Along the Caminho
Walking a section of Portugal's Caminho de Santiago feels surprisingly comforting. An air of shared camaraderie makes the sun shine that little bit brighter, the sound of birdsong sweeter. It might sound like twee exaggeration, but everyone we meet has a Cheshire cat beam fixed to their face. Sometimes our route crosses fields where rows of vines – heavy with plump grapes ready for picking – and tall stalks of corn stand, facing each other like opposing armies. Elsewhere, we follow country lanes, walking on cobbled paths whose surfaces have been rubbed smooth by centuries of passing pilgrims. We pause to eat a picnic lunch on granite slabs outside the Igreja de Vitorino de Piães. Opposite, a young woman lays out the contents of her rucksack while sipping something from a hot tin mug. The tranquil scene is broken by the sound of happy humming and another young woman appears. She waves a cheery "bom caminho!" as she strides past. I smile broadly and wave back. This Cheshire cat grinning business is infectious.
Tales from the riverbank
The electric blue object streaks past as though trying to break a speed record. I keep my finger pressed on the trigger, shooting continuously. For the second time this morning I only manage to capture a ghostly lazuli blur. The River Lima's kingfishers will remain sharp only in my memory. The river itself is in no rush. Like us, it meanders its way to Ponte do Lima, the sun's warming rays creating sparkling jewels on the surface of the water. The kingfisher has a reason for zipping around frustrating passing photographers. We have the luxury of being able to take our time. We sit on the grassy riverbank opposite a stone cottage to observe a more laid back feathered friend; a heron stands hunched in the shallows, patiently waiting for a careless fish to swim too close.
The Count... and cold soup
Immaculately attired and entertainingly ebullient, the Count of Calheiros has been taking his guests on a tour of his ancestral home where his propensity for anecdotes and his enthusiasm has overrun its schedule, leaving them wide-eyed with wonder, and their soup stone cold. Set on a hillside with expansive views across Ponte de Lima and its Roman bridge spanning the river, the Paço de Calheiros estate has been the family seat for six centuries. Count Francisco annually opens his home – considered to be one of Portugal’s finest 17th-century manor houses – to guests, allowing them to enjoy the beauty of his gardens and vineyards, not to mention the singular pleasure of his company, which is well worth letting the soup go cold for.