Wednesday 26th July
Viana to Douro
The sail from Viana do Costelo can hardly be described as relaxing.
With the wind blowing between 18 and 22 knots from behind, and the distribution of lobster pots creating a bizarrely uncoordinated slalom course, we were frazzled within the hour.
They are everywhere…. and even when you think it’s all over – along comes another.
This state of high-anxiety continued for a couple of hours after leaving Viana do Costelo. And only because the area south of Viana is designated a national park – and is therefore lobster pot free – did we grab some respite until reaching the entrance to Porto, which is actually fairly low down on the lobster pot leader board.
Douro marina is fairly new and the staff are keen. After performing the usual ritual: Maria calling the marina on the radio asking for berthing instructions, usually getting a reply telling us where in the marina we should go… we got something quite unexpected.
The very precise reply was.. ‘We will check for availability for three nights for Lady Jane and will get back to you within 10 minutes.’
Two minutes later we were told a berth is ready for us and a launch will meet us to take us there. Which indeed it did.
After managing to restart the engine after his outboard conked out, the man in the dinghy led us into the marina, and towards the berth that had been readied for us.
At this point we could only see the end of the pontoon, looking very low in the water. Maria adjusted the fenders accordingly and as we got closer we could see the reason why the pontoon was so low: No fewer than four fellas were on it to catch our lines.
I don’t think we are that bad at mooring up, but someone has grassed us up.
Anyway, things went smoothly, the help was appreciated, and the greeting from the helpers was warm and friendly.
The marina office had the feel of a hotel reception area. In complete contrast to our Solent experiences that are along the lines of…
“Oh, three nights… that’ll be three months wages and you’ll have to stump up the cash now”. “What’s that you say? Electricity? That’ll be an extra fiver per night”.
Instead I was asked if I would like to check in.
After the formalities – and this really was just like checking into a hotel – I was given…
– A street map of the city and a walkthrough of the best places to visit
– A bus timetable and a description of where to find the bus stop
– A hand drawn map of the local village, identifying the shops and restaurants – and the location of the ferry that takes you across the Douro
– A code for the wifi (uncharacteristically fast by the way)
– A personal tour showing me the location of the marina services
– Two security cards to enter the pontoons and access the loos
– And more importantly for the wallet, a 15% discount for being a member of the Cruising Association… thank you very much
And my front-of-desk person told me there’s no need to pay until checkout.
That evening we had dinner at the local restaurant, serving excellent seafood at a bargain price. For us… 23 euros including a bottle of wine.
The next morning we woke to find a packet of bread rolls in the cockpit. A free gift from the marina management. The same gift appeared for each of the subsequent days.
Apparently they are considering adding coffee to the morning delivery.
Of course all this service comes at a price, but still less than a typical south coast marina… only a modestly painful £36 per night. Can’t see that ever happening in Yarmouth.
Thursday 26th July
Gaia to Porto
The marina is actually located in Gaia, so to get to see the sights of Porto one has to cross the river either by ferry or bridge. And the centre is about three kilometres away.
Our marina tour guide told me that the ferry lands on the Porto side near to a tram stop, from where it’s possible to take a ride on a vintage tram all the way to the city centre for three euros. Not bad we thought – so the ferry it was.
The local ferry runs from the nearby fishing village of Afurada. And on the way to the ferry stop, you pass by the community Lavadouro where, during the day, local ladies bring their washing. The washing is done inside in large stone baths and hung up to dry on the permanently mounted washing lines outside overlooking the river. Clearly not for the idle… this looks like hard graft. But it must be a great place to catch up on the local news and gossip. And not a tumble drier or twin tub in sight.
Maria and I were two of four passengers going across the river on the ferry that morning. Just us together with two Lycra clad German biker chaps not in their first flush of youth.
As my marina guide promised, the tram stop is indeed right in front of the ferry stop. And, just to add to the convenience, the next tram was due in four minutes time.
The tram is a beauty. Its polished wood and brass is reminiscent of the street cars seen in San Francisco. But this service dates back to the 19th century. I’m unsure of this particular tram’s age, but it’s a tribute to the team looking after it.
Porto is certainly a lot bigger than we thought – a lot more hilly – and a bit of a shock to the legs. Undeterred by this and with a steely determination to see as much of Porto as we could, we Google Mapped and plodded our way to the key sights recommended by our guide. This included the Majestic Cafe… a well preserved 1930’s cafe oozing luxury and expense, where we opted to take the photographs rather than the food.
A few major purchases were made in Porto, including some things from C&A would you believe? I haven’t seen one of their stores since last century. They are thriving here though – the store was packed.
After lunch we circled back to a music shop that Maria spotted a few hundred metres back to buy a recorder. That caused some confusion because the guy behind the counter hadn’t heard the term ‘recorder’ before. It certainly isn’t used in Portugal, and seemingly not in the US according to him. When Maria finally got through to him what she wanted – he said it was a flute. Looks like a recorder to me… but he’s the music guy.
That done, we continued on our walk around Porto and over the top level of the spectacular Dom Luis bridge back to Gaia. At 85 metres high, this provides great views of both Porto city and Gaia. Hopefully in at least one of the photos you can see some of the famous port houses; all of these are located on the Gaia side of the river.
A visit to Porto wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a port house or two. And with that in mind, we dragged our half-broken bodies into Quinta dos Corvos. This is a very small family Port house with a good reputation. Pleasing to us tightwads, it offers a tour for two for only 12 euros – refunded if you buy any of their wines at the end.
The tour was certainly educational. Maria, our guide, gave us 1/2 hour on the history of Port and an explanation of how it’s manufactured. There’s a lot to cover in that time and the poor woman hardly had chance to draw breath. But there’s a formula to be followed and she had to get us to the tasting tables in time.
At the end of the tour, we sampled some of the wine and port… ending up buying a half bottle each of red and white 20 year old tawny.
On the way out we had a chat with a family on holiday from Switzerland – Karin, Thomas, Eva and Leon Jucker – who were surrounded by several bottles of port. They’ve splashed out I thought. But it transpires they bought the wine to add to their wine collection to serve to their guests in their restaurant in Tägerwilen. And if you want to take a look, see here: www.juckers-hotel.com.
While talking to them, Maria (the guide) came along. She said that anyone buying the vintage port, and I guess that quantity, can have a free bottle of wine. Karin kindly donated that to Maria (the wife) and I.
Thanks, Jucker family, we will open that bottle after crossing the Atlantic.
Friday 27th July
There’s always something of a payback after a day like that. This time it was a mild hangover and boat cleaning.
But after that was over with, we grabbed a taxi and headed over to another Port house – Taylors – one of the oldest in town. And our favourite brand of Port in the UK.
Taylors offers a very different experience from the last house we visited. It’s a working cellar used to store and mature the port, so you also get the aroma from the Port barrels – which is something else altogether. The tour is self guided, which makes it a relaxed affair. And it gave more time for some of the things we learned from Quinta dos Corvos to sink in.
The entrance fee includes two port tastings: a white and a red – both 10 years old.
If you want any more… you stump up the cash. After much deliberation on whether to empty our wallets further, we decided to go for the tasting menu. This consists of a selection of five wines from 10 year old through to 50. And to avoid getting too cerebrally impaired before hitting the oldies (wine that is), we also ordered bread and cheese.
This proved to be a good move. Not only did it deliver on its intended purpose, in that we retained the ability to speak at the end, and could find our way back to the marina. It also introduced us to one of the byproducts of Taylor’s policy on biodiversity: olive oil. And it’s probably the best we have tasted.
The wines were fabulous, particularly the 40 and 50 year old.
We didn’t buy any of the wines as we couldn’t really justify the price of a 50 year old port, or a 40 come to that. But we’ll put it on the Christmas list just in case we come across a generous benefactor… there’s no shortage of optimism on Lady Jane. Instead, we walked out with a bottle of olive oil. At 11 Euros for 1/2 litre, we thought it a bargain.
Saturday 28th July
Checkout at the marina was as to be expected: friendly but a bit expensive. I was asked to complete a ‘how did we do’ review, the bill was settled, and my deposit for the security cards was returned.
I was then accompanied to the pontoon gate and bade farewell. We liked this place and thoroughly recommend it.
After a mild shock at the fuel pontoon after being handed a bill for 1,000 Euros (last customer not me), but I paid my 120 Euros and off we went.
Great post again Allen. We will have to have a long chat next time we meet!! I have to rein in some of my clients but tell others to book “business class” not economy. You both should have had lunch at the Majestic Cafe!! Next time, forget you come from Lancashire for a few seconds and remember this is potentially a “Once in a Lifetime” voyage and go for whatever you like !!
Sage advice, thanks Geoff… I shall grit my northern gnashers the next time something like that comes up!
Sounds like you had a wonderful time here…is this somewhere you could see me living?