THE RIVERS OF PORTUGAL & SOUTHERN FRANCE by Brett Barclay, Director, World Journeys
Flying into Porto in June was sensational. Sunny, but without the humidity of Paris from whence I had come. Best of all, a welcome sea breeze. The old part of the city revealed crumbling buildings with that wonderful air of faded glory, and a latticework of cobble-stoned streets where families have lived for decades. An easy ten minute walk downhill brought me to the Douro River itself where the lively promenade area is known as the Ribeira. Sit at one of the great little cafes as the sun sets and watch lovers, families, people of all ages and nationalities strolling alongside the river’s edge. It was from Porto that I boarded my river cruise ship for a sojourn down the great Douro River. I love the Douro Valley; its lush vegetation alternates between forest, groves of impossibly tall eucalyptus and vineyards carved into steep ravines. Dotted alongside the river are whitewashed villages with orange tiled roofs and simple churches overlooking a plaza where the locals meet to chat. Cruising is the only way to go really – we stopped at villages in the morning to visit places of interest and after a three course French inspired lunch with local wines, we’d siesta on the sun deck with the odd splash in the pool. Dropping off to sleep with my cabin’s balcony doors open and the sound of the water slipping by - heaven. I wasn’t looking forward to the steep and winding road to get to Sandeman’s Port Vineyards but the stunning scenery and the incredible winery carved into the rock with incredible views was well worth it. There’s even a Kiwi connection, as Sandeman and our own Framingham Vineyard have common ownership! The growing of wine in this region dates back to the Roman invasion but was at its height when the UK banned the import of French wine in the 18th century as a ‘tit for tat’ against the French for banning British textiles. Sandeman was a Scotsman who developed port by adding brandy to the local wines to increase the sugar and alcohol content for preservation.
The World Belongs to the Dissatisfied
From Portugal I headed to France and joined my next river cruise in Lyon. I was thoroughly looking forward to a week of French gastronomy on board and was not disappointed! Sailing south towards the Med the scenery changed as the river got wider. Gliding past ancient castles clinging onto mountainsides and tiny hamlets with colourful window shutters, our first stop was Viviers, a small town with a wonderful historical centre where life continues at a much slower pace. It was difficult but I just managed to drag myself away from the smell of fresh baguettes at the boulangerie and past the luscious cakes of the patisserie to wander the narrow streets to the church atop a small hill with idyllic views of the village rooftops and surrounding hills and ravines. This was the South of France and I felt immersed, ecstatically, amongst it. PN WORLD JOURNEYS, T: 09 360 7311 www.worldjourneys.co.nz
DEADLINE – 20TH OF THE MONTH December 2010 PONSONBY NEWS+