Do not miss an opportunity to spend a night in...Read More
The Douro Valley
The Douro Valley could well be the most picturesque wine region of Europe. It is definitely one of the top 5 most beautiful wine regions I have been to.
It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 for its natural landscapes and cultural heritage related to winemaking.
The region has been producing wine for nearly 2,000 years.
In the 1700s, wine from this area was fortified with brandy so that it could be shipped to England without being spoiled. This fortified wine became known as port wine.
In the recent years, unfortified table wine-making has been overtaking the Douro Valley as a result of increased demand for dry reds.
DOC Douro dry red wines were inspired by Bordeaux. They tend to be deeply coloured and full-bodied with a high level of ripe tannins and black fruit flavours.
We visited Porto and the valley in late October after the harvest. We caught a train up the river to Pinhao, a small town in the valley.
About half-way from Porto, the landscape turned into a true paradise. The calm Douro river reflected the skies, the surrounding rocky mountains were magnificent and the fall colours of terraced vineyards took my breath away.
How to Get to the Douro Valley?
Car, boat, train or wine tour from Porto.
- A drive from Porto to Regua or Pinhao can take about 1.5 to 2 hours, there are tolls on way A4/A24. Drive the most scenic route, but be prepared for hairpin bends and winding roads.
- Train is easy to take from Sao Bento train station in Porto. The train takes 2 hours 20 minutes to Pinhao. The Douro Valley train schedule can be found here, or on the train system site.
- Some companies offer boat tours up the Douro river.
- Take any wine tour from Porto. Most tours offer pickup from your accommodation in Porto.
- April to October is a high season
- November to March is calmer. Boat tours are limited during the winter time. I took the picture above in the middle of November when leaves turn different colors.
- Harvest is around second part of September
- Black: Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cao
- White: Malvasia, Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio, Arinto
- Dry reds: Beef, pasta, lamb, game
- Ruby port with chocolate, mature cheddar and dates
- Tawny port with almond tarts, Manchego or Stilton cheeses
Which Wineries to Visit in the Douro Valley?
The most renowned wineries (quintas) of the Douro Valley are located along the river between Regua and Pinhao within a couple of kilometers from the river.
You will need to call or email the wineries to arrange your tour. Allow approximately 1.5 hours for each visit.
If you don’t have a car, you may want to stay in one of the main villages in the Douro Valley wine area: Peso da Regua (known as just Regua), Pinhao or Lamego. You can find taxi rides from there to wineries nearby. Regua and Pinhao are connected by rail. You can reach Lamego by bus from Regua.
I plotted the location of quintas on the map of wineries in the Douro Valley below.
Besides enjoying the landscapes and tasting excellent wines, spending time with winemakers was a great pleasure. The people of Portugal are extremely welcoming and they go above and beyond to make you feel like valued guests.
The winemaker of Quinta Nova picked us at the Ferrao train station and drove us to the quinta, where we had an extra-generous wine tasting accompanied by local delicacies.
We were also shown a museum of port-wine equipment including the old foot treading lagares, large stone tanks used in the past to squish grapes by foot and to extract colour and tannins. Some wineries in the valley offer this unforgettable experience to tourists, but you need to come during harvest time.
If you have more than one day, I would advise to stay a night or two at a hill-side quinta, enjoy local hospitality, food and wine, amazing views, walks among vineyards and olive trees and the quiet of the valley.
Many quintas offer luxury accommodations and have gastronomic restaurants on-site.
At Quinta da Pacheca, you can stay in a huge luxurious wine vat/barrel with a view on vineyards. This is definitely on my to-do list.
Douro Valley Wine Tours
Small group day tours would usually take you to a port producer and a table wine producer where you will be shown their wine-making process and taste all different wines. Most tours include traditional Portuguese lunch and an olive oil tasting. Many of these tours include the boat ride.
Private wine tours are an excellent choice when you want to go in your own pace, choose your activities, enjoy premium wines and a relaxed lunch at one of the gastronomic restaurants with a view. All wineries sell their port and dry wines.
A highlight of our stay was a 1-hour boat tour from Pinhao in a traditional “ravelo boat”. We saw the valley from the water and then stopped for lunch at DOC by Chef Rui Paola right on the Douro river, which was a fantastic experience.
Have a great tour!
If you are staying in Porto or visiting there do not miss a the best wine bars. My blog article about Where to Go for a Wine Tasting in Porto may be helpful.