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(my) Autumn Trip By The (charming) Douro Valley - Day 4

By Carlos Bernardo @ O Meu Escritório é lá fora


We began to be dazzled by the Vintage House Wine Hotel long before we arrived. Whatever the shape, by car, by train or on foot. And whatever the way. Be it by Peso da Régua, São João da Pesqueira or by Tua. The way until there is very beautiful. Whether it's up there, with the valleys that carry infinite alignments of vineyards, with the river, intense blue, ripping the earth and dividing regions united by the same culture. Whether it be right by the river, with vineyards rising like giant mountains, contrasting with the colorful boats that sail the river. Many say that both the road and the railway line are the most beautiful in the world. Does not sound silly to me. Where the beautiful is not only creased by the difference of what we are accustomed to see as the wine landscape. The landscape has character. We can feel the weight of the history. At least, I felt it.

I arrive at Pinhão. A small town, I think it will not have more than 500 inhabitants. It is easy to notice the existence of the Vintage House. It stands out among the other buildings. It is aligned next to the river, in almost perfect symbiosis (everything is easy to conjugate with this river), between the bridge and the train station. A little further on, is the small pier of Pinhão. Where small and large boats make their stops. At the time of my arrival there was a cruise ship docking. It is easy to see the enthusiasm of those who put their feet in Pinhão. I can imagine how the crew spent their last hours sailing. Certainly, between conversations about wine, to admire a unique landscape and, perhaps, to drink a beautiful port wine. All this at a cruising speed and not seeing it from outside. To see from within, and to follow the same path that many brave ones followed. Douro above and Douro below, to transport barrels of wine between the farms until V.N. de Gaia / Porto, in the boats rabelo. And then they reach towns like Pinhão, surrounded by small mountains of vineyards. It is easy for a person to feel blessed. For those who come for the first time, and for me, that makes me feel immense pride, in what is also a piece of my story.

I leave my bags at the hotel, and go for a walk. I follow the river, towards a small pedestrian passage, next to a, also small, railway bridge that crosses an entrance of a tributary of Douro. Everything is very graceful here. With small boats standing still, in this sort of "garage" in Douro, almost reminiscent of Venice. Not by architecture or symbolism, but much by the charm these waters carry. I almost asked for an Italian song to accompany my steps. My craze for doing cinematic thoughts in these moments.

The day was very beautiful, perfect for walking. The goal would be to climb up to Casal de Loivos and down again towards Pinhão. In a circular route, with little more than 10km. Nothing better than walking, to better know a place. Gasping, after a good hour of walking among vineyards, I reach the village. I was only thinking about what these people were up to at the harvest. With the heat, with the unevenness, with the difficult and in many cases, impossible access of tractors to transport the grape. I think this difficulty also gives character to wine. I do not know whether juries and connoisseurs, who preach, year after year, Douro wines, sitting in a comfortable chair and in a distant country, feel the difficulty of these people. I feel. With each and every Douro wine I drink, I remember this climb and value what I'm drinking even more (I'll even drink it more slowly).

Casal de Loivos is a natural amphitheater for Douro. I do not think there's a better way to describe it. It is in a sort of 15th floor in relation to Pinhão and offers incredible views of the silhouette of the river and its vineyards. With the colours of autumn, the foliage of the vineyards seems almost a palette of colours, sometimes more to the yellow, sometimes more to the orange, and there is still those that persist in continuing to offer to my eyes the green colour. Very beautiful. Not only to catch my breath, but also in contemplation mode, I spend long minutes in the point of view, almost outside the Casal next to the ring of the village. I had, in silence, that picture just for me. It's not that I'm selfish. But there are moments, which feels good to be lived in silence. No distractions.

I'm back on the way. Now it's always coming down, in a slight zigzag. Without ever losing sight of the Vintage House, it takes less than a third of the time it took me to climb, although it has been by another route. I arrive at the Vintage House, take a quick shower and go to Quinta da Roêda. The house for Porto Croft. There is no space here for red or white wines. It's just Port. It is just over 2km from the hotel, and frankly, it is one of the most beautiful farmhouses I have visited. When our imagery feeds on images of a place and then, as soon as we arrive there we think, "this is it". It feels so good when that happens. I'm comforted. And it happened here. A real classic Port farmhouse. So many stories that must have passed through here. Like almost all the great estates next to Pinhão, it has a quay, where in the past docked the rabelo boats, to transport the wine to mature in the cellars in Gaia. Honestly, and after walking through the vineyard, always with the Douro under my eye, I just wanted to leave by boat, down the Douro river. Almost down to the sea. The navigators did not leave my mind, they were never part of my imagination of the Douro wines, for the moment, they were given a stage that I never expected to attribute to them. Almost like the role of treasure keepers. A Herculean task, intended only for the most audacious. If this task had been lived in medieval times, songs about these men would have been made.

In a small house, with a wooden table and an opening overlooking the river, almost like a watchtower of a medieval castle, I taste the house wines. Once again, alone and in silence. Again, this moment called for this.

I'm going back to Pinhão and it’s almost night. I walk to the docks to watch the sunset, which promised a very beautiful color that would fall into a river opening coming from the side of Peso da Régua. I end up having a good couple of hours. In one of the riverside bars, to see the boats coming and going. It's late night, I'm going back to the Vintage House. Walked through its beautiful garden, with traces of an old palace. I do not know when this space took the form of a hotel, but I can imagine the countless encounters and winemaking that have been done there. Maybe even in that garden, overlooking the river, between cigars and wine. It's easy to dream and imagine here.

On the morning of the following day, perhaps driven by the stage I gave to the navigators of the rabelo boats of the past, I decide to throw myself into the water (not exactly) and embark on a rabelo replica and sail, not towards Gaia, but on a short trip (2 hours) to Tua and back. I embark with Companhia Turística do Douro. Related to this tour I have something to say. Monumental. In fact I did not feel like a rabelo sailor from the past, I felt like Frodo and his friends. Weird is not it? I felt almost as if I were in the movie Lord of the Rings, in that scene, where they follow by boat and contemplate giant figures, who represent the ancient Gods. It was this magnificence and burden that I felt, as I glimpsed the large wine estates, which they presented along the banks. With a small book in my hand I identified the names of the farms and their families. Admiring them, almost like Gods. It touched me. I felt small, in the face of such a historical burden, that these small shrines of wine sent me. Or bewitched. I'm now a sort of a wine addicted. Not for drink, but for the history of these people. Impressive.

I go back to the dock of Pinhão, still half stunned, from what I had lived. Honestly, I did not even notice the time passing. I go back to the Vintage House, for a little, but warm goodbye. It was time for departure. I was going to catch the train to Porto. Going through the same landscapes that rabelo sailors have seen so often on their journeys to Gaia / Porto. Each time I have more presence in me, than the Douro, are not a set of producers, bottles and glasses of wine, or even simply a beautiful river. It is much more than that. It's something big and intense, you could say without lying, that this whole set forms a great story. But I feel it's still more than that. I still do not have the right definition, but I'm not going to look for it either. I do not think it's important. The important thing is the memories that I take from this place that I will rekindle to every glass of wine from this land that I will drink. No matter in what part of the world I am. Memories are so good that will always fuel my desire to return.