“Look!” I shriek. “The fireworks are flowing over the bridge like water!” Bang, kerpow, splash! This pyrotechnic display is not only colourful but very, very loud.
I had never seen such a spectacular fireworks display as the one I experienced in Porto to celebrate the festival of Sao Joao. I couldn’t have had a better view point than being on board the MS Infante D’Enrique river vessel on the Do’uro River, jostling alongside all sorts of other fishing boats.
I was sailing with tour operator CroisiEurope on the Do’uro River 8 day itinerary and, by chance, the cruise began on the day of the famous St. John the Baptist Festival (23 June). The festivities start at sundown with locals setting up long tables for sardine and pork dinners…all washed down with beer or wine. It is an old medieval festival that has been going on for six hundred years but the partying is bang up to date…including massive tents with singers and bands lining the banks of the river. And all ending with an enormous firework display.
Porto is a spectacular city during the day as well as at night, boasting ancient neighbourhoods full of narrow streets juxtaposed with enormous monuments, castles and cathedrals. Cross over the spectacular Ponte D. Luis I (bridge) to the other side of the river for wineries and eateries, all offering the very famous Port wine made from the varietals that have been produced here for centuries. In fact, the Do’uro River Valley, is the oldest wine appellation in the entire world. And the city of Porto, along with the terraced vineyards all along the river were named an UNESCO world heritage site in 1996.
Two of the favourite places we visited along the Do’uro River was the Mateus House and Vila Real. Vila Real is tiny, but interesting, and was the seat of a region that had many palatial manor houses. The manicured, landscaped gardens of the Mateus House were some of the more beautiful I have seen. The orchards and vineyards were wonderful as well.
While in Vila Real my husband and I tried a pastry made from egg yolk in the shape of a rooster’s comb! I think it was named ovos moles. Many of the country’s typical pastries were created in the monasteries during the Medieval period by nuns and monks and sold as a means of supplementing their incomes. The main ingredient for these pastries was egg yolks. Is it true that the medieval nuns used vast quantities of egg whites to stiffen their habits? If true, and not just myth, they may have then developed endless dessert recipes to use all those surplus yolks. The names of these desserts are usually related to monastic life or to the Catholic faith such as barriga de freira (nun’s belly), papos de anjo (angel’s chests), and toucinho do céu (bacon from heaven).
But the terraced vineyards are spectacular to view as you travel up the river. I would thoroughly recommend a Do’uro River cruise especially for those with any interest in wine and history.
For more information www.visitportugal.com
To learn more about CroisiEurope river cruises visit www.croisieurope.co.uk