Barca d'Alva, Portugal
A gateway to the walled town of Castelo Rodrigo and Spain's Salamanca, this sleepy village on Portugal’s Douro River route offers a peek into a sun-baked, slow-paced corner of the world steeped in medieval history and surrounded by terraced vineyards and picturesque olive and almond groves.
What We Love
Almirante Sarmento Rodrigues Bridge: While most guidebooks suggest visiting the town’s defunct train station, the best views are from around the bridge. The golden hour right before sunset is the perfect time to walk across to take snapshots of Barca d'Alva, the hillside vineyards, and the boats lined up and bobbing along the dock.
Olives and Almonds: The arid hills around the village don’t seem particularly fertile, but in fact, the rocky terroir is perfect for growing olive and almond trees. Groves flourish along the riverbank and in the valleys, and you can buy the products for almost nothing in any surrounding village.
Best Known For
Castelo Rodrigo: At the top of a hill, this feudal castle is a pile of crumbling ruins that you can climb like a children’s play fort. Scramble up a low wall and take photos of Spain on one side, Portugal on the other. Down a cobblestone path is a tiny village whose few residents run little shops and a café with amazing views.
Douro International Natural Park: The Douro River cuts through this expansive park, which encompasses four municipalities and runs along the Spanish border. Drive excursions to Castelo Rodrigo and Salamanca will stop at a series of scenic overlooks; the most dramatic one is a nesting place for vultures and eagles.
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Who It's Best For
Birdwatchers and Nature Tourists: With an impressive variety of birds of prey, this region offers the best birdwatching in Portugal. A preserve is home to buzzards, falcons, swifts, and black storks but the big highlight is the nesting eagles.
Foodies Who Like Authentic Eats: Barca D'Alva is home to a handful of down-home restaurants and taverns, and outdoor grills cook up some traditional eats that you can smell wherever you are in the village. Follow your nose to an authentic, inexpensive meal — washed down with a $6 bottle of wine.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Locals Are Not Overly Friendly: The few hundred citizens of Barca d’Alva are used to river cruisers visiting their town, but they aren’t going to greet each group with a song and dance. Folks are courteous but it's not easy to strike up conversations. Also, expect the lights to go out early.
Lena Katz is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Brides.