One of the most exciting parts of my job is giving prospective clients of the European Safari Company the best possible advice for their holiday. So naturally, one of my responsibilities is to know the areas where we send our travellers to, inside and out. This autumn I went for an area visit to our locations in Western Iberia, and it was all I thought it was going to be and more.
I did everything that I would recommend if you’d take a holiday with us. Fly into Porto, rent a car and then start driving east. Everything went smoothly and the drive is a beautiful one as Portugal becomes emptier and greener the further inland you travel.
Once you hit the town of Foz Coa, the drive goes up into the mountains, and then onto the plateau towards the small and ancient town of Castelo Rodrigo. I was greeted warmly by Ana from Casa da Cisterna and after a lovely three course meal and a well deserved glass of local wine, I hit the hay – only in a far more luxurious bed.
The next morning I was up early and boy was I lucky, as it meant I could see the sunrise over the town and surrounding hills. I knew the place was supposed to be beautiful, but it far surpassed my expectations. After a very tasty breakfast Fernando from Wildlife Portugal, my guide for that morning, came in and we left to explore the surroundings. He took me to the vulture hide which is built on a rocky outcrop at the edge of the Faia Brava reserve.
From the hide you can see the Coa valley in the distance, and as it warms up, the griffon vultures start to fly over the valley. Since these vultures are researched and monitored, feeding is used to seduce them to fly to the site of the hide. The sight and smell of this free meal makes them come closer and closer until they circle over the hide. Then one of them lands and soon there are fourty or more massive griffon vultures gnawing on bones and making a racket. What a sight!
I got to know more of Faia Brava Reserve that afternoon as we drove through it in a 4x4, safari style as we searched for wild horses, old cork oak trees and finally arrived at the Star Camp. Unfortunately the closed in winter, the setting is beautiful and I can fully imagine how special it must be to sleep here in these canvas glamping tents in summer, looking at the infinite sky.
I get to see this sky - plus what seems like all the stars in it that evening anyway, as we explore the rock engravings of the Foz Coa Valley.
The next morning I learnt that the variety of how to explore the Faia Brava is endless: going on a mountain bike tour through the reserve! A great way to get exercise and experience this beautiful part of Western Iberia. Afterwards I get back in my rental car and had lunch along the famous Douro riverside with all it’s vineyards, which is also one of the locations of our ‘View with a Room’ in summer: Fly Camp. Just to relax for an hour and enjoy a glass of wine whilst drinking in the view, is an unforgettable experience.
Then it’s onwards to most northeastern corner of Portugal: Rio de Onor. The drive in itself is worth exploring this remote part close to the Spanish border: rolling green hills and small cobblestone villages are part of the charm. The town itself is equally quaint and the comfortable Casa da Portela looks out over de village fields.
I get to explore the area with Duarte from DearWolf, specialized in wolf tracking. We go up high and I feel like I’m in northern Europe with endless green pine forests. We found wolf tracks and wolf droppings, an 800 year old oak tree and a deer with massive antlers were highlights but the illusive wolf did not show itself to me that day.
My journey is coming to an end and I drive back to Porto the next day, another two hours of easy driving. I finish my area visit in our newest accommodation addition in the middle of Porto: Boavista Eco luxury guesthouse. With only two rooms with big bathtubs and even bigger beds, its the perfect place to end my stay. I have no hesitations whatsoever to direct our guests to Western Iberia, what an amazing place to discover!
Many thanks to all our local partners who go out of there way to make guests comfortable and make their experience even more special.