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(my) Autumn Trip By The (charming) Douro Valley - Day 1 & 2

By Carlos Bernardo @ O Meu Escritório é lá fora

One early autumn afternoon, I get an email from Filipa, mentor from We Love Small Hotels (WLSH), with a proposal for me. Take the Douro walking tour, from the WLSH catalogue. The trip would start in Paço de Sousa, Vinho Verde region, which is pretty close to Douro region, and then to the heart of Douro Wine Land, Régua and Pinhão, finishing this trip in Porto. Following almost the same route as the wine barrels did in the past, in the boats called rabelo, towards the cellars of Gaia (my trip would be made by train). In the middle, I would walk through these territories (for me, the best way to discover them), meet interesting people and visit emblematic places, always with wine and its history, as a backdrop. Tell me, is it possible to say no to this? Of course, I said yes.

My trip and history, for an enchanted territory.


I arrived at Paço de Sousa and Solar Egas Moniz on a Sunday afternoon, thinking that I was staying in a small hotel. I love small hotels. But when I arrived, I did not feel like I'd even gotten to a hotel. I felt that I had come to a family home and that this family was eager to welcome me. I felt special. If this is not the most important thing about tourism, then I'm not doing anything here. Paço de Sousa is a small village and parish of the municipality of Penafiel. Wine land, belonging to Vinho Verde region, more specifically to the Sousa sub-region. It is practically, as they say in my country, "in half walls" with the demarcated region of Douro wines, receiving multiple influences, both in their wines and in their culture. Another interesting point of this territory is the Romanesque legacy, in the form of monuments, but also in the form of an entire associated culture.

Very often we live like hostages of the expectations we create about a certain place. At least it affects the enthusiasm when we start. We thought in advance what we are going to live, what we are going to photograph and, above all, the memories we are going to create. I remember, for example, the first time I entered the Colosseum in Rome. I'm crazy about history. Before leaving for Rome, I thought that when I entered the Colosseum I would cry, with such emotion. Then I thought I would hear the sound of gladiatorial swords and the roar of lions that made life difficult for them. In fact, I had 4 hours in a queue to enter the Colosseum and as soon as I got in I was almost run over by a bunch of Chinese tourists in total despair to spend the entire battery of their camera in the same place. Of course, it was special and imposing. Of course, I kept good memories. But was this that I expect? Of course not. Because? Because it was not genuine. And, the giant, full of stories to tell, Colosseum, was just walls at that moment. Special walls of course, but little more than that. In the opposite direction, I have few expectations about the small village of Paço de Sousa and its surrounding region. I did not dream about the arrival, nor did I think what I would see and live during the visit. With my life and the experience I am accumulating, I know there are small villages, many off map, full of value. I call this the real tourism. The one made of emotions, that makes us laugh, create memories and that we later miss. No great props or scenarios. In football, it's called talent. Here, by way of comparison, perhaps qualify as genuine. It was with this genuineness, that I was received, at the end of Sunday afternoon, at Solar Egas Moniz. No hurry, with smiles and gestures of goodwill. Good people, I could feel it. I felt I was coming, too, to my house. And when that happens, my friends, it's gold. I stayed for 3 days.

As I arrived near the end of the day, I left for dinner shortly after arriving. I headed to Quintandona, a recently recovered schist village. It is about a 10-minute drive from Solar. I went there because they recommended a wine bar, called Casa da Viúva “Widow's House”. It was right in the center of the village. Again, the question on expectations. A constant on this trip. The village, tiny, with tight, dark streets. The parking sensors beeped everywhere. The village was both fluffy (all in schist) and remote. Perhaps the result of low light, assuming almost a role of somber. After some curves and maneuvers, I saw the sign of the Widow's House. Name that helps the dark side of the thing. I entered through a small gate, parked the car and walked to the Wine Bar. A set of (well) recovered houses formed a small garden, with a giant kite marking the entrance. On entering, the dark and cold side of a village empty of people, gave way to a warm environment, full of character and beautiful people. I thought to myself, "Well, this place fits in every big city in the World." It was full, with people and tables splitting into several small rooms. Several people circled, with glasses of wine in hand, with the meeting place of many, perhaps between dishes, to be by the balcony and fireplace in the main room. The interior space is all wood and stone, with the ceiling being very low. This was also one of those places where I did not need much to get comfortable. Here, the great highlight, are the wines themselves. It's not a fake wine bar. The food evokes sharing and conversations at the table. What I missed my Liliana. She would definitely like this. I ate and drank according to the ambience of the house, where good taste prevailed. Vinho Verde, accompanied by a series of small delicious dishes that came and went from my table at the right speed. In the end of the dinner I was quite pleased with the result and always thinking, how amazing a space like this results in a small village and relatively far from a big city. I think this is wonderful, these new concepts succeed in small and remote places (you are already warned, go to the Widow's House, only with reservation, that fills up, my friends). Already suspected the motive, always beats the same. Motivated people do magic. At the exit, I passed the main room, the one with the balcony and the fireplace, in a farewell way. At that moment I met Paulo, the owner of the wine bar. He was behind the counter and treated almost every client by name. He asked me if I wanted coffee, I told him I did not drink, and a natural came out: "then you have to drink a Port, sit there!" At such a firm statement, I did not blink, I sat at the counter. He served me Port from the other side of the balcony, and our conversation began. It was 9pm. At 9:15 a.m. I had noticed, he is a dreamer like me. We talked about wines, as we changed the region the wine in the glass changed. We talked about dreams, I told him about my projects, and he told me how he created the Widow's House and how he evolved it. Almost as naturally as I have created the O Meu Escritório é Lá Fora Blog. It even made it seem like it was easy, even though it was not. We talked about wines again. We talked about the future. And we were talking about wines, now mixed with travel. The result, it was midnight, the restaurant only had the employees to dinner, closed at 10 pm, and I at the counter, with Paulo on the side here too, drinking wine and talking about life. I left the wine bar with a box full of wine, a result of the travels through the regions that we were doing. Where Paulo said, "You take this and then drink with Liliana." He repeated the sentence more than half a dozen times. I left the Widow's House, laughing, not for the wine I had drunk, but for the good moment I passed. Places like this, even in China, would be very successful. There it is, that talent that in tourism is called genuine that allied with other competences make ... magic happen.

8:00 a.m. I was already awake in my room at Solar Egas Moniz. The room, follow the same course of Solar's delicacy. Full of details, nooks and crannies, and beautiful phrases. I especially liked the window in coloured glass, which lit up a room in various colours. Very beautiful (of course I thought: "I would like to have one of these in my house"). I headed for breakfast, full of good things and smelling the house. I was going for a walk this morning. I would walk the streets of Paço de Sousa to found Castro de Monte Mozinho. No great rush to get there, I left. Along the way I was watching the lives of the people who live there. Going to the local mini-market to buy bread, ladies taking care of the clothes, gentlemen working in the field, children going to school. Routines that bring us to distant places. I walked between streets, backyards, vineyards and woods, until, 7km later, there I arrive at Castro Mozinho. That is, very basically, the vestiges of an old Roman village, with more than 2.000 years of existence. Very interesting, after narrow paths of forest, lead to a large space like this. Of course, that's how I got to Castro, I started traveling automatically. A trip of 2.000 years, where I imagined what the life of those people would be like then. To start with, and almost without a possible solution, to imagine: "how these people brought water from the river to this Mount!?". I stayed about an hour there. Sitting alone, sitting on a small wall that would once have been the wall of a house, eating a small snack that the kind people of Solar had prepared me (there, family), traveling with my thoughts. When I felt the trip complete, I left my wall and walked towards the Castro Interpretation Center. It is about 100m. So I confirmed some stories of my travels with Rosário, who kindly received me. I met other stories, I went back to Castro, we talked about life and other trips. I ended up getting a ride from Rosario to Solar Charm House. Very kind and very friendly. I began to assume that it is a constant here, to be very nice. It felt good.

2:30 p.m. Between conversations and walks, it was 2.30 pm when I left Solar for lunch. I headed towards the IPI (Plural Interior Institute) in Penafiel. Once again I followed recommendations, again without expectations (that is to say, at this point it was not quite like this). I started by finding the name strange. It almost sounded like a public office, not a restaurant. And actually it's not a simple restaurant. It is a creative space. How I like it so much. Once again, I felt at home. Beginning of the story, a decoration and interior design company has its headquarters in a house with historical features, has its offices and creative spaces on the upper floor, but there is still the lower floor and terrace. What do these believing minds decide to do? An IPI canteen! A restaurant that serves food at all times, in a creative way, with an open kitchen (yes, those of which we see the chef to cook) and, as it could not be without, with very good aspect (interior design, remember!?). I was there until 5pm. Yes, another long meal. Between conversations with Ricardo, the owner, once again with themes oscillating between dreams and travels. It was so good out there, that probably, if it were not for this time thing to have a limit, I'd stay there for a while, maybe for a glass of wine before dinner. But I could not leave Penafiel without knowing Quinta da Aveleda.

5:30 p.m. I arrive at Quinta da Aveleda (yes, the same one. From Quinta da Aveleda and Casal Garcia wines). Honestly, I went for being a prestigious brand. For being from Penafiel. This already seems cliché. And far from me, to be wanting to commit exaggerations. But far from expecting to find what I found. I did not find a wine cellar or bottling factory. I mean, I also found this. But I've found much, much more than that. I found a garden, which looks more like an enchanted forest. Giant. Almost remembering the Terra Nostra Park on the island of São Miguel. Full of small gardens and small houses. Many in lakes and in small nooks, almost to remember the Shire (yes, the land of Frodo). In the middle there are still small sanctuaries and giant trees. One of the sanctuaries, this one non-religious, is the basement for the barrels of Adega Velha. A place, my God (maybe it's even linked to a religion). The smells, the colours, the textures, the first bottles exposed almost as if they were saints. Of course there are also the vineyards and a majestic family home. That it is not a museum, it is even the family home, the Guedes family, which still today manages this business that began in 1870. So, beyond the charms from  Quinta, every street in the garden, every lake, every piece of the vineyard, to each bottle, there is a story with more than 100 years to be told at all times. I ended my visit, as it could not be, drinking wine and eating cheese. With the very friendly Chantal. Again, talking about dreams, travel and wine. A constant here, therefore. Now with no surprises.

9 p.m. I arrive at O Farela restaurant. Already had a table marked (again recommended by the staff of Solar Egas Moniz). By 8:30 p.m. Yes, it was already 9pm. The restaurant was very close to Quinta da Aveleda. But as my day, between walks, food, conversations and wines, everything was delayed. I go into the restaurant, I met a man with a moustache who was behind the counter, who seemed to be the owner. I say who I am and that I have a reservation. He gives me a handshake and says, "Have you seen the hours?" I just thought all the sympathy of these people had ended there. I was almost colourless and voiceless for 5 seconds. Until Mr. Adolfo, the man with the moustache, who owns the place, tells me: "I was kidding, I'm going to sit with you, I'll have dinner with you!" There I went to sit down, half laughing, and to think: "here comes another good experience.” Not to vary much Adolfo is a wine lover. To speak about wines with him is to touch his heart, wasn’t him from Peso da Régua. We started right away, table full of good food, served by the very friendly, Adolfo. It's time for wine, Adolfo says to me: "This one I'm going to open I never drank, I'll taste it for the first time with you ... and what comes next too." I swear, that touched me. It is a simple gesture. But I felt such generosity. I realized he was sincere. When the first dish arrived, Octopus (which I love, and it was very good), I already felt at home and in the family. And speaking of family, this restaurant has a very particular point. There is a large table, right in the middle of the restaurant, where family and friends sit, and eat what the owners eat and in the end, like Adolfo says: "they pay a fine". They split the bill. The table that night was full. I believe it is like that every day. I found it very funny. Conversation and dinner were going on. I feel that if I had not been very tired, I would risk leaving this beautiful family restaurant at an indecent hour, to taste wines with Adolfo. I left the restaurant around midnight. Not without first proving a Cachena da Peneda, certified meat breed in Gerês. A wonder, I assure you.

Once again I come back smiling to Solar. To think of Adolfo and his nice family, in Chantal and in the history of Quinta da Aveleda, in Ricardo who has a canteen under his interior design studio and in the nice Rosário that even gave me a ride. I still remember my dreamy friend Paulo, a wine connoisseur. And without forgetting, I have not yet mentioned their names, but they are the main characters of this story, Iva and Filipa, sisters and minds behind Solar Egas Moniz. And all your nice team. I lie on my bed in Solar, for my last night. With all these people in thought. So it's easy to like this.

The next day I wake up, again with the multi-coloured light from the glass entering my room. I was leaving for Peso da Régua, in search of the heart of the Douro. I go down for breakfast. I had breakfast with Júlio, Iva’s and Filipa father, as a family. One more good conversation. It's so easy to like this.