk mentioned in this article, some photos are not from that specific day