The Douro River is one of the longest and largest rivers of the Iberian Peninsula. It crosses all the North part of the Peninsula, makes part of the Portuguese/Spanish border due to its profound and difficult to cross valley, and arrives to the Ocean at Porto, the second largest town of Portugal. In its international and Portuguese path, the River Douro crosses two main types of soil: slate and granite, the second being the nearest to the Atlantic Ocean. It is in its upper part that the River Douro produces a unique and extraordinary micro-climate “inside” its banks. Months of extreme heat during Summer time conflict with long months of extreme cold, during the rest of the year. Unique conditions of humidity are also fundamental to characterise this micro-climate that, in conjugation with the soil particular composition produces one of the World most extraordinary wines: the Port Wine.
Port Wine grapes are cultivated up river, on the abrupt hills that form the river banks. But traditionally, Port Wine was matured near the sea in Vila Nova de Gaia, the town facing Porto on the southern bank of the river. For that, the wine had to travel west, and the river wasthe best way. A special kind of boats (the “rabelos”) was developed for that purpose. They are long, with only one sail; the job of making them come safely down the river was not an easy one and accidents occurred in especially difficult passages, as “Valeira” for example. Going back up river was not a lighter job: boats had to be pulled by cows, marching on special paths on the river banks, during long parts of their journey east. Presently, the wine no longer sails down the river, the “rabelos” being only a symbol of the old times and a touristy attraction.
The Douro changed a lot due to the construction of several electrical dams. The river now no longer provokes catastrophes during winter time, when its enraged waters gained the banks and destroyed villages, bridges and houses. In Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia some of the most terrific floods are still present in the memories of the inhabitants and engraved on the walls of the houses near the river. Now, the Douro is a “civilised” river, navigable in all its Portuguese extension. The views are magnificent and it is worthwhile to sail up or down the river. Another option is the train that follows the 19th century railway path and permits to travel from Porto to Pocinho, very near the Spanish border. In the year of 2001 UNESCO declared the Vineyard Landscape of Douro as World Heritage.
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