Saturday, August 3, 2013

Industry Legend, Patricia Riley, Guest Blogs for Goldring Travel - Paris and Portugal on AmaWaterways' AmaVida - Part IV (The Duoro River Valley)

Flying to Porto from Paris I was treated to a beautiful view of a patchwork of vineyards, small villages with red tile roofs and the beautiful ribbon of water winding its way through them.  That area and the river that flows through it are all part of an area designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the Douro River Valley.  For more information you can visit, www.whc.unesco.org/en/list/1046

One of my bucket lists goals is to visit as many of these sites as possible.  While some are easy to get to, such as the Historic Center or Porto or the Taj Mahal, others such as those in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan will probably be a miss for me.  The total list is amazing and I have never been disappointed in a visit to the ones that I have been able to get to.

The Douro River has its source in Spain and flows westerly towards the Atlantic Ocean.  124 miles of its length are in Portugal.  Steep terraces and gorges make this narrow river seem even more narrow.  The river is no more than 1/2 a kilometer wide.  


We do not cruise at night and its very apparent why.  The narrow river, the sharp bends and the shoals along the very close shoreline make for tricky navigating in the day and unthinkable during the night.  There are also 5 locks along the river.  The highest lock is 115 feet which is one of the highest in Europe and a very exciting transit.  I literally touched the side of the lock from my balcony.

Porto...and Port!



Though the area has been a wine producing area for 2000 years the real turning point for the growth in this area was tied to the Lisbon earthquake in 1755.  The city was hit by a 7.5 earthquake that devastated the capital.  In order to raise money for the repair a Royal Charter was made in 1756 designating the Douro area as a regulated wine growing region.  The famous terraces were planted, harvested and the wine produced was taxed, heavily.  All the tax income went to the repair of Lisbon. 


Today you can see the original terraces, which have been allowed to go back to nature, and above them the terraces planted since the 1800's.  When harvest time comes all of the grapes are harvested by hand.  

We visited Sandeman's winery for a port tasting.  The drive there was amazing.  Lots of switchbacks on a steep road to the top.  Founded by a Scottish gentleman, Sandeman's is one of the oldest estates in the region. Though the days of the pressing of the grapes by stepping on them are gone, the robot technology used now mimics the original way and can be tweaked as needed by the controller. 


When it comes to the production of Port, three key components are required.  All of these are found in the micro climate of the river valley.  The steep slopes, the stony (slate) soil and the natural protection from the humid and cold Atlantic winds result in the production of grapes unique to this demarcated area.  It's a long growing season and a very dry season.  The area gets no more than 800mm of rain per year.  Our tour guide described the weather here as 9 months of winter and three months of hell.  Winter temps dip to -6C and summer temps can go into the 40C range.  Thankfully, we are at about 35C.  Hot, but very dry. Sitting in the shade on the boat is lovely, while sitting in the sun gets very hot, very quickly.

I consider myself a traveler, not a tourist.  I always like to come back from a trip knowing more then I did when I started the trip.  I've learned a lot so far and looking forward to learning and sharing more.  By the way, the word "Quintas" means Estate.