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Europe’s last exit
If you want to travel to Portugal, you need a lot of patience and a durable tire. Once at the end of Europe, there is also one of the most idiosyncratic corners of the European house to get to know.
Wafer-thin threads of water incessantly transfigure a sky that can only be guessed at. Covered by the melancholy veil of this patient drizzle, the pale landscape seems to lie sunk in an eternal twilight sleep. Still leafless tree skeletons tremble over brownish-red clods of land. All green looks colorless, battered by the paralyzing disgrace of a long winter. Only the relaxing feeling of having arrived permeates this mood. Arrived at the beginning of a journey through the end of Europe. Arrived in the north-easternmost region of Portugal, in a country that shows itself full of calming sadness when I arrive. Arrived in the Trás-os-Montes region, the land behind the mountains. I turn the ignition key to off, the singing of rolling rubber on the shiny wet asphalt and the biting rattle of the drive chain fall silent at the end of a plant-entwined stone arch bridge covered with a thin layer of moss, which spans a nameless stream. Helmet off, ears open. The approaching spring seems almost audible, chuckles cheekily from the banks, chirps from the trees. A shower of warmth floods through the body. Done, won, I escaped the bloody cold end of winter at home. My seat meat starts tingling, to relax from the almost two thousand kilometers journey. The beginning of spring also at the Hotel Recidencial in Vimioso. On the very first night I get to know one side of the Portuguese that has it all: their desire to celebrate. A family celebration is going on in the large bar of the house, and until midnight the volume increases in proportion to the empty wine bottles lined up on a table. When I let myself fall into the springs, it echoes so loudly through the staircase in my room, as if they were singing right next to my bed. That costs the sleep they long for, but at the same time it somehow makes this people sympathetic. After the involuntary folklore evening, the cool breeze that blows around your nose through the open visor in the morning is just the thing to wake up to some extent. On the hunched cobblestones between the crouched houses of Algoso I am finally shaken awake. A flock of sheep blocks the narrow path, but a few whistles from the shepherd, an order to the dogs, then an alley is free between the walking sweaters. From the gray-brown walls of a castle ruin at the highest point of the village, the view extends for kilometers over the red and brown spotted hilly landscape. Far below, a farmer drives his donkey team through the field in front of the plow, and while circling the olive trees, ignorantly creating a graphic work of art. In the south, the narrow bed of the Ribeira de Angueira winds through a narrow, wedge-shaped valley, and on the other side of the river, according to the map, an unpaved road is supposed to lead up the mountain in tight bends. Sounds tempting, but I can’t find it. The network of field and sand paths between the rough stone walls, which are supposed to protect the ground from the withering wind during the hot summer, always ends in dead ends. Sometimes I stand in front of an abandoned homestead, sometimes in a meadow. A farmer who drives a few cows down the path can’t help me either. In the end I am happy to find my way back to Algoso through the maze of paths. Self-sufficiency in food is essential in this remote part of Portugal, and it appears that it is slaughter day in Algoso. Skinned goats hang under three gates, under which the blood is collected in a bowl. Fish will be eaten tonight, I decide. But I have to revise my intention soon. In a small village in the hills of the Serra de Bornes, a few men are also busy caring for meat and carving up a pig on a wooden garden table. I suddenly feel reminded of my childhood and the local farm and just have to stop. And I’m promptly greeted as if I were an old friend who’s coming back to visit. The landlord worked in France for a long time, and so I can finally make myself understood with my poor knowledge of French. In the middle of the garden is a huge stone oven, in which the fire is already blazing. Usually fresh bread is baked in it, I am told, but today it would be used as a grill for once. If I understand correctly, this should also give the bread that is then baked in the oven a particularly spicy taste. I am invited to stay until the freshly grilled snack comes on the table. But that will take a few more hours and I decide to keep going, even if my mouth is already watering. Nevertheless, they won’t let me go on an empty stomach: there is red wine made by myself, along with bread and cheese. A whole plate full. Although my stomach is empty, I eat more out of politeness than with appetite. There are more stimulating things than a freshly slaughtered pig whose intestines have just been removed. My host is not the only one who speaks a second language in this remote area. Amazing, because Trás-os-Montes is considered to be the poorest area in Portugal, which in turn is already referred to as Europe’s poor house. So where did this education come from? Well, poverty itself is the reason. More or less forgotten by the government in far away Lisbon, it has become more and more difficult to earn one’s daily bread in this region. The residents had little choice but to seek their happiness abroad. What is a sad compulsion for them gives me a chance to communicate. Because I only know one word in Portuguese. Obrigado – thank you. And with that I say goodbye after one last sip of wine. Someone who left Trás-os-Montes a few decades ago, not out of poverty but out of a thirst for adventure, was named Clemente Menres. He was one of the few rich in the country and loved to go on long trips to indulge his passion for collecting. And he wasn’t petty about it. In the Museu das Curiosidades, located in the inconspicuous village of Romeu, all of the treasures he brought home are on display. Including flashing cars from the twenties, antique jukeboxes, ancient bicycles, carriages and a collection of ancient telephones. When I leave the museum, a donkey cart shakes across the street in front of the exit, old women in deep black clothes gossip on the roadside, behind them tower stone walls and gray house walls. The whole village looks like a museum. Just like the medieval streets of the provincial capital Bragan ?? a, which I reach in the late afternoon. As if built to last, the massive tower of the old castle protrudes from the whitewashed, crooked group of houses. The next few kilometers on the way west fly by far too fast, the winding winding turns me completely under its spell. Only in Chaves do I find time again to take care of the surroundings. There should be gold and silver deposits here. But the real gold of the place gushes out of the ground as hot water. If you want to cure your reuma, you can try it in one of the 73 degree hot thermal springs of the place. As a therapy, I prefer the lively curve gymnastics according to Doctor Kawa. Along the border mountains to Spain, where the mountains tower up to the Peneda Geres National Park, this is easy. On and on until I reach the Alto Cavado reservoir behind Montalegre, which sparkles like a silver mirror in the middle of the gray mountains. According to the map, there should be a slope on the north side of the Rio Cavado that leads directly into the national park. In the absence of any guidance, I cross the river directly on the dam, and in fact, sand soon starts to dust under the tires. The path winds higher and higher until the villages down by the river are only recognizable as small stone cubes in the landscape. The park extends over around seventy thousand hectares and is said to have wild horses as well as wolves. It is quite possible to imagine how wild and rugged the terrain is: between Ermida and Caldas do Geres, deep-washed gullies make the path only passable at a snail’s pace. It is already getting dark when the first houses appear. Despite an intensive search, not a single bed can be found in the village. The season has not yet started for one of the hosts, the others are fully booked. The gas station attendant advises me to drive up to Campo do Geres. I know a thing or two about huts that are rented out there. As it soon turns out, there is a youth hostel near the mountain village. It is actually open despite the early season of the year, and because of the extremely low temperatures up here, I am quite happy to have found a bed. Even if it sags like an old hammock. Campo do Geres is one of the most popular destinations in the park. The road ends here and an extensive hiking area begins. Nevertheless, the place has remained a typical mountain village. In the gardens, some of the maize stores on stone pillars are still full, which are supposed to protect the food from hungry rodents in winter. Stone crosses on the gables testify to the profound religiousness of the owners. Further down to the south, where the mountains merge into the mild plains of the Minho region, lies the Rome of Portugal: Braga, the second largest city in the north, has acquired these increases because it has a church on every street corner. Incidentally, they also offer something interesting for the less religious. In the cathedral, for example, lies the 500-year-old, embalmed corpse of Archbishop Lauren ?? o Vicente in a glazed niche. On the Costa Verde, the green coast, I come across the sea, the fate of the Portuguese. From here the world was discovered. Who hasn’t heard of Vasco de Gama? Or from Pedro Alvarez Cabral, who accidentally came across Brazil while searching for India? Only once did the Portuguese make a mistake. When at the end of the fifteenth century a Genoese tried for years to convince the royal family to equip them with ships, sailors and money to discover new worlds – and thus markets – they stubbornly refused. Frustrated, the man went to Spain, found a hearing there and, also in search of India, discovered today’s America. His name was Christopher Columbus. Well, that’s how it works. I would be happy if I discovered the coastal road down to Porto. But everything that leads to the sea ends as a cul-de-sac on the beach or on a rocky coast. Porto, the country’s second largest city, has a venerable location on the north bank of the Douro. The plaster is crumbling from the multi-storey facades, freshly washed laundry is blowing in the wind on the wrought-iron balconies and at Cais da Ribeira there is hardly a place to get in the cafes. The mild climate on the Douro is also responsible for the fact that some of Portugal’s best wines thrive here. Some of them are refined into port wine in Vila Nova de Gaia on the southern Douroufer. There, brandy is added to the wine barrels during fermentation, which makes the taste more noble and the alcohol content higher. This can be seen with great clarity during the tasting in the famous Sandeman wine cellar. It was a sensible idea to leave the motorcycle at the hotel, I think as I stumble happily home. With a freshly rested rider on the bench, the Kawasaki chugs the next morning along the bends of the Douro back up into the hinterland, crosses the Serra de Montemuro on narrow side roads, and thus reaches perhaps the best motorcycle area in Portugal, the Serra da Estrela. It should go on like this for days. Curve follows curve and outlook on outlook. Portugal’s highest mountain, the Torre, is also located here. Unfortunately, spring has nothing to say at its summit and I quickly start looking for warmer climes again. Behind Fatima, the pilgrim stronghold, the clammy fingers have long been forgotten and after a last detour to the Grutas of Mira d’Aire, the most beautiful stalactite caves in the country, I unconditionally surrender to the advantages of the coastal town of Nazar. Sun, beach and lazing around.
Info – Northern Portugal
The greatest handicap in this wonderful country is the grueling journey, which can hardly be tackled in less than three days. Time should therefore be the most important criterion on a trip to Portugal.
How to get there: If you are coming via the southern route (Lyon, Nimes Perpignan, Barcelona, Lleida, Zaragoza, Soria, Aranda, Valladolid and Zamora), there are 1900 kilometers from Freiburg to the Portuguese border in Miranda do Douro. From northern Germany, from the Aachen border crossing via Paris, Tours, Bordeaux, Bayonne, Irun, Gasteiz Vitoria, Burgos, Valladolid and Zamora to Miranda do Douro, around 1,700 kilometers have to be reeled off. Both variants form a mixture of motorways and two-lane motor vehicle roads. Spend the night: A guesthouse or a Recidencial where you can spend the night at a low price can be found in almost every place. Slightly thicker wallets allow yourself a good night’s sleep in one of the pousadas. These are state hotels that are often housed in historical buildings such as monasteries or castles. Outside the high season there are discounts there. The Portuguese Tourist Office sends out a list of addresses and prices. A pousada in a top location is the Pousada de S. Lourenco in Serra da Estrela, 6260 Manteigas, phone 075/982450, fax 075/982453. In the northeast, roast goats and lamb of the best quality are on the menu. Because what is on the table here mostly comes from the immediate vicinity. Fish is of course eaten on the coast, with the bacalhau, a dried fish, being one of the country’s specialty dishes. There should be so many ways of preparation for him that it would be enough for a different taste every day for a whole year. If you want to enjoy a good drop with it, you can sit near the Douro Valley in the middle of the cultivation area of some fine vines. When it’s still cold and damp in Germany, the sun has long been smiling in Portugal. Nevertheless, a warm sweater must be in the luggage for the Trás-os-Montes region and the heights of the Serra da Estrela. In Trás-os-Montes, the average temperatures in April are sometimes lower than in March, because a relatively large amount of rain falls during this time. The coastal areas are two to three weeks ahead of the interior in terms of spring. Sights: The stops that should not be missed during a trip through northern Portugal include the curiosity museum in Romeu, the old town around the castle of Braganca, the port wine cellars in Porto, the stalactite cave of Mira d’Aire and the monastery of Batalha. Literature: The book Richtig Reisen, Portugal, from DuMont for 44 marks has proven itself as a comprehensive informant. The volume Spain from the Unterwegs edition is specially tailored to motorcyclists and also describes two motorcycle tours including practical information through Portugal. It can be ordered from the MOTORRAD reader service on 0711 / 182-1225 for 29.80 marks. The best map comes from RV-Verlag, Spain / Portugal 9/10, 1: 300000. Addresses: Portuguese Tourist and Trade Office, Schafergasse 17, 60313 Frankfurt / M., Telephone 069/290549, Fax 231433. Distance traveled: approx. 1450 Kilometers Time required: At least two weeks
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