Portugal’s picturesque Douro wine country is legendary. For starters, it produces fine wines – both table wines and the fortified port wines enjoyed around the world. The “Alto Douro” or High Douro has been growing wine grapes for over 2000 years since it was occupied by the Romans. It was also the first legally protected wine-growing area in the world and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The spectacular scenery and fascinating things to see, eat and do make the Douro a place where you can have many unique experiences. Here are just a few that we think are worth exploring.
1. Do a Port Wine Tasting
It’s hard to imagine a visit to the wine country of the Douro and not think of port. After all, the Douro Valley is the only place in the world that can legally produce Port wine due to its status as a defined region. Just as “champagne” can only rightly come from the Champagne region of France, the port has its official home in the beautifully terraced craggy hills and deep valleys that dominate any view of the area. Port wine has a fascinating history. It is made with a blend of grapes. During the fermentation process, brandy is added, which stops the process and improves the sweetness of the wine.
Port wine producers
There are many choices when it comes to tasting port wines (or any wines for that matter) in the Douro. For delicious port wine tastings, Quinta do Noval, Quinta da Roêda and Quinta do Seixo are some recommended spots.
2. Stay in a Quinta
One of the best ways to get a full Douro experience is to spend a night (or more) on a quinta. A quinta in the Douro is an estate where you can enjoy accommodations and often guided tours, tastings and personal experiences with the owners. Some of the most enjoyable quintas are run by the families who tend the vineyards. The warmth and hospitality are generous and genuine. The passion for wine making comes through, and not only can you experience the phenomenal views of the landscape around you, but the cozy accommodations and quinta grounds make you feel part of it. Friendly people played an important role in our move to Portugal.
Quinta de la Rosa
One of our favorite lodgings is Quinta de la Rosa, with peaceful views of the river and the terraced vineyards around. The restaurant Cozinha Clara honors the owner’s Grandma Clara with phenomenal dishes and optional combinations. You can sign up for a tasting and tour if you want to see how it all works.
3. Visit an olive oil museum
Coincidentally, the soils and conditions that make the Douro wine country so great for growing grapes also make it a great place to grow olives. Olive oil, or “liquid gold” as it is often called, comes from another intense and laborious process. You can learn all about the process by visiting the D’Origem Museum of Olive Oil. Here you can see the equipment used to press the olives and produce delicious olive oil.
Dórigem Olive Oil Museum
During a visit to D’Origem you can visit both the oil mill and the wine cellar. Learn about the processes of producing both olive oil and wine from this family jewel that has been operating for generations. You will also enjoy a spectacular view of the background.
4. Ride a boat on the Douro . River
Watching the Douro River as it winds through the canyons of the region is an invitation to get closer. A great way to see incredible views and experience the Douro from a different perspective is to take a boat trip or river cruise. There are many companies that offer trips on the water, from short 1- or 2-hour trips to week-long cruises on a large riverboat. If you’re short on time, opt for a short ride on a rabelo boat, the traditional wooden freighter used to transport barrels of wine. For a more extended trip, river cruises on larger boats can take several days, starting from Lisbon or Porto and even traveling on the Douro to Spain.
Douro Boat Trip Providers
Picturesque boat trips on the Douro River can be private or shared and come in a wide range of durations, itineraries and prices. Ânima Durius, Douro Vintage Boat Trips and Cruzeiros Douro are three popular providers.
5. Pick and mash grapes in a Douro vineyard
The steep landscape of terraced vineyards along the Douro is truly a sight to behold. That is probably one of the reasons why the region has earned UNESCO World Heritage status. The innovation, dedication and history of this wine region – producing not only the famous fortified port wines, but also increasingly well-received white, red and rosé table wines – is fascinating to see up close. Visiting a vineyard can be an observational affair. But if you’re visiting during the harvest season, which usually starts in September, and are willing to roll up your sleeves or pants, some also offer you the chance to help with their harvesting duties.
Where to pick and mash grapes?
If taking an active part in the harvest in a vineyard sounds like fun, check out Quinta das Carvalhas, Quinta da Pacheca and Quinta do Vallado for their range of harvesting experiences.
6. Take a scenic train ride
The picturesque wine country of the Douro can be seen in so many ways. One of the most beautiful is by train. If you want to visit the Douro from Porto, the Linha do Douro railway departs from the beautiful São Bento station in Porto. There are several trains and connections so you can stop where you want before the last stop in the town of Pocinho. You can also get started at one of the stops and do a split ride.
Douro Historic Steam Engine Train
For something truly magical, a ride on the historic Douro train is just the ticket. Featuring a 1920s locomotive design, the historic train runs Saturdays and Sundays from June to October. It travels along the Douro River from Peso da Régua to Tua with a return journey of about an hour and a quarter each way.
7. Enjoy a wine pairing
We love tasting and discovering wine from Portugal. Wine can be enjoyed on its own, of course, but we love the experience of pairing it with food. And with so many great chefs and excellent dining options in the Douro, we just loved a wine pairing. Because so many of the wineries are small and family-run, there are countless options for wine pairings to suit every palate.
Aneto & table food and wine pairing
We had a memorable meal at Aneto & Table in Peso de Régua. The menus on the table offered suggested combinations for the different dishes and the helpful servers also provided more information about each. The family run business did not disappoint with creative preparations of lofty Portuguese dishes designed to bring out the best in each wine pairing.
8. Dive into nature in the Douro International Natural Park
One of the largest natural areas in the country, Douro International Natural Park is a beautiful landscape spanning 86,500 hectares that also serves as a natural border between Portugal and Spain. There are steep gorges, high vistas and countless opportunities for wildlife and bird watching, including wolves, wild boars, golden eagles and peregrine falcons. The steep canyon is known as the European Grand Canyon and runs along the Douro River.
Douro International Natural Park In Bloom
While any time is a good time to visit the park, if you can brave a little chill in February or March, the park comes alive with color. The reason is that the almond trees are blooming and pink flowers are emerging to decorate the region. For even more fun, follow the Almond Blossom Route for interesting towns and almond festivities.
9. Visit the majestic house of Mateus
One glance at the bottle-shaped bottle of the iconic Portuguese wine Mateus Rosé arouses curiosity about the royal house depicted on the label. It turns out that not only is it a real place in the Douro city of Villa Real, but it is also a place that you can visit. Casa de Mateus displays a wealth of history, art and artifacts. It also contains a chapel and beautiful gardens. Mateus Rosé was far from a fad of a bygone era, with sales of three and a half million boxes worldwide in the 1970s, Mateus Rosé today still sells 20 million bottles a year in more than 120 countries.
Events in Casa De Mateus
While exploring Casa de Mateus is a great Douro treat in its own right, the house also hosts many fun and interesting events. Concerts and performances, seminars, exhibitions and even horticultural workshops are among the many on offer.
Pro tip for experiencing the Douro
The vineyards in the Douro wine are many, but they are not necessarily close to each other. You probably won’t go through multiple “vineyard hops” in one day. Do some work beforehand to decide where you would most like to visit, then plan to spend at least one night to ensure you get a good sense of what makes Portugal’s picturesque Douro wine country so special.
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