Today I decided to venture out of Galicia, and out of Spain entirely, to Northern Portugal. I had read that Porto was an exciting city to visit, but 90 minutes is about the limit of my driving tolerance and Porto was beyond that. Fortunately, the Parque Nacional Peneda-Geres runs along the northernmost part of Portugal near Spain’s border. The park extends for hundreds of miles. I decided to make Castro Laboreiro, a small village nestled within the park, as well as the site of an ancient castle, my destination. From there, I assumed that I could find some nearby trails and hike around a bit.
The lovely drive took me over many bridges and rivers, through Vigo, and after about an hour, into Portugal. I expected an obvious entry point where I would have to show my passport and explain that I am a tourist. Nope. Just a very large blue sign that read “Portugal.” Darn, I really wanted my passport stamped!
Castro Laboreiro’s center amounted to a small cluster of stone buildings, including a library (by the cross), and another building that said it was for tourist information. I felt as if I were intruding in this tiny square, which looked as if not much had changed for many, many decades. I peeked in the window once and the information center looked empty. A few minutes later, I looked again and saw a round older woman huddled back in a corner.
“Hola!” I said. The woman looked up, a little startled. How many visitors does she see in a day?
I tried my best to explain that I was looking for a castle. Completely in Portuguese, the woman said what I took to mean that I should talk to the people in the library and that they would be back at 3:30. I opted to explore the nearby area myself.
A short walk up a paved road led to a large, modern hotel and similarly designed buildings that resembled apartments. A couple signs led me to “Castelo,” the second of which pointed up a dirt path. Okay!
A post by the trail indicated that the Castelo was only 800 meters away. Lovely! But as I kept walking up the rocky dirt path I got the sense that the distance wasn’t quite right. It could not have taken me 30 minutes to walk such a short distance.
The views from the Castelo were worth tentatively scrambling over rocks in my running shoes.
I paused to watch a woman in loose black clothing and work boots walk her two cows down the paved road near the village center, the cow bells clank-clanking during the trek. I moved to a discrete spot so as not to appear as if I were staring, but I actually was staring. I felt as though I had been dropped back in time a couple hundred years.
When I approached Peneda-Geres , I got the same flip-flopping feeling in my gut as when I first saw Northern California in the early 90s. I could stay here. Not just for a hike or a bike ride, but for a while. The vistas, the tranquility, the lush surroundings and quiet roads all took my breath away.
My father told me that he knows someone that chose to retire in Northern Portugal. I can understand why.
On the drive back, I learned the hard way just how expensive gas is here. The signs said only about 1.45 Euro. I had to fill up about 30 minutes into my drive home and I couldn’t figure out how a tank of gas cost me 52 Euro. 1.45 Per liter. Not gallon, per liter. Ouch! No wonder everyone drives these mini cars! Per liter!
Not long after my return, I walked down and up and down busy A-308 in search of a decent place for dinner. At about 9 p.m. I found Casa Ces (expensive menu, and empty). A few buildings farther, I found Portelina Restaurante Radicio, also completely empty, but less expensive and with an a la carte menu.
I ordered sea scallops, which turned out to be one scallop in a warm, tomato-y, onion-y sauce served in a sea shell, as well as another ensalada with smoked salmon and some other seafood items that I could not read in Spanish (even with my Cliff notes), but appeared to be either mussels or small scallops. (I forgot my camera, so no photo this time.) I also got more albino asparagus. I understand that white asparagus is considered a delicacy in certain parts of Europe. Maybe I would appreciate it more if it were less…squishy.
I wrote this story with the aid of a glass of Albarino wine, a regional specialty. Wine stopped agreeing with me about a year or so ago. But Galician wine seems to suit me just fine.