Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Douro region of Portugal, the Eighth Wonder of The World by Maria Reveley



      
                             The beauty of the Douro Valley with its magical vineyards


The first time I saw the Douro Region of Portugal, I gasped at the beauty.  I will never forget the impact of seeing such majestic mountains, with the Douro River running through them.  It reminded me of the first time I saw the Alps.  These mountains, however, were softer, rounder and covered with vineyards.  What a discovery!

The Douro Region of Portugal, on the northeast border of Portugal adjacent to Spain, was the first demarcated and regulated wine region in the world, named in 1756. This valley, with the graceful and winding Douro River pacing its way through it, is amazingly beautiful.  High mountains have been terraced over many generations, by hand, to create vineyards that produce the famous Port, excellent DOC Douro wine, sparkling wine and Muscat.
                                                          The Douro Valley

This impressive landscape was considered World Heritage by UNESCO in 2001 as a living evolving cultural landscape and called the Douro Valley.  There is a harmonious interaction in this area between Man and Nature, as they coexist with one another.  The Douro River flows from the Spanish border to the east of Porto and depending on the time of year, its slopes may be decorated with almond trees, cherry blossoms or vines rich with grapes and ready for harvest.

For visitors, this is a beautiful region to explore. In addition to visiting vineyards, there are many National Parks, of Douro International, of Alvao and the Geopark of Arouca.
Located in the Upper Douro, Vila Nova de Foz Coa has had a recent discovery of its Paleolithic open air Rock Art.  This is considered World Heritage by UNESCO, and is one of the biggest archeological centers, showing man lived in this period outside of caves.  The art on the rocks are often viewed at night with flashlights to better see the forms and shapes, all 1,000 of them!



    

                                                             Casa de Mateus


                

                                          An amazing cedar tree at Casa de Mateus


In Vila Real, you can visit the Casa de Mateus Foundation, a magnificent building owned by the Mateus family.  This building, with its reflecting pool on entrance, has beautiful architecture, and a magnficient huge cedar tree planted in 1870, which opens its arms to all visitors.  You can tour this building and its lovely gardens, which include a labyrinth of hedges, rose bushes, and trees.
                                                 Mesao-Frio vineyards in Belmont




                



                                              Mesao-Frio vineyards in Belmont
                            In Belmont, you can stay in a hotel that is a converted convent and walk out your door to see the terraced vineyards surrounding you. In Belmont is a Jewish Museum, one of the best 50 small museums in Europe.  Here you will see that a small number of Jews kept themselves hidden for generations! The Inquisition in Portugal, starting in the 16th century killed 40,000 Jews until the 19th century.  So the few who were left hid, and managed to celebrate their rituals in hiding. In Belmont, the Quintos dos Termos vineyard, with 25 wines in its portfolio, earned votes for the number one wine in Portugal with the Fonte Cal grape.  A visit to the vineyard can be arranged, and some visitors choose to participate in the harvesting.

       
                                         



                                          The monument to freedom in Almeida

                                                   The fortress protecting Almeida

                                                  Almeida Military Museum
In Almeida, there are two of twelve historical villages in Portugal that are World Heritage sites. In Almeida you will find ancient villages restored for use.  There is a Fortress, a Military Museum, a riding ring and a Monument to Freedom, denoting the change from a dictatorship to freedom in 1974. There are annual reenactments of these events the last weekend of August.
         Alvaro Martinho Lopes, the guru of Quinta Companhia Vehla, is also a folk singer



         

                                A breathtaking view from Quinta Companhia Vehla

If you visit the Quinta Companhia Vehla nearby, try to meet its passionate keeper of the vines, Alvaro Martinho Lopes. He will explain how there are mini-climates within the altitude of each mountain, and that the weather, the land and the altitude all contribute to the nature of the grapes, and therefore the wines they produce. All work continues to be done by hand in this region, as it has been done for hundreds of years. The work is hard, but the beauty and landscape, and the quality of life, make up for the exhaustion!  Near here, one can also visit the Douro Museum in Regua, with a boat sitting in front to remind visitors of the slow trip down the river the barrels used to take to reach Porto, the capital of the Douro region!

This region is truly a gem – a place where you can get lost in the beauty and the friendliness of the people. You can travel by train in the Douro Valley, take a River Cruise, or drive.  You can dine in restaurants that serve fresh local food, and in quintas and drink excellent wines produced in the area. You can visit museums, ride horses, go swimming, go rafting and or just relax and take in this gorgeous scenery.
Whatever one chooses to do, a visitor will leave the Douro with fond memories and a longing to return.

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