It often happens to me that I link my travel experiences to childhood memories. My trip to the Douro Valley in Portugal was such a time. My childish memory regards those liquor bottles in the minibar of our dining room, the ones my parents used to serve to guests in stylish Seventies glasses. One of those liquors was a bottle of Porto. And recently I discovered the land of this Portuguese liquor and its harmonious landscape.
I started from the old town of the lively Viseu and moved towards the Douro Valley: Joao de Tarouca, Lamego, Belsemao, Pinao, San joao da Pesqueira. The valley was but the final destination of a discovery tour of this corner of Portugal, which begins with the intense Mediterranean vegetation, the colour of heather and the windmills brushed by the wind.
On my way I found woods, rural buildings and small churches. Over us, a bright blue sky untouched by clouds. Beautiful cloisters and sanctuaries made up for short breaks during our journey.
Joao de Tarouca is the largest Cistercian cloister in Portugal. It’s a monumental building located in a small valley, and it hides a little church with peculiar features: thousands of beautiful azulejos – each one unique – perspective illusions, tombs, tabernacles, relics and a stunning pipe organ.
The cloister, of which only the external part remains, provides a strong visual impact since its majestic size is a pleasant contrast with the small hamlet surrounding it.
Just as beautiful but of a very different style was the next sanctuary in Lamego, a delightful and modern small town with a charming city centre. We walked over the slope, through mild turns refreshened by the trees’ shadows, and were impressed by staircase, the steeples, the shapes, the light blue azuejos enlightened by the sun.
Nearby, the small sanctuary of Belsemao seems to be placed in a dimension far away from modern Lamego, a mountain environment of the Fifties. Belsemao has tight roads where the elderly people standing in front of the bars observe whoever goes through and the women stretch the laundry on the small walls around the houses.
Small waterfalls, the valley and the stone buildings guided us towards the little square enshrining a yellow church, a fountain and a few houses. The Douro Valley wasn’t far from here. The road signs were already pointing it out to us. The bridges of iron and stone and the dams mark its borders. Our final destination is the charming village of San Joao da Pesqueira. The intermediate show was offered by Pinhao’s azulejos, a graphic novel of rural life.
Among all of this, vineyards until the eyes could see, hamlets, estates, boats sailing the river and enchanting shapes everywhere. The road leading to San Joao is the expression of the valley and its beauty, going through it was like riding a musical score, the terraced hills like a staff, the grapevine like notes. The sky, the colours, the playful children, the quite people a melodious orchestra.