In the evening when the sun slid behind the hills, lights began to come on in the villages that could be seen from our balcony at the Pousada de Santa Barbara - Povoa das Quartas - Oliveira do Hospital - Beiras. We spent several nights and the first night we counted seven villages across the valley and at the bottom near the river. We could hardly believe it since it was difficult to see any houses during the day. We decided to drive to the bottom and explore the areas from which the lights came. The trip to the bottom took over an hour as the road switched back and forth. I questioned the wisdom of that little adventure because the red rental car we were driving complained with every use of any of the mechanical systems such as applying the brakes or shifting the gears. We started our trip from the top of the hill, which is straight above the steeple in the painting.
The village was quiet and the streets were so narrow that there was barely room for one car. As we slowly crept though the village not daring to go more than 5 miles per hour, we were presented with several mid morning views into dark cavernous buildings, which we took to either be warehouses or cafes. In one several men sat around a table with wine glasses. We didn't stop but they appeared as surprised to see us, as we were to see them.
The sort distance through the narrow streets brought us to an ancient Roman bridge that was built in the shape of an "L". We were later told that it was built that way for defensive purposes. Attackers had to slow down to turn the corner that was narrowed. At that point they were vulnerable. We came to a stop for twenty minutes because a motorcycle-based tractor pulling a trailer wouldn't start and it was sitting at the bend in the bridge. A big Mercedes was waiting patiently in front of us so we relaxed. Eventually another motorcycle tractor came for the other side and the traffic jam was solved. It turns out these were used to haul grapes in large vats from the hillsides. We were barely able to get our little car around the corner although for some reason the Mercedes didn?t seem to have any problem at all.
My view of the hillside vineyards left me with the opinion that all the grapes must be tended to and picked by hand. In amongst these vineyards on the hillside are little domed structures. The purpose of which is a mystery to me. There were many of these and the only thing I could think of was shelter from the sun or sleeping huts so that someone could remain in the vineyard rather than walking back the long walk to the village. I think speculation is one form of pleasure while traveling.
On the other side of the bridge was a long row of trees that shaded a river's edge. A small rowboat was tied up to one of the trees. The water was deepened by the use of a damn. The water behind the damn was like glass. We sat on one of the benches in the shade and ate a lunch of wine and roasted chicken that we brought with us. It was obvious that this was a place of camping as it had modern facilities for dressing and some rules posted. There were a number of men dressed in green that were raking up some rather large leaves that were starting to fall - it was October, after all. Another group of men were reworking some sort of river routing apparatus, perhaps to water vines. It was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been and I would love to return there. It is probably a popular place in the summer.
We spent the rest of the day driving up to and inspecting many of the other little villages from which we saw the lights the night before. Some of them were amazing in that they had no streets among the homes. At one point we were on a trail that I thought might take us up and over the eastern end of the valley until we came out in someone's front yard. A man with a pitchfork approached the car and we gestured about driving through to the other side of the hills but he motioned us back the way we came so we left with a smile and gratitude. There probably is another exit to that valley but it will have to wait for another day. As it was we spent the entire day driving around in a beautiful valley.
|All images contained herein are for viewing only and under the exclusive copyright of the artist. Phil Terry © 1997-2012|