Day 21 – Bridges

Starting Point: Pinhão
Ending Point: Amarante
Today’s Distance: 63 km
Total Distance: 1,387 km

I left Pinhão on a cool, crisp, fall day, the kind of day that makes one excited to cycle. Leaving the city, I couldn’t help but have a mini photoshoot of the town’s bridge over the Douro since it was such a feature to the landscape.

For the first half of my day, I would have the pleasure of following along the Douro river, the third largest river on the Iberian Peninsula. The name “Douro” actually comes from the Celtic word for water, giving a glimpse into the diverse influences that Portugal has experienced over the ages. Historically, the Douro has been very important for transporting wine in flat bottom boats. After turning north for a bit, I will rejoin the Douro again later in my trip when I head into Porto.

The river served as a tranquil companion and set a lovely tone for this first part of the day. Personally I have always loved cycling in the direction of moving water since it assures me that I will be cycling more downhill overall than up. Swiftly I rode down the lightly trafficked N222, exchanging greetings with the occasional fishermen who were trying their luck out on the water. I also counted 4 road cyclists along this stretch of highway, which always feels like a good sign. Whenever I see multiple cyclists out on a road, I feel that the local motorists are more conscious of those of us on two wheels.

Something I have always noticed throughout my travels in Portugal is, the Portuguese really know how to do outdoor seating. Benches along paths, picnic tables with nice views next to roads, stone benches on the sides of houses – all throughout Portugal I feel like that extra bit of effort is put into making outdoor spaces comfortable and useable.

An idyllic picnic spot next to the Douro River

I came upon the Régua Dam, the main reasons why the traditional flat bottom boats no longer travel down the Douro all the way to Porto. Though the dam has a lock, the deeper waters of the river no longer require the flat bottom boats of old, and almost all wine is transported by truck now anyways.

Stunning views continue

Peso da Régua is where I crossed the Douro on one of the town’s three bridges, all lined up in a tight little row. I took the pedestrian bridge, the Ponte Pedonal da Régua, which is downstream of the larger Ponte da Régua for local traffic, and the even larger Ponte Miguel Torga which hosts the A24 highway. Each bridge has its own particular style and design, and seeing them all next to each other is yet another charming little quirk of Portugal.

I continued onwards and, while I had no plans to see any particular sights, I was keeping my eye out for a place to have a coffee. A tiny “Aberto” / “Open” sign caught my eye next to a solitary table and two chairs perched above the river. Sure enough, a small coffee shop was across the street and I happily sipped my morning cup of Joe with the best seat in the house. Sometimes one isn’t the loneliest number; sometimes it’s just tranquility.

I had my coffee at precisely the right time since the road ahead was going to be a doozy. The next leg of my trip would involve lots of climbing before eventually making it to the top of a mountain pass and descending into the Amarante area where I would spend the night. Others had warned me about the incline, but, after finding out that I had previously climbed the Torre, I was told not to worry, and this would be easy. That being said, even comparing the road ahead to that previous battle made me wonder just what I had in store today.

More evidence that the Portuguese are a bunch of grape stompers

The climb was not easy, but I took breaks when I needed to and hydrated constantly. My pace was solid and overall, I felt good about my progress. Twisting and turning, the road snaked its way up the hillside. The weather was my ally once again with a bright and beautiful early morning and now some moderate, unthreatening clouds giving me shade for my attack up the hill. I stopped off at one of the public fountains (thankfully even more common in the hilly north), but when I pulled out one of my water bottles, I noticed a whole heap of gunk in the bottom of it. Maybe cyclist kombucha will become a thing in the future, but for now I decided to just use my other bottle for the rest of the day and reminded myself to clean all of them more regularly.

A couple of Portuguese men came up to the fountain in a car to fill their own vessels and asked me about my trip. They explained that I would reach Amarante after only about three more kilometres of climbing and then a nice long downhill run. The news came as a welcome surprise; for whatever reason, I had always pictured Amarante as being on the top of a tall hill. Reinvigorated with the positive news, I recommenced my assault on the hill. Later on, a car passed with a quick honk and shouts of encouragement. It may not seem like much to non-cyclists, but alone out there on the road, traveling through a foreign country, occupying that strange uncanny space between vehicle and pedestrian, a bit of encouragement can really light up a cyclist’s day. Suddenly you feel just a little bit less alone in the world.

At the highest point of the climb, I pulled into a restaurant and absolutely devoured a pizza. All of my morning effort had worked up my appetite in a big way and stuffing my face with pizza felt devilishly justified. Now with a full belly, I was pleased to confirm what the Portuguese men had told me before: a nice easy coast down the backside of the hill carried me almost all the way into Amarante.

Amarante itself was a picturesque jumble of historic buildings, quaint cobblestone streets, and antique stone bridge.

All the Portuguese who heard I was traveling to Amarante told me that I had to try the sweets there, and hey – who am I to argue with that? Something I love about Portuguese culinary tradition is that every town seems to have its own special dessert(s). The problem with Amarante is that they have so many! I restrained myself and only tried three at the Confeitaria da Ponte, which had an excellent view of the Igreja de São Gonçalo as well.

Although I really enjoyed admiring all the architecture while wandering around the city during the afternoon, the serene presence of the Igreja de São Gonçalo at night surpassed them all.

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