Let’s Go Exploring! Portugal’s Douro Valley and the Weirdest Food Ever

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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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I’m not a big wine drinker. My vices are Sichuan hot-pot, shrooms, and Belgian lambic cherry beer, in that order. In fact, the last time we were in San Francisco for a wedding, I skipped Napa Valley and went to Alcatraz instead.

So I wasn’t keen on the idea of visiting the Douro Valley, the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, just a 2 hour train ride from Porto. Despite it being a World Heritage Site, and despite our AirBnb host insisting we have to go, I didn’t feel the urge.

It wasn’t until I saw an ad for “Quinta do Crasto” that I felt compelled to go to Pinhão, the most scenic village in the area:

source: https://quintadocrasto.pt/products/?lang=en#portos

We bought train tickets the next day and were told by the operator to “sit on the right side going there, left side going back.”

Good thing I heeded her advice because, as it turns out, the train ride was as much of a highlight as the actual trip.

By Pablo Nieto (Inter-Regional 865. Pala. Portugal) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As the locomotive wound its way through the mountains and then along the river, I stared open-mouthed at the spectacular view:

When we arrived, I noticed that just like the São Bento train station in Porto, Pinhão station was decorated with the same distinct Portuguese blue tile, depicting the beauty of the Douro Valley.

By Feliciano Guimarães [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we walked away from the station to explore, I noticed how quiet it was. Even though this was prime tourist destination, Pinhão was devoid of crowds. I couldn’t believe we were right in the midst of nature, secluded and worlds away from the historical grandeur of the city, despite being only a short 2-hour train ride away.

Yet another reason why I love Portugal. You can get anywhere within a few hours by train.

As I walked by the river, I spotted a little gem of a restaurant, with sweeping views of the hills and river, amply named “the Writer’s Place”.

Our waiter recommended we try something called “lamprey” which sounded innocent enough until we Googled it.

This is what came up:

I, Drow male [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

If that’s not the stuff of your nightmares, I don’t know what is. So apparently, these terrifying satanic eels/leeches feed by attaching themselves to fish and draining their blood. They also happen to be a sought-after delicacy in Portugal.

After it’s been cooked, it looks something like this:

By The Ogre [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Yeah. Thanks but no thanks. I consider myself an adventurous eater but I just couldn’t stomach the idea of eating a parasite. I suspect it might have something to do with my childhood history of stomach worms.

We decided to go for some chicken liver soup and duck breast instead.

While we were eating, we noticed the guests behind us ask the waiter if they could take a few oranges from the trees on the premise.

As it turns out, most of the houses and restaurants in the area grew oranges in their backyards. With so many oranges and no one to pick them, they would just fall off and rot on the ground.

So of course I had to provide a public service by eating as many free oranges as I could:

We followed up our feast with a cruise down the Douro river, surrounded by mountains and vineyards. Our captain even told us if we had 6 hours to spare, we could take a cruise all the way back to Porto.

After the cruise, we walked around the postage-stamp-sized town, which though lacking in historical buildings and devoid of Porto’s grandeur, more than made up for it with its characteristic cobbled streets and paved paths that gave you a glorious view of the vineyards and mountains.

 

While we were admiring the scenery, a group of elderly ladies came up to us.

“Are you dentists?” One of them asked.

“No, why?”

We looked at each other in confusion until it dawned on us that she was staring at our MadFIentist shirts.

“Oh, this,” I said, laughing. “No, it doesn’t say MadDentist, it says MadFIentist.”

“See, it’s a play on the word “MadScientist” except our friend is a ‘FIentist’, which means he does experiments in Financial Independence…” I explained, to a sea of bored faces.

“It’s a finance thing.” Wanderer added helpfully.

“Oh how lovely,” The white haired lady in a big pink floppy hat replied, suppressing a yawn. “Enjoy your visit, dearies!” And off she went with her friends, presumably to talk about something that wasn’t finance.

Wanderer and his “MadDentist”?? t-shirt

We spent the rest of the afternoon leisurely strolling along the river, watching the sun rays sparkle on the water and enjoying the serenity of nature.

Despite not being interested in wine, I found Pinhão a pleasant day trip and a good change of pace from the city.

Even though we were just there for a day, you could easily stay in a hotel (or this incredible Airbnb if you can find 8 other people to share it with you) for a few days, and do some hikes through the region.

If you’re adventurous, you can drive the N222 from Regua, which has been voted the “best road in the world”, apparently for its ratio of 11.3 seconds of straight line driving for every second driving around bends (whatever that means):

By pedrik (The N222 by River Douro) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re wine drinker, I suspect you’d be a big fan of the wineries and tastings.

If you’re one of those people brave enough to try the lamprey, let me know how it tastes.

Since we only went to Pinhão as a day trip, these are the only costs we had for the day:

Food: 30 Euros

Entertainment: 20 Euros (10 Euros per person for a 45-min ferry)

Transportation: 40 Euros (20 Euros per person, around trip train tickets. PROTIP: if you book advance online you can save an extra 10-15%. )

Total: 90 Euros/couple/day (you’ll likely spend more than this if you go on the wine tours and stay in a hotel)

What do you think? Are you a big wine drinker? Have you been to the Douro Valley?



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27 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Portugal’s Douro Valley and the Weirdest Food Ever”

  1. i’m a huge wine drinker and that’s why i’m still working. it’s my passion! i would have eaten the hell out of that eel. that evil s.o.b. wouldn’t stand a chance against me. douro has some great wine usually for a good price in the u.s. port is awesome but i always drink too much and it’s a headache in a bottle. sugar+ higher alcohol + you’re not supposed to knock down half a bottle. i love it so much i can never stop. we should put this place on our “europe do list” if we ever get back. thanks for the summary.

    1. Looks like Douro is your kind of place then 🙂 All that good wine would’ve been completely wasted on me.

      If you do go and demolish that lamprey, let me know how it tastes!

  2. Love Portugal, such a beautiful country. Lamprey though, not going to happen for me either, Tigerdad is a vegetarian, and I think we would choose that for the evening : )

    1. Thanks, Mr. Tako. It’s a good day trip if you’re already visiting Porto, but yeah, doesn’t make sense to go out of your way to get there if you don’t drink wine.

  3. We’ve been to Lisbon and loved it. Based on your last tow posts on Porto and the Douro Valley, I can’t wait to get back and explore these areas! I don’t drink any more for health reasons (bummer, because I did really like wine). And definitely don’t think I would try the lamprey, although Dragon Gal might try a bit. She always said you have to try something ten times before saying you don’t like it!

  4. I am so happy to see that you are enjoying my beautiful country. I am Portuguese working towards my FI in Abu Dhabi/Dubai with my wife. We are very fortunate to be from Portugal as the cost of living in the country is considerably small. Hopefully we will be FI in 4 to 5 years. Maybe you will visit the country again and we can meet then.

    I don’t believe you are still in Portugal but I must suggest that you, or any of the readers visit Porto, Braga, Coimbra, Tomar, Óbidos, Évora, Lisbon (my home town), Sintra and Algarve (for the beaches). There are many hidden gems like Nazaré (with the biggest waves in the world), Troia (beautifull beaches with dolphins), Guimaraes (where the country was born), Almorol (a castle in the middle of the river), Azores (beautifull islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean), etc.

    All very affordable and safe. Feel free to ask!! We are considered one of the most welcoming people in the world. Do you agree?

    By the way, did you like Fado? Did you learn the meaning of the word “saudade”?

    Enjoy!!!

    1. “We are considered one of the most welcoming people in the world. Do you agree?”

      Totally agree 🙂 Thanks for the amazing recommendations!

      And yeah, the Fado music was great. I have no idea what “saudade” means though. Care to share?

      1. Olá FIRECracker!

        Saudade is a word that only exists in portuguese. Here is an explanation from wiki:

        “Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. One English translation of the word is missingness, although it might not convey the feeling of deep emotion attached to the word “saudade”. Stronger forms of saudade might be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died.”

        It is deeply explored in many melancholic fado songs. (some songs that we ear that make us sad or with “saudade” )…

        By the way, “lampreia” is not so sought-after as “caracois”… Google it 🙂

        1. Nice! I learned something new today 🙂

          As for the “caracois”–looks right up my alley! I love escargot, so I suspect I will love this too. Will try some the next time we are in Portugal!

  5. I definitely fancy beer more than wine, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try the wine when in an area that is known for it. We hit up a few vineyards while in Capetown and were in no way, shape, or form disappointed in that decision. Even if you don’t like wine, vineyards are beautiful places to walk around. I also consider myself to be an adventurous eater and as soon as I saw the picture of the lamprey I was like “Eww, no thanks”. Doesn’t even look appetizing to me. All these Portugal posts are making me want to go back so bad. Love that place!

    1. Vineyards are definitely beautiful places to walk around. And I did have some white port with lunch, so there’s that 😉

  6. We went to Portugal last Sept. and it was one of our most memorable vacations ever and we have travelled a fair bit.It is an absolute beautiful safe country with equally beautiful spirited people.We are definitely going back.Lisbon and Porto were magnificent and we took the boat to Regua on the Douro and stayed over in a wonderful hotel in Lamego and then winery tour and lunch the next day with a train trip back to Porto.An absolute must is Sintra,Cascais and Estoril.I highly recommend Portugal and the best part is it’s so reasonable money wise even with the Euro.Go…..Really…..Go

  7. So… oranges. When we were in Andalusia there were all these tasty looking oranges growing on trees. Unfortunately, they were actually bitter and not sweet. Seville oranges. Good for being strong (so they serve as root stock for other oranges) and for marmalade, not for anything else. I learned by the third time I tried to eat a Seville orange. Sweet oranges actually grow on trees in Portugal? Must be a magical land!

    (Also, we just gave out a bunch of BASc’s and BSEs at Waterloo today, including 280 new Electrical and Computer Engineering degrees!)

  8. It seems that there are a lot of seemingly unknown places which remains to be visited. It’s nice to get to know some of these places along the way.

  9. How fun! I did the same trip last summer from Porto, although I drank my fair share of wine and port. And too funny we also happened upon the same restaurant for drinks and bites before our rabelo boat ride. It was all extremely awesome.
    For those who are not huge fans of eating and drinking there is also a lot of hiking and exploring to do in the region. And in the summer – swimming!

  10. That awesome moment in your life when fake friends, your ex, and family members find out the one they wrote off and slept on and said would be nothing turned out to be a “side hustle millionaire,” and they come running back trying to speak either direct or speaking through other people because they want to dip in your money now.

    How many people have tried that with you my friend? 🙂

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