It’s been a week since the last blog post and we have the perfect excuse. We’ve been having too much fun! We left Braganca with sinking hearts, thinking that we might have peaked too soon and nothing would live up to the beautiful place and lovely people that we had discovered there. We were wrong. We drove south to the Douro valley, famous for port wines, and decided to try the motorhome parking at Peso de Regua. The Camper Contact app told us that we could park by the river on purpose-built pitches, each with its own water, drainage and electricity for the amazingly small price of 3€ per night. We were keen on this place because the leak from our grey water tank was getting worse and we had to put a collapsible bucket under the tap to prevent us leaving puddles wherever we stopped. The issue of grey water from motorhomes is a bit of a thorny one. Greywater consists of washing up and shower water and often has tiny bits of food and a bit of grease in it. In some countries, particularly where rainwater is in short supply, site owners are happy for motorhomers to collect it in a bucket and put it at the foot of trees or hedges to keep them irrigated. Gardeners often say that a bit of soapy water is good for plants. Other people see the dumping of grey water as a public nuisance and get upset that motorhomers sometimes put it down storm drains. We try to be the kind of motorhomers that don’t make a mess so we try very hard not to drip from any orifice.
We chose Peso de Regua and rolled down the steep hill to find the most amazing motorhome parking spots. It’s true that they are narrow and if the place is busy you can be quite close to your neighbour but the facilities are incredible for the price and the views along the river are fabulous.
On the first night, we made the mistake of choosing a spot on the quiet end, only to discover, after we had got settled, that the places on that end didn’t have a water tap, hence the fact that others had chosen the left-hand set of pitches. If you are planning a visit take note – the pitches nearest the bridges are the best. To check in you need to go to the bar of the Fishing Club, just under the bridges, pay your 3€ and then one of the staff comes along and switches on your electricity. Once settled you can take in the beauty of the place. Each parking spot faces the river Douro and you can stroll or cycle along the beautiful footpath into the town where there are shops, bars, restaurants and places to taste the local Port.
On Monday morning Shirley went out to walk the dogs and came back with much useful information. Shirley was nicknamed The People’s Friend as a child and it has stuck, mostly because of its uncanny accuracy, not because she resembles a faded old magazine with knitting patterns. Along at the busy end of the pitches she found several English speaking residents who gave her all the useful information that motorhomers need, such as that there was an Intermarché at the other end of town with an outdoor laundry and that they all meet up in the bar of the Fishing Club at 4.30 p.m. for a drink and a chat. Quick as … okay, not very quickly, we made our way to Intermarché, did the laundry and some shopping and enjoyed a coffee and pain au chocolat while we waited for it to finish drying then, back at the aire we moved to the busy end where there was a water tap at every pitch along with the electricity and waste drop and more importantly, a bunch of new friends to get to know. And so began our week of sunshine, beautiful scenery, making new friends and almost total idleness. On a long tour, life falls into different modes. Sometimes you are moving every day, finding new and interesting places and barely pausing to take a breath. Sometimes you are in practical mode, looking for launderettes and supermarkets or seeking out the nearest motorhome dealer and not caring much about your surroundings until you’ve got everything running smoothly again. Then there are the times that feel like a holiday. To most people, several months touring in a motorhome might seem like one long holiday but when you’re actually doing it you find that every now and then you need to stop and simply relax. Peso de Regua was just such a place. Ideal for relaxing and exploring it had the added delight of a bunch of varied yet like-minded people to chat to every afternoon in the pub. The barmaid in the pub, who is also one of the people who comes out to switch on your electricity is a wonderful character. A true Portuguese beauty with masses of black wavy hair and flashing dark eyes she is fiery and feisty and takes no nonsense from anyone. She speaks no English and communicates with sign language and growls if you don’t please her. Get on her right side and she smiles charmingly and manages to make you laugh without any words said. Get on her wrong side and she marches off with a magnificent toss of her hair. I think we were all a little bit in love with her.
Beer in the pub costs anything between 1€ or 1.40€ depending on the size. The larger measure is enough to take a bath in. Wine is 1€ a glass, the measure being about a third of a bottle. There were no big drinkers amongst us, so their takings each evening from the assembled Brits will have been about 12€. We’re still wondering how anyone in Northern Portugal makes enough money to live on. Sitting there each evening there was much laughter, exchange of ideas, sharing of life stories and a genuine sense of connection. This forming of small communities of fellow travellers has been an unexpected discovery on our adventures that brings a warmth that we carry with us when we go our separate ways.
One afternoon we strolled along in the sunshine to town to do a little Port tasting. Our only experience of Port had been something that sat in the cupboard from one Christmas to the next and was used to flavour cranberry sauce. That was until we had our tasting menu in Braganca when they made a cocktail from white port, tonic and apple. It was so delicious that we decided to investigate it further. A small wine shop in the town offered tastings and we asked for his advice about white port. We tasted two varieties, a dry and a sweet, and couldn’t make our minds up so we bought them both. You pay a little to taste port here, unlike in France where tastings tend to be free of charge, but the 2€ charge per glass gave you a full measure of fortified wine – you can probably guess that the one that can’t manage more than a unit of alcohol without turning to rubber had to be manoeuvred up the road clinging on to Shirley’s arm. That day I drank coffee in the bar. Cheap date eh?
There are a number of options in Peso de Regua for visiting local beauty spots. Buses, trains and boats run to various places and, if you are particularly energetic, there are lots of scenic bike rides too. We opted to use our bikes for trips to the supermarket, thus avoiding the steep hills on both sides of the river but some of our more energetic companions were seen returning from the hills covered in sweat and obviously delighted with the experience. We chose a more sedate trip up the valley to Pinhao by train. Dogs can only go on trains wearing muzzles and are not allowed on buses so we chose to leave ours snoozing in the van and take the train trip without them. The route along the river is spectacularly beautiful, so if you decide to do this make sure you sit on the side of the train facing the river. Many people choose to visit the Sandeman vineyard from Pinhao and you can do this by taking a 5-minute taxi ride from the station. Because we didn’t want to leave the dogs too long we decided to simply enjoy the delights of the little town of Pinhao for a couple of hours, walking along the river frontage and enjoying a coffee and cake in a café. We ended our visit at the Symington and Dow vineyard in the town for a walk in the vines, a look at the museum and enjoying a glass of wine on a terrace overlooking the river.
The family who first created this vineyard were immigrants from Scotland in the early twentieth century so we felt a connection with the place.
Most days we asked ourselves, ‘Shall we move on tomorrow?’ and each morning we decided to stay ‘just another day’. In the end, we stayed a week. We loved the town, the river, the views, the warm afternoons in the sun, the company and the rest but eventually, we had to move so that we could find someone who could replace our wastewater tap. We felt sad as we drove away, over the high bridges that looked over the river, giving us a tantalising sight of the motorhomes still parked up, small groups of fellow travellers chatting in the sunshine discussing what they would do with their day. We chose to drive south on a Sunday so that we could turn up bright and early at Campilusa Motorhomes near Coimbra on Monday morning where another adventure awaited us.
After leaving France we returned to the tedious business of using toll roads in Spain the ordinary way, taking a ticket as you enter and putting your ticket and money into the machine when you leave. Most of the time it is quite a simple process and we are happy to take a fast road now and again and pay the small toll to get us to our destination in good time. Some motorhomers never use toll roads, seeing them as a waste of money. We make the decision based on the state of alternative roads and the estimated time saving if we want to get to a place in time to explore before dark. Entering a toll station not long before leaving Spain and entering Portugal we had a surreal experience. As we approached the machine that takes your ticket and money we saw that it was at car height and that there was no higher up slot for taller vehicles. Signs everywhere tell you not to get out of your vehicle but we could see that there was no chance of me reaching the slot from the high position of the van seats. As we approached we watched in amazement as the machine began to rise up. Just as we began to say “Isn’t that clever?” we watched helplessly as it kept on its upward trajectory about two metres higher than our van window. We had no idea what to do – obviously, the machine had decided that we were a massive truck and raised the machine to the appropriate height whereas we are somewhere in the middle between the two. Suddenly a loud and grumpy Spanish voice came over the intercom “Put in ticket!” I shouted back “It’s too high!”. The ‘voice’ obviously only knew three words in English and shouted again “Put in ticket!” and I only know how to order a beer in Spanish so I had to answer back in English “It’s too high!”. A small queue had formed behind us that was getting longer by the minute and we were completely stuck. Eventually a man appeared, got into the booth and somehow managed to get the machine down to its correct height so that we could pay and leave. We don’t know if we were charged the right amount for a leisure vehicle or if we paid for a truck – we just left the scene as quickly as possible.
Entering Portugal we remembered that Portuguese tolls are even more complicated as they operate on an electronic system where a camera takes a photo of your registration number. Some of the entries into Portugal from Spain have a special system for visitors called Easytoll, to register their credit card with their vehicle registration so that payment can be taken automatically. If you don’t find one of these machines, you have to go to the post office and buy toll cards that can be used to pay online. We were in Braganca on a weekend and the post office was closed so we ended up driving through Portugal on Sunday, on the motorway, without paying for our tolls. The next morning, in Peso de Regua, we went into the Post Office to ask for advice about the motorway tolls and buy a prepaid toll card. We bought four 5€ cards because the post office didn’t have any higher value cards available and the pleasant man behind the counter advised us to activate one of the cards immediately as we had 24 hours to pay the tolls after being photographed on the electronic gantries. We rushed back to the van, followed the ridiculously complicated instructions to activate one of the cards by SMS and instantly received a message back to say that we had 5€ in credit. A week has now passed by and we have driven on more motorways so I checked to see whether we needed to activate another card. Apparently we still have 5€ credit. So much for that then.