Driving Along the Douro River to Porto

Iggy the Hymer motorhome is sitting by the mouth of the Douro river in Afurada, Porto. ( 41.142951, -8.648327 ). Outside the van the air rings with the familiar sound of gulls crying. I smile happily at my beloved sounds of the sea, and cast my mind back over the last 24 hours. To our journey here yesterday through the mountains from Viseu.

We set off fairly early after breakfast and Marley’s morning walk. It was going to be another full day’s driving and we wanted to take it easy and enjoy the ride.

Almost immediately we could see that we were going higher today than yesterday. The road went up one hill, and down the other side into beautifully picturesque valleys. Complete with gushing mountain streams and tiny, red roofed villages.

But the going down was never quite as far as the going up, and over the course of the day we wound gradually higher. The views from the tops showing we were, for sure, in mountain country.

We found ourselves stopping at nearly every peak and valley. Sometimes the thick plantations of Eucalyptus trees made it impossible. Nothing to see but a wall of Eucalyptus in front of our eyes, with the odd tantalising glimpses of the views flashing between the thin spots in the trees as we drove.

The day was pleasantly warm as we pulled in to a cafe for coffee and a half hour bask in this glorious February sunshine. Marley drawing the usual attention, and a few titbits, from the smiling family at the next tables.

These are some of the most joyous moments of travelling. Of touring in a van. Just stopping at random. Some small place in a mountain valley. No clear idea of where you even are. And sharing a smile, an unknown word, a gesture, a moment of camaraderie with a stranger as you both bask for a moment in the returning heat of Spring.

That’s parked yeah? Mountain parked?

The road wound a little higher after that, until finally, we could see the foothills descending in the distance. We were almost through, and the last couple of hours to Porto lay spread on the horizon before us.

We could tell we were getting closer as the traffic increased. In numbers and in speed, not to mention that more and more of the passing vehicles looked expensive rather than the old pick ups and tractors of the mountains.

We turned a bend, eased down a long slope and crossed a high bridge over a deep, wide river. We had reached the Douro Valley. The river of Porto that would lead us from the mountains and back to the sea.

More houses appeared. Bigger houses. Fancy villas, the kind rich city folk live in an hour’s drive from the city.

Motorbikes danced like darting, sapphire and emerald dragonflies along the twisting, winding ribbon of highway. The Douro carrying boats on it’s back on it’s ancient majestic journey far below.

The Douro Valley. A worthy trip in it’s own right.

And then the wilds of the countryside were behind us. The road which had carried us safely all this way turned once more to multi-lanes, roundabouts, 

“Which way?”

“This way! That way! Turn here! Look out!”

River, houses, traffic, a tight turn, a steep narrow hill going down, down, down and we burst out into the tea-time traffic chaos of Afurada harbour.

A few moments confusion. A wrong turn, quickly rectified, and we pulled in among rows of other motorhomes. An unhelpful middle aged man in another van adding unwanted stress to our tired brains by deciding it was he, not I, who should guide Jay into our chosen parking spot. Apropros of nothing.

Fishing boats. Pleasure boats. Screaming gulls. Washing hanging on unfamiliar lines by the waterside. The smell of sea. Of barbecued meat cooking on the sea wall in front of another van.

Smiles. Laughter. Movement. People. People. People. A riot of sounds and smells and busy, busy life erupting from the place that had held for hours the peace and great, breathing stillness of the mountains.

A few, scant moments and, senses reeling, I was in love. What marvellous, wonderful place had Iggy brought us to now?

The sun was swiftly dropping it’s way down to greet the mist spreading up from the cooling waters where the mighty Douro met the even mightier Atlantic Ocean. Grabbing Jay, Marley, and the camera, I launched myself out the door to explore.

Boats are towed out of the water in a flurry of sunset activity.

It was too late to head into the main city tonight. We planned to stay for two nights and spend tomorrow on Porto itself. For tonight it was more than enough entertainment to explore Afurada. The bustling fishing village may seem like just another part of Porto, but it definitely has it’s own atmosphere. It’s own sense of place. And a warm, vibrant, welcoming place at that.

We walked in one direction, away from the city, and explored the Marina and small beach to the west. Then returned and walked on past the village and under the giant span of bridge crossing the Douro far above our heads. The river walk we would take into the city tomorrow stretched into the distance before our weary eyes.

Enough. For one day this was enough. Time to rest, and definitely to eat.

All around the village fish restaurants were springing into life. The freshly caught fish barbecued outside to entice diners in for food.

We picked one that seemed popular with local Portuguese families. Everything was perfect. The food, the wine, the laughing group of local children, earning dare points from each other by being brave enough to stroke Marley. 

Between their English, our Portuguese, and an awful lot of google translate we had a good chat and many laughs. Much to the delight of all the adults who beamed even brighter at us afterwards.

And then, of course, home. Home to Iggy at the end of another lifetime of a day. Heads bursting with experiences, sights, sounds, feelings. To sleep. And rest our aching feet for tomorrow and Porto.

Fi. x

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