We had always planned to travel on this trip via bus and train through Portugal, then Spain, then possibly take a quick flight to Italy. But when after a week in Portugal we found ourselves 100 miles from Spain, in the Douro Valley, with what seemed no way to actually reach the border aside from hiring a taxi for 300 euro or spending a good portion of our trip walking (smartly Matt doesn’t share my enthusiasm for hitchhiking,) we had some decisions to make.
The locals told us there were once trains and buses into Spain but budget cuts have resulted in mass mass transportation cuts. Just a minor inconvenience for travellers like us but particularily isolating for residents of many smaller towns throughout Portugal.
All options exhausted, we realized there was no choice but to backtrack to Porto, where we had just visited a few days prior. Happily, this choice also opened up a world of options to us. We could continue going North via train or bus into Galicia but it wasn’t where our head was. We were both craving the hills, wine, food, warm sunny days, and friends of Italy. That’s the trade off of this kind of spontanious travel: some days are hard and don’t work out how you hoped, but then you have the opportunity to redirect and follow your mood.
A little over 24 hours after leaving the Duoro – through a low-cost flight; a series of planes, trains, and buses; and just a little pedal power, we arrived in Vattaro, Italy – home of our friend Luciano and his haven in the Dolomites, the Aplenrose.
What makes this place special enough to country hop? More on that soon.
For now, here are a few tips for visiting the unbelievably beautiful and welcoming Douro Valley:
Even after our experience, I still don’t think I would rent a car, especially if you are ok with coming from and returning to Porto. The train ride is just so beautiful, easy and cheap. We chose Pinaho as our home base for a few days. It’s a tiny town located on the river and centered around the rail line.
Also, for exploring the best flight options check out http://www.skyscanner.com
SEE & DO
It’s the wine region, so this is an easy one. There are wineries who offer tastings and tours throughout the valley and local tour companies who will take you on the circuit of your choice. If you plan to do as we did and hike to a few select wineries, be sure and set up an appointment with them in advance.
There are also a ton of options in all price and style ranges for taking a cruise further into the Douro. No advance planning is needed here, just make your way down to the river and select your favorite boat. It’s a really relaxed and cool way to see the valley. http://www.discoverdourovalley.com
We chose Pinhao for no better reason than it was on the train line, in the middle of the valley, and someone said there were a few restaurants and markets there (essential things to know before the train pulls away.)
It’s what you’d hope for in a small town, people greeted us as we passed on the street, the guy at the butcher shop insisted we try a delicious array of local meats, cheeses, and olives before we purchased. He even brought a bottle of port out from under the counter and had a toast with us before we left. And a big night out in Pinhao involves taking a ride down the river or sitting waterside and watching the nightly promenade of a few tourists and not many more locals.
There are quite a few choices when it comes to accomodation and surprisingly, they are all over the map style and cost wise. We chose Casas Botelho Elias for the outdoor space. It’s a cute little apartment right off the main street with a large shared terrace (since we were the only guests, we enjoyed it on our on.)
We got a gander at Hotel Douro and it seems like a great choice on the lower cost end. LBV sits on the hill above the village. It’s very modern and clean but seems pretty removed from local life. The CS Vintage Hotel is awfully pretty but it seems really pricy for this small village. And, finally, Quinta do Passadouro. We didnt actually go there but we seriously considered it. In the end, we decided to stay in town because of convenience. All of the communication we had with Passadouro was prompt and helpful and we heard many good things about the hosts. If we were to return, I think this would be my first choice.