Douro Valley may be Portugal’s best kept secret (yes you can thank me later!). Before I started my research to design a perfect Portugal itinerary, I had no clue about it. If you are also like me, then Douro valley is a demarcated wine region in northern Portugal which produces the famous Port wine. The Douro River runs right through this valley creating picturesque landscapes! There are several vineyards or quintas (locally called so) located here that offer a tour of their winery. Along with grapes, this region’s climate also supports olives and while it is not a major olive oil producer, the oil from this region is supposed to be super high quality.
The best (and only!) way to make the most of your day trip to Douro Valley from Porto is to book a wine tour. There are loads of tour companies and you should book one based on your preference– group vs private tour, wine vs wine+olive oil, large quintas vs smaller producers etc. We booked a classic group wine (95 EUR per person) tour with Jorge Matias of Jorge Barefoot. Since we were the only people that day (low season) it turned out to be a private tour. It was one of our most memorable travel experience and I would highly recommend booking Jorge’s tour. I had researched quite a bit and I chose this one because the group sizes will be small especially in Oct/Nov (Jorge has one car), the rates are reasonable and above all Jorge is a great guy who makes sure you have an authentic experience. Some private tours will charge an exorbitant amount as their itinerary includes lunch at a Michelin star restaurant but that didn’t appeal to us! Not that we don’t want to dine at a high-end restaurant but we preferred our trip to have genuinely local feel! So think about what suits you but make sure you book in advance in the high season.
How to reach there: Rail, road , water depending on which tour you book. There are short duration cruises also available from Porto and some tours also have a combination i.e. you can go via train and come back on boat. The train journey takes about 2.5 hours and is one of the most scenic rail routes in the world. The tickets can be booked from this site. We took the 7:15 am train from Campanha station in Porto which arrives at Pinhao at about 9:40 am. We then met Jorge outside his office which is a 5 min walk from the Pinhao station.
When to go: Temperatures in Douro Valley can be quite low in winters so I would avoid going between Dec-Mar when it can get rainy as well. We did this tour in November and it was quite cold on this particular day. Thankfully, it was not raining so we didn’t miss any of our itinerary items. The cruise can definitely get cancelled if the weather is rough.
Did I tell you its the most gorgeous train journey I have ever taken? I couldn’t stop staring outside. Once we got out of the train, we realized it is colder than Porto and we made quick stop at a cafe for some hot coffee. Our first stop for the day was a local wine and olive oil producer, D’Origem. A nice lady showed us around the old olive oil making factory and explained the process to us. We tasted some delicious olive oil and 3 kinds of wine along with honey and some nuts. Amongst the wines, Rose was the best. The view from the tasting room was amazing to say the least.
The drive through the valley during our entire tour was generally marked with spectacular views. We stopped at one particular vantage point Casal de Loivos to take pictures before going down to the pier for our boat tour.
We cruised to the interiors of the valley for an hour passing many quintas on the way and Jorge gave us a lot of information on the area and its people. It was a very beautiful cruise– the vineyards were full of fall colours! It was quite chilly during the cruise so make sure you pack warm jacket if you also land up there in November.
Our next stop was Quinta Do Infantado, a larger producer than D’Origem but still very traditional. We found their wines to be the most impressive. Moreover, they seemed quite passionate about their business and took great efforts to educate us about different kinds of port wines-Ruby, Tawny, Late bottled vintage and which wines to have with which course of the meal. We had a lovely home style lunch here and tasted wines during the different courses. Overall, we loved the intimate experience at this quinta.
Final stop for the day was Quinta Do Bomfim, vineyards belonging to the Symington family who have been producing port wines in this region since decades. They are one of the largest producers with brands like Corckburn, Dow and Graham’s under their wings. The quinta was quite pretty and the entire tour was very well orchestrated. Our tour guide spoke impeccable english and she explained about (through a video as well) the Symington family history and the different quintas they own. She also showed us the entire winemaking process. We tasted three different kinds- a ruby, a tawny and a late bottled vintage in a tasting room with a nice view. There are museums inside which talk about the history so visitors are welcome to walk around.
By the time we finished it was dark outside and we were in a ‘happy high’ state. We bought some pastries from the same cafe at which we had coffee in the morning to eat on our train journey back to Porto. We took the 6:20 pm flight back.
If you wish to stay rather than making a day trip, there are quintas which have hotels/bed and breakfasts and there are standalone boutique hotels as well. Though there are not too many and thats the best part– Douro valley is still relatively not touristy! We had a great day in Douro visiting three different kinds of wineries and enjoying the stunning views. We would someday come back to stay here!