After a perplexing decision-making process, we finally figured out where to spend our first five nights in Portugal: at an Airbnb in Sande, right alongside the Douro River. River views, hammocks, beautiful outdoor space… what could go wrong?
Well, first off, the travel day from Ortigueira was a doozy, made extra complicated by the fact that we couldn’t rent a car in Spain and return it in Portugal. Our first stop was therefore returning Black Diamond to the Vigo airport in Spain. From there, we grabbed a cab to the bus station, where we took a (very late and extremely crowded) bus to the Porto airport. Then there was a shuttle to the rental car pickup place and a drive in the new rental car (Silky Darkstream!) to the river. Once we arrived at our destination, we parked up on the street and lugged our stuff down a very long, rocky, steep hill to the house itself. Phew!
The river? Gorgeous! The yard? Pretty awesome! The house itself? Eh, kinda weird? One significant challenge it posed was that going from the house to the yard was kind of a schlep—either a walk across a little bridge or through a gate and across a road—so it didn’t make a lot of sense to do anything outside that required a lot of back and forth, like eating meals there. And we couldn’t, say, leave Fi inside if she wanted to play there and we wanted to hang riverside—it was simply too far away and closed off for that to feel safe and comfortable.
It turned out that those logistics mattered because being in the house part of the house wasn’t all that appealing. It was spacious, so that was lovely, but it was also kind of dark and cold and oddly laid-out and very, very cluttered. It wasn’t quite a hoarder house, but it did seem to be where our kind-but-exceedingly-scattered host stored every as-seen-on-TV appliance, tchotchke, beauty supply, quilt, board game with missing pieces, etc. she’d ever owned. Every surface and cabinet was pretty much spoken for, to the point that we had a hard time finding places to unpack our modest clothing, toiletries and dinner fixings. The whole thing made me feel a bit claustrophobic.
And finally, it was far from stuff. After a low-key, people-light stretch of traveling in Spain, we were ready for a little activity, all of which was a steep walk up the hill and a hot car ride along endlessly narrow, small-town roads away. For the first time on our trip, we felt like we’d truly missed the mark, ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Thankfully, Dan being Dan, he whipped up some on-the-fly adjustments that made it easier for us to make lemonade. (Or maybe orange juice? There are orange trees everywhere in this part of the country.) He started by shortening our stay along the river from five nights to four, and then found some cool stuff for us to do while we were still there:
Another stunner of a hike Dan randomly picked off the map, the Pavia Walkways in Canelas wind along above the river before their flat boardwalks make way for a 500-stair climb. Waiting at the top are the Aguieiras Waterfall and 516 Arouca, the longest suspension pedestrian bridge in the world. We opted not to walk across the bridge—the age requirement was 6+ and there was an hourlong wait for the next crossing anyway—but the views we encountered were pretty darn spectacular regardless.
We drank wine!
The vineyards along the river and around every corner in this part of the world were making us thirsty, so we popped over to Casa De Algar on the way home from our walkway hike. When we arrived, the gorgeous winery was deserted except for one guy on a tractor. He sussed out why we were there, called someone on the phone and in 10 minutes, our host arrived as promised, dressed in dirty work duds and apologizing for speaking no English. No matter! With our middling Spanish, his limited English and the universal language of delicious wine, we had a most lovely tour and tasting.
We rode the rails!
There’s a little steam train that runs along the Douro River and sounds like a bit of touristy fun, but it was a pretty long way from our home base. We opted instead to take the regular passenger train to a town about an hour away—closer, cheaper and with the same views of the river. The train ride was pleasant enough, as was lunch in Peso da Regua, a riverside municipality that feels like it should be more charming and picturesque than it actually is. The outing was… fine! Something to do.
There was an inflatable kayak at our rental which we took out on the river twice, once just Dan and Fi and again as a family on our last day. We paddled across to the beach on the other side, where there’s a rustic wooden swing to swing on and stones to skip. A peaceful way to close out our lemons-into-lemonade stay.
Fortunately, Porto was next…