Golden moments

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Text and photos by Filipe Morato Gomes

Sara Dias is in love. With Porto, with the Douro, and with the simple things in life. At least that was the way it seemed when I met her on the sunny morning she picked me up at home in Matosinhos to go and visit the Douro wine-producing region.

The moment was perfect. I had been thinking of returning to the Douro region for some time, a place I consider one of the most beautiful in Portugal and to which I have family ties; on her side, Sara has been sharing her passions with tourists from all around the world through her company Oporto & Douro Moments. Praise for her work has rolled in and, not unsurprisingly, it won the “Services” category in the Best Of Wine Tourism 2016 awards, an annual prize awarded by the Great Wine Capitals network of which the Porto region is a member, alongside the best wine producing regions in the world, such as Napa in the USA, Mendoza in Argentina and Bordeaux in France.

So it was with high expectations that I entered the 7-seater car ready to be delivered to the Douro in Sara’s hands, in the hope of being surprised.

We drove at tour speed to Mesão Frio and then, straight afterwards, at a curve in the road overlooking the River Douro on the way to Peso da Régua, I had the first surprise of the day. We stopped the car and almost immediately the boot was turned into a kind of improvised picnic table, with delicious almond biscuits, freshly bought cherries and a glass of port savoured while watching the manmade terraces and in the background the ever present river, the common thread of this trip to the Douro wine-producing region. That was our next stop.

Unhurriedly, we crossed to the left bank of the river and drove along one of the most beautiful roads in the region to Folgosa do Douro.

When we reached the jetty beside Chef Rui Paula’s famous restaurant DOC, António, our skipper, brown-skinned and with the look of a hardened sailor about him, awaited us with another surprise. I looked at the jetty and there she was, the “Dona Antónia”, one of the most iconic vessels on the Douro. She was the first boat to make trips between the bridges in Porto over 50 years ago and today, restored by the company Douro à Vela and rechristened “Entre Margen's”, she’s back sailing on the river.

Cruising on the Douro

I boarded, explored the vessel and sat at the prow while António headed us upstream. The conversation flowed as the terraces built by hand passed by in slow motion with the calm water and a boat or two headed the other way and a certain calmness of spirit came over me. António opened a bottle of nicely chilled white wine and on we went observing this UNESCO protected landscape while, at every curve, the river filled my memory with small moments. All the way to Pinhão.

I lunched at a traditional restaurant and then walked over to the railway station. Besides the magnificent tile panels decorating the outside walls, what I noticed there were the number of people waiting. The historic train was about to arrive at Pinhão, an always emotional moment. Minutes later, there it emerged, chugging slowly around the curve in a cloud of smoke...

Next up was Quinta do Bomfim, a property belonging to the Symington family, and only then did I understand Sara’s insistence that we visit with plenty of time to spare. The likeable boy that welcomed me and slowly showed me around the whole wine-making process and on to the wine-tasting room was one of the best professional guides I have ever encountered in my many years of travel all around the world.

The day was rapidly coming to an end. As I was returning home in the comfort of the car, I caught myself thinking that it had not really been an excursion, in the normal sense of the word, nor had it been a trip with friends. But perhaps something in between, a kind of professional yet genuine informality that had captivated me from the first moment. Only later did I put my finger on it: it had been a journey of “moments”. Yes, moments. The simple things in life. Like sipping a glass of port at a viewing point over the Douro. And sailing on it in a historic boat. Golden moments!