A Walk Through Portugal’s Côa Valley

The Douro region of Portugal is mainly known for its wine, and most visitors to the region spend much of their time visiting Port houses or cruising the river. What they may not know is, not too far from the well-known wineries, are hundreds of prehistoric rock drawings in a Unesco recognized archaeological park.

The oldest rock art here dates back to 22,000 BC but humans continued to draw for millenia. It is not possible to visit the park without going in with a guide, and since one cannot live on winery visits alone, we made our way to the village of Vila Nova de Foz Côa in early June to hike down into the valley, have lunch, and continue on to see some of the rock art.

The walk down is beautiful.

It takes about an hour and a half to reach the bottom, on an easy trail. There are jeeps available for those who don’t want to do the walking part.

There are a lot of almond trees, but they don’t seem to produce much. In June it was very dry and somewhat brown; it must be truly extraordinary after some rain.

At the river, we enjoyed a delicious catered lunch. Our lunch included several courses and excellent accompanying wines.

Dining with a view at the bottom of a valley with no other people around was glorious.

After lunch, we boarded jeeps to take us to the archaeological park. It is not easy to make out the drawings without the guide to help us see them. Also, you have to visit at a certain time of day to be able to see them at all.

The drawings we viewed are of animals such as horses and cows. The guide shows a drawing, and gives an explanation, so we knew what we were looking for.

Do you see the animals?

It is amazing to see these drawings created by humans living so long ago. They ate by the same river we ate by – but probably, they didn’t get to have wine with their meal!

We will return to the Côa Valley again next June, on GrapeHops A Taste of Northern Portugal tour.

Shannon

Shannon Essa leads small-group tours focusing on wine, food, and local culture in Croatia, Slovenia, Northern Italy and Northern Spain & Portugal.

Discover the backstreets of Venice or the wine, craft beer, and slow food of Piedmont, Italy. In Spain, experience the rustic foods and low-key lifestyle in beautiful Galicia, the wineries along the Camino de Santiago in the Bierzo region, or the justifiably famous wine regions and local food traditions of Catalonia. See many of Croatia’s most beautiful sights and learn about the rebirth of one of Europe’s oldest wine areas. And see all this with Shannon, who loves unique and out of the way wine and food experiences.

When not in Europe, Shannon does her eating and drinking in San Diego, California.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
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Photographing the breathtaking White Horses of the Camargue in southern France

Magrit and I recently had one of the most exciting photographic experiences ever — 4 photo sessions with the wonderful white horses of the Camargue region in the southwest corner of France.

 

Camargue white horses running, Provence, France

Charging stallions during an evening session.

These photo sessions take place around sunrise and sunset to take advantage of the magic light and are conducted by a French photographer acting as the liaison between us photographers and the local horse handlers/owners known as guardians, who are quite like the American cowboy but without the hat and sometimes even without a saddle. The backdrop for the sessions is usually a saltwater marsh or an ocean beach with the guardians on horseback herding a group of horses charging along a predetermined path toward the photographers.

Camargue white horses running, Provence, France

Charging stallions during the first morning session.

This is challenging photography as the horses are coming toward you at a very rapid pace, so it is not always easy to come away with images that are pleasing compositions and also in focus. But when you do nail it, the photos are breathtaking.

Cam argue white horse running in surf, Provence, France

White stallion alone in the surf.

At times, the thought that you’re for sure toast comes to mind, as you photograph these beasts thundering toward you at breakneck speed. Looking through a 200 mm lens adds to the impression that survival is uncertain, when in fact, this is a very safe adventure even if our hearts missed a couple of beats now and then. At times some of us had to stop shooting when we were sprayed by the water the horses churned up as they were charging first toward and then past us. However, being strapped into chest-high waders allowed us to kneel and even sit in the mud and water to get even closer to our subject matter.

photographer, camargue white horses, Provence, France.

Jim with his back to the models.

We typically had 7–10 runs of the horses per session so we had many opportunities to hone our technique and to get some great images. Believe me, we had an abundance of images to weed through. Each run lasts 30–45 seconds and your camera blasts away at between 5 to 20 frames per second. (The “20 frames per second” photographer was one member of our group who shot with the new Sony A9).

Camargue white horses and guardians, Provence, France

Guardians preparing the horses for a photo session early in the morning.

For each session, the guardians guide the whole group of horses a little ways out into the surf and then encourage them to run at full speed back to the shore where our cameras were firing away. In between sessions, the horses rest, graze, roll comically in the sand, yawn and sometimes mingle and interact with the photographers. Some of them are very curious, especially Desiree, who liked to lean her big head against our shoulders for a friendly scratch and tried to unzip our backpacks in search for treats.

Cam argue white horses and guardians, Provence, France

Preparing the Horses for another run.

We’re not horse people and are not in on horse body language (are ears folded back a good or a bad sign?), but these horses are very sweet, even shy, and friendly. They are of an ancient breed indigenous to the Rhone Delta area of southeast France and used to be semi-wild. Now they’re domesticated and live on ranches owned by the local guardians who primarily use them to herd the black bulls used in bullfighting in southern France. We were glad to hear that the bulls are not killed in the bullfights.

Two stoic guardians on their mounts.

The guardians themselves are handsome and proud but friendly people and make for great photographic subjects as well as they sit ramrod straight on their mounts, sometimes without a saddle. They are expert horsemen and horsewomen.

Camargue horse and rider in silhouette, Provence, France

A guardian showing off his skills.

Female guardian on Camargue horse, Provence, France

Woman guardian with her big herding stick.

We’ve decided to add this amazing experience to our Provence Tour in 2018. Come and join us to photograph (and smell) the lavender and sunflowers of Provence and then top off this wonderful adventure with a close encounter with the beautiful white horses of the Camargue.

Camargue White Horses Running, Provence, France

Charging stallions during a morning session.


J_M_150x150(1)Jim and Magrit have been photographing professionally and traveling in Europe for the past 20 years.

They started Photography Travel Tours in 2011 with the goal of educating and guiding photographers to some of the most beautiful and iconic scenes in Europe.

The tours are not just about getting great photographs but also have the side benefits of doing so in wonderful environments. Great food, wine, people, and ambiance.

Read more about Jim & Magrit and their wonderful photo tours here: (http://photographytraveltours.com/about/).

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

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Parallel Worlds

There is a river that runs through Burgundy, France called the Yonne; it flows North from its source deep in the forests of the Morvan National Park, finally meeting with its confluence with the Seine at Monetereau, where it is the greater of the two rivers. History has been unkind to the Yonne in that it is the Seine that flows through Paris; this however keeps it more the secret… the secret Parallel world that is life on the Yonne.

   

Paris also owes much of its existence to the Yonne; as the city expanded and depleted the local natural resources, firewood was rafted from the Morvan forests to keep the Parisians warm in the cold European winters and their ovens burning. Stone too, for constructing the grand boulevards, including stone to construct the Notre Dame Cathedral.

   

Realising that warm and well fed Parisians are peaceful Parisians, kings and rulers were quick to make sure that the navigation was well maintained and improved, finally leading to the construction of the Canal de Nivernais towards the end of the 18th Century.

   

The canal itself meanders in and out of the river Yonne, making it one of the prettiest navigations in France, and this is where we spend our days, slowly chugging along the through the rolling hills of Northern Burgundy. In my next blog I will tell you more about life on the river Yonne and the Canal de Nivernais.

   

 


Tim Harrold is owner and captain of the Randle, a beautiful and classically styled river boat fitted with two en-suite cabins and all the modern facilities to travel in comfort.

Tim offers private French barge tour on the picturesque Burgundy Canal du Nivernais and river Yonne. A luxury cruise with Tim and his crew includes gourmet cuisine, fine wine, and guided tours by private car to vineyards and chateaux. Learn more about Edge Charter and barge trips on the Randle along Burgundy’s canals and rivers on their website.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

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