Day 13: Man- & Nature-Made Beauty of the Douro Valley

Today we awoke early to rainy skies and decided it was a good day to tend to our dirty laundry. I approached the front desk clerk of the hotel and asked if there was self-service laundry nearby, and she warmly smiled and said, yes, yes there was. We stood and smiled at each other for a few moments before I inquired, um, is it nearby? She smiled again and said yes, in Guarda. I smiled back and asked if there was any way she could narrow the scope just a little, as the town seems to have grown a bit since 1600? She got onto her computer, peck-peck-pecked a few things on the keyboard, scribbled something down, and triumphantly handed me a paper with a street name. The laundry is here, I asked? Oh, yes, yes indeed. Is there a business name or street number? Oh, no, no there is not.

This photo doesn't really do justice to the color - or steepness - of the Douro Vally

This photo doesn’t really do justice to the color – or steepness – of the Douro Vally

Back in the room we consulted several online mapmakers but not one of them was aware of this street’s existence. Okie dokey, let’s come at this again. Downstairs we went to check out, and said we had some misgivings about this laundry’s whereabouts. This time she called in a reinforcement, and together they peck-peck-pecked at the keyboard and studied the screen for several minutes, perplexed. Eventually they produced an entirely different street name and, all smiles, proudly handed it over.

Admittedly with reservations, we directed Miss Cleo to the street and drove up it, eyes peeled for anything resembling laundry. Lo and behold, there it was, open for business (it’s on Avenida Cidade de Waterbury, for any other wayward travelers with a trunk load of dirty laundry).

Once our laundry was complete, and to clearing skies, we were off to the Douro Valley. The Douro is one of Portugal’s wine-producing regions, and is covered in beautiful vineyards. While we missed the September harvest season, we hit the fall color season and there were acres and acres of reds, greens, yellows, and orange colors spread across miles of vines.

The majestic Douro River

The majestic Douro River

Besides the fall color, another impressive feature is how life is vertical here. Many of the vineyards and homes were precariously perched on steep, plunging hillsides, and, like many of the roads we’d traversed, they were twisty, steep, and narrow. Driveways would come out of nowhere and include sharp U-turns to reach, and watching cars swing down into them and immediately disappear was like watching ants go into a hole.

We made a quick lunch stop along the Douro River in the town of Pinhao before heading back up the hillside into the town of Lamego. By this point it had started to rain again, but we pressed on.

Lamego has a castle, naturally, and a giant cathedral, naturally, but something else it has is the Santuario de Nossa Senhora Dos Remedios. And it is quite a sight. In fact, Jim’s jaw actually dropped when he saw it. Right above a main avenue rolling through town starts an elaborate Baroque staircase (is anything Baroque not elaborate?) that crisscrosses up the steep hillside and, after over 600 steps, reaches an impressive church. It is something else.

Out of nowhere springs this incredible architecture

Out of nowhere springs this incredible architecture (you may have to enlarge the photo – the stairs are really big)

As soon as we saw the 600+ steps, we immediately got to work. And by that I mean we swung by the TI for a map (staffed by yet another extremely sweet and friendly Portuguese woman), fought the rain for a bit while walking around town, and then got into the car and drove up to the church in a civilized fashion. The church at the top is beautiful, but the staircase really takes the cake.

By this point we’d had it with being cold and wet, so hopped back into the car and drove to the Hotel Comerico located in the little town of Caldes de Aregos along the Douro River. We had obtained dinner provisions earlier in the day when there was a small situation with a wrong turn out of a roundabout that landed us squarely in a grocery store parking lot. We took that as a sign and picked up a few items, along with a fine bottle of Douro Valley wine (Terras de Lamego). The proprietor of Hotel Comerico even hooked us up with a corkscrew and two wine glasses, which was a much more refined and sophisticated way of imbibing than our Plan B, which involved swigging out of the bottle. We settled in for the evening and planned out our next few days, which were sure to include cathedrals and castles.

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