Almost every Porto visitor feels the lure of the River Douro, a blue ribbon that has brought port, fame and wealth to Portugal’s second city. The Douro valley – quiet and meandering – is labelled as one of the world’s most underrated wine regions.
For centuries, Rabelo boats brought barrels of port from the valley vineyards to Porto’s port houses, clustering on the cooler north bank of the Douro. They took advantage of the consistent humidity and cool temperatures to mature their port, before exporting their barrels and bottles to a waiting world.
The story of port pulls Porto’s visitors inland, through the Douro Valley, where dynamite is sometimes used to shatter the rock to plant the vines, towards the Spanish border.
Our Douro First Tour driver and his spotless Mercedes arrives at our hotel at 9 am to take us on a private tour of the Douro Valley. A region so beautiful and historic that it has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Soon we leave Porto’s traffic behind us and we start seeing the first vines growing on the hillside. They are grapes for wine rather than port. Strictly speaking, the true area demarcated as official port territory begins some 100 kilometres east of Porto.
A wide motorway sweeps us through those 100 kilometres to the Quinta Seara d’Ordens. As we head along the long drive to the farm house, our driver explains that as olive trees mature their bark takes on a white aged appearance. Looking out across the Quinta there is more than a touch of Tuscany to a valley of olive trees and vines.
Our guide for a tour of the Quinta is Jose Moreira. Since the 18th century family his family have cared for the six hectares of their Quinta. For decades, the Moreira family had grown grapes for others to make the wine and port.
Then Jose’s grandfather challenged the family to produce their own port and wine. Jose points to the small white family chapel, at the heart of the Quinta, where his grandfather’s funeral had taken place. He died content, knowing that his family had risen to the challenge. Jose, having just graduated from a viniculture degree from Villa Real, was continuing to take on the wine-making challenge.
“Often this is my breakfast” said Jose as he offered us bread and home-grown olive oil, “Portuguese breakfast,” he jested.
Then we moved onto wine and port tasting.
“The traditional way of crushing the grapes with your feet is best,” Jose tells us. “But too many people have left the countryside. We only have enough people to tread grapes for the best of the grapes, the ones we think will make a fine vintage,” Jose says a little sadly.
We drove onto lunch, stopping to take in a spectacular viewpoint. Like a thin blue ribbon, the Douro curves through a rocky valley whose sheer slopes are terraced for the vines.
Lunch is at Barros House, Sabrosa. It’s a beautifully restored 18th century house with vineyard views and a sheltered secret garden.
Our table for lunch is set within a concrete frame. Once grapes were trodden here. Now it is a unique setting for a lunch of stuffed peppers, salted cod, pork and an absolute winner of a dessert: a cognac cheesecake. Along the gastronomic journey there is a crisp white, a deeply plummy red and a majestic tawny port.
From lunch we snake down hairpins, through hectares of vines to the white-walled houses of picturesque Pinhão, a small town on the River Douro, that is home to some of the most renowned names in port.
After the Rabelo boats carried their last barrels of port along the river in 1965, the boats have been given a new life. They ferry passengers along some of the most spectacular stretches of the River Douro.
We begin the drive back to Porto. The consolation is that our route is along the N222, often called “The Most Beautiful Road in the World.” As we cruise along the road, high above the Douro, it is hard to dispute that claim.
The Douro valley fact file
For more information about the services and stop offs on the Douro Valley tour see: Douro First
Learn more about Michael’s Porto base M.Ou.Co. – the ideal base for a melodic tour of captivating PortoTags: Michael Edwards, Portugal, The Douro Last modified: April 25, 2022