Our walk through the Douro Valley was a holiday like no other. We are avid hikers, but this was our first experience of an organized trip. We really didn't know what to expect. We went with an open mind and the hope that the holiday would be at least a little like the Inntravel write-up.
Each day was unique and memorable. We bought bread from a Portuguese grandma who insisted that we slather it with butter. She was right. In a tiny tavern we asked about Muscatel in our terribly poor Portuguese and the bartender poured us tastes of a couple of commercial brands. We debated buying a bottle to share at the hotel later. Though he spoke no English, our host assessed our ambivalence. Being a fine salesman, he slyly gave us the inside scoop, and pulled out an unmarked bottle, tapping his chest and saying "minha". Before long we were tasting his homemade Muscatel, which we bought to share around the dinner table that evening.
Another experience came while walking down a narrow lane in yet another picturesque village. We glanced through an open basement door, saying "Olá" to the gentlemen busy inside. He stopped and called us in with a wave and a "Bom dia”. We stepped into his personal wine cellar, complete with a large open stone tank with recently crushed grapes, steel vats, barrels and bottles. Rattling off something in Portuguese, he washed off some dusty glasses, called us into the back room, and served us Port straight out of the barrel. These experiences were far beyond what I had expected or even hoped for, but they were typical of the trip.
All of these experiences were special on their own, but what truly made the holiday was this. We were walking along a cobblestone street in light rain. Once again, a happy "Olá" from one of our group was returned with an invitation. As we passed a work shed, we were called back with a greeting of "Oi. Vinho?" and a plastic cup held aloft. That was in our repertoire of Portuguese, and clearly, we had no choice but to turn back and investigate.
Poking our heads inside a little tentatively we found a grape-picking crew enjoying a hearty lunch. We were handed cups of wine before we got introduced. We were invited to sit. We perched on overturned grape buckets and broke out our picnic lunches. We were served sardines and other typical fare. We spoke back and forth in different languages with very little comprehension, but completely shared a very special moment.
This was only possible because we were walking, we had slowed down our busy lives, and we were ready to embrace what came our way. Castro and his crew were the highlight of a holiday that kept presenting moment after special moment.
And, yes, this all really happened.