A tour to Porto in a Commer campervan led to Dave Mattinson’s engagement, and a lifetime of happy motorcaravanning with his wife

It was 1971, and my girlfriend and I were planning to get engaged. Her parents had decided to take a trip to Porto, north-west Portugal, in a Commer campervan, and I was invited. Coming with us were my best friend, and my girlfriend’s brothers – nine of us in total! It was my first trip abroad.

We’d be taking a week to drive to Porto, where we’d stay for another seven days. We wanted to get engaged while in the city. 

As we drove through France I was captivated and wanted to explore so many of the towns and villages properly; but Portugal was calling. We'd heard about the beauty of Porto, with its medieval cobbled streets, cafés, wonderful bridges and – of course – Port wine.

On that holiday five people slept in the Commer, and the rest of us slept in a tent close by. For travelling we all piled into the bus. We had a basic route planned out, provided by the AA. Finding campsites was a case of everyone keeping their eyes open for signs; it was a far cry from today’s experiences, guided by up-to-date campsite and aires books.

We crossed through the heart of Spain. I remember it being almost desert-like: dry, hot and dusty. Nothing much seemed to grow, and yet some of the delicious cooking smells as we passed through the villages were memorable!

Eventually we reached the twisty mountain roads that separated Spain and Portugal. I ended up sitting on the floor of the camper, as the side-facing seats in the back weren’t doing anything for my travel sickness. This was before seatbelts were compulsory.

Eventually we arrived in Porto, and found a campsite in the town. A tram stopped just outside of the campsite and provided a wonderful scenic way of reaching the cobbled streets of the city. We found a jeweller's shop and chose an engagement ring. Then for the rest of the week we spent our time relaxing on the beach or exploring the city. It was magical, and it set us up for a lifetime of travel – and our life together.

Much later there followed three children and a trailer tent, which we used for visiting most of Europe. As, one by one, the children stopped coming with us, we bought a two-berth caravan and eventually our beloved Rapido motorhome.

We decided to return to Porto to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, and found the same jeweller's shop; to our delight, it hadn’t changed a bit. In 2013 we returned in our motorhome for our 40th anniversary, and visited the shop again; it still has the same décor! In fact Porto remains an unspoilt and beautiful city. Although only a few of the trams remain, the cobbles are still in evidence.

That first trip abroad, touring through France, Spain and ending up in Portugal, truly set us up for a lifetime of camping, caravanning and motorcaravanning. And buying the Rapido has ensured that we won't be losing our appetite for travel anytime soon. 

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