Day 18 & 19: Douro River

Summary

We had two days at Douro River on the Portugal side. We stayed two nights at a BnB in Folgosa (parish) that was sited by the bank of the Douro River. On the first day, on our way to Douro River we stopped at Bom Jesus do Monte to explore this UNESCO Heritage site. On the second day we explored the Douro River and we had a great time viewing its famous vineyard scenery on the road and on the water.

Route from Peneda-Geres National Park to Douro River

Route from Peneda-Geres National Park to Douro River

Bom Jesus do Monte

The drive from Hostel Geres (Peneda Geres National Park) to Bom Jesus do Monte, which was located at the outskirt of Braga, took about 51 minutes for a distance of 40 km. The initial part of the drive brought us down the Cavado rivers again and after the river we exited the Peneda-Geres National Park.

Route to Bom Jesus do Monte

Route to Bom Jesus do Monte

At Bom Jesus do Monte we drove to the lower station of a funicular railway. We plan was to go up to the chapel using the funicular railway and walk down the famous stairs of Bom Jesus do Monte. This way we got to see chapel and the stairs the less tiring way.

Our exploration route at Bom Jesus do Monte

Our exploration route at Bom Jesus do Monte

At the lower station (co-ordinates: 41.554797, -8.380896) was a huge carpark (free) where we parked our car. We saw an old looking building and wondered where was the station. The old building turned out to be the station! A one-way ticket up was €1.50 per person and two-way ticket was €2.50 person.

Lower funicular station at Bom Jesus do Monte

Lower funicular station at Bom Jesus do Monted

We bought two one-way tickets as we planned to walk down. The tram was already at the lower station so we went in to sit and waited for it to start. We did not have to wait long. The length of the  funicular track was 274 metres, it went up a hill at an inclination of 42º rising a total height of 116 metres.

Train at lower and upper stations

Train at lower and upper stationsAt the upper station before we could roam the ground it began to rain. We found a cafe “Esplanada Bom Jesus” just behind the upper station and squeezed our way into the cafe and ordered two hot drinks (total €2.40) and waited for the rain to stopped.

cafe at Bom Jesus do Monte

cafe at Bom Jesus do Mont

After about 30 minutes the rain lightened so we left the cafe to continue our exploration of Bom Jesus do Monte.  Bom Jesus do Monte meant “Good Jesus of the Mount which signified its position on the hilltop. Since ancient times, religious buildings were built on hilltops so that pilgrims could demonstrate their devotions through physical exertion to reach the chapel by climbing the steps (they were encouraged to climb the steps on their knees).

Chapel of Bom Jesus de Monte

Chapel of Bom Jesus de Monte

We entered into the chapel from a side door and found ourselves in a side chapel with an altar in front. From the side chapel we went into the main chapel which had a grander altar. The place was quiet and serene, we practically walked on tiptoe forward to have a better look of the golden altar.

Interior of the Chapel of Bom Jesus de Monte

Interior of the Chapel of Bom Jesus de Monte

We were done with the chapel and was all ready to walk down its famous zig-zag stairs. Standing outside the chapel we had a fantastic panoramic view of Braga City. The rain came back again, just a light drizzle this time, so we just pulled up the hoods of our rain-resistance jackets and began our trip down the stairs.

Going down the stairs of Bom Jesus do Monte

Going down the stairs of Bom Jesus do Monte

These zigzag stairs were Baroque in style. Every stage (zig-zag) we went down we would take a look at what was on the next wall, sometime it was a fountain, sometime it was just a blank white wall, sometime it was a statue. Anyway the anticipation of what was next made the trip down fun and less tiring. It was 577 steps down (I did not count that, I read that somewhere).

Baroque stairs of Bom Jesus do Monte

Baroque stairs of Bom Jesus do Monte

On way to Douro River

We drove from Bom Jesus do Monte to our stay in Folgosa. It was about an hour and 45 minutes and over a distance of 144 km. The drive was pretty uneventful until we saw a signboard on the road side indicating some electronic toll ahead. Oh dear, our car was not “equipped” for electronic toll.

Route from Bom Jesus do Monte to Folgosa

Route from Bom Jesus do Monte to Folgosa

We read about electronic toll in Portugal but was hoping not to encounter any! It was too late to get off the highway, there was no immediate exit so our car passed through the first electronic toll and then a second one and then a third one. We were hoping that we would come across a manual toll station where we could find out the amount owed and paid the outstanding payment at one go. But there was no toll station manual or machine at all.

Electronic toll on Portugal highway

Electronic toll on Portugal highway

A desperate check on the internet gave several options on CTT website, we decided to go for the “Foreign registration Prepaid Toll Card” option which required us to buy a prepaid card at a CTT (post office) outlet and linked it to our car license number. This way our toll charges would be deducted from the balance in the toll card.

Peso da Regua

After we check-in to our BnB we were off to the nearest CTT post office which was some 12 km west. We drove for about 15 minutes to the next town Peso da Regua and found the CTT. It was along a narrow road with shops on both sides.

Nearest CTT to our stay

Nearest CTT to our stayWe found a car lot nearby and parked our car. Parking was not free so we quickly purchased a parking ticket from a nearly auto-payment machine and displayed the ticket on our windscreen before setting off to the CTT shop.

Near CTT shop (post office)

Near CTT shop (post office)

Luck was with us, as we were served by a CTT staff who spoke English. We purchased a €20 prepaid toll card for foreign registrated car. The card came with some written instructions on how to activate it. We stayed inside the CTT shop until we activated the card successfully, as it was not easy to understand the instructions. So as and when we encountered a problem we went back to the English speaking staff to clarify. On the card was a code which  was revealed by scratching off the “silver” strip of paint. Then using my mobile which had a UK line, I activated the card with the code and linked it to our car license number.

Prepaid card

Prepaid card

We bought the card after we already crossed several electronic tolls so we were worried if the earlier toll fees would be charged to the card, so we wrote in to CTT to check. After a lot of mis-communication it seemed that the card would be used for all the toll fees starting from the date the card was purchased. Wonderful! It meant that we did not have to worry about unpaid toll fees or fines if we left the country without making the payment.

Once we got our toll card done we were ready to enjoy the town. Unfortunately the weather had turned bad again.

Outside Regua Train Station

Outside Regua Train Station

We were back to Regua Train Station where in front of it was a single storied long-long wooden building filled with cafes and restaurants. The place looked so interesting but we did not stop to explore as we were rushing to the CTT shop. This time when we returned we had a hard time find a parking place nearby, then it began to rain and everywhere was wet wet wet!  Half the shops/restaurants was already closed as it was already after 5 pm. The shops were mostly bars showcasing wine/port from the vineyards around Douro River. They did not offer serious food for dinner but mainly cheese and finger food that went with wine and port. Unfortunately wine and port was not our “thing” so we left feeling very hungry.

We left our car at the parking lot next to the station and walked back to town and entered the first restaurant we came upon. It was Sumol Churrasqueira Xanoca.

Map around at Regua Station

Map around at Regua Station

Sumol Churrasqueira Xanoca looked like a local cafe, it was at a side lane off the main road. Inside, the restaurant was a bit dim and full of cooking smell for our liking. But I was too hungry, wet and slightly miserable and did not want to walk further in search for another restaurant.  We ordered a chicken and salmon. Dinner was served with bread and cured ham. The entire dinner came up to €22.

 

Dinner at Sumol Churrasqueira Xanoca

Dinner at Sumol Churrasqueira Xanoca

Pinhao

The second day we drove from our stay to Pinhao a parish east of Folgosa about 17 km away. It was a scenic drive along Douro River. We were in Pinhao to take a boat tour on the Douro River.  After wevreached Pinhao town we could not find the road that would bring us to the dock front where the boats were anchored. Finally we found the road, it was immediately after the bridge where we had to do a right turn into a road that went below the bridge.

From our stay to Pinhao

From our stay to Pinhao

We saw a few cars parked just by the road below the bridge so we did likewise. There was no marking for parking neither was there a sign that said “no parking” so we followed what others did. Parked! It was a short walk forward and we saw many boats operators. Most seemed not to be in operation at 10.13 am in the morning. We asked one cruise operator and he said to come back at noon! We could not wait for two hours!

By the river at Pinhao town

By the river at Pinhao town

We walked further down the road and found a boat operator whose next tour was at 10.30 am. Wonderful! We bought our tickets at €10 per person, it was a two hour cruise.

Boat tour down Douro River

Boat tour down Douro River

It was an enjoyable boat ride, we got to see the vineyards at the water level. On both banks of the river were terraces of vineyards, going up and up. At this time of the year (July) the grape vines were beautifully green. From far these uniformly planted vines created bright green stripes on the hills, emphasizing the hill contours nicely.

Douro vineyards as seen from the boat

Douro vineyards as seen from the boat

After the two-hour boat tour ended we drove uphill to a few miradouros to view the vineyards from a higher angle. From Pinhao we drove a short distance to road N222 where there were about 5 miradouros.

Miradouras at Pinhao

Miradouras at Pinhao

We did not go to all the five miradouros we marked, we just went to the first one, Casais de Douro Viewpoints. We usually marked more miradouros than we needed so that in case we did not like the first one we had the next one to go. The view at Casais de Douro Viewpoints was lovely!

Casais de Douro Viewpoints

Casais de Douro Viewpoints

It was a lovely feeling to sit on the stone ledge at the viewpoint “drinking” in the gorgeous scenery. It was a view that we looked and looked and still felt that it was not time to leave yet.

We decided not to drive on to the rest of the miradouros as they probably would show a similar sight. We rather went back to Pinhao town for our coffee break. We went into cafe “Beira Rio” which on google map had more “stars” (high rating) and we also found parking near to it.

Café Beira Rio

Café Beira Rio

Café Beira Rio had a plain looking interior, it did not offer any pastries so we ordered two cups of cafe latte. We saw a sitting area at the back of the shop so we walked to the back. It was an open courtyard. Wow! the view was lovely.

Open terrace of Café Beira Rio

Open terrace of Café Beira Rio

At the courtyard we could see Douro river flowing by below and across the beautiful river were the terraces of vineyards. Another lovely place to “drink” in the “cool” greenery. After 30 minutes we finally left. As we walked down the row of of shops we chanced upon another cafe “Princess do Douro”, we walked in and we saw pastries! Oh mine, I was feeling “cake-crave” already.

Eating cakes at "Princess do Douro"

Eating cakes at “Princess do Douro”

No cheesecake at the cafe, so we ordered chocolate cake and Portugese tart. The interior of this cafe was definitely more pleasing, it was cool, clean and modern unfortunately it did not have an open courtyard with a fantastic view like “Café Beira Rio” and the pastries were disappointing.

Dinner

Dining options were plentiful, in the towns like Folgosa where we stayed,  in Peso da Regua where we went for a CTT shop the day before and in Pinhoa where we went for our boat cruise today. Dotted along the Douro River were also cafes/restaurants some very high priced and some very reasonable. Just at the river front of Folgosa was a high-class restaurant “DOC – Chef Rui Paula”, this restaurant had four dollar sign “$$$$” on google map and considering that it was practically sited on the river with its own dock, we were not surprised.

Restaurant - DOC Chef Rui Paula

Restaurant – DOC Chef Rui Paula

We did not went to “DOC – Chef Rui Paula” for dinner but to another restaurant midway between Pinhao and Folgosa. Even though it did not sit on the river, it was still by the river, separated from the river bank by a road and it had only two dollar sign “$$” on google map. The restaurant was “Casa dos Peixinhos”

Dinner at Casa dos Peixinhos

Dinner at Casa dos Peixinhos

We ordered beef and pork and cafe latte. This time we requested for the potato in the meal to be replaced with salad so we had lots of vegetable for this meal. The entire bill came up to €23. Food wise the taste was okay.

 

Our stay

Our stay was at “Tomás Barqueiro Bed And Breakfast“, we reserved it on booking.com. My main purpose of booking this place was its view of the Douro River. Our double room was one of the three at Tomás Barqueiro BnB. The room was small but was very clean, modern and very comfortable. The ensuite bathroom was also very nice. The only problem we had was the hot water. It ran out too fast so after I bathed, Yat Thong had no hot water. It was not a storage heater system and according to our host the village was facing a temporary problem which caused low water pressure and the “heating”  would not “kick in”.

Our double room

Our double room at Tomás Barqueiro BnB

Our room had a full length glass doors that opened out to a balcony with a wonderful view of Douro River. The cost of the room was €134 for two nights. It came with breakfast and free parking on site.

View from the balcony of our double room

View from the balcony of our double room

Our host was away on an urgent matter and he gave instruction for us to let ourselves in.  It was raining when we arrived so maneuvering our car into the narrow driveway was a bit difficult as I had to stand under the drizzle to direct the Yat Thong/car into position. This BnB was built on the hills of Folgosa, one side of the house faced the river and had an unobstructed view of the river and the valley.  The driveway led to a open patio which had a big dining table, then a door into a room with a few wine barrels, a fridge with a few bottles of wine. A note from our host informing us that the bottles of wine were available for sale. In the room was another three doors leading to three guestrooms, my name was printed on a tag hanging on the door knob of the inner room.

Open patio at Tomás Barqueiro BnB

Open patio at Tomás Barqueiro BnB

Our host told us he usually served breakfast at the table on the open patio for his guests, but due to the bad and cold weather in the morning he would served breakfast in his dining room. His dining room was on the second level of the house and could only be reached via a outside stairs from the open patio. Breakfast was lovely, everything was fresh and our host served egg for breakfast too!

Yummy Breakfast at Tomas Barqueiro

Yummy Breakfast at Tomas Barqueiro

We loved returning to Tomás Barqueiro BnB before sunset, because the scene from our balcony was stunning. For the two evenings at our stay the sun set at about 8 pm and both occasions we made two cups of hot tea, sat on our balcony chairs, propped up our legs and viewed the sun set over the hills across the river.  The weather was rainy and cold in the evenings so it was luxurious to be able to view the lovely sunset from our room.

Sunset as view from the balcony of our double room

Sunset as view from the balcony of our double room

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