I am sure our Sat Nav, Mr Thomas Tom, used to be a barman in a previous life. It is absolutely hopeless and just dishes out useless information before it has had a couple of cigs and a strong black coffee. For about the first twenty minutes it tries to take us on the shortest route whatever, this includes alleyways we can’t get down and the wrong way down one way streets. But as it is of Dutch origin you can bet it insists that it is always right. Anyway, below is our route we took in and out of the Alta Douro.
The undoubted highlight of this route is the N222. The road weaves itself in out of tiny villages clinging to precarious cliffs and everywhere are vineyards. We are surprised the oaf Clarkson and his dysfunctional chums have not made a feature about it. The Douro is an amazing river that appears to be in a permanent gorge along its entire length. It is a drive everyone should do, stunning scenery and wine gaffs to have the odd slurp in as you travel along.
Castelo De Paiva
An uninspiring hilltop town where we spent the night in the town car park. It had more men than normal outside the bars, A very elaborate tourist office with nothing in and a Discoteca. As always the heavens opened and sleep was interrupted by: youths drag racing, drunks singing, busses arriving, Portuguese Trance music and the heaviest rain you can imagine. Not put off we carried off down the N222 and below are some pics.
This is the centre of the Port industry and anybody who is anybody has a vineyard around here. It is a posh place with a five star hotel and a pleasant waterfront. We were lucky enough to be there as a Viking River cruise disgorged itself of its loud, overweight and badly dressed cargo voyagers. We found a caff that did us peri-peri chicken and a litre of wine for 15 euros. Well within budget. Much interest was stirred when Tracy embarked on a face time call. It seemed the entire village came and stood and watched. Me, I watched a disappointing Sporting Lisbon draw with someone.
The next day we had a great view down the river as the Viking boat had gone. A quick breakfast and then off to the train station. To explore the upper reaches of the Douro the only way is by train. A brilliant journey as the train hugs the river bank on its journey of an hour to Pocinho. Remarkable and all for less than €10.
Get the 09:36 train from Pinhao as this gives you the least amount of time in Pocinho, only 45 minutes, which to be fair is 44 too long. Pocinho is a dump and looks some gulag in Siberia. Everyone and everything is hirsute, polydactyl and in-bred. Not to dissimilar to Devon then.
Some pics from the train
The Great Escape
Needless to say it had been raining constantly and we got back we made the decision to get out of the mountains and head South. For the unaware the Port’n’cheesers have a penchant for cobblestones. Not just the odd street but complete bloody roads of the things. The especially like to put them on the hairpin part of hairpin bends. So, the road away from our quayside home was cobbled and we set off with high hopes of seeing the sun. Unfortunately, the road exit was made up of a 90 degree bend, 1 in 3 slope and our chums the rain soaked cobbles. Could we get up it? No we couldn’t, nor the alternative exit which was even steeper. So we changed our strategy and watched series two of The Killing and stayed another night. The next morning we waited until we had a small break in the rain. Having worked out the problem might be something to do with weight we emptied our water tanks and forced Tracy to run behind the Van. Now considerably lighter I took a run up, floored the thing and managed to bounce my way up the cobbles to freedom.
Tourist Tip: When choosing a motorhome consider the issue of weight. We are close to four tonnes at the moment. This is too much for a 130 HP engine and a set of wet cobbles. To enable us to carry on I had to think long and hard on what excess weighty items to shed. I chose water and Tracy. Other vanners may have to make tougher choices.
I also took some photos which I have entitled reflections of Pinhao.
South To Belmonte
This is another brilliant drive, made even better by the lighter load. Not as light as could be as Tracy was now back in the van. The Sat Nav had it usual ciggie withdrawal and sent us along a single track road for 20Ks over the mountains. Yes I did shout at it at the time, but in retrospect, thank you Tom.
We stopped at a hill town called Trancoso. To be honest the description was better than being there. It did have walls you could climb on and a tower to scale and Tracy finally got to play the part of Princess up a tower.
The views across to Spain were tremendous, but the streets looked a little tired. We carried on down a ‘free’ Motorway to Belmonte. Here we saw and spoke to our first motorhome people since leaving Porto. Spent a nice half hour chewing the cud with a couple of Scottish folk on their way to the Algarve. We had Chicken, wine and a night on the toilet.
More mountains tomorrow where we hope to go to the highest Point in Portugal.
Take care E & T