TAKE A TOUR THROUGH THE TERRACED VINEYARDS OF PORTUGAL’S DOURO RIVER VALLEY

[DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL] — I see all these Instagram peeps hitting Porto taking pictures of the big bridge, climbing up its steep hills, drinking some port and then bolting.

But really what they’re missing is a day trip (or longer) up the Douro River to visit the incredible, hilly stair-step vineyards of the Douro Valley, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been.

I dunno, I’m over wine tours, once you see a few, they’re all the same to me — “Is that French oak or American? How long in stainless??” — poke me in the eye with a stick…but that’s just me…

view of Douro River
The BBC, longtime lovers of Port, once called this one of the most beautiful views in the world. I concur.

But the Douro Valley is different. Hilly. Steep. Flinty mounds of luscious green heaven pouring down to a mellow meandering river. Each and every hill terraced from top to bottom with luscious rows of grapes. 

In Porto, all they talk about is Port. The Port cellars. Port. Port. Port.

But when you go to the Douro Valley, you find all these amazing, deep, rich, dark, dry beautiful red wines that are like nowhere else. Wines you will be hard to find anywhere else.

You can take a day-trip tour out of Porto like I did, but that is one VERY long day or driving over steep hills, tasting wines and then taking the long drive back. I regret not coming out here and staying in one of the few, but cool, new hotels that have opened up here in recent years and really get immersed in the mellow vibe. Like this one, the brand new Six Senses hotel, straddling a hilltop, overlooking the sauntering Douro River below. Or Douro Exclusive’s cool new guest house, the Casa do Arco. A fully immersive wine experience. Or this new hotel Ana recommended to me a couple of years ago. The Vila Galé.

But however you do it, I strongly recommend that you park your car and let Douro Exclusive do the driving. A sweet husband and wife team, Ana and Marco, that quit their office jobs and moved back home to start their own tour company. They grew up here, so they know everybody and every hilltop and backwater road to the best views.  Ana does the talking and Marco drives like Ayrton Senna, whipping their luxury van around all the backroads like an F1 track.  [Like always, I don’t get these tours for free, I pay for them. So when I gush, it’s real. These two are the real deal. So happy to recommend.]

What makes their tours special is that they are less about wine-tastings and visiting the many wineries and more about the beauty of this valley, its people and important history in the evolution of wine. (That’s my picture of them on their website!). Take their Silver Tour and you’ll stop at a vineyard, take a short boat ride to see the hills from the water, stop for an amazing lunch at famous chef Rui Paula’s DOC restaurant right on the water… and end the day at the best mountaintop views of the best stretch of the valley.

Even if you’re not doing wine tours, just driving around here is like being in another world. That’s not Vietnam. Those aren’t rice patties. That’s wine.

Touring Douro Valley with Douro Exclusive

Douro Valley river
Douro Valley views

For hundreds of years, these Douro vineyards were coaxed out of solid flint rock by hand and metal bar. Terraced from top to bottom, the soil so flint-rocky that some of the rows go straight up and down the mountains, without worry of runoff or erosion.

There really isn’t one varietal, Douro wines are usually thick inky blends of dozens of types of local grapes you’ve never heard of. I love them like puppies.

Click on a pic to begin your tour:

Fonseca ports Douro Valley
Ana takes you exclusively into wineries from friends she knows. She is so knowledgable that they let her lead the tours herself.


UPDATE: Since I made this post, Ana and Marco have created their own special guest house in the hills overlooking the Douro, Casa do Arco Guest House. I highly recommend you stay there instead to get the full hospitality experience from these special people.

Get On A Boat Tour On The Famous Douro River

Douro Exclusive Boat ride
Getting out on the river was the coolest thing. You get to see the terraced vineyards from a completely different angle.
DOC restaurant lunch
Rui Paula’s stunning DOC restaurant. Smack right on the river. That’s Ana, sharing her immense knowledge. Of the wine…and the region. She grew up here.

What I loved about Douro Exclusive tour of the Douro Valley was it was more about understanding the incredible land and its importance as one of the world’s first big wine production areas, not a full-on wine tasting tour. So this was perfect pour moi.

Douro Exclusive’s tour was more about natural beauty than copping a buzz.

DOM Douro Valley terrace

 

Touring Fonseca’s Quinta do Panascal Winery

We did stop at one vineyard, Quinta do Panascal, the flagship vineyard owned by the big producer, Fonseca.

Nestled right along the mellow Tàvora River before it feeds into the Douro, they say the best grapes in Portugal come from this little valley right here. Just a dreamy location to stop and learn the quirky history of port.

Quinta do Panascal river view
Quinta do Panascal views
Quinta do Panascal winery
Quinta do Panascal main building
Quinta do Panascal terraces

Quinta do Panascal, the flagship vineyard owned by the big producer, Fonseca. Nestled right along the mellow Tàvora River before it feeds into the Douro, they say the best grapes in Portugal come from this little valley right here. Each row is planted with a different varietal to take advantage of this advantageous location that gets sun all day. Cool grapes along the cool river, different ones along the flinty dry hilltops. Pictures just don’t do this view justice. It was so beautiful, quiet and surreal.

— Last visited April 2015. And September 2019 —

More Information on Portugal and Douro Valley

Here’s a link to another post on what to do in Porto.

Here’a a great article in the Wall Street Journal on the growing great restaurants in the Douro Valley, including Rui Paul’s restaurant I mentioned above.

Here’s where you should stay, in a more recent trip and post to Portugal.

And a great article in Travel & Leisure on how the Douro is the next cool place to go. And another great T&L article about driving through the wine country.

Another cool article in Food & Wine on how the Douro is about to become the next big wine destination. I concur.

I read this article when I got back about the re-wilding of the Douro Valley in T&L. I wanna go back.

And a great guide from the UK Conde Nast Traveller on the Douro Valley.

And a great overview on Porto and Douro from the famous Wendy Perrin on her awesome website.

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“TAKE A TOUR THROUGH THE TERRACED VINEYARDS OF PORTUGAL’S DOURO RIVER VALLEY”

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