Detours and Discoveries on the Douro
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Today, we disembarked Viking River Cruises Viking Torgil in Pinhao, Portugal on the second-last day of our 10-day Portugal’s River of Gold journey. Pinhao (pronounced peen-yow) would mark the jumping-off point for a fabulously memorable day of touring Portugal’s UNESCO-protected Douro River Valley.
Unfortunately, most guests were so wiped out from our full day of touring Salamanca, Spain yesterday that there was a noticeable amount of empty space on the coach this morning. It’s too bad – they missed out on one of the most entertaining, confounding and intriguing days on our journey.
To start with, our coach was detoured off the freeway by road closures, which meant it took nearly two hours to reach the Village of Favaios that would be our first stop this morning. The plus side of this inconvenience? Some of the most spectacular scenery we’ve seen this trip, highlighted by the lightly-diffused sunrise that blanketed the Douro’s hills in soft shades of green.
Once we’d reached Favaios, I popped into a local pharmacy to buy some lozenges for what is increasingly becoming a nasty cold. Good news: pharmacy technicians in Portugal speak English. Better news: they carry a brand called “Strepsils”, so if you’re really stuck, just say “Strepsils” and point to your throat. That’ll get the job done too. Cost: €5.
I rejoined the group in time to tour the local Douro Valley Museum that is situated in town, and to visit a local bread merchant to see how they bake fresh bread in the same style that has been used here for hundreds of years. The bread was delicious, and seeing it being made “the old fashioned way” rather than sitting in pyramid-like clusters in a supermarket was unexpectedly thrilling.
But it was our lunchtime visit to the Enoteca Douro – Quinta da Avessada winery that really set my day into high gear and made it one of the most memorable of this trip. It was there, you see, that we met The Portuguese Mr. Bean.
Of course, Luis Barros isn’t really the Portuguese Mr. Bean. He’s the current owner of the vineyard, preserving a centuries-long tradition of producing fine wines and Muscatels along the Douro. He’s a talented, knowledgeable businessman who is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the Douro Demarcated Region and the culture of the Village of Favaios and that of Quinta de Avessada.
And God help me, he looks and acts like Mr. Bean.
Now, here’s a fun challenge: take someone who is speaking honestly and earnestly about their proud tradition as a family-run winery that has been operating in the Douro valley for centuries. Now, add in some madcap facial expressions, amazing changes in both the pitch and timbre of their voice, throw in some elaborate hand gestures, and you’ve got Luis Barros: the Portuguese Mr. Bean.
Barros seems to be aware of his uncanny resemblance (the gift shop sells post cards featuring him mimicking Mr. Bean’s famous mugshot), but this isn’t an act: this is how the man really is. And the fact that he’s not saying anything overtly funny makes the entire thing uncomfortably hysterical. Which Barros seems fine with – during our lunch at the winery, most tables broke down in laughter while Barros spoke at intervals that were announced with the chiming of a bell. Try as I might, I nearly spit my wine out on several occasions. Someone put their camera on “burst” mode – that is, the rapid-fire shutter speed that rattles off a few dozen photos a second. The results were incredible.
Barros is an eccentric man; that much was made clear by the wine glass-shaped swimming pool and the Chuck-E-Cheese-style animatronic display highlighting the traditional method of stomping grapes. In fact, the winery is a classy place nestled in the middle of some pristine scenery, which makes the contrasts all that much more hysterical. The animatronics room – which resembles something Walt Disney might have dreamed up if he had hit the sauce hard and early – was preceded by one of the most elegant and beautiful tasting rooms I had ever set foot in. The contrasts were overwhelmingly funny; it was as if Pee Wee Herman had opened up shop in the Ritz-Carlton.
Yet lunch was impeccable, the wine was to die for, and Barros revealed himself to be the odd-but-consummate host. It may not be intended to be lunch and a show, but it certainly was one of my most memorable travel experiences anywhere in the world.
This evening, we returned to the Viking Torgil at her berth in Pinhao for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail and Dinner. Although we have one more day to enjoy on our Portugal’s River of Gold itinerary, Viking always places the “Farewell” events on the second-to-last night to properly allow guests to enjoy themselves without having to worry about early departure times and packing.
It’s just one more way Viking wants guests to fully concentrate on enjoying their vacation – while leaving the details and logistics up to their capable crews and Program Directors.
Viking Torgil - Portugal's River of Gold
|Day 1||Lisbon, Portugal|
|Day 2||Lisbon, Portugal|
|Day 3||Porto, Portugal; Embarking Viking Torgil|
|Day 4||Porto, Portugal|
|Day 5||Regua, Portugal|
|Day 6||Castelo Rodrigo|
|Day 7||Salamanca, Spain|
|Day 8||Pinhao, Portugal|
|Day 9||Lamego, Portugal|
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Torgil continues tomorrow with one final day in Portugal on the Douro! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.