Rallying in a COVID year is a challenge, especially when you have people coming over from countries with different COVID rules.
This fun rally started in the beautiful region of the Douro valley in Portugal and made its way through Northern Spain, along the Atlantic coast famous for its high cliffs and through the canyons of Pico de Europa for 1,200 miles of winding roads through the Iberian Peninsula. Along with the beautiful scenery came the culture and the wine regions.
The Douro is known for the famous Port Wine. Our starting point was a wonderful hotel resort along the river Douro at the hotel Douro 41. The cars arrived mainly on a truck delivering the cars from the Northern European countries. We had participants coming all the way from Finland but also the UK, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Holland.
There was a great variety of cars, from an XK 140 and an E-Type, a Renault Alpine, and an Aston Martin DB6, to a MGB, Mercedes 350 /450, and a Ferrari 250 GT. We even had a Mercedes 600 just coming out of a 5 years’ restoration. For all the Porsche lovers, we had four 911 along in different configurations.
As we unloaded the cars, you could see the enthusiasm from all the locals coming to admire these legendary vehicles. The first night briefing got everyone together and you could feel the excitement of all the drivers ready to take the roads after more than a year of standstill.
We drove that first day through the Douro Valley and its famous vineyards stopping for lunch at the wonderful Quinta Ventozelo, overlooking the river. We slept that night in a small medieval village with a wine tasting in the village castle. We had an alternator problem with one of the 911, but we found a Porsche dealer in Porto who could help us.
On the second day, we drove along the spectacular Spanish borderline, stopped at Castello de Figueira, a cute little village with its castle and cobblestone streets surrounded by almond orchards. We made our way to the Spa town of Vidago and stayed at the famous Vidago Palace, the summer residence of the latest Portuguese King Manuel II. By the time we arrived, the alternator was hand-delivered by the garage owner, happy to save the day for the Porsche owner.
Day 3 saw us crossing back into the province of Galicia in Spain, and driving through one of the deepest European canyons, the Canyon do Sil. Not only the drive was amazing, but we stopped for lunch in a vineyard situated above the canyon and we ended the day at the Convento de Santo Estevo, a magnificent old convent on the side of a steep cliff.
It was on Day 4 that the mechanics had to do wonders. The rear, left suspension on the Mercedes 600 gave up…. A mistake during the restoration that could have had bad consequences. Stopped along the road by a tractor shop, our “MacGyver” mechanic picked up a tube from a lawnmower and a rubber from an old tractor to fix the car, thus allowing it to continue. The car made it through mountain winding roads all the way to the end of the rally without a single problem.
That day was also one of the highlights, as we drove and parked in front of the cathedral on the main square of Santiago de Compostella, normally pedestrian-only. Lunch at the Parador and on our way to the Atlantic coast to the city of La Coruña, for a night facing the ocean.
One of the most fascinating parts of this rally was the high cliffs of Punta de la Estaca de Barres on Day 5. A drive through a National park with wild horses and cows running all over the road. After 4 days of driving the interior of the country, the ocean drive was welcomed by all. Due to the closing of the main road, our front logistic car had to reroute and possibly found, in a short time, the best route of the whole rally. A wonderful winding road through the mountains, that led us to our overnight Castle hotel. The Porsche owners had a blast!
Coming to our Day 6 of driving was again a spectacular driving day through the canyons and mountains up to 3500 feet of the Picos de Europa, in the province of Asturias. Mountain passes and turquoise lakes all the way to Potes, where the mayor of the town received us with open arms. A medieval town made up of tiny cobblestone streets and old bridges. We ended up in the small Unesco World Heritage village of Santillana del Mar. We stayed in the heart of the village, a lookalike movie set of the Middle Ages!
After a good night’s sleep, we took the road for our last driving day through the Basque country, a very different aspect of Spain, a province with its own language and road signs. That is when we got a call from the Ferrari 250 GT owner with a brake problem. The brake pump on the back wheel broke letting all the brake fluid out. Lucky for the team, they were driving in the valley at low speed. Had it been the day before in the mountains, it could have been tragic. A tow truck did the job. The definite highlight of the day was the visit and lunch at the Torre Loizaga Castle & Rolls-Royce museum. A hidden gem in the Basque Hills not far from Bilbao. Bearing the most extensive collection of Rolls-Royce from the start to the ’70s, this family owned museum is just amazing. After a toast and a photo with the owner, we made our way along the ocean to the city of San Sebastian, where we ended our adventure. We ended up with our gala dinner in the royal hall of the Hotel Maria Cristina where our mechanics and the logistic team got a standing ovation. After this long-awaited rally, it was a real treat to be able to discover the beauty and amazing scenery of the Iberian Peninsula.
Next year another region is awaiting. The Trans-Iberica 2022 will take us from the French side of the Pyrenees mountain range all the way to Andalusia on the Spanish side, going through mountain passes, deserts, National Parks, wineries, castles and, medieval cities.