Please note, your browser is out of date.
For a good browsing experience we recommend using the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera or Internet Explorer.

(my) Autumn Trip By The (charming) Douro Valley - Day 3

By Carlos Bernardo @ O Meu Escritório é lá fora


I write this out of my heart. There are places that tell a little history of all of us, Portuguese. There are places that make me almost go to tears, so proud that I have to be from my country. Quinta do Vallado, Peso da Régua and the entire region of the Douro Vinheiro, almost like a matrioska doll, each with its own specificity, fit perfectly, in order to present a picture of unusual beauty.

I'm from Ribatejo. I was born and raised in Ribatejo. I have no memory of the Douro region in my childhood. I grew up watching family making wine (homemade). I grew up going with my Father to the neighbour’s cellar to buy wine (even today, the particular smell of that cellar is part of my memories). I always knew it was from the grapes that made the wine and I always had a certain fascination with vineyards. Time was passing and I was growing up. I began to go to the cellar to taste the new wine from my friends, almost always with a beautiful little cheese. Many stories and memories have passed around the wine. Much more than scents, textures or techniques. In spite of being always present and respecting him. Yes, the wine. In my youth, I have never seen him as much more than an element. Years later, well into my thirties, I began to nurture a different feeling for the earth and for what is created through it. Much fruit of the trips that I have been doing, and of the (great) changes that they have been causing in my way of looking at the World. At a glance, I began to identify wine as a way to travel. I started by including the vineyards and wineries near my house, on my "homemade" bike rides. I began to watch, and to vibrate, with the colour change of the vineyards. And I, too, started going through the cellar to buy. Almost with the same speed, I realized that the wine itself is a story, as great as the stories it provides at the table. It is the story of the particularity of the lands where the vineyard is planted, the story of who plants it and the history of winemakers. And with that, I realized, I was not talking about half a dozen people. I realized that I was talking about a people gravitating around this wine story. Quickly, I transported the experience that I felt in the trips near home, to the rest of the country. First, for a matter of proximity and also of scale, in the Alentejo. And how I vibrated in the trip I cycled, between my house and the Algarve, with the passage through the vineyards of Borba or Pias. Even today, every time I drink a wine from these regions, I remember my simple bicycle ride through its vineyards in the middle of August. Almost burst the vintage season. Then the feeling was spreading. Even without knowing the region, whenever I bought a bottle, more than the grape, I liked to know the family history that produces the nectar. And speaking of family history and why wine also has this particularity, they give us some kind of affection. On another trip I cycled through Portugal, I started in Bragança, crossed the interior west of Trás-os-Montes (that hard and arid part), and after almost three days of cycling, on a long descent just outside Torre de Moncorvo I give faces to the river Douro. Even today I remember this moment, with a care that you cannot even imagine. I was traveling alone, I had been through a storm haven in the previous days, and seeing the Douro at that moment was comforting. I stopped the bicycle by the river for some photos, and on the other side of the river, I saw a beautiful vineyard, already with the colours of autumn, following the course of the river and reaching the small valley where it was planted. I swear I spent long minutes letting time pass and living that moment. It was my first great memory that I built on the Douro. Now family. The farm to which it belonged was Vale Meão. Hours later I realized that it belonged to the direct descendants of Dona Antónia Ferreira. My head at that time made 100 trips in time and imagined 1000 stories. At that moment, the name Quinta do Vallado was lodged in my memory. Like Vale Meão, it belongs to the direct descendants of the first (or best-known) wine entrepreneur Portugal has ever known. He wanted the fate (and 3 or 4 more) years later to be in Quinta do Vallado's wine cellar, to drink Port wine and to listen to stories about wine (and about people, lands and families).

My recent history with Quinta do Vallado starts at Peso da Régua train station. Location of arrivals and departures, and how stunning the train ride along the river is, but above all, the contemplation of the beautiful city of Peso da Régua. I do not know if this sense is activated by visual elements, I do not know if it happens to anyone else, for me, this city smells of wine. It is magnificent to arrive. Feel the energy of tourists, mostly Brazilians, who with their air of amazement and satisfaction, still make me appreciate this place even more. On the other hand, it is also with pleasure that I see the air of haughtiness and pride of the locals. It makes me feel even more proud, for this place to be a bit of me too. I walk along the station and continue north, toward Santa Marta de Penaguião, rounding the city through the vineyards that surround it. Yes, by foot. I walk by the river. From the South side stands a man in a black cloak, almost like a sort of Christ King for wines, blessing the city. I follow into the center of the city and begin to gain altitude. From that moment my path transforms into small amphitheaters, from where it is possible to glimpse the Douro from different angles. With the progression to the North, almost immersed by the vineyards, the river passes from a giant, to a beautiful silhouette, but never losing its grace. It's really a connecting link for all these people. Here there are no municipalities of Vila Real, Viseu or Bragança. It is Douro region. Almost like a religion. I continue walking, now heading west towards the small village of São Gonçalo. The objective was a small circular route (+ -10km), ending at Quinta do Vallado. Nothing is better than walking through a place to get to know him better. You can see it more closely, and smell it and feel it in another way. It is very curious to see the changing colours of the vineyards, perhaps caused by different exposures to the sun, some assume a yellow colour, others with traces of green, others with an orange touch. When walking and watching this show of colours, I think it would be the best time to visit this place. The most beautiful height. In spring, the leaf assumes all its splendour, where the gaudy green is king. At the end of summer is the height of the vintage, and the vines, beyond colour, come to life. In autumn, the vine takes on almost the shape of a pallet of colours. I do not come to any conclusion. But I'm sure that even though the road is the same, it would be three different trips. Each one with different sensations. One more charm from this place.

Already at the end of the walk and returning to see Douro more closely. I walk along the Corgo river and the old line of Corgo, which linked Chaves to Régua. In a confluence zone, between the rivers Corgo and Douro, I arrive at the historic Quinta do Vallado. In ochre tones, it merges perfectly with the vineyard and also with river. The architecture of the space, despite the modern lines (it was remodelled in 2009), does not let the roots of this place fall. It is a beautiful place, impossible to remain indifferent. I walk through the gardens, toward the reception, always falling in the temptation to look around, to the vineyards, to the river. It was early afternoon, and in spite of the sun, the cold of late autumn could be already felt. Even the cold here is funny. It gives a kind of charming melancholy to this place. I arrive at the reception. Very friendly and professional. Everyone knows the history of the place where they work. I'll take the Vila Cova room. I notice that all the rooms have names of wines. I go to my room, between beautiful rooms, all of them with large glazing, which form a kind of picture, where the vineyard appears in the background. The four, beautiful, modern and, most importantly, very comfortable. With balcony overlooking the vineyard. The moment only gave time, for a brief bath, to change clothes and to follow to visit the wine cellar and do a wine tasting.

The cellar is about 100 meters from the building where I am. It's delicious walking around here. Once again, I feel the presence of Mrs. Antonia here. I feel that my gaze has crossed several times with hers. Yes, it's a thing that I have. I cannot go anywhere without time travel, without trying to look at places, in the same way, that others have looked at in the past. The cellar is recent and technologically advanced. I think Dona Antonia would feel proud. I continue to visit the winery, very well run. No great technical details, which to me are of little interest, but with many interesting stories. Curious to know that the winemaker of Quinta do Vallado is Francisco Olazabal. The owner of Quinta do Vale Meão. I quickly got back on my bike trip. The connection I made between Vale Meão and Vallado at the time, was certified. Once again one of the strong themes that bind me, in an increasingly intense way, to the wines. Family. They are made in family. Isn’t this sweet? Okay, it could be a million-dollar deal. And good that it is. But I do not feel it as a factory or a production line. I feel every bottle has a story, hundreds of years old. I finish visiting Quinta do Vallado wines. Reds, whites and ports. They are very good at the top. At least for my mouth. I felt that from that moment, all the wines that I will drink from Quinta do Vallado, whether in Peso da Régua or China, I will remember this history, this place, this day and, above all, this family.

I left the cellar at night. I walked, alone and in complete silence, at Quinta do Vallado. What a place. I had dinner at Quinta do Vallado's restaurant. Between dishes and wines, I felt truly lucky. What beautiful memories I had created about this place. And the best of travel (and life) are not the memories?

Tomorrow is the day of traveling to Pinhão and to its Vintage House.