Monday 10 July 2017


The splendour of the Douro Valley.
Most pics by The Snapper, naturally!

Holidays are notorious tests of relationships, but thankfully the Snapper and I enjoy them together. We use most of our spare time visiting family and life-long friends in England, but for one week each year we’ll find a wee house abroad with some kind of pool, walking distance from a restaurant, and then do nothing.

Herself will sit outside, reading a succession of vast tomes from dawn to dusk, while I will stare for hours into space, eat some olives and sip whiskey.

There might be an excursion to a Roman ruin, certainly natural history rambles where the Snapper can invest in her photographic talents, and most evenings we’ll probably walk out for dinner.

Apart from that, we are happy to relax in peace and quiet.
Bloody lovely, I think to myself in anticipation of Portugal’s Douro Valley. Can't wait.

As we steer out of our drive and head to Dublin Airport, I whack on the radio.

“Reports are coming in of a major forest fire in Portugal. So far at least 35 people are known to have died, many burning to death in their cars.”

I quickly flick the radio off.

“How many times do we hear Portugal mentioned on the bloody news, and here we are, not a half mile from home and they’re giving out about firemageddon.”

Having been a bit of a nerd on Google Earth before we left, I find our little place, where we are greeted by our hosts. 


Although Armando was born in the area, the couple met and lived in Anne’s native France, so all our communications are in French.

The warmth of their welcome is extraordinary, and while we sample Armando’s lip-dribbling cakes (a French patissier? Oh no, how terrible!) they tell us all the things we can do around the area.

It’s 38C.
I don’t want to do anything except sit in the shade and drink water.

Turns out our place is not a separate house, but a flat below their house, while our terrace is at the junction of the path to the garden.

Throughout the week we are visited constantly by both of them, so we don’t enjoy the privacy we usually like, but it’s impossible to be upset. The garden that Anne has created is incredible, with the river at the bottom of it offering shade, alongside the magic sounds and mesmerising sights of flowing water splashing over rocks.

Such is the diversity of Anne’s planting that wildlife of all types thrives here, with the smell of figs colliding with the croaks of frogs, the low-down burr of big black flying beetles with cries of human delight, as the Snapper discovers dragonflies of many colours.

Any gardener who can grown cacti and banana palms in the same garden as ferns and purple loosestrife knows their onions. Anne’s garden is living proof of ‘Right Plant Right Place.’

Meanwhile the strawberry Chantilly cream tart and lemon meringue pie that Armando creates to celebrate the Snapper’s birthday could not be more perfect.

It was clear from the start: even though this wasn’t going to be our usual holiday, Anne and Armando are so unbelievably kind, generous and friendly that there is no way I could be upset with either of them, about anything.

To be fair, they probably wanted to make sure we were not bored, popping down every couple of hours to chat and suggest places to go.

Maybe we are strange, in that we can amuse ourselves. More than that, I discovered after many years of travelling that to truly enjoy and understand a new place, I need to stop within in it; to look, listen, watch and smell the air. A paradox entwined in truth: travelling is about staying still.

You also have to move your arse every now and then, and I fell in love with the breathtaking Douro region, where stonewalled wine terraces line lush valleys that plunge dramatically into deep meandering rivers. 

Although tourists pass through, this is authentic Portugal. Nobody speaks English. There are no photos on restaurant menus. There is no ‘tourist food’ aisle in the supermarket.

Bloody lovely.

One invitation I had no intention of resisting was to our village’s Sardine Festival. Part of an annual midsummer tradition, each village runs an event to raise funds for the local community, and thanks to our hosts, the Snapper and I find ourselves the only non-villagers present. 


As my lovely wife dances yet again with the rather insistent Chief of Police (who can say no?), I snarf yet more gigantic sardines, fresh from the flaming barbecue, eaten in hands as is their sensible way.


The sun sets and the band strikes up with traditional local music, while we are brought soup, wine and beer with smiles and flourishes. 

It feels an absolute privilege to be here, to share their festival, run by themselves purely for themselves: the pure opposite of commercialism.

A week after Portugal’s worst ever natural disaster, with 72 now known dead, the local lads see no reason to change another tradition. Much to our disbelief and outrage, they light up a succession of fire lanterns and launch them, flaming, into the night sky.

Even though my mind boggles, for once my mouth stays firmly shut.  

This is my fifth visit to Portugal, and each time I find myself loving the calm, patience and sincerity of the locals.

Part of me is now pleased that they are also capable of behaving like pure eedjits, while another part of me will keep an eye open tonight, and a nostril alert for the smell of burning eucalyptus.

©Charlie Adley

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