The first full day of riding, and a chance to get some proper miles under our belt. Also under our belt went custard tarts, cake, muffins, Iberian ham and local cheese, cod empanadas, garlic sausage, enough fresh bread to insulate an Antarctic research station, and litres of coffee. That was some hotel breakfast.
We followed the N2 south direct from the hotel, meandering on gentle gradients through broccoli-coloured hills. It was quiet: all the traffic was on the parallel motorway glimpsable in the distance. But even quieter options were available, thanks to the closed railway line up the Tâmego valley. It’s now repurposed as a bike track, gravelly down to Pedras Salgadas, then tarmac to Vila Pouca.
That latter stretch still has the ancient trackside signs up: Atenção aos Comboios – Pare, Escute, Olhe (‘Beware of the trains – Stop, listen, look’). They’re remarkable survivors of this long-forgotten historical narrow-gauge line which was closed when cars supplanted donkeys back in… oh, 2009.
After Vila Pouca a tailwind whooshed us along the main road under the sky-high viaducts of the parallel motorway, and we hurtled along with little accompaniment of traffic to Vila Real for a picnic lunch in the town centre by the cathedral.
There were lots of ups and downs out of Vila Real’s hilly environs, and some dramatic twists and turns under Chinese-scale motorway bridges.
Thanks to the steady and consistent inclines, the ups were simply a matter of finding the right gear, settling in a rhythm and enjoying the calm, while the downhills were a delightful brakeless freewheel at just the right sigshtseeing pace.
I wish coping with life’s ups and downs was so straightforward.
A long thrilling descent got us into the workaday town of Peso da Régua, on the winey Douro River. The long long valley produces port and some fabulous reds, soft, fruity and rich, though it was too early in the day to be thinking about that. Not that this stopped me thinking about it.
Peso da Régua’s bridges over the wide, sparkling Douro are a thing to behold, as are the vineyards raked up the huge hillsides to the south… ah, the hillsides we were now about to climb. Five hundred metres in ten kilometres, or thereabouts.
It was the usual N2 thing of empty roads and regular gradient, making the climb easy and quiet… almost. At one point a campervan unwisely tried to overtake me on a blind bend, having to slam on the brakes when a car appeared coming down. They had to emergency-stop, and were almost rear-ended by a local farmer in a pickup truck behind who also had to slam the anchors on.
He opened his door and gave the campervan driver a volley of abuse. I know enough Portuguese to understand that he (a) considered their roadcraft substandard and (b) suggested there could be question marks over their mother’s job title. (That was by far the worst thing that happened on the road all trip, by the way.)
Eventually the long, scenic haul up the hill got us to Lamego, a pilgrimage town known for the grand set of 686 steps zigzagging up to Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios church that serve as a climax for the faithful.
My search for post-shower enlightenment was more focused on sourcing Raposeira, Portugal’s equivalent of champagne, and a local speciality here.
However, that would not ideal for rehydration after this long, cloudless, baking hot day.
So we played safe, and stuck to beer.
Miles today: 65
Miles since Chaves: 65