Take Me to the River: E-Biking in the Douro Valley

Gill Haynes goes on an E-biking adventure in the Douro Valley Portugal and creates quite a bang.

Culture & History, Europe, Gastronomy, Outdoors

Gill Haynes goes on an E-biking adventure in the Douro Valley Portugal and creates quite a bang.

“Hmm – that seems bit hot,” I thought as I pulled the e-bike battery out of my pannier in our hotel room. Rather than plugging it in to re-charge, I put it on the bathroom tiles to cool down. Two minutes later, it exploded.

A few hours earlier, a stray pedal had bashed the battery out of its cradle as our e-bikes were being loaded onto a boat for a ride up the Douro river. The battery slid across the deck and plopped into the water. One of the boatmen rather heroically dived in and surfaced with the battery to enthusiastic applause from the passengers. But the moral of the story is: if your bike battery drops in the river, leave it there. Lithium and water really don’t mix.

Fortunately, the explosion took out the side of the bike battery but did not take the rather lovely, newly refurbished hotel we were staying at with it. We were in the heart of the Douro Valley, enjoying an e-biking adventure that took us from the north-eastern reaches of Portugal through fabulous country all the way to Porto on the west coast.

Looking our over the Douro before our boat trip, Day 5 IMG_2779
Looking out over the Douro before our boat trip.

Easy Riders in the Douro Valley

This was our first e-biking tour. We’re in our sixties, enjoy the outdoors and had heard great things about the Douro Valley. But where there’s a river, there are often hills, and we wanted a holiday, not an endurance event, so e-biking seemed the perfect way to explore.

We kicked off our trip with a couple of nights in the picturesque city of Porto, where an excellent tour of the Calem port lodge got us in the mood (NB it’s worth paying extra for the cheese and chocolate wine tasting – you get much better quality port to try).

Into the Wild

From Porto, the e-biking company Authentic Trails picked us up and drove us four hours across the width of Portugal through dramatic canyon landscapes to Miranda do Douro near the Spanish border. It’s a wild landscape here – griffon vultures wheeled overhead as we looked out over the river that the trip was all about.

Meeting the locals en route from Miranda do Douro IMG_2590
Meeting the locals en route from Miranda do Douro.
How E-biking Works

Our trusty e-steeds were ready at the overnight hotel and the Authentic Trails team took us through the self-guiding app and GPS system (nice to have both, just in case). The app worked really well – if you so much as strayed a couple of metres from the set route, an alert nudged you back on course. The route was as off-the-beaten-track as possible, much of it on gravel trails and little-used lanes. We were given lifts to avoid boring stretches of major roads.

A fully charged battery can last up to two days, so we could use as much turbo-boost as we liked on the climbs – making the steepest of them feel as though we were cruising effortlessly on the flat – and still be sure of having plenty of power left over at the end of the ride. Then we’d unclip the batteries and charge them up overnight ready for the next day’s adventures.

Travelling Light

Next morning, we were off. Well, we were off eventually – our fellow e-bikers, a lovely group of female Belgian doctors and a friendly couple from Singapore who we had met the previous evening, were up and out before we had even loaded our panniers. Our main luggage was tagged and driven each day to the next hotel, meaning we could travel light with just a picnic lunch – the route didn’t pass many villages or cafés – as we rode 30-40 kilometres each day. Enough to make us feel exhilarated but not exhausted.

E-Biking in Douro Valley Photo Gallery

Home Comforts

Our accommodation was en-suite and of a good standard throughout, including a river-facing room in Mirando do Douro, a renovated farm building at Sendim and a lovely historic town-house in Torre de Moncorvo.

The best was saved til last. As we rode nearer to Porto on the west coast, three ‘Quintas’ set in the heart of the winelands made us welcome overnight. As well as wine, Quinta do Barracâo makes an organic olive oil that’s good enough to drink, while the gorgeously renovated Quinta de Fiaes served us delicious wine made from the estate’s own muscatel grapes. And finally, at Quinta de Tourais in Peso da Régua – the Douro district capital – we enjoyed a lovely last lunch drinking in the view over the rooftop pool as well as the excellent house tipple.

Breakfasts were generous, setting us up for the day’s pedalling and we ate out most evenings, except at the remoter Quintas where homemade sausages, bread and cheeses added to the rural charm.

Desperately Seeking the Douro

The only thing that puzzled us was where the Douro river was – we hadn’t seen it since the first evening. Our route took us through dry landscapes prettily dotted with figs, wild parsnip, cactus, pampas, palms, peach and almond trees. But it wasn’t until day 5 that we got a proper look at the river itself.

Well, it was worth the wait. On a magnificent ride, we freewheeled down through the fine-tooth-combed vine terraces as the Douro twinkled invitingly below. Then, suddenly, we were right on the waterfront and enjoying the sense of arrival, before we took to the water on a ‘Rabelo’ – one of the traditional boats that used to ferry port wine from the Douro winelands to Porto for the aging, blending and bottling process.

It was as our bikes were being loaded onto this boat that the whoopsie with my e-bike’s battery occurred. But all credit to Authentic Trails – that evening, a new battery was delivered by hand to our hotel so I was ready and set for cycling the next day.

We sometimes had a lift to avoid busy or boring roads IMG_2605
We sometimes had a lift to avoid busy or boring roads.
On the Water

Aboard a boat, you get a very different perspective of the river and tiered vineyards, wrapped like corduroy around the valley sides. The Douro is the oldest demarcated wine growing region on the planet, and the distinctive terraces seen today were painstakingly constructed by hand over decades to create the ideal growing conditions for the Touriga and other grape varieties used in port production. It’s by terracing the slate-like ‘schist’ rock, which makes up most of the soil in this parched landscape, that just enough humidity is retained for the vines to survive and to produce intense grapes of great richness and depth.

Our Douro Valley river cruise was a short one – we disembarked at the next stop to explore the gorgeous town of Pinhão, at the epicentre of the vineyard estates. The train station here seems to tell the Douro story in miniature: blue and white tile depictions of traditional Douro scenes festoon the walls, while the old ticket office now serves the custard tarts typical of the region, superb ice cream and of course, a good glass of Port or two.

Terraces define the Douro Valley region IMG_2719
Terraces define the Douro Valley region.

Friends Electric

One more day’s scenic riding and then we were picked up from our hotel in Peso da Regua and were soon back in Porto itself. In a week, we had cycled about 200 kilometres in warm autumnal weather and loved every minute of it. Yes, my bike battery went bang, but far from putting us off, we have now bought our own e-bikes. With non-removeable batteries.

All images by Gill Haynes. Main image: Porto, with the port lodges on the left hand side.

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Gill Haynes

Gill Haynes

A travel writer with more than 30 years experience in the travel industry, Gill loves the great outdoors. Her favourite destination is South Africa where one walking safari involved scrambling up a tree to avoid a charging rhino. A keen skier, mountain biker and windsurfer, Gill’s up for doing as much and travelling as often as her years allow. Still on the wish list are canoeing the Great Lakes in Canada and swimming with manta rays in the Maldives.

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