May 14, the Alto Duoro - Amarante

Anxious to tour the Alto Duro, home to the famous Port houses of Portugal,  we left early. Sheila picked a route that would take us across the plateau and down the Tavora valley to the Duoro. Though sunny, it was cool in the shade and a woman bundled in heavy wool sweater and skirt, baseball hat, and thick woolen leggings walked along a narrow forest road collecting ferns. Under blue skies and early morning light the small villages were quiet and peaceful. In one, two gentlemen relaxed, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun, one sitting on his stairs, the other on the edge of the town’s public fountain. We began our descent to the Duoro near Granjinha. Here the valley sides were a patchwork of Pine forest on the steeper, rocky slopes and olive terraces on the less steep and deeper soils. Soon, across the valley, terraced vineyards stepped down the steep slopes towards the Tavora. In a startling pattern they followed the contours like some giant plywood relief model, the roads gashes across the terraces steps. Groves of pine softened the strange symmetry of the new terraces and the abandoned olive ter- races, with anachronistic and collapsing stone walls were reminders of the past. Soon we could see that most of the terraces were new, carved into the slopes by machine, their risers left bare and unsupported, their vines planted in rows accessible for mechanized harvesting. Other terraces, fewer, were old, the risers faced by rough, undressed stone walls. Often these had grown olives and were being converted to grapes. Many had been abandoned and their stone retaining walls fallen to ruin, the terrace steps returning to their original slopes. It was a route of contrasts, new concrete posts with embedded tile signs announced the name of the small, often decaying villages, new machine cut terraces, suited to mechanized grape production, climbed from valley bottom to ridge top. On another slope, traditional stone faced vine and olive terraces climbed to the town of Tabuaço, the ridge above dominated by modern wind turbines, the deep throated rush of wind past their giant blades audible far down the valley. Sadly our photos did not capture the surreal nature of a landscape so unnatural and yet so beautiful. Just upriver from the junction of the Tavora and Duoro rivers, a large hillside sign announced the Quinta do Seixo (Estate of Pebbles), home of Sandeman port. An immaculately main- tained cobblestone lane, decorated with rose bushes, wound its way back and forth through manicured, traditional stone walled terraces joined by stone block stairs. At the top, the San- deman winery welcomed our arrival. Two large tour buses awaited their passengers return from their tour of the winery. Across  the valley we could see signs for other Port producers but none so large as Sandeman’s. We had missed their English language tour and, opting not to wait for the next, we took a back road route to the valley bottom and followed the Duoro into Pin- hão.  A narrow lane led under railway tracks to the river and a quiet, a tree lined, stone block (sett) paved street. A small tour boat, patterned after the famously graceful rabelo cargo boats that once transported port down river, was moored to the jetty and a modern river cruise ship ghosted to its mooring downriver. After a stroll along the river in the warmth of the morning sun, and after coffee, pastry, and a WC break in the lobby of a riverside hotel, we climbed the eastern slopes of the Vale de Mendiz to the quaint and picturesque village of Alijó, returning via and Favaios and Sabrosa down the western slopes of the valley to Pinhão.  The Vale de Mendiz had a different character from the Tavora and Duoro. Amidst the mod- ern mechanized terraces were many traditional stone farm houses, outbuildings, and olive and grape terraces. Picturesque and idyllic from a distance, as we got closer we could see that the terraces were aban- doned, the tile roofs fallen in, and the windows gone. In places the crumbling terraces seemed to melt back into the landscape. Sadly for us, mechanized grape production is changing the charac- ter and landscape of the Alto Duoro, much as corporate farming has changed the character and way of life on the Canadian prairie, but here, the change is even more dramatic. Once back to Pinhao, we headed west to Amarante following the Duoro as far as Mesão Frio before leaving the valley and heading overland on the N101. Traffic was slow, the Duoro proper not nearly as interesting or scenic as the tributaries we explored, and Amarante a minor disaster. First, the campsite was listed incorrectly and Kate (our GPS) took us on a 15 km wild goose chase into the hills before we figured out what was wrong. Kate then took the van on a harrowing route, across what we were sure was a pedestrian bridge to Amarante, before delivering us to the real campsite. I often think, because I am driving and must make split second decisions, that Sheila does not feel the same pressure as I do, but she has to interpret Kate's screw-ups, answer my urgent requests for directions, and do so with a poorly designed user interface and outdated database. To my chagrin, my frequent irascibility makes her task that much more difficult.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
by David E. Moon
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map Enjoying the morning sun at Arcozelo da Torre. A woman, bundled in wool,  gathers ferns along the road. View of the Tavora valley between Tabuaço and Santo Aleixo.. Wind turbines above the town of Tabuaço. Manicured terraces at the Sandeman estate. An abandoned villa falling into decay. A graceful rabelo, now used for river tours, tied to the jetty.

May 14, the Alto Duoro - Amarante

Anxious to tour the Alto Duro, home to the famous Port houses of Portugal,  we left early. Sheila picked a route that would take us across the plateau and down the Tavora valley to the Duoro. Though sunny, it was cool in the shade and a woman bundled in heavy wool sweater and skirt, baseball hat, and thick woolen leggings walked along a narrow forest road collecting ferns. Under blue skies and early morning light the small villages were quiet and peaceful. In one, two gentlemen relaxed, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun, one sitting on his stairs, the other on the edge of the town’s public fountain. We began our descent to the Duoro near Granjinha. Here the valley sides were a patch- work of Pine forest on the steeper, rocky slopes and olive terraces on the less steep and deeper soils. Soon, across the valley, terraced vineyards stepped down the steep slopes towards the Tavora. In a startling pattern they followed the contours like some giant plywood relief model, the roads gashes across the ter- races steps. Groves of pine softened the strange symmetry of the new terraces and the abandoned olive terraces, with anachronistic and collapsing stone walls were reminders of the past. Soon we could see that most of the terraces were new, carved into the slopes by machine, their risers left bare and unsupported, their vines planted in rows accessible for mechanized harvesting. Other terraces, fewer, were old, the risers faced by rough, undressed stone walls. Often these had grown olives and were being converted to grapes. Many had been abandoned and their stone retaining walls fallen to ruin, the terrace steps returning to their original slopes. It was a route of contrasts, new concrete posts with embedded tile signs announced the name of the small, often decaying villages, new machine cut terraces, suited to mechanized grape production, climbed from valley bottom to ridge top. On another slope, traditional stone faced vine and olive terraces climbed to the town of Tabuaço, the ridge above dominated by modern wind tur- bines, the deep throated rush of wind past their giant blades audible far down the valley. Sadly our photos did not capture the surreal nature of a land- scape so unnatural and yet so beautiful. Just upriver from the junction of the Tavora and Duoro rivers, a large hillside sign announced the Quinta do Seixo (Estate of Pebbles), home of Sandeman port. An immacu- lately maintained cobblestone lane, decorated with rose bushes, wound its way back and forth through mani- cured, traditional stone walled terraces joined by stone block stairs. At the top, the Sandeman winery welcomed our arrival. Two large tour buses awaited their passengers return from their tour of the winery. Across  the valley we could see signs for other Port producers but none so large as Sandeman’s. We had missed their English language tour and, opting not to wait for the next, we took a back road route to the valley bottom and followed the Duoro into Pinhão.  A narrow lane led under railway tracks to the river and a quiet, a tree lined, stone block (sett) paved street. A small tour boat, patterned after the famously graceful rabelo cargo boats that once transported port down river, was moored to the jetty and a modern river cruise ship ghosted to its mooring downriver. After a stroll along the river in the warmth of the morning sun, and after coffee, pastry, and a WC break in the lobby of a riverside hotel, we climbed the eastern slopes of the Vale de Mendiz to the quaint and picturesque village of Alijó, returning via and Favaios and Sabrosa down the western slopes of the valley to Pinhão.  The Vale de Mendiz had a different character from the Tavora and Duoro. Amidst the mod- ern mechanized terraces were many traditional stone farm houses, outbuildings, and olive and grape terraces. Picturesque and idyllic from a dis- tance, as we got closer we could see that the terraces were abandoned, the tile roofs fallen in, and the win- dows gone. In places the crumbling terraces seemed to melt back into the landscape. Sadly for us, mechanized grape production is chan- ging the character and landscape of the Alto Duoro, much as corporate farming has changed the character and way of life on the Canadian prairie, but here, the change is even more dra- matic. Once back to Pinhao, we headed west to Amarante following the Duoro as far as Mesão Frio before leaving the valley and heading overland on the N101. Traffic was slow, the Duoro proper not nearly as interesting or scenic as the tributaries we explored, and Amarante a minor disaster. First, the campsite was listed incorrectly and Kate (our GPS) took us on a 15 km wild goose chase into the hills before we figured out what was wrong. Kate then took the van on a harrowing route, across what we were sure was a pedestrian bridge to Amarante, before delivering us to the real campsite. I often think, because I am driving and must make split second decisions, that Sheila does not feel the same pressure as I do, but she has to interpret Kate's screw-ups, answer my urgent requests for directions, and do so with a poorly designed user interface and outdated database. To my chagrin, my frequent irascibility makes her task that much more difficult.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map Men enjoy the morning sun at Arcozelo da Torre. A woman, bundled in wool,  gathers ferns along the road. View of the Tavora valley between Tabuaço and Santo Aleixo.. Wind turbines above the town of Tabuaço. Manicured terraces at the Sandeman estate. An abandoned villa falling into decay. A graceful rabelo, now used for river tours, tied to the jetty.