Quinta da Roda da Quintã: live elsewhere, live differently…

Day 276, Porto, 15.405 km

I leave the bike road and enter the village of Farminhão. I go up the main street. I look for a ceramic sign, as I have seen so many on my way. Here it is! Quinta da Roda da Quintã, here we are. Two grannies are talking in front of the door. They look at me while I pass by. They don’t say a word. No doorbell, I push the door, I enter. No one is there. Horses, chickens, a van (the famous « Berlingue », I’ll be introduced to it later), a horse trailer, but otherwise nobody in sight. I go around the house and finally come across some people: « Hello, I am Pierre Lunet – Ah, the cyclist! I’m going to look for Charlotte and Paul, they must be bottling ». This is how I meet the little community. Charlotte, Elena, Chamo, Edouard, Johnny H and Paul (some protagonists having preferred to remain anonymous, names may have been changed…). They are castle-owners, WWOOFers who have become associates or visitors. They are winemakers, brewers, horse, goose, duck or chicken breeders, farmers, handymen and cooks. They are also great puzzle and “palet” specialists. They are smiling and welcoming, full of projects and ideas. You feel good in Farminhão. So good that I decide to stay one more night (I have to admit that the prospect of tasting a Flemish carbonnade the second night weighed heavily in the balance). I leave with two books, a flask of Kombucha, but above all, lots of ideas to digest. Thank you, a thousand times thank you!

The geese, the vegetable garden
The castle

But before arriving in Farminhão, I have first to leave Coimbra. Big mountain stage planned with an arrival at the summit. At the Summit itself: Torre, the highest point of continental Portugal, in the middle of the Serra Da Estrela Natural Park. 1.993m. We’ll do some climbing. And without transition, it gets starts right at the beginning. I have to climb on the heights of Coimbra to get out of the city. At least I can engrave a nice image of it in my memory before turning my back on it. I go back down in the valley to follow the Mondego river, the road is magnificent: on the side of the mountain, with the river sparkling below. Long lazy curves that follow the relief. The sound of the wind in the trees. A village perched on the hill that appears from time to time. The sun shining. There are even fountains on the side of the road to fill my water bottles. I am in heavens…

I then leave the river and head towards the park. I start to see mountains in the distance. I wonder which one I will sleep on tonight. Hard to say at this distance. I am alone on the road that slowly starts to rise. I hear the wind and the birds. But nothing else. The landscape changes. Spots of yellow come to disturb the green. The ochre of the earth too. And rocks seem to come out of the ground everywhere. As if sown by a giant Tom Thumb. I approach and the mountain grows, grows, grows. I have a small ball in the stomach: it looks high and a lot to climb…

After the village of São Romão, things start to get serious: I just have to follow the signs « Torre ». It’s 4pm. The sun is shining hard. Just writing these words makes me thirsty (fortunately, I have a cold beer this time). And it climbs. The ascent is rather smooth, and I was able to find the only road that nobody uses. The sounds of the city, the wind, the birds are fading. All that remains is my breath and the occasional squeak of a pedal. And my heart racing as the slope gets harder. The landscape changes again. Drier. More rocks. And those endless twists and turns that go up and up and up.

Small break before starting the last 20 km. It’s cool. Even cooler than the last time I climbed this high, in Spain. There are a few more cars, and I get thumbs up, honks of encouragement, or sometimes just surprised looks… I pass a small dam, a big dam, and a big climb and I finally see it: Torre. The summit. The arrival.

Vale Da Nave Traversa
Torre, still in the distance

It’s easier to go on when you see the end of the climb. And the landscape is superb. The sun that starts to decline makes small pools sparkle, changes the color of the rocks. And in the corners of shade, snow (!!). A ski resort too, which lets you imagine the layout of its slopes on the snowless sides of the hills. And a last turn to the right, 500 meters of ascent, and there we are, after 115 km, 3.137 m of difference in height, almost 9 hours of bicycle, on the roof of Portugal. Just in time for the sunset. Moreover, there is almost nobody, and an abandoned house a little below, which offers a shelter to the glances and to the wind, ideal place to pitch the tent for the night. And wood everywhere : I absolutely have to make a fire !

It feels like the end is near
At the top!

I pitch the tent and I launch into the pyromaniac operation. I even fantasize about the fact that I will be able to cook with wood fire. The receipts and the tourist map of Lisbon that I kept specifically for this occasion are torn and rolled into paper balls, I look for kindling, rubbing my hands in anticipation. I try to light the paper. Too much wind. I build a fireplace with stones that are lying around, it’s not much better. I get my « walls » up, and I manage to get the paper to burn. It produces smoke, more smokes, but the wood doesn’t burn. I blow, I change the arrangement of my pieces of wood, blow again. Still smoke but no fire. Apparently one can also make smoke without fire. After one hour of efforts, I decide to take refuge in the tent, without fire. This time I failed. I only have the sleeping bag solution to escape the cold…

The next morning reminds me of the most beautiful winter mornings: no desire to get out of the sleeping bag, the feeling of freezing on the spot when I fold the tent, I have to do it twice to fold my mattress because my fingers are so numb. I take out my hat, gloves and pants and start the descent, under the sun. And it is magnificent. First the grey of the rock and the blue of the water, then the green of the glacial valley of Zêzere to go down to Manteigas.

Once in Manteigas, you have to get out of the valley. So go up. A « small » pass at a little more than 1,200 m of altitude. But here too, the slope is rather gentle, the road empty, the climb pleasant under the sun. Not a cloud in sight. Not a sound either. And once the summit is passed, a nice descent in the valley. The rest of the stage is rather quiet until the arrival to Farminhão

We finish the climb…
… to start descending

From Farminhão, direction Porto. One more mountain to climb, and I tell myself that like the two previous ones, I will have a nice and rolling road. It’s going to be a smooth ride. Funny. This time it’s a hard climb. Very hard. At kilometer 36 in particular, probably around 1.000% average (according to the unions, according to the police it’s more like 15%). It’s been a long time since I suffered so much on a climb. Or for such a long time. I am also almost attacked by a dog when I stop to take a picture. Great. But the view is beautiful from the top and I even pass by the São Pedro Velho (The Old Saint Peter, if Google Translate does not lie). And then the descent is a treat.

This good old São Pedro
And we go down again

The rest of the stage is rather urban, full of exhaust pipes and traffic lights. The sight on Porto from the Luis I bridge is worth the detour, the small restaurant of the evening as well. Next part of the program: rest and visit of the city before heading to Santiago de Compostela! Adeus!

Porto from the Luis I bridge

Current status: we approach the end of Portugal…

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