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High specification touring coaches meet the ‘floating hotel’ boats at mooring points along the Douro River. LEO PARD

In the hills by the Douro River in Portugal there is a small historic village called Castelo Rodrigo. Situated close to the boarder with Spain, it dates back to 500 BC having once been conquered by the Arabs and then repopulated and fortified. Its castle dates back to 1590. Famous people who have lived in the village include João de Gouveia who was grandfather of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the man credited with discovering Brazil, and there have also been several viceroys of Portugal. Just 50 people live there now and tourism plays a vital role in allowing that to continue.[wlm_nonmember][…]

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Excursions involving the Douro River make a valued contribution to the local economy and Castelo Rodrigo is one of the key excursion points. The tours often start in Porto and travel to and from Salamanca in Spain over an eight-day period – a distance of more than 200 miles.

The Douro runs through a deep gorge which has been widened to accommodate the long ‘floating hotel’ boats used by tourists. As there are no roads directly alongside the river, to ensure that a ‘complete tourism’ experience can be offered, mooring points have been built and there are three liveried coaches at each of the destination points to carry 120 people from each boat on their trips. The new coaches are contracted and their drivers are actually part of the crew of the ship. To give an additional perspective on the terrain, it’s worth noting that there are locks along the river with a drop of over 100 feet that are said to be amongst the deepest in Europe.

Information given to passengers is comprehensive and sheets are produced each day with details of the expected weather, what to take and where they are going to be taken on their excursions. The tour director holds a ‘meeting to advise’ so, regardless of ability, everyone knows what to expect. There is no doubt, or room for ambiguity in what they’re told. Those that might be infirm are clearly advised in advance if there is going to be rocky terrain to negotiate.

The coach drivers are all locals. They need to be because they need to have the necessary knowledge to put their smart ‘Atomic’ bodied vehicles with manual-option, automated gearboxes safely up hilly and mountain roads – very necessary when negotiating the many ups and downs where there are often sheer drops to one side. That’s not to mention the low bridges and narrow arches in the middle of the nearby historic large towns. Often there’s just no wiggle room serving to highlight their immense skills which are entirely praiseworthy. With outside temperatures of 30 degree plus, the coaches have to be of a high specification with leather-covered seats and fully functioning air-conditioning – essential when passengers are paying for a high quality service.

The level of organisation that has been undertaken is underlined if one of the coaches encounters a mechanical issue. Despite the remoteness of many of the nearby population centres, which can only be reached via those tortuous roads, replacements are found and delivered within two hours without the intending passengers even knowing that anything had been amiss.

Visits to the quintas (wine growing estates) are well catered for because there are large parking and turning areas for the coaches and in the main towns there are either designated set down points or coach parks. There’s no problem with on-street collection and no question of drivers being harassed by enforcement operatives.

Visiting an ancient village like Castelo Rodrigo, it is unlikely there will be a flat road that is fully accessible. The site is hundreds of years old and strangely the tourists that do visit use their common sense and make their own judgment on whether it’s within their abilities or not. ‘Health and safety’ police have little to do here. The important and interesting point is that the coach travelling generation of today with money to spend do not want to be onboard a vehicle for more than two hours. Arguably, that might be said to be too long for any journey time.

Tourism is valued in Portugal, as it seems to be in the towns and cities of most European countries. Visitors are made welcome wherever they go because the locals appreciate that their livelihoods depend on it. Full service is always given. Why England should have become so anal in the way that it treats people is something of a mystery.

Good planning and having the right infrastructure has never been more important in any country to attract that valuable oversees business, as is deploying the right tools for the job.[/wlm_ismember]