Wednesday 29 June … Vila Nova de Foz Coa to Almeida

I can see the car disappear’, he said … that is John’s way of guessing we must be at the top of yet another hill.

This is what tour cycling is all about. A great day on the bike, all boxes were ticked, adventure, culture and a much more.

We woke to an amazing view of the valley. I was a little anxious … the route was 5km steep down; 5km steep up then 52km steady up; 950m ascent and 610m descent.

Breakfast was entertaining there was us, Julie from Brazil on bike, Antoine from France on bike and a guy who was going out shooting wild boar, it’s his sport, lovely guy, we were all quivering at his stories and videos of his passion to shoot boar and to sell to butchers … as he lifted a slice of ham at the breakfast table.

Komoot took us on a ‘Cooks tour’ out of town much to John’s displeasure … small cobbled paths and up hills … I thought it was lovely; he was cussing away … haha. Back on the national highway and 7% down to the river, crossing the Còa River with the confluence of the Douro River. It’s quite warm as we start climbing … the Douro River below a glimpse of 2 river boats then more climbing 7-8%. We are blessed as some cloud cover and a little tail wind helped. We are up amongst the vineyards with beautiful views.

We reach the top and plateau with slight inclines and lovely rolling hills. … the landscape also changes … it’s a lot drier with large outcrops of rock. A lovely old village for a coffee … a group of cyclists on a Backroads tour having their scheduled break.

‘Hey John, keep a look out for cork trees’, I say,

‘Oh no … I saw a tree with a number 5 painted on it … it could have been a cork tree’

Further on we find a plantation of trees some with number 6. We laugh and think of how Choo, from Malaysia would be so proud … he was on a hunt for cork trees in Pinhao.

Another lovely town, Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo for lunch then it was smooth slight climbing to Almeida.

A lovely day … lots of changes in the landscape, vineyards, almonds groves, dry rocky outcrops and views of hills. The end result was 1014m elevation gain.

We are very close to the Spanish border. Almeida is a walled fortress in the shape of a star … a quick change and off to explore the old town. Lovely old buildings and view points.

We, on the other hand are staying outside the wall at a very cheap Casa. We are likening it to be a scene from Fawlty Towers.

On arrival the door is open, nobody in sight, keys to rooms all exposed. A phone with a number. We ring; a friend who speaks English says someone will be here soon, the petrol station person next door comes to the rescue and we get the key. After showering and exploring the old city our key doesn’t work. We try the phone and number, leave message, the whole town tries to open door including a 99+yo dear old lady. Finally the owner and his English-speaking mate arrive after an hour. The lock is dodgy but it finally works. All good.

Oh well that’s country Portugal … my mind goes back to the 70’s when you didn’t lock your car or your house … wouldn’t we all love to turn back time.


Tuesday 28 June … Pinhao to Vila Nova de Foz Coa

After a second 2 night stay in the backpacker’s in Pinhao we must move on … we have had such a great time in Pinhao and met some lovely people there, Pedro and Sara are amazing hosts.

Taking it easy today and enjoying another train ride to Pochino hugging the Douro River, it’s very peaceful and relaxing … John nodding off … he’s relaxed. We see 3 riverboats, and some Rabolas … we are approaching the busy tourist season.

Off the train we head towards Vila Nova de Foz Coa, immediately we are climbing, it’s only 8km but the climb is steady and unrelenting. It’s very dry and hot, we stopped for a photo and drink in the shade of a gum tree. There is a village on hills to my right … I’m hoping that is not our destination. Around the hill and we are there. Ummm … it wasn’t exactly taking it easy!

We couldn’t check in to the hostel until 6pm. We drop off panniers and venture into centro … a very clean town and streets, nice gardens in houses. A pedestrian mall with several restaurants and cafes. We rode through the old town … very picturesque.

A claim to fame is the Coa Museum and Rock Art sites of the Coa Valley dating back 20,000 years, and the region is twice a UNESCO listed heritage sites for Pre-Columbian Art history and the Douro Landscape.

Monday 27 June … Pinhao

The river is so small … he said as we climbed a huge hill …

A rush to get out of the door today … we are getting the train from Pinhao to Pochino. Choo,a Malaysian man is with us.  No other bikes on the train … we are safe as only 2 bikes allowed… what a great trip breathtaking scenery of the vineyards and river.  From Tua the landscape changed to more natural bush and large rocks meeting the river.   Pochino is a short 15 minute wait for the return journey … another bike … nice conductor 3 bikes allowed today.  We get off at Tua and ride back … we are going on the route we took a few days ago but not taking a wrong turn this time.  Choo is on foot and confident to do the 20km.

We see where we went wrong before … there is a cobblestone path that leads through the terraced vineyards it’s very steep and we have to walk the bikes for about 3km … the 6km climb had amazing views of the river and vines. Around the hill and to the top is a little village. We are on proper roads now and go through several small villages that look familiar … yes we came by this way before as I remember some more unrelenting climbs before a long descent into Pinhao.

It’s 3pm and we are too late for lunch at a Cafe … a trip to the butcher … ham, bread and cheese, a tomato from the supermarket. Back to the garden on top of the backpackers, sitting under the orange tree looking across a terraced hill with vines, way below is the Pinhao River. What more can I ask for.

Sunday 26 June … Porto to Pinhao

The streets are empty as we leave the hotel at 7.30am … any sign of getting a coffee is in our dreams.  It’s all downhill so we are there in about 10 minutes.

The train strike is over,  at least for today anyway.  More people at stations looking confident.  At the station to get the 8.20am train. There is also a 9.20am train in case there are too many bikes.  Oh no! … another bike on the platform … eeekk!!  The German man is catching the same train.  We are in luck the train has a proper bike area for 12 bikes.  It’s another clear morning, the sun is shining on the hills with terraced vineyards, it’s great to be out of the city.

A lovely train ride to Pinhao, and then off on a hike up the hills through the vineyards with amazing views. I’m so glad we didn’t bring the bikes, some very steep hills. A visit to the Olive Oil Museum for a tour, Tapas and wine, the setting … you guessed it … vineyards and the river … it is so quiet and peaceful. The trek down with a bottle of rosè in my backpack, talking to some French and Norwegian people.

Lovely people at the hostel, a guy from Malaysia and 2 from Germany

Saturday 25 June … Porto

The sun is shining with a few puffy clouds, the city is busy with some tired people around. The Sao Joao Festival celebrations over the last few days have taken it’s toll as the locals party to all hours of the morning. Several restaurants and shops close for a few days … is that why the trains strike?? Nobody wants to miss out!

It is still quite cool here today around 19C a breeze takes the edge off the temperature. A feast for the amateur photographer, many churches, old building, bridges, the river and people what more can you ask for to get a good photo.

Today has no fixed agenda … I did want to see Liveria Lello labelled the most beautiful bookshop in the world, the line way down the road … I will have to be satisfied with pictures on line. But wait it is 5.30pm and it closes at 7pm, off we go for a last chance, the line is not too bad and with a little help from staff with the free wifi we have purchased tickets on line to escalate our entry and are in the doors at 6.30pm. A lovely tiny shop with 2 levels and a pink floored spiral staircase. There is something for everyone as books are available in many languages, as people browse with the intention to buy to get their €5 entrance fee refunded and the shop sticker on the cover.

The narrow house Casa Escondida (hidden house) built between 2 churches was also on my list. An entrance to one of the churches gave you entrance to the house where a couple and their 13 children lived.

Then it was wander time, lunch at an alfresco Cafe with tapas of traditional food, cod fish cakes and some salted cod … both were simply amazing, The streets look very festive as they are still decorated with garlands from the past festivities. A lovely stroll down to the ferry terminal, shops and markets doing a roaring trade, not to mention the restaurants, every vacant area is taken up with tables and chairs. We climbed 221 stairs, John was counting … we carried the bikes down these last week when we were here. Today the bikes are in the hotel garage having a well earned break.

Friday 24 June … Pinhao to Porto

We had a lovely ride from Pinhao to Regua on the N222 … regarded as one of the best touristic roads in the world. We are with Franny who will leave us in Regua and go her merry way. We all agreed our ride yesterday was much better … who are we to decide what is the best road when you are on a bike. River locks amaze me; we stay and watch the process of the river boat going through the lock.

We had a great time in the hostel, 2 German girls left today, they are travelling in an inflatable kayak, today their direction will depend on the wind, we were hoping to see them from the road but we are facing a slight headwinds so our chances are low.

Sipping on a Mateus Rose its all is good. We have had the hassle of the train strike today but managed to get ourselves to Porto with 2 trains. The train ride was beautiful and very scenic. We hope to keep contact with Franny.

Porto was celebrating St Joao yesterday but the celebrations still continue today. I googled 2 traditional restaurants near by and they were closed … the hotel came to the party with a suggestion of a local place which was open … what a great time we had … meal was so so but met some Spanish guys staying at the hotel, some Americans that have migrated here in December … that is quite another story to tell in person.

Thursday 23 June … Pinhao

Not on a train, bus or boat ... on the bike …

Wow factor indeed.  Off on a short 1 hr trip on a rabelo to the river town of Tua with the bikes in tow. A rabelo is a traditional Portugese wooden boat used to transport cargo and people along the Duoro River.

We have Franny with us today, a Belgium girl staying at the same hostel. We are cycling back to Pinhao amongst the vineyards and through the hills and little villages. The views are sensational as we weave through and around the hills with 360° view of vineyards. The vineyards look like patchwork as the rows are planted in different directions. We finish with an amazing downhill back to Pinhao. After 34km of scenery to die for we are back on the river banks of Pinhao. What a wonderful experience.

The train station is a story in itself … tile walls depicting the history of this wine growing village.

A trip to the local butcher for samples before you buy of cured pork, salami and cheese and of course he has fresh bread on offer …

Wednesday 22 June … Porto to Pinhao (plan c)

Course found …

Interesting morning, rain overnight, it was nice listening to it … there was a pine tree outside the window of our room.

We are aware of a train strike or limited services could be a challenge today so we have 3 contingency plans.

  • Plan a) catch 7.20am train … fail .. they said bikes cannot go on train;
  • Plan b) go to other station where they said bikes could go … yes 8.25am train and ask conductor if there is room for bikes, 5 min before leaving the train is cancelled;
  • Plan c) ride to bus station and catch bus … success but not before we get tickets to the wrong destination, thankfully we realise and change the tickets.
  • Finally, we are ‘on course’!!

We took the bus at 10.30am … a great scenic route weaving around the terraced hillsides, and this is not the Douro Valley yet. The bus trip finishes at Regua, we have a lovely lunch, I have a small bottle of wine (half bottle) memories of holidays in France and enjoying a plat de jour and a quart of wine for lunch.

Then a boat from Regua to Pinhao.  More amazing scenery of the Duoro Valley. The stress levels are immediately gone, then a warm welcome from Pedro the owner of the Hostel where we are staying. Pedro gave us a map of this small village, population of just 500, and a list of things to do … omg … we are only here for 2 nights how will we ever fit it all in?

‘John, we need to talk, how are we going to do all these things?’

A nice dinner … yeah I like it here … advice from Pedro was make sure you eat early, this little village goes to sleep at night. So we are done with dinner before the sun has set, the terraced hills of vines are just surreal as the glow of the last sun rays disappear. This is a wow factor.

Tuesday 21 June … Porto

We are going to the Loire Valley’, she said, ‘The Loire??? .. The Douro!!!’he said …. (at the train station)

What a day … we spent the morning working out plan A and Plan B for tomorrow … there is a scheduled train strike for the next few days. We are expecting to travel by train along the Douro Valley tomorrow … eek … there is a bus option. So we spent the morning at the trains station and bus station getting timetables etc.

All is not lost we managed to get a coffee and Portugese Tart at the best place here … rode along the river to the sea, then back over the bridge to Giai. Not before walking down Rua das Flores (flower street). It is considered the most beautiful street in the centre of Porto.

A lovely meal at a local restaurant. It’s been a very mild day with the weather, cloudy with intermittent very light showers, not enough to bother with raincoats. Porto is one of the wettest cities in Portugal … so we were told.

What a wonderful boozy afternoon … we started off at Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau, a lavish shop that sold cod fish cakes and port … very overpriced but we haven’t done anything like that before … the cod fish cakes and port were nice. The setting was lovely. Further on we saw a wine outlet advertising free Fado music a lovely hour listening to the live singer and sipping a bottle of rose. Later on just as we were about to head back to Porto a tiered garden … popular for sunset viewing .. a busker was playing. We finished the bottle of rose while listening to guitar playing to 70’s music and admiring the ‘pinch yourself moments’ of Porto on the other side of the river. It’s been cloudy all day so sunset was not going to happen.

Monday 20 June … Lisbon to Porto

A good early start to the day, a flawless ride to local train into Lisbon then to the regional station for a 9.30am train. Reading the ticket carefully, so proud that we have the correct seat and carriage number. The panniers have to be off the bikes but no wrapping required. We must look knowledgeable as some others asked us if they were on the other correct train. I able to tell them their carriage number and seat allocation … warm fuzzies. The next station only minutes away and an influx of passengers … some argy-bargy about seat allocation … I’m feeling rather chuffed that we have it right today.

3.5hrs later and we are in Porto we cross the Duoro river with impressive sights of a nearby bridge. We are very close to the hotel from the station a 700m climb to start … Porto has its share of hills also. Bikes in the garage, room allocation and we are off and running and getting information at a tourist office. Outside in a square is a man with an umbrella, ‘free walking tours’ yes we can join in 30mins … yeah!! There were 8 of us, he was a history graduate, great tour of the city to get us started. A bit of history, culture, gastronomy and roadmap of the town. A lovely group; French, Indian and USA.

Inside the railway station

A bit of trivia; J K Rawlings (Harry Potter fame) lived in Porto for many years. The Majestic Cafe was one of her favourites.

Tonight we tried a Porto traditional dish Francesinha … a sandwich with a difference.