From coastal Porto in the north to the interior southeast bordering Spain and into the Douro valley, a river snakes through gorges of granite & stone. Acre upon acre of vineyard meets the eye. Vineyards interspersed with apple & olive, introduced to the region by the Romans in AD 300. It is today the heart of Portugal wine country, producing & exporting the finest port & wine to the capitals of the world. How could one not indulge in a spot of wine tasting then? And, so we did, in the course of a typical regional meal at an estate, the Quinta De Marrocos, where lunch consisted of varieties of bread, cheese, potato soup, green salad, bean salad & Cod – with baked potato. This, followed by baked apple, cinnamon cake & coffee. Driving 220 kms from Porto past a landscape of low undulating hills, vineyards & river we arrive at the medieval village of Marialva. It is a cluster of soulful ruins dating back to 12 – 13 century, complete with ramparts, Roman citadel, ruined castle, Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes, watchtower, cemetery, church & scaffold. Perched at 580 meters, there is a haunting quality about a village that appears lonely & desolate. Blame it on the young for desertion in search of greener pastures. The same old story. Life & livelihood in place of hearth & home. No school. No shouts of joy. No children in the empty park. What could one do in a place like this?
For starters, enjoy the serendipity. Learn from the old. If Marialva continues to retain grace & character & exist with dignity & pride it is thanks to its 35 inhabitants who are all in the 75 – 95 age group. No school. No hospital either. Watch them go through the day without an earthly care. Basking in the sun, playing cards, sniffing wine suffused air. The secret of healthy longevity perhaps, as each person is said to imbibe an average of a litre & half wine everyday. So we are told. Not wine alone. Believe me. (Try asking for a coffee at the local café & watch the owner look askance). It’s a charming little place where old folk peer through half shut eyes, out of half open doors & curtained windows, stoutly refusing to be photographed. A suspicion or a superstition. A belief that outsiders ‘click,’ ‘tear’ & ‘throw away’. An euphemism for death. No one is quite prepared for it just yet. Not even the 95 year old up on the hill. Watch him stride down every Sunday just as the bells begin to chime & the chapel doors open. With Bacchus by his side there is no deterrent. It hardly matters that the beautiful stone pathways are uneven & difficult to trod.
All one needs is a pair of decent walking shoes.