I’m just back from paddling a kayak on the Douro and the Pinhau rivers, in the river town of Pinhau in the center of Portugal. I joined a hardy guide named Marco from a local firm called Magnifico Douro in Pinhau in a flotilla of three double and my single sit-on-top kayaks and we made our way from the big Douro River to the smaller tributary, the Pinhau, where smaller boats are docked and the river narrows as it heads north.
I didn’t expect that the kayak would have two holes in it, that immediately soaked my shorts, but it was a fine August day and the water cooled me off. We paddled against a very gentle current, and as I adapted to the tippy boat, I relaxed and got into the groove. I love looking right and left and seeing the houses that extended out over the water.
One was completely abandoned, making me wonder if a water view like that wouldn’t be snapped up. But that’s what Portugal is like, all over there are prime locations that apparently are no longer inhabited, and sit rotting despite their marquee locations. Manor houses, 18th-century mini castles, and structures commanding million-dollar views can sit inexplicably empty for decades.
We paddled on, a couple of kilometers, and as we proceeded the river narrowed and finally we came ashore and hiked up a steep grassy path. We were on our way to explore one of two ancient mills, where grain was once ground into flour along the banks of the Pinhau river.
Inside the dimly lit sagging stone building, the old grinding wheels stood frozen in time, the tiny building must have supplied the flour for the whole community.
No doubt when this mill was operating, there were a lot more people here, that’s the thing about rural Portugal. Its time was in the past, and today it suffers from a lack of youth in a big way.
We left the first mill and walked on a chalky trail kicking the schist that the mill buildings were made of, a dusty path about 2 km away. I had chosen to wear my regular shoes, and some in the group wore flip-flops. I think I made out, it was easier with regular shoes we we hiked to the second mill, which was better preserved and had a wooden roof obviously added in more modern times.
You could tell that in the olden days, the water flowed much faster, as there were no dams, so these mills had the water channeled right below them, although today the water isn’t flowing there.
This was one of the dozens of different off-the-ship tours we were offered by the Scenic Cruises on the Douro River in the center of Portugal. All of the tours involve history, local culture, and guides who really truly know their stuff about the places they are taking people. Find out more at Scenic cruises website.
Magnifico Douro: +351 913 129 857