Portugal’s Douro Valley has got to be one of the most romantic places on Earth. Add to the mix incredible riding roads, stunning landscapes and some of the world’s best wine and you’ve got the perfect motorcycle mini-moon…
From this secluded height we have one of the most beautiful parts of Europe all to ourselves. The mighty Douro River winds its way through the valley below us while towering lush green walls climb into the sky either side. Each one is a terraced vineyard lined with rows of vines full of plump purple grapes being warmed by the sun.
The sandy trail we’re chasing snakes between the vines until it wraps around the sloping mountain and disappears into the distance. We sip water and take in our view as the breeze cools us and our motorcycle. We’re exploring one of the world’s most famous wine regions and the only thing on our minds is if we’ll be having red or white this evening. Now this is a proper honeymoon…
Last week we were in the UK saying, ‘I do’. And two years ago, we were a few years into our round-the-world motorcycle trip, making our way through Thailand en route to Australia when Covid hit. I had just proposed to Alissa on a Thai island a few days before Covid restrictions became a thing. We had to abandon the bike in a mate’s garage and fly back to Blighty. We never thought it’d take this long to finally tie the knot. But it was an incredible day and worth the wait.
Fingers crossed we’ll be back on our trip by the end of the year, but that means returning to sleeping in a tent and boiling noodles on a fire most nights. So, we thought we’d treat ourselves to a little luxury for our mini-moon first and sign up for a self-guided tour of Portugal. All the planning, prep, gear, bike and hotels etc are taken care off. All we had to do is turn up and ride – perfect.
We jump back on the KTM 790 Adventure and follow our dirt road through the valley until it eventually swings back onto the main road.
Being on a self-guided tour means we’re alone and without a guide but have a pre-loaded GPS with all our daily routes mapped out. We have an accompanying book explaining the points of interest marked on our device and a bunch of optional off-road routes plotted out too. We just completed our fourth dirt track of the day and our reward is a squiggly purple road route for the next 100 miles. We kick into gear, spin the dust off the rear wheel and head into the mountains.
The legendary National 222 road sign flicks past and our smiles widen. Dubbed one of the best – and most romantic – roads in the world, we might as well give it a go. The road clings to the river as we fly around it constantly flitting between second and third gear. It shoots upwards and along the breadth of the valley before dipping back down to chase the riverbank. The KTM’s parallel-twin is in its element and launches us up steep ascents with the slightest flick of the wrist.
We disappear deeper east into Portugal’s northern region until we hit the border with Spain, then dip south into the National Park where the temperature hikes up to 36C and the scenery rolls into sun burnt meadows. The days glide by quicker than the riding.
But the mountains are the most fun. Our purple route cleverly carves its way through the maze of peaks and over the mighty bridges and gargantuan damns that connect them. The main roads are immaculate, the bike begs for faster riding and we oblige – twirling up mountains like red wine swirling in a glass.
At home and in Europe, we’ll search out twisty roads, ride them and then turn around to ride them again because they’re in short supply or few and far between. But here it’s non-stop… the only limiting factor is the battle of attrition with your wrist. They’ll just keep on coming so long as you can keep on riding.
Whoever designed this curated route is a composer, summoning the best out of their country and enchanting the KTM to hum its sweetest tune along roads we’d never otherwise find, or spend a lifetime searching out…
Dizzy from the ride and in need of shade, we pull into a little village and search out the local coffee shop. All the villages have the same Portuguese feel: cobbled streets, a church, steep hills, a much-needed water fountain in the main square and a quaint coffee shop coupled with older chaps smoking and laughing the day away while basking the sun. The coffee is short, sharp and strong, the food keeps on coming and the people warm and welcoming.
These alluring little towns and villages could easily trap you for days with their laid-back lifestyle. The route pulls us into Portugal’s forests where the smell of pine fills our helmets before looping us out into the grasslands where almond and olive trees line the road.
The sun begins to dip in the distance and paints the sky a blend of orange and purple. The day passes and the chequered flag pops up on our GPS. The hotels are pre-booked and paid for on the tour along with dinner and wine – and it’s posh too (you know it’s swanky when there’s no menu and the chef comes over to your table to tell you what he’d like to cook for you). We eat so much that we waddle to bed feeling food drunk – the copious amounts of wine probably don’t help.
The best bits
The optional off-road routes are marked in green on the Garmin. They veer off the main route and cut across the countryside before linking back up and are anywhere from 3 to 20 miles long. They’re too tempting to miss. Luring us in, we swing right and scramble up a dirt track, over a few ruts, through a gravel pit and blast out into the open. The tracks cut their way through the valleys into the distance and over the top of the Douro River. It’s as though we’re riding on Portugal’s second floor – somewhere in the clouds. We roll into hanging vineyards in the sky. Vines are strung along the path and we ride through carefully, trying not to flick any grapes with the wing mirror.
Gazing over the beauty laid out in front of us conjures memories of foreign lands. Swap the grapes for rice and we’re back in Vietnam’s cascading paddies. Snowdonian stone walls line the country lanes, the mountainous forests are borrowed from Cyprus’s wild interior, the coffee houses and gorgeous towns from Italy and the French riviera lines the sea. Portugal ignites the best memories of other countries and wraps them up into one exquisite package.
We plot our last trail through one more vineyard as it leads us on a back route to the town and our hotel for the night. Whitewashed houses with orange tiled roofs appear from amongst the vine leaves in the distance and we can already smell the food and taste the wine…
If you’re interested in signing up for a self-guided tour (or a guided tour) in Porto, Portugal, then check out our guide: How to join a motorcycle tour in Porto, Portugal.
You’ll find info on there about how we did this self-guided tour, prices, what’s included and everything you need to know to do the same.
The company we went with was Freeride Spirit, who we thoroughly recommend as they did a brilliant job.
If you fancy riding in Portugal but on your own bike, or on a rental instead of on a tour, then have a read of the packed: Motorcycle Travel Guide: Portugal.
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