Portugal’s Douro Valley features hundreds of miles of riverside hills dotted with centuries-old quintas (wine estates) that have now opened up to wine tourism. With additional insights from top Portuguese sommelier Miguel Reis, Culture Trip has handpicked the best places to stay, sip and soak up the view.
Making fortified wine since 1756, the Douro Valley is not only one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world, it’s also among the most beautiful. The famous grapes grow in abundance along terraced hills, which follow the curves of the Douro River as it winds east from Porto to the border with Spain. The region’s long tradition of wine making is evident in its many rural quintas (wineries). Miguel Reis, sommelier at the Four Seasons Fairways Hotel in Quinta do Lago, southern Portugal, grew up in the Douro Valley and has helped to round up some of the most glorious spots where you can enjoy a night’s stay or simply raise a glass as you admire the view.
While the ruby, white and tawny ports have brought viticultural fame to the region, today its table wines are also held in high esteem. “Since the 1980s table wines of the highest quality have been produced in the Douro,” Reis explains. “The old vines, the schist soils, the microclimate, the unique grape varieties such as Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Amarela and Touriga Nacional, help produce distinguished wines.”
The Douro Valley is divided into three sub-regions, each with its own special wines. Reis explains: “In the Baixo Corgo they produce fresh and aromatic white wines of the highest level white wines of the highest level. At Cima Corgo you will find the best port wines. In the Douro Superior, reds are absolutely delicious.”
Plan to travel slowly by road, rail or river, and really savour the view: river cruises and railway trips are popular ways to see the beauty of the region, calling at picturesque small towns that serve as jumping-off points for visiting the wineries.
This centrally-located 18th-century wine estate is Reis’s top pick. It’s a grand mansion set in 145ha (358 acres) of vineyards producing some of the world’s finest wine. If you try just one wine here, Reis suggests you make it the Noval Nacional Port, which comes from a small, carefully tended plot of native grapes growing on ungrafted vines. You might need deep pockets, though; many vintages have a four-figure price tag. The vineyard can be visited independently (advance booking only) or as part of an organised wine tour.
Portuguese foodies would argue that the azeite (olive oil) produced at this revered quinta is almost as good as the table wines. A visit here is an interesting lesson in Douro wine history; the quinta was founded in 1887 as a labour of love by Antonia Adelaide Ferreira, a rare female presence in the port wine world. Ferreirinha, as she is affectionately known by locals, had already established herself as one of the most formidable figures in the Port wine business when she bought 300ha (741 acres) of virgin land at auction and set about developing the terroir as a model for wine production in this seemingly inhospitable region. The quinta remains in the family, and today its red and white table wines are considered some of Portugal’s best. A visit can be booked in advance via the website.
Visitors here can enjoy the pleasure of staying the night at a working vineyard, as Quinta de la Rosa also operates as a boutique pousada (guesthouse) and restaurant. The picturesque pousada and its 55ha (136 acres) of grade A vineyards are run by Sophia Bergqvist, whose grandmother Claire received the winery as a (pretty generous) christening present in 1906. Today, the port and table wines here are held in high regard, but the 21 luxurious rooms, with terraces overlooking the river and hillsides, are an even more compelling reason to visit.
Dirk Niepoort, the founder of this picturesque quinta, is often hailed as the king of Portuguese wine. The passionate producer is the great grandson of Francisco van der Niepoort, a Dutchman who arrived in Portugal in 1842 and established the Niepoort name as one of the big guns in the port wine trade. Dirk was the first to make his own wines, when in 1987 he bought the dilapidated Quinta de Nápoles and began to experiment with cultivation techniques. The fruits of his first forays were deemed undrinkable, but his endeavours paid off and by 1999 Niepoort table wines had established Portugal as a wine-producing force to be reckoned with. Visitors here can descend into an enormous subterranean chamber where top-rate wines are aged in barrels, before resurfacing to enjoy the fresh breeze from the Douro to drink in the fine views and equally fine wines.
Easily accessible on foot from Pinhão train station, this is the home of Croft Ports, and a favourite spot for food lovers. Sunil Metcalfe, Portugal expert for the luxury travel firm Black Tomato, explains: “Walking the vineyards here feels like a history lesson, albeit a history lesson accompanied by some of the most distinguished ports. For me, dining on a locally sourced picnic amongst the vines pretty much sums up a perfect Douro day – local cheeses and charcuterie, vintages with history and body, and the views of the surrounding valley make it unmissable. ”
Billed as the first wine hotel in Portugal, this quinta is a grand 19th-century manor house next to a 1764 winery, combining luxury accommodation with enotourism. Guests and day visitors can visit the centuries-old cellars, tour the vineyards and sample the excellent port and table wines at a tasting room with panoramic views over the valley. There’s also fine dining to enjoy on site. With the nearest rail station at Ferrão just a half-hour walk or quick cab ride away, this is a delightful visit regardless of whether you plan to stay overnight.
This estate provides a fascinating insight into how Port wine production has changed over the centuries. Its original 18th-century mansion house and chapel sit right next to one of the Douro’s most modern and innovative wineries, belonging to the iconic Sandeman brand. After strolling the ancient vineyards and admiring some of the best river views in the region, visitors can check out the hi-tech 2007-inaugurated winery, where robotic grape presses mimic the foot-stomping action of old. The 100ha (247 acres) are particularly beautiful in the autumn, when grape pickers can be seen harvesting on the hillside.
Quinta da Gricha, in the Cima Corgo subregion, is a lodge and wine pousada (inn) built in 1852 that features a stunning outdoor pool and is surrounded by some of the most dramatic landscapes in the Douro. It’s locally known for its lagares (the enormous granite vats in which grapes plucked from the vineyards are left to ferment and transform into the rich Churchill’s Port). The open patios are perfect for admiring the dramatic sunsets over the terraced hills with a glass in hand, and it’s possible to bed down for a couple of nights in one of the luxurious suites (although advance booking is essential).
The south- and west-facing slopes surrounding this renowned quinta have been producing fine wines since the 1700s, making it one of the oldest wineries in the region. Since 2005 this imposing historic lodge has been open to overnight guests, who can stay in one of the 13 boutique suites. The small on-site restaurant serves made-to-order plates using ingredients sourced from its own organic gardens.