Or perhaps a substitute for the lack of signs on the 'M' roads by the Câmara Municipal? I knew we should have read the missives from the Câmara more diligently. Perhaps the melros were telling us that the road to Mondim was this way and not that, but we knew those roads well so we didn't really need that kind of help. Unlike that Dutch plated car stopped over yonder. They looked lost. Hopefully, they could speak Blackbird. The Dutch are very resourceful.

As usual, we had to stop and queue at the border. The border was between the Minho, where we live, and Trás-os-Montes, where we would find Ermelo, the place where we were headed. It was the roadworks again; roadworks which had been going on for ages. Once we'd finally crossed the Tâmega River into Trás-os-Montes the blackbirds were gone, which simply confirmed my suspicion about them being minions of the Celorico Câmara. However, I was gripped with more weighty matters as I wrestled with an apparent contradiction: Trás-os-Montes means 'Behind the mountains,' right? So why is this part of the region in front of the mountains they are supposed to be behind? This thought causes me restless nights.

Greatest driving road

From Mondim, we followed the national road N304 which, according to the Europe’s Greatest Driving Roads video produced by Ford (and endorsed by other authoritative sources), is arguably the finest road to drive on in Europe. Perhaps. It is certainly a road which is a joy to drive on, with lots of spectacular views but, being the driver, you don't get to see much of that because one of the other features of the road are its bends. The village of Ermelo is almost a classic version of its ilk, looking as if it has grown from the ground up rather than having been built. The local stone on the western side of Alvão is mainly schist, shale, slate, and quartzite and the slate-built houses and slate-built roads are almost invisible against the sheer slate wall of the mountain rising up one side. Even as you stand on the street the village all but disappears as it blends into the background.

The Restaurante Sabores de Alvão is in the middle of the village, tucked between the minuscule church and the even tinier parish council building. The little car park, one side a sheer drop into the valley below, was already nearly fully occupied, mainly by a small tour bus which had found its way all the way from Famalicão. Consequently, there was a large group of famalicense, aged 9 to 90, chomping their way through a mountain of grub and occupying the far end of the room. We settled somewhere in the middle, next to a window with a stunning view, but not too far away from the loud group as they seemed to be an interesting source of lunchtime entertainment. Sadly, looks can be deceiving and they behaved themselves with boisterous decorum and talked mainly about wines – and football, of course.

Author: Fitch O'Connell ;

Family run

The restaurant is family run and mum was in the kitchen, the daughter was serving the food and dad was running the bar-cum-café. The menu was delivered verbally, usually a good sign, and the choice was limited, another good sign. The food was tasty, wholesome, and plentiful, so much so that we had decided to eschew a sobremesa until we found out that pêras bêbadas were on the menu. Well, it would have been rude, wouldn't it?

We decided to return by going across Alvão, via Bilhó and down the side of the celebrated Monte de Farinha but before we did, we had to witness the coach trying to back out of the tiny car park and then attempt a three-point turn. It managed, but not before the driver lost concentration for a vital few seconds and the coach nudged into the back of a parked Mercedes, pushing it forward and through the chain-link fence, leaving it with one wheel precariously hanging over the cliff face. Strong, wine-fuelled men pushed and pulled the car back from the brink, the damage was examined and handshakes were exchanged. No harm was done and all was well in the post-lunch haze. I bet the coach driver regretted having started that second bottle, though.

The road back, curva contra curva, was splendid, as yet another lovely valley, another long ridge or another richly mixed forest revealed itself. There was no chance of speed and it was simply a matter of choosing between second and third gear. At one point, that decision about speed was taken for us. We rounded a bend to find a very large flock of goats being shepherded by a man and his dog. The dog was a collie and the moment she saw our car, she ran in front of it and stayed there. She should have been carrying a flag in her mouth for she walked forward slowly and purposefully, making sure that we kept the same slow speed until the last of goats had ambled over a low wall into a pasture. At that point, she glanced around rather disdainfully and stepped aside. We saluted the dog for a job well done.


Fitch is a retired teacher trainer and academic writer who has lived in northern Portugal for over 30 years. Author of 'Rice & Chips', irreverent glimpses into Portugal, and other books.

Fitch O'Connell