The Douro River valley is Portugal’s Napa or Sonoma valley, arguably better, and surely less expensive!. This microclimate up river from the charming city of Porto offers perfect growing conditions for table white and red wines, plus the unique Port wine in tawny, ruby and vintage. The scenery, the steep lush vineyards clinging to schist (stone) hillsides above the grand “river of gold,” is magical. Vineyards and olives grow vertically and on terraces starting in Mesao Frio about 50 miles east of Porto. 350 miles of the 500 mile Douro is in Portugal which emanates in Spain. The Douro River Valley has port lodges and “Quintas” around every bend as you drive the narrow precipitous roads, snaking along the bountiful vine covered hills, with the river ribboning below as your guide.
Thanks to the British taste for sweet port wines, and the hard work of the Portugese locals for centuries on these terraced vineyards, Port wine is unique the world over and trademarked. In 1756, Marquis de Pombal declared Port wines as exclusively from this region, much like Champagne is only from Reims France. Similar to sherry in Spain perhaps – port wine production is specialized, from regional grapes, fortified by brandy and delicious … especially with native cheese and chocolate.
If you want to visit Douro during the harvest, go mid-September, you may be invited to help with the crush, many of the Portugese wine makers still stomp the grapes the old fashioned way – with their feet, in the evening after all day picking in the vineyards. The traditional grape stomping includes music, drinking and three hours of stepping on grapes by foot, with arms linked to your fellow stompers.
Easily reached wineries on the early south side of the river are the elegant Quinta da Pacheca – in the shadows of the audacious Sandeman statue. Also make a stop, tour and taste at the delicious Quinta Seara D’Ordes – a lovely family-owned winery – just beware of the dogs when you arrive.
Visit the quaint town of Lamego, and climb from the city center up the magnificent stairs to the Cathedral. We arrived at Lamego during a grand Festival of saints. A city wide celebration of locals wearing colorful fedoras featured their delicious (cheap) artisan food, parades, music and much drinking. I think the ladies had been baking custards, meringues and cookies for days, in preparation of Lamego’s craft food market.
Crossing up the Douro, go for a tour and tasting at Quinta Do Cotta, their ros is extraordinary. Nearby Casa Canilhas in Mesao Frio is a gorgeous lodge to stay a day or two high above the Douro, with a fantastic pool overlooking the Douro, delightful cottage rooms, and a great breakfast included. You can walk to town though the streets are narrow and winding – risky in the dark.
Traveling up river, Quinta do Tedo at the head of the Folgosa River is a beautiful lodge on the south side of the Douro, with its own hotel, restaurant, tasting and tours.
In Pinhao is Quinta de la Rosa with modern wine tours, and a hotel just outside the busy marina town. Quinta do Jalloto Wine and D’Origem are worth the steep twisty drive up to Casal de Loivos above Penhao. D’Origem offers an authentic olive oil press factory tour, followed by wine and olive oil tastings with Paulo and Sandra – in their cool lodge, the views of Douro are amazing.
Back in Pinhao – the bustling little port city where Viking cruise boats dock, opt for a few hour boat ride on a traditional flat Rabelo, or the Pipa Duoro offers a 90-minute cruise upstream, beyond where cars can go, to the Romaneira Estate, coasting back with port wine served as you pass impressive winery estates of Sandeman, Taylor, Croft. End your day with one more tasting a Quinta do Bomfim before leaving Pinhão for the Portugese interior countryside, east toward the Spanish border, to explore the Schist Villages.
More Portugal Travel Tips and Itineraries on:
Lisbon Travel Tips
Drinking Port wine in Porto
Touring up the Douro River Valley
The Schist Villages – Interior Portugal
Evora and Portugal’s Stonehedge