Europa Travel Tours

Motorcycle Tours - Page 2

A refugee from a corporate leasing job in Bristol, Englishman Cade tired of riding in the congested UK. Family holidays in Portugal exposed him to the country but what piqued his interest in commercial tours was the absence of domestically run tour operators. A Spanish company visits once a year but Cade was convinced that he could find more interesting roads. But it was a challenge. The influx of EU money, as demonstrated by the new motorway, has resulted in fabulous but erratically located roads. Promising new pavement would abruptly end at gravel and Cade would begin his search again, and again, until he developed his current route.

Along the highway the air reminds me of the Canadian north woods; a faint pine aroma but sweetened with the scent of Eucalyptus, with the occasional waft of not-quite-up-to-EU-standards sanitation. Exiting the highway we cut northeast through the Serra da Lousa Mountains then on to the Serra da Estrela Mountains. The road to Seia has exceptionally good pavement with long sweeping bends, then we begin a long climb that traverses terrain so barren as to make Sudbury, Ontario seem lush. These are typical European mountain roads. On one side is a rock face, in the middle is a fabulous road, and on the other side is a plummet to your death. We stop for the night in the mountain town of Manteigas and pull into the courtyard of the Casa das Obras. Walls in the hotel are thick enough to withstand a fortnight of heavy shelling, and even the air seems from another century. After a few games of pool in a wing of the hotel I can only describe as a medieval recreation room, I head through chilled corridors to bed.

Looping southeast toward the Spanish border the next morning, we visit the medieval mountain town of Sortelha. After we shut our motorcycles off we hear soft distant singing - a church service. Oddly, the scene reminds me of John Ford westerns: three gringos wander through the desert and find themselves standing in a church door in a remote Mexican town, looking for redemption. We pass on salvation and seek a café for coffee. There are few tourists, and in the stillness it is easy to believe modernity has sidestepped Portugal entirely, but what will happen as the economy grows because of European Union membership, as many believe. The great boom in travel missed Portugal, and sipping coffee in the mountains with voices from the church drifting up the hillside I'm thankful it did.

Rarely is traveling consistently enjoyable or endlessly fatiguing; rather it swings between the two poles like an erratic pendulum. The afternoon has grown hot and my head is back in Sortelha. We take motorways to compensate for our dawdling but I'm having trouble concentrating. Usually, at reasonable speeds, I can ride safely with an eye on the scenery, but this afternoon I'm locked straight ahead on the road. We're on our way to intersect the Douro River on our way to Pinhao.

It is extremely hot as we follow the winding road alongside the river, and fatigue nearly, but not entirely, distracts me from the surroundings, then slowly the pendulum swings and I'm interested again. As we near Pinhao, a long queue is waiting to cross the river to town. The bridge is undergoing renovations but the ferry shuttling cars and pedestrians is moored to the far side of the riverbank. Miguel notices a sign that directs bicyclists and pedestrians to a walkway erected on scaffolding beside the bridge. The catch, and there is always a catch with bridges that magically appear to guide travellers to safe harbour, is that it is narrow, with a 90-degree bend along the way. With the saddlebags removed and a graceless twelve-point turn completed, the bags are reinstalled and we walk our steeds across the planking. I tell myself that a motorcycle is only a heavy bicycle and try not to look at the river flowing beneath.

Our hotel, the Casa do Visconde de Chanceleiros, lives up to the grandiosity of its name. Guest rooms circle a pool and the entire hotel is perched on the bank of steep hill that rises from the river. Pinaho is in the heart of wine country, a region that begins at the Serra do Marão mountains and extends almost 100 miles to the Spanish border. The mountains create a microclimate, limiting rainfall. Summers are hot and dry and winters cold.

The history of port wine is a lesson in seventeenth century European geopolitics. In 1678 Britain declared war on France and blockaded its ports, effectively stopping export of French wine. Looking for an alternative source of wine, Britain turned to trading ally Portugal. The Douro region, at the time, produced great quantities of rather poor quality red table wine, but the invention, or discovery, of port as we know it changed that. Stopping the fermentation process by adding brandy while the wine is fruity, strong, and sweet, port is at its best wine's equivalent of espresso.





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