Day 5 – Castelo Rodrigo

On day 5 of our Viking River Cruise, we departed Pinhao for a beautiful sail to Pocinho, where we would make a short stop to allow some passengers off for an alternate excursion. We stuck to the included excursions, so we remained on board and enjoyed the view on the way to our final destination, Barca d’Alva. Our travel dates aligned with the start of the picking season, so we often spotted workers in the fields. I wasn’t able to get a picture of them, but there was one vineyard where the workers stopped picking, and jumped and waved their arms as they shouted a greeting to us. (I choose to believe it was a heartly hello!) Our Captain responded with a sounding of the ship’s horn.

Between breakfast and lunch, Chef Andrea demonstrated how to make Pastel de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts).

A short time later, we passed through the Pocinho Lock:

We arrived at Barca d’Alva after lunch and transferred to our designated bus to made the scenic trek to Castelo Rodrigo. You’ll see from some of the pictures coming up that there are people living in these old dwellings surrounding the castle. While the castle is only remains at this point, the area is a thriving tourist location. They even have 5g fiber, believe it or not!

There were so many beautiful pictures from this stop I have to add them in several separate slide decks. First we went down to the church:

Then I did some wandering on my own:

Then into the castle where they have a museum, and…an ATM:

After touring the castle on my own, I made my way back to my group, marveling at the beautiful views along the way. Back near the entrance there were shops were filled with – you guessed it – cork products, olive products and wine! In one of the shops I tasted Almond Sparkling Wine, which was a mixture of almond liqueur made only in that area of Portugal and sparkling wine. If I hadn’t already bought a few bottles of wine from some of our other stops I would have grabbed some of that Almond liqueur, but I knew I was already near the tipping point on my suitcase weight limit, so I had to walk away sad. 😦

On the ride back I was able to get a few pics of the pigeon houses. Our guide told us a story of how pigeons were, and still are raised as food in Portugal, and there was a time when Coca-Cola was banned, and so smugglers stored it in the pigeon houses. Pigeon houses were scattered among the rocky hills all along our route. This is the best picture I was able to get:

Day 4: Regua – Mateus Palace & Gardens and Sandeman Winery

Day four of our Viking River Cruise began with a sail along the Douro river from Vila Nova de Gaia to Regua. In the photos below you’ll see the Crestuma Lock, one of 5 locks we moved through on our travels. You’ll also see some beautiful views of vineyards and evidence of some of the wildfires the Portugal mountains have suffered – they came very close to many homes along the water!

We weren’t docking until 2:30 PM, so after breakfast we headed to the lounge for a presentation by “The Cork Lady”. The Cork Lady brought loads of products that she makes by hand (presumably): handbags, notebooks, wallets, hats and jewelry. But…before we could shop, she gave a presentation about cork and its importance to Portugal.

It turns out, cork has many uses beyond sealing wine bottles. It is used in products like flooring, clothing, shoes, insulation, and many other things. Quality cork doesn’t burn, so it’s a very useful product in homes. Growing and harvesting cork is quite a lengthy process. It takes many years for a tree to produce high quality cork. The cork is taken from only the trunk of the tree, and the cork can be harvested only so high up the trunk in order to keep the tree healthy. A cork tree must grow to 51″ high and 27.5″ in diameter before it can be harvested. The first harvest will be low quality cork, but there are still uses for that. Nine more years later the cork is harvested again, and again it is low quality. Finally, after nine more years, the tree will yield a quality crop, and it will continue to produce for about 100 years!

According to The Cork Lady, since trying to set fire to store inventory is frowned upon, the best way to test whether the cork used in textiles is good quality is to scrunch it up in your hand. When you release it, if the wrinkles pop out, it’s good cork. This tip came in handy for the rest of the trip, as everywhere we stopped there were cork products for sale.

After lunch I snapped a few more pics from the upper deck and then got ready to disembark the ship and board our bus to Mateus Palace & Gardens. In these next pictures you can see very clearly how the mountains are lined with row after row of grape vines! The first couple pics were taken while still on the ship; the others on the bus – and you can see the dizzying heights from the road! Most of the roads we traveled were “two lane” roads, which were really only the width of a single lane here in the US. This means, when you come across another vehicle heading toward you, one of you has to move waaaay over to let the other pass!

Mateus Palace & Gardens was beyond beautiful! The 18th-century baroque house and gardens once belonging to counts. The property is comprised primarily of the manor, the winery and the chapel. The pictures here are the manor:

One more that didn’t fit into the slide show:

Then on to the gardens:

From there we boarded our bus and headed to the Sandeman Winery, (Quinta do Seixo), to learn about and taste (and buy) some wonderful Port wine! Our very enthusiastic guide for the tour did not speak English well at all! I just remember “something Portuguese, something Portuguese, something Portuguese, Welcome to the Vineyard!” Over and over again. She ended each of her very long, fast strings of Portuguese with, “Welcome to the Vineyard!”

In the first pic below, you can see that we’re very high up in the mountains! The roads were single lane, switchback roads the whole way up! On the way down we met another bus and our driver had to do some fancy steering to make room! The three drivers (one for each bus) for these tours have all been with Viking for many years. They are experts at navigating these treacherous roads!

The last picture in the slideshow isn’t in focus, but it’s an example of the giant signs the vineyards install to let you know who is who!

Back onboard the Osfrid, we enjoyed some stunning views, and then had a wonderful dinner. To cap it off, on the upper deck after dinner, we got to enjoy watching a crew member having a workout – well, part of him, at least!