Whether you arrive by car or by boat, escaping Porto to see the Douro Valley landscape unravel in front of your eyes for the first time is a truly memorable experience, says André Ribeirinho...
Douro travel guide
As the Douro River navigates its way between steep mountain slopes, thousands of intertwined vines and traditional stone terraces form a tapestry of rare natural beauty.
How to get there
Nearest airport: Porto
With recent investments in infrastructure, it has never been easier to reach the valley. In a little over an hour’s drive by car you can reach its heart, Peso da Régua.
But a 2.5-hr train ride, leaving from São Bento train station in Porto, is the most scenic way; while neither the fastest nor the most comfortable, it gives you the best views.
A premium helicopter service from Porto is also available.
Where to visit
A visit to one of the Port wine houses is an excellent way to start discovering the Douro and the world of fortified wine. Quinta do Bomfim, a Symington family property, is an estate famous for making Dow’s which has recently opened a modern visitor’s centre with programmes including vineyard visits and tastings. Quinta do Panascal, one of the prime Fonseca properties, was one of the first visitor centres in the Douro, open throughout the year.
For a more boutique approach, Quinta do Noval is a historic house with some of the most well-preserved terraced vineyards and a manor open for tastings. At Quinta de Nápoles you can witness firsthand how the Niepoort family creates some of the most revered Ports and Douro table wines.
Visit the Douro Valley during harvest time, between August and September, so that you can join the locals in a 100-year old tradition of foot-treading in stone lagares.
Contact a few producers before you go to check availability.
With the region’s long winding roads and spectacular views, it is very easy to lose track of the day. For the best experience, set enough time to visit each winery and enjoy a relaxed wine tasting. The beginning of autumn is the ideal time to visit, for the mild weather and the warm, vibrant colours of the vineyards.
Where to eat
The pleasure of eating in the Douro Valley is all about experiencing Portuguese ingredients with local wines. Castas e Pratos, situated inside one of the warehouses of Peso da Régua railway station, delivers a modern food menu and a quality wine list. For a fine-dining experience with a river view, DOC – where many local winemakers are regulars – serves up Rui Paula’s modern cuisine and one of the Douro’s best wine lists.
Where to stay
For the ultimate luxury, stay at the Six Senses Douro Valley and enjoy the views and the pool overlooking the river. For solitude and silence, try Quinta Nova Luxury Winery House, an award-winning luxury boutique hotel with only 11 rooms and breathtaking panoramic views over the vineyards.
Wherever you stay, and for however long, make the time to grab a glass of slightly chilled vintage Port, sit outside on a hill above the river on a hot night and enjoy the pleasure of the Douro’s famous fortified wines.
André Ribeirinho is a Portuguese food and wine entrepreneur who founded online wine platform Adegga.com.
This originally featured in the top 10 holidays for wine lovers in the February issue of Decanter, on sale now. Subscribe to Decanter here.