Tuesday, 13 April 2010

PORTO,PORT & THE DOURO

12th.April

Cutting short the stopover at LISBOA,didn't like the site either,so off to PORTO.
A strange drive on the pretty route avoiding expensive tolls. The state of the road was awful which is why you're supposed to go on the Toll road. Reasonably scenic but a curious road that for 60 miles was lined with small,medium and large businesses all selling very heavy mechanised machinery from earth moving equipment,tractors,trailers through cranes to trucks of every shape and size, new and used. To make it more bizarre,these were interspersed with huge stone emporiums selling anything from gravel to massive blocks that would be useful if one wanted to build a pyramid or something.
We had chosen to stop at a site just south of PORTO in a town called MADALENA. The site was one run by Orbitur who do not have a great reputation and this site was no exception to their poor rating. Could have been good but was very rundown and things didn't work. But it was fairly cheap at 13€ a night and very handy for the bus into PORTO from outside the gate every 30 mins. The bus ride was an event in itself and the thrill factor of a large bus hurtling through back streets with minimal clearance, parked cars and pedestrians with a death wish was far worth more than the 1.40€ that it cost.
PORTO is an ace city and everything that LISBOA was not. Extremely photogenic, easy to negotiate and full of interesting things to see and do. We purchased the 48hr-hop-on-hop-off-bus-tour-ticket including 6 bridges river cruise for 19€ each and which were very good value as we hopped on and off for 2 days all over the city. Had an excellent lunch on the quayside of the Douro opposite the Port warehouses which occupy the south bank at a restaurant quaintly named Chez Lapin. The quaysides on both sides of the river are very picturesque and are full of bars and restaurants and are very easy for walking about. After our cruise deposited us on the south side we decided to 'do' a port house as many were offering tours. Spoilt for choice we chose Taylors as I suspect that I have contributed a fair amount to their profits over the years (and the GF decided that she had been ripped off in JEREZ at the Tio Pepe tour, and they own Croft who were also in the frame for a visit, and we couldn't find the door for Offley until we were passing on the way down). The downside of this choice was that Taylors were right at the top of a very steep cliffside into which all the port shippers have carved their warehouses and whilst it was great view it was a hell of a climb. The upside of the choice however was that we had chosen the only shipper not to charge for their tour with 2 glasses of port for tasters as well. Having done Harveys in Madeira & Gonzalez Byass in Jerez, the tour held few surprises and as I suspected, whilst containing thousands of litres of maturing port it amounts to only a small part of their stock and is really only retained for touristic and promotional value. Since they no longer bring the wine down the Douro by boat (these are now only kept for for show along the river) and it is shipped by road tanker, it is no surprise that the exceedingly narrow and vertically steep streets of PORTO are not a favoured destination for the bulk of their production. But the tour was interesting and the whole thing in PORTO has been done with class. So we had a jolly good 2 days, taking the hop-on out to the coastal beaches and walking a good part of the way back in the sunshine along the river, having lunch on the way and a tour of the cathedral(disappointing) and the Bolsa Palaccio (very luxurious/oppulent chamber of commerce for the port trade in which I managed to blag a wine tasting as well).Shall return to PORTO as I never did get to ride on a tram or the metro and will lokk forward to next time.
On Sunday we drove up the DOURO VALLEY as far as PES DA REGUA before turning inland to stop over at VILA REAL. The drive up the valley is SPECTACULAR (if not a bit hair-raising in places.....the TomTom took an awful lot of bitty programming to come up with a route which involved only one road,the N108, to which it seemed to taken exception. However since we travelled some 100kms along the N108 only losing our way twice, the TomTom's hissy fit was largely ignored. Shall explore the upper reaches at a later date. We only saw one other motorhome all day and the area is definitely not on the tourist route except for those who explore it by cruise ship. VILA REAL was v.pleasant and we had a lovely walk along the river from the small campsite, stopping for a drink on the way back for which we were charged a mere 2€ for a large beer and an iced tea.
On Monday, a very scenic drive to SANTIAGO dA COMPOSTELLA. Had intended staying 2 days but a) the campsite wanted 24.60€ a night and b) the place is awful. The worst church we've ever been in. GROSS.
Monday. Great drive along the north coast of Spain, stopping off at a great little campsite in a place called PERLORA near GIJON, with a pitch on the cliffside and stunning views. Another GB van turned up who had been at Santiago last night and who agreed with the above, having only spent the morning looking around before heading for the hills.
PROBLEM. Discovered that the water pump has packed up so we have no water on tap.

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