Portugal’s scenic Douro wine region is legendary. For starters, it produces delicious wines – table wines as well as fortified port wines enjoyed around the world. The “Alto Douro” or Upper Douro has been growing wine grapes for over 2,000 years since its occupation by the Romans. It was also the first legally protected wine region in the world and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The spectacular landscapes and fascinating things to see, eat and do make the Douro a place for many unique experiences. Here are a few that we think are worth exploring.
1. Do a Port Wine Tasting
It’s hard to imagine a visit to the Douro wine region without thinking about port. After all, the Douro Valley is the only place in the world that can legally produce Port wine due to its Demarcated Region status. Just as “champagne” can only rightly come from the Champagne region of France, the port has its official residence in the steep hills and beautifully terraced deep valleys that dominate any view of the region. Port wine has a fascinating history. It is made with a mixture of grapes. During the fermentation process brandy is added which stops the process and improves the sweetness of the wine.
Port Wine Producers
There are plenty of choices when it comes to tasting port wines (or any wine) in the Douro. For delicious port wine tastings, Quinta do Noval, Quinta da Roêda and Quinta do Seixo are recommended places.
2. Stay in a Quinta
One of the best ways to get the full Douro experience is to spend a night (or more) at a quinta. A quinta in the Douro is an estate where you can enjoy accommodation and often tours, tastings and personal experiences with the owners. Some of the nicer quintas are run by the families who cultivate the vines. The warmth and hospitality are generous and genuine. The passion for winemaking comes through, and not only can you experience the phenomenal views of the landscape around you, but the comfortable accommodations and grounds of the quinta make you feel part of it all. Friendly people were instrumental in our move to Portugal.
Quinta de la Rosa
One of our favorite stays is Quinta de la Rosa, with peaceful views of the river and terraced vineyards all around. Cozinha Clara Restaurant pays homage to owner Clara’s grandmother with phenomenal dishes and optional pairings. You can sign up for a tasting and tour if you like to see how it all comes together.
3. Visit an olive oil museum
Luckily, the soil and conditions that make the Douro wine region so ideal for growing grapes also make it a great place to grow olives. Olive oil, or “liquid gold” as it is often called, comes from another intense and laborious process. You can learn all about the process by visiting the D’Origem Olive Oil Museum. Here you can see the equipment used to press the olives and produce delicious olive oil.
Dórigem Olive Oil Museum
During a visit to D’Origem, you can visit both the oil mill and the wine cellar. Learn about the olive oil and wine production processes of this family gem that has been working for generations. You will also enjoy a spectacular view as a backdrop.
4. Ride a boat on the Douro River
Watching the Douro River meander through the region’s canyons is an invitation to get closer. A great way to see incredible views and experience the Douro from a different perspective is to take a boat ride or river cruise. Many companies offer water excursions, ranging from short one- or two-hour trips to week-long cruises on a large riverboat. If you’re short on time, you can opt for a short rabelo boat ride, the traditional wooden cargo ship used to transport wine barrels. For a longer trip, river cruises on larger boats can last several days from Lisbon or Porto and even travel on the Douro to Spain.
Douro boat tour providers
Scenic Douro River boat tours can be private or shared and come in a wide range of durations, routes and prices. Ânima Durius, Douro Vintage Boat Trips and Cruzeiros Douro are three popular providers.
5. Pick and crush grapes at a Douro vineyard
The rugged landscape of terraced vineyards along the Douro is truly a wonder to behold. This is probably part of why the area has earned its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The innovation, dedication and history of this wine region – which produces not only the famous fortified Port wines, but also increasingly popular white, red and rosé table wines – are fascinating to see up close. Visiting a vineyard can be a matter of observation. But if you’re visiting during harvest season, which usually begins in September, and you’re ready to roll up your sleeves or pant legs, some also offer the chance to help with their harvesting chores.
Where to pick and trample grapes
If actively participating in harvesting at a vineyard sounds like fun, check out Quinta das Carvalhas, Quinta da Pacheca, and Quinta do Vallado for their harvest experience offerings.
6. Take a scenic train ride
The scenic Douro wine region can be seen in many ways. One of the most beautiful is in the process. If you want to visit the Douro from Porto, the Linha do Douro railway will depart from the beautiful São Bento station in Porto. There are different trains and connections so you can stop wherever you want before the last stop in the town of Pocinho. You can also start at any of the stops and complete a partial trip.
Historic Douro Steam Train
For something truly magical, a ride on the historic Douro train is just the ticket. With a steam locomotive design from the 1920s, the historic train runs on Saturdays and Sundays from June to October. It travels along the Douro River from Peso da Régua to Tua with a round trip of about an hour and a quarter each way.
7. Enjoy a wine pairing meal
We love to taste and explore the wine of Portugal. Wine can be enjoyed on its own, of course, but we love the experience of pairing it with food. And with so many great chefs and great places to eat in the Douro, we loved having a wine pairing meal. Since many wineries are small and family-run, there are plenty of wine-pairing dining options that will appeal to all tastes.
Aneto & Food And Wine Pairing Table
We had a memorable meal at Aneto & Table at Peso da Régua. The menus on the table offered suggested pairings for the different dishes and the helpful servers also provided more information on each. The family winery did not disappoint with creative preparations of high Portuguese dishes designed to show each wine pairing to its best effect.
8. Immerse yourself in nature at Douro International Natural Park
One of the country’s largest natural areas, the Douro International Natural Park is a stunning 86,500-acre landscape that also serves as the natural border between Portugal and Spain. There are steep gorges, dizzying vistas and plenty of opportunities for wildlife and bird watching including wolves, wild boar, golden eagles and peregrine falcons. The steep canyon is known as the European Grand Canyon, running along the Douro River.
Douro International Natural Park in bloom
While any time is a good time to visit the park, if you are able to brave a bit of cold weather in February or March, the park comes alive with color. The reason for this is that the almond trees are blooming and puffs of pink flowers are emerging to adorn the area. For even more fun, you can follow the almond blossom route for interesting towns and almond festivals.
9. Visit the stately home of Mateus
A look at the flask-shaped bottle of Portugal’s iconic Mateus Rosé wine sparks curiosity about the royal house depicted on the label. It turns out that not only is it a real place in the Douro town of Villa Real, but it’s also a place you can visit. Casa de Mateus features a wealth of history, art and artifacts. It also includes a chapel and beautiful gardens. Far from being a fashion of yesteryear, selling three and a half million cases worldwide in the 1970s, Mateus Rosé still today sells 20 million bottles a year in more than 120 countries.
Events at Casa De Mateus
While exploring Casa de Mateus in itself is a wonderful treat in the Douro, the house also hosts many fun and interesting events. Concerts and shows, seminars, exhibitions and even horticultural workshops are among the many offers.
Expert advice for discovering the Douro
The Douro wine vineyards are numerous but they are not necessarily close to each other. You probably won’t go ‘skipping vineyards’ through several in one day. Do a little homework ahead of time to decide where you’d most like to visit, then plan to spend at least one night to ensure you’re able to get a good idea of what makes the Douro Wine Region scenic in Portugal so special.
To learn more about Portugal, check out these articles: