Douro drive, Portugal
Welcome to the serras of northern Portugal: high, inhospitable moorland, punctuated by wind farms and plunging down to the green Douro river.
Lower down there are riverside towns, villages and hamlets: Lamego, Régua, Resende, loosely interconnected by myriad highways and byways, ranging from fabulous new autoestradas that stride imperiously through the landscape, right down to cobbled mule tracks.
In between are taxing stretches of two-lane roads. In other words, there’s something for everyone.
Rising in Spain as the Rio Duero and changing its name at the border, the Douro is bisected by five enormous hydro-electric barrages before it reaches Porto, 557 miles from east to west, and the stretches between locks can plunge to depths of 100 feet. At 35 metres, Carapatello is the deepest lock in Europe.
LATITUDE: 41.1621 N, 8.5833 W
LENGTH OF DRIVE: 90 miles via N108 or N222
POINTS OF INTEREST:
Quinta de La Rosa, Pinhão
(port tasting, B&B)
FOOD & ACCOMMODATION:
DOC Restaurant, Folgosa
Douro Palace, Arégos,
Santa Cruz do Douro
Accessing the Douro valley means driving down from Spain, either from Santander or Bilbao if you’ve come by sea, or via San Sebastian and Burgos if you’ve driven from France.
Drop into Portugal from Zamora and head for Miranda do Douro in the foreboding Serra de Mogadouro.
12 miles south-west is the first of the big dams, the Barragem de Bemposta. The Douro is the national country border for 112 kilometres along here, and border outposts don’t come much more remote.
Set your compass north-west for Mirandella, a seemingly endless tangle of rural roads. Now, via Alijó, get to the riverside port-wine town of Pinhão and cross the Bailey bridge to the south bank.
We’re now on the fast N222 flanking the Douro all the way to Peso da Régua. It’s smooth with some long straights, and all the time the river is close by on the right.
Régua is home to the Museum of Port Wine, cruise ships and any number of churrascaria cafés. From here you can follow the N102 all the way to Porto, or the equally serpentine N222 southside.
Higher up the hillsides the roads track the contours, weaving in and out of the folds and secondary valleys. It’s an invitation to swing a 911 around the innumerable twists that follow the terrain on both sides of the river.
Once in the city the ancient quayside Ribeira holds fascinating architectural gems like the Sé and Torre de Clerigos, while seaside Foz is where they stage the biennial Porto Historic Grand Prix – plus Foz Car, the Official Porsche Centre (www.fozcar.pt) if your 911 needs some TLC.