Boundaries were determined for the Douro Valley’s vineyards in 1756, making it the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. Grape harvest and wine production goes back 2,000 years, however, and the support of the people led to the vineyards’ recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The terraced fields on either side of the Douro River are breathtaking and unique to the region.
Strong and sweet, Port wine is the Douro Valley’s cultural treasure and has been attracting international wine aficionados since the 18th century. Participating in the harvest and production, towards the middle to the end of September is a unique way to appreciate this delicious, sweet drink even more.
Wine-loving travelers can stay at rustic quintas, or estates surrounded by vineyards and the breath-taking rolling landscape. Country homes, many more than 100 years old, have been converted into bed & breakfast-style lodging, so guests can spend peaceful days exploring the region and nights indulging in the wine and learning about the culture from friendly locals.
Terraced vineyards climbing up and down the rolling hillsides on each side of the curvy river are responsible for the region’s unique landscape. Portugal is a country brimming with natural beauty but the Douro Valley is considered one of the country’s ‘crowned jewels’. A couple of the best viewpoints to see the green hilltops and the Douro River are in Ventozelo (near the Portugal-Spanish border) and the Miradouro São Leonardo da Galafura, located between Peso da Régua and Pinhão.
Sure, driving or taking a train will sweep past the scenic landscape faster, but a boat trip on the Douro River is perhaps the more romantic way to travel.
Don’t visit the Douro Valley on a diet—another reason to make your way to this part of northern Portugal is the local cuisine, and it’s anything but light. Follow locals to the neighborhood tascas where meats, fish and stews fill the menus. Some favorite dishes include grilled bacalhau (salt cod), roasted suckling pig and octopus salad. Even if you’re not hungry, ordering a cheese and charcuterie platter to accompany a glass of the local wine is always a good idea.
Many of the same country estates that accept overnight guests double up as locations offering the best food and wine experiences, but D.O.C. Restaurante in Folgosa pairs a Michelin experience and a sophisticated ambiance with unparalleled views (especially from the terrace seating over the river), and traditional meals are presented with modern and creative touches.
Learn about the local culture, cuisine and wine while museum-hopping, or learn about everything in one place at the Douro Museum in Peso da Régua.
Indulge in your love of water sports, wine and adrenaline-boosting activities, all while getting lost in a picturesque background. Canoeing and kayaking are just two more activities that this beautiful region offers.
Portugal in general offers many bird-watching opportunities and some of the best spots are Ria Formosa, the Minho region, the Serra da Estrela and (last but not least) the Douro Valley. Get your camera poised and ready to snap unique images of several birds of prey (including some endangered species) like the black stork, Egyptian vulture, Griffon vulture, golden eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, the Peregrine falcon and the red and black kites.
A scenic train trip is waiting for anyone who has extra time to spend in Porto but is interested in exploring beyond the city. Depart from the magnificent azulejo-decorated São Bento Station and settle in for a rickety ride through rural Portugal, along the river and through green valleys, on the Linha do Douro, the historic train route.
The Douro Valley is truly an off-the-beaten-path and wonderful destination for peace and quiet. Dotted with sleepy hamlets and bustling towns, life moves at a slow and steady pace, and the region is filled with landmarks that date back several centuries; some, like the Alpendurada Monastery, date back nearly 1,000 years. Life’s everyday stresses will melt away when you wander through the vineyards and chat with the cheerful locals.