My circumstances in coming to Portugal couldn’t have been more out of the blue. But in any case, I had made it to this amazing land of wine, beauty and cuisine. I had heard many things about Portugal and within moments of arrival was convinced this would be one of the best trips of my life. After a week in the islands of the Azores and Madeira I had made it to the mainland. After the emptiness of the tiny Atlantic Islands stepping into the hustle and bustle of Porto’s main train station was quite the change in scene. Porto however would have to wait because my journey was taking me farther West to the land of vineyards.
No trip to Portugal would be complete without a trip on the Douro to visit some of the worlds’ most famous makers of port and Portuguese wine. The Portuguese have been making wine and port for hundreds of years. In the 14th and 15th centuries the English contracted with the Portuguese to produce and ship them wines. As Port and Madeira wine were what the English noblemen drank during their business dealings. This partnership changed the way Portugal was developed and shaped its history and future.
The Douro River stretches from Spain and travels through one of the most beautiful valleys in Portugal to where it meets the ocean in Porto. It is a place of deep valleys, high hillsides and quiet villages. With perfect rows of grapes that have been cut into the steep hillsides. From the hilltops you can look down into the meandering and calm wide expanse of the river. This region is the first demarcated wine region in the world and was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 2001.
This region is not as easily or closely knit as America’s Napa Valley but don’t let that stop you from spending several days exploring. The traditional wineries are called Quinta’s and there are some fantastic ones to visit for wine tastings, picnic lunches or overnights in the Douro Valley. Whether making a side trip from Porto or planning to stay in the Douro for most of your time in Portugal you won’t be disappointed.
Getting There: Coming from Porto you have several options to travel into the Douro Valley. Most people travel into the town of Peso da Regua which is home to the largest harbor as well as a riverside town center. From Porto to Regua it is about 118 km.
Car: The fastest way into the valley is by car. The roads are narrow, winding and have many steep drop offs along the way, so if you are brave, feel free to rent a car but you will be better off hiring a taxi or Uber and then arranging for transportation when needed while in the Valley.
Uber from Porto Campanha Station in Porto to Mosteiro is about 58€ from Mostiero I would recommend continuing by train for an additional 10€.
Water: If you have flexible travel plans or more time take a boat from Porto up river to Regua or continue all the way to the border of Spain. You can also choose to head there via train and return via boat.
Roteiro Do Douro - 1 day one- way cruise: This cruise departs Porto at 8am travels through two dams up stream and drops you in Regua at 3pm. Lunch and wine are served on board. This trip includes a return by bus, I recommend staying in the Douro for another day or so and returning by train.
Cruzeiros Douro- 1 Day cruise from Regua to Pocinho and back to Regua. This great day trip starts in the heart of wine region and travels up stream by bus through some of the most beautiful and peaceful part of the Douro. Return to Regua by boat and enjoy the beautiful landscape by the water.
Viking River Cruises- 10 days Lisbon to Porto – Douro Valley from $2,399 Amazing option if you want to immerse yourself in the beauty of the river and Portugal. Lots of shore excursions and 5 full days in the Douro.
Train: From Porto you can travel from Sao Bento train station or Porto Campanha station. Sao Bento is one of the most beautiful stations in the world with huge mosaics of Azulejo tile. Check the schedules and try to get on the Linha do Douro. It takes about 2.5 hours to get to Regua from Porto and make sure you sit on the right hand side on the way up to see the river.
Where to Stay:
Douro Royal Valley Hotel & Spa- This fantastic hotel & spa is located down river from Regua. The believe in connecting you with nature, all the rooms face the river, lots of amenities, pool, spa, tennis courts and eco friendly. READ THE REVIEW
Quinta De La Rosa – This Bed & Breakfast just underwent a huge renovation. It sits perched above the river with remarkable views. The best part is getting private dining and inclusion in the workings of the vineyard. If you go in late Septmeber- Early October you may even be able to see the harvest.
Things To Do
Rabelo Cruise: If you have happened to make into the Douro by train or car you have to go on a Rabelo cruise while in the valley. These are the traditional Portuguese boats and seeing the valley from the water is a must do. Departures from Pinhao and Regua multiple times a day.
Vineyards: Growing grapes on these steep hillsides isn’t easy and requires more manpower than most grape growing operations. The narrow and steep aisles make it close too impossible for machines to be of use.
While many of the big Port companies also have tasting rooms in Porto seeing them where they actually grow the grapes is most preferred. Make sure you also visit some of the more mom and pop growers.
Quinta's to visit:
Quinta de La Rosa- This family owned estate is set above the town of Regua. They have just finished a complete refurbishment including their great bed and breakfast. Here you can enjoy a tasting, a guided tour or a fully immersive wine and food experience by staying on site.
Quinta da Pacheca- One of the oldest estates in the Douro. They have guided tours, wine tastings, food tastings and classes
Quinta do Seixo – Near the village of Pinhao up river. This vineyard has breathtaking views over the river. Have a picnic in the vineyard, a guided tour or a tasting.
Coa Valley- Near the town of Pinhao is the Coa Museum which celebrates and highlights some of man’s oldest rock art drawings. It is in this valley where hundreds of rock art drawings were discovered. Now part of a world heritage site you can travel the historic road by car or join or daily tour from the northern region.
Travel Tips:- Don’t forget Euros there was nowhere to exchange money once I left Porto and very few places including the train stations took credit cards.
The Douro was a highlight of my trip to Portugal, and the country as a whole is one of my favorite destinations I have had the pleasure of exploring. With so many jaw dropping sceneries there are an abundance of destinations to visit. From its Southern surf towns, to its historic cities, rugged island chains and quaint villages you won't be disappointed with a visit this fantastic country.
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