While the city of Porto continues to be an up-and-coming destination for foodies and wine lovers, the wider Douro Valley remains as a path less trodden. Perhaps Portugal’s number one secret, this lush green area and wine region is place that few have had the opportunity to discover for themselves. Up until as late as the 19th Century, many parts of the valley were considered too treacherous to venture to. This means that many of the wines produced here are unknown, and the local cuisine is unlike anything you’ve tried in the tourist honeypots of the Algarve.
For those who are in search of luxury, this is a very special and unique region, home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and unspoiled nature. Whether you want to plan a helicopter tour over the Douro River, a wine-tasting experience onboard a yacht, or a stay in a luxury spa, we can help you customize your holiday to the dreamy Douro. Enjoy breathtaking views of the vineyards, experience the finest Port wine in the world, and unearth rustic restaurants that rarely make it onto the tourist trail.
Some of the best places to visit in the Douro Valley can be found along the river. Areas like Peso da Régua within the Baixo Corgo sub-region, Pinhão in the Cima Corgo sub-region, and Vila Nova de Foz Côa in the Douro Superior sub-region can all be explored during a Port-tasting tour. The municipality of Peso da Régua is sprawled across a unique and beautiful amphitheater of high shale slopes, and the verdant wine terraces look like they have been carved from the hills. This is one of the most stunning areas in the Douro Valley, and must for anyone visiting the region for the first time.
If you want to try the most expensive vintage Port varieties, make sure you include Pinhão on your journey. And for guaranteed hot weather in the summer, you’ll love the small inland town of Vila Nova de Foz Côa. The surrounding area is known as the “terra quente”, which translates as “hot land” due to its scorching summer heat. Along the River Côa, there’s also a series of rock paintings and carvings that date back to the Upper Paleolithic period.
Parque Natural do Douro Internacional (one of Portugal’s thirteen natural parks) is worth a visit if you are interested in hiking or cycling. It covers several municipalities along the Douro River, and is home to fantastic wildlife, including 70 bird species.
For an unforgettable wine tour, be sure to include the city of Porto to your journey. It’s one of the best places for world-class wine cellars, wine-tasting events, and rustic wine bars that are steeped in history.
The Douro Valley has a continental climate, with summers that are hot and dry, and winters that can be cold and wet. The region’s three sub-regions of Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior all experience their own micro-climates to an extent. With the Douro Superior being known for having extremely hot summers, sometimes hitting 45°C (113°F). Compared to the coastal city of Porto, average temperatures can often be as much as 20°C (68°F) warmer.
The peak summer months are July, August and September when the Douro is at its hottest. If you’re interested in hiking or cycling, the most comfortable time to arrive would be spring (April to June) or autumn (September to November) when the weather is pleasantly warm. These are also good times to visit the beautiful vineyards and wine terraces.
Wine made in the Douro Valley can be divided into three wine-growing regions. Baixo Corgo (which is the Lower Corgo area) has extremely fertile soil and is much cooler and rainier. Further east is Cima Corgo, a sub-region that incorporates the well-known Port destination of Pinhão.
Cima Corgo is so vast that it accounts for a majority of the Douro’s wine, and is the heart of all Port production. Over 20,000 hectares are under vine, and many of the best brands root from here. The area isn’t short of quintas either, where locals still uphold their high ‘quality of living’ from world-class Port and healthy, organic food to match. And don’t forget to visit the town of Pinhão, where you’ll be able to try some of the finest vintages around.
Finally, there’s the Douro Superior sub-region, with over 10,000 hectares of vines, used much less for its grapes than the other two areas. The most famous wine in Douro is of course Port, of which there are a number of varieties. Small plantings of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah can be found, but it’s the indigenous grapes that make the Douro Valley so special. There are more than 80 in total, but the ones that you have to know about are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão.
The best Douro whites are surprisingly good too, with indigenous grapes such as Rabigato, Gouveio, Viosinho and Malvasia Fina being the front-runners.
If you’re planning on exploring the Douro Valley, there are some fantastic villas and spa hotels overlooking the river. Wine hotels and guesthouses are also extremely popular for those who want direct access to a vineyard or winery. Enjoy an exclusive wine experience and panoramic rooms at the Quinta Nova Luxury Winery House, or the perfect pairing of wine and luxury spa at Six Senses Douro Valley.
Some of the main bases include Peso da Régua, the pretty town of Lamego, and the small but charming Pinhão. Casal de Loivos and Provosende are both small hilltop villages with excellent views and are a short 15-20 minutes’ drive from Pinhão.
Another great base is the city of Porto, which can be enjoyed on a combined tour. Porto is home to some of the most stylish hotels, 5 star boutiques, and most charming historic properties. It also boasts an excellent café and drinking cultures, as well as some of the best places to eat.
Some of the best places to eat and drink are wineries or winery hotels in the Douro Valley. Food and wine is the region’s main draw, so you can expect the highest quality, the most creative menus, and the best possible service here.
If you’re looking for Michelin star restaurants, make sure you explore the city of Porto, where there are a number of award-winning places to try. But for true wine fans, nothing beats dining with views overlooking the wine terraces. Some of our favorite places for food and drink are the Conceitus Winery Restaurant in the Vila Real district and Vale Abraão Restaurant near Lamego.
Wine Paths designs luxury gastronomy holidays in Porto, the Douro Valley and further afield. Find out more about Portugal food and wine escapes from our local expert João.