Gordon: For much of our journey in northern Portugal we have been tracing the border with Spain. In the Parque Natural do Douro this line is hard to miss: it is the spectacular canyon of the upper Douro river. We are staying two nights in the aptly named town of Miranda do Douro, which sits on the rim of the canyon at its northern end. From the balcony of our hotel room (Residencial Planalto, 30 euros, including a great breakfast) we can see the town’s cathedral and castle, as well as Spain.
This morning we cycled a marked 20 km trail that passes two canyon viewpoints, as well as several traditional villages. It was a wonderful outing, marred only by an unpleasant encounter with some village dogs. I was surprised that the black lab was actually able to bite Ruth, given its lurching, irregular gait. We had to wash some foam off Ruth’s cycle shorts, but everything seems fine now.
Ruth: OK, this is why I have to revoke Gord’s blog writing privileges, I can see that he is slipping down a fictional slope. Mom, I barely have a scratch to show for my slightly scary encounter, nothing that a couple of glasses of red wine couldn’t fix, and the dog was not rabid.
Trás-os-Montes was historically isolated from the rest of Portugal and this insulated character has preserved many of the region’s early traditions, with origins reaching back to the Celts. Their version of a Morris type dance with sticks is done in similar, but even more outrageous costumes, including men wearing lace petticoats topped with hats covered in flowers and ribbons. During the Festa dos Rapazes, held in December, single men light all night bonfires and rampage around the town in robes of rags and scary masks made of cork bark. The local museum has some fine examples of these masks.
One of the most unusual sights in town is the Boy Jesus in the Cathedral. He stands in a case dressed in a snappy outfit that includes a top hat, surrounded by a wardrobe that would make a Yaletown metrosexual envious. Strange indeed.