Porto to Sabrosa and beyond: The Douro Valley, Portugal

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Porto

I had only been back in the UK for a few days when I found myself back on a plane, this time heading to Portugal. When Dad asked me where I wanted to go on holiday I replied “somewhere new”, a long withstanding pledge to myself. I understand why people like to return to their favourite place, it’s nice, but with so much of the world easily accessible how can I not try somewhere new? I covered most of Europe in my 2012 backpacking trip but despite spending a month in Spain, I never reached their close neighbour.

 

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Porto city centre

Despite the close proximity and therefore friendly rivalry between the two, there’s quite a lot of difference between Spain and Portugal. One being the language. I was baffled when I was thanked in the same way I was on my trip to Brazil. Little did I know the language spoken here is Portuguese (not Spanish) which is the same in Brazil. Duh! Sometimes I do wonder how I’ve managed to see and learn about so much of the world but have failed to remember much at all!

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Churches are so beautiful in Europe

The first two days were spent in the northern city of Porto which is famous for its Port. Northern Portugal is less visited than the likes of the Algarve and the south but there were a fair few tourists about. The centre of town is pretty small in size and easily walkable. Being the cycling-mad family that we are it will come as no surprise that we opted for two wheels instead of two feet. Our bike tour by Blue Dragon Tours was extremely informative and helped us get our bearings around town. Riding through the busy pavements and cobbled streets was pretty gnarly but we were greeted by no “get off the fucking pavement c**t” like we would have been in my home town of Portsmouth.

 

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Crossing the Douro river by bike

Being the food-crazy family that we are it will also come to no surprise that our second day in Porto was spent on a food tour. Here we tried many local delicacies like octopus, cured meats and the most delicious cheeses, fried meat rolls and the famous Portuguese custard tart which is known as a Pastel de Nata.  Shamefully Dad and I had one everyday, with the best from a place called Nata Lisboa who serve theirs warm. Oh what I would do for one right now.

 

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Having an afternoon espresso alone in a local joint

Porto is a charming city with cobbled streets and colourful old buildings of many different shapes and sizes. Cute independent shops and restaurants hide in the alleyways and there’s certainly no shortage of places to sit back, relax and enjoy a glass of local wine. It reminded me of Amsterdam, especially along the Douro River which is where we headed to next.

 

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Quinta Do Castro

Dad had booked us into Casa dos Barros in the small town of Sabrosa in the Vila Real district, 100km east of Porto. ‘Casa’ means home and ours had a vineyard which produced grapes for its own wine and port. A refreshing outdoor pool overlooked the vineyard.

 

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Relaxing by the pool

A Quinta is a Portuguese estate where grapes are grown for wine or port. Quinta’s are renowned for their fine food and wine and the ones we visited certainly didn’t disappoint. Our five days in the Douro Valley took on a bit of a routine. We’d wake, have breakfast, read our books by the pool until mid-day, head to a local Quinta for a multi-course fine-dining lunch with matching wines, then sleep it off (sit by the pool for me – sleeping is cheating) before doing it all again come evening.

 

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Daily feeds

Our meal at Quinta Do Crasto was so outstandingly delicious that we ended up spending the entire day there. With a bottle of wine for each of the five courses and a bottle of Port with our cheese it ended up being a fun-filled day. Half cut, We I thought it was a good idea to make a trip to the local supermarket for some red wine so I could make Sangria for tea. Unbeknown to me the weight of all my purchased wine was too heavy to walk back with so I had to hitch-hike my way back to Mum and Dad. More wine wasn’t a wise idea and I suffered the next morning when I woke terribly ill. I was unlucky enough to come down with a horrendous head cold as soon as I stepped foot in Portugal and now Tonsillitis thanks to too much of the good stuff, I certainly didn’t let it stop me enjoying my holiday though.

 

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Fine dining in Portugal

As much as I enjoy extravagant meals with my parents, I felt like we needed to do something other than eat and drink so my Dad suggested we go on a zip wire at an adventure park about 50km north of town. Pena Adventura (the adventure park) is a weird place where you can do a whole range of activities like paint balling, rock climbing and kayaking. For this reason it was full of groups of young Portuguese men who provided me with the best eye candy I’ve seen in a long LONG time.

 

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Ready for the zip wire

We went the whole hog and purchased a package which gave us a ride on a toboggan/roller coaster-like thing plus a go on the tree-top rope course which was the most petrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life. My heart was beating faster than when I went sky diving. Not because it was high, because it wasn’t, but because it was rather tricky to stay on the thin wobbly rope/plank and balance has never been my strong point. We were all shaking with fear by the end of it and I had to have a beer with my lunch to recover and prepare myself for the zip wire.

 

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The zip wire (and eye candy)

Considering my poor Dad is scared of heights I imagined that the zip line would be rather on the small side. I’m not sure who was more shocked when we saw it crossed a valley between two mountains. It was huge! Not only was it high and long, we were to be strapped in horizontally to fly head first with our arms behind our back. After a windy drive up to the top of the mountain I was a little nervous at the sheer enormity of what we were about to do but once strapped in and let go I enjoyed every second. I felt like I was flying. Fantastic.

 

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Streets of Portugal

That evening we headed to the biggest town in the area, Vila Real, and ate at fine-dining restaurant Cais da Villa where we enjoyed some fabulous live music with wine before sitting down for a beautiful meal. We had one last day back in Porto wandering around the shops and of course eating and drinking Port and Sangria. Matosinhos is the place to go for fresh fish with the locals and a must for any fish lover. Dinner was served. My parents classed themselves as non-fish lovers but since a week of trying lots of fish in Portugal they now can’t get enough of the stuff.

 

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Porto’s street art

We arrived at the airport on time (of course we did, I was with Ma and Pa) to be told that our flight was delayed 7 hours thanks to to a burst tyre at Gatwick Airport leaving the runway closed. British Airways gave us some food vouchers which we failed to use thanks to the notice board changing from “no information” to “boarding” within minutes. We frantically rushed to the gate along with the other flustered passengers and just about made it on time. Our mere 30 minutes delay meant we were first to touch down in Gatwick finding an unusally deserted passport control. It was here I realised I left my iPhone 6 in the seat pocket on the plane. I ran back to get it but the plane was closed and no one to be seen so I ran back to the rents. By now all the other planes had landed so it took us nearly an hour to get through passport control much to the annoyance of Mum and Dad.

 

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The rents enjoying a glass of the good stuff

Thanks to the delays it was like Armageddon at Gatwick Airport and it took me over an hour to try and speak to someone from British Airways who told me to email the lost property team after 24 hours. Gah! The whole lost phone pavlova meant we were over an hour late picking up my brother from the train station (he had just flown in to Heathrow after trekking in California). Luckily he was also held up (quite literally!) due to armed police stopping a man with a huge knife some seats in front of him. We eventually arrived home at 4am. After over 100 phone calls over three days I finally spoke to someone from BA to be greeted with the bad news that my phone hadn’t been handed in. Devastating. It may have ended badly but the rest of the holiday was great. I thoroughly enjoyed Portugal and most of all spending time with Mum and Dad. Thanks a million you two x

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