When we think of the Douro, the idea of wine immediately comes to mind, as we are talking about the oldest demarcated wine region in Europe, officially created in 1756.
Not everything is wine, however, in the Douro. Although this has been the economic support of the region for centuries, it is worth remembering that we are talking about a region that is a UNESCO world heritage site. OK, even so, it is because of the wine, because all that scenery of terraces overlooking the Douro River and a secular system of cultivation of the vineyard that the region deserved the distinction of UNESCO. For this reason, the Douro is a region of exceptional beauty, to whom hardly anyone is indifferent, mainly because it is different from all other wine regions you know.
Besides wine, what other things can you do in the Douro? The best thing to do is to book with a tour operator, for a very simple reason: you can hardly go to the Douro and not drink wine. It will be good to have someone to drive for you and, especially, someone who knows the paths well. Contact our reservations team, through firstname.lastname@example.org. They will have the best solution for you. But what if you dare to go to the Douro on your own? What to do?
We leave here a short list of the 5 things not to miss in the Douro.
#1 Drive the EN222
What is so special about this national road, besides being considered, in 2015, as the best road in the world to drive? This road connects Vila Nova de Gaia, south of Porto, to the border with Spain, at the eastern end of the country, but the part that matters to us is that which connects Régua to Pinhão, the center of the region par excellence. There are about 20 Kms of road along the Douro where the pleasure of driving is combined with the beauty of the natural landscape. An indescribable feeling. And believe me, I do that almost daily in high season and I never get tired of driving there. In 2015, Avis created a contest to choose the best road to drive in the world and came up with a formula that combines surrounding natural beauty, 10 seconds in a straight line and 1 second in a curve. You can't go to the Douro and not drive or be driven here.
#2 Short cruise in the Douro
Right at the end of the route of the best road to drive in the world is the village of Pinhão, a picturesque and historic place, surrounded by the best wineries. From here, you can take a cruise on a typical rabelo boat, once with the function of transporting Douro wine down towards Porto and today converted into touristic boats. For an hour you may sail in the heart of the Douro, in a truly wonderful surrounding landscape where natural beauty blends with human intervention, in total harmony. There are several options to choose from, all at very attractive prices and any one of them will provide a memorable experience.
#3 Viewpoint of S. Cristóvão do Douro
You already know that the Douro is about wine but there is much more. What makes the difference between the Douro and the other wine regions in the world is the presence of an important river at its core, but also a landscape of altitude and rugged relief, which provides stunning and striking views. In the municipality of Sabrosa, a couple of hundred meters above the picturesque village of Pinhão, there is a viewpoint that offers breathtaking views over the Douro and the mouth of the Pinhão River, a tributary of the Douro. Follow Pinhão towards Sabrosa and cut right at the sign that says “S. Cristóvão do Douro ”. You will understand immediately where you have to stop. Other places with magnificent views are the viewpoints of Galafura, Casal de Loivos, São Domingos and S. Salvador do Mundo.
#4 Walking in the vineyards
We said that we wouldn’t include wine, but that doesn’t mean that we do not include the vineyards, where the wine comes from. Walking in the middle of the vineyards and understanding the different types, the different grape varieties, the state of ripeness of the grape, while the calm and comforting sound of nature surrounds us, is something you cannot miss. Many of our customers come with this idea in mind, for the memorable experience it represents. Many of the estates have specific tours and charge a small fee for a guided tour or an audio tour of their vineyards. Others, the smaller and more traditional ones, do not have an absolute rule in this regard and it is a pleasure and an honor for them that visitors have an interest and walk around in their vineyards.
#5 Eat locally
Speaking of northern Portugal and not talking about gastronomy is like “going to Rome and not seeing the Pope”, as a traditional Portuguese proverb says so well. The gastronomy of northern Portugal, and especially of the mainland regions, such as the Douro, is rich in flavours, aromas and traditions. If the presentation stands out, due to the delicious look that makes us grow water in our mouths and due to the abundant quantity, the flavour is something that is impossible to describe and only by tasting will we be able to discover for ourselves - and in the best way - all this wealth. Many of the wineries offer lunch, or even a picnic, on their farms, but there are plenty of places around the Douro, from the most refined to the more regional and traditional ones, where good food is the daily reality. Cabrito (young goat) and bacalhau (cod fish) are among the most popular dishes, but you’ll find out there is much more on offer, including sweet and rich desserts.
Our Douro tours provide any of these experiences described here, with the advantage ofbeing able to taste Douro wines and Port wine, while an experienced tour guide will be incharge of guiding you and driving you comfortably and safely. A day full of experiences thatwill certainly last in your memories.
Make your reservation here now and benefit from a 15% discount.
Nowadays most people with any minimal knowledge of wine would know that champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France. Perhaps a bit more surprising is that the same is also true of port. Port only comes from Portugal, more specifically, the Douro Valley region in the north of the country. There is no such thing as Argentinian, South African or any other type of port. Perhaps also surprising for many people is that, depending what information you read, Portugal is the 7th, 9th, 10th whatever largest producer of wine in the world. Brits, Americans and others are often surprised by this fact. “Oh! How come we don’t see that much Portuguese wine in the shops?” Well, of course, you do because Port is wine! It’s not a liquer, it’s not a spirit. It’s wine…..fortified wine! In the Douro Valley they will tell you that there are two types of wine and it’s not red and white but port wine and table wine, table wine being anything which is not port, ordinary wine if you like.
Port production goes back hundreds of years, we can’t really say how far back. No one is going to say that port was invented in a specific year. And production of table wine certainly goes back to Roman times or even longer. What we can say for certainty is that in 1756 the Douro region became the first region in the world to be officially demarcated for wine production with specific boundaries, rules and regulations to control quality. Certainly by that time the drink port, as we know it, existed though not necessarily with that name.
So what is fortified wine? Basically, excatly what it says on the tin……….ordinary wine fortified, made stronger, by the addition of a strong spirit, loosely a type of brandy with a 77% alcohol content. And why fortify the wine? Perhaps the most popular story is to make the wine easier to transport to England. England has had a long standing trade with Portugal reinforced by the Methuen treaty of 1703 but it is said that with such a long journey by boat from Portugal sometimes a second fermentation would begin and the wine would not arrive in best condition hence the fortification. However much of this is true the story of port involves far more than this. It was certainly appreciated her in Portugal long before the English started having transport problems with Portuguese wine.
Don’t think that making port is just a simple case of adding the brandy to the wine. If that was the case everyone could do it at home! It’s a bit more complicated than that but to put it simply you start off by making wine in the normal way but instead of letting the fermentation continue to the end and having a wine of, say, 13%, the fermentation is carefully monitored and when it reaches 7% the brandy is added, killing the yeast and stopping fermentation. Wine at 7% plus the right quantity of brandy spirit of 77% creates port with an alcohol content of about 20%. Simple? Well in principle it sounds it! And that’s before we start to talk about the diferente types of port. Traditionally port was/is divided into two categories; tawny and ruby. Commercially, white port appeared on the scene about 100 years ago and since 2008 to some purists’ disgust we now have rosé port! Try it and decide for yourself! That’s just the easy bit. Then there’s Vintage Port, late Bottled Vintage, 10 year old tawny, 20 year old tawny, Crusted port, Colheita and much more. To go into the diferences and details here would take up a lot of space. Suffice to say it’s fascinating.
And what of the Douro Valley where it is all produced? Well, don’t just take my word for it. Most Portuguese will tell that it is one of the most beautiful parts of their country. Since 2001 much of the valley and its tributary valleys have been designated by UNESCO as a world heritage region though not necessarily because of its beauty (and it is beautiful) but because of the way the landscape has been created/altered because of the wine industry. Throughout the centuries, row upon row of terraces have been built according to different techniques. Add to this the dozens of small, predominately white, villages and hamlets clustered around an C18th church and you have a quite unique, beautiful, unforgettable landscape almost exclusivley devoted to the production of wine. As so many visitors have said to me “I knew it was going to be beautiful but I never realised it would be this beautiful!”
Written by an EFun Tour guide
Steve Williams, an ex-pat living in Portugal over 20 years!
Steve, an ex-pat, came to Portugal once, and never left, meanwhile 20 years had passed! He's an english teacher that we all wanted to have...Under his guidance you'll have the best experience ever!