From Porto it is easy to take a trip into the Douro Valley – whether it is just for a single day or an overnight trip. You have the choice between going by car, train or taking a tour / river cruise on the Douro. Whatever you decide on, it is straightforward, and you will find the breathtaking Douro Valley just a few hours’ drive or boat cruise from Porto.
Visiting the valley by car will give you the opportunity to stop at the small villages and quintas (wine estates) you come across along the Douro River, which meanders through the picture-postcard vineyards. In case you have flown to Porto, you may want to rent a car to enjoy the freedom of moving around at your own pace.
Another mode of transport is to jump on the train that runs through the Douro Valley right next to the river, covering the distance from Porto to the most beautiful part of the valley. There are several stations along the way where you can stop for a night and some scenic sightseeing before the next leg of the train journey. The stations to stop at include Régua and Pinhão. Another option is to take an organised tour into the world-famous wine valley – probably a good option if you have limited time and want to experience all the best of the Douro Valley in one single day.
Finally, a very special experience and spectacular way to explore the Douro Valley is by river cruise.
Most river cruises start and end in Porto, Portugal’s port wine city. You can go on a cruise through a landscape of lush, terraced vineyards and idyllic villages. As you set out from Porto, little by little the city and its docked Rabello boats vanish and the green riverbanks take over, introducing the cruise passengers to the port wine’s homeland.
The further you move into the valley, the steeper and more stunning the riverbanks and vineyards become. Occasionally you will spot orchards of fruit trees, as well as terraced olive trees in the countryside. There is a long way to go if you want to cover the full distance from Porto to the interior of Spain along river road. This trip requires a waterway border crossing, as well as the passage of a handful of locks. The adventure is nearly endless as you can combine the Douro cruise with excursions into both Portugal and Spain.
Nevertheless, covering a shorter distance is also possible. You can for instance do just the stretch from Pinhão to Tua – or reversely, focusing on the grape-producing vineyards, the port culture, and the local history of the region.
Whatever trip you engage in, it is a great experience to stay locally at one of the wine estates, or quintas. There will be many options if you have a car at your disposal to drive up the mountain roads and reach the coolest villages and vineyards. At some of these places you may be able to take a guided tour in the vineyards and gain some insight into the vinification process – and, not least, taste the very best port drops!
An ideal location just off the Douro River is the area between Mesão Frio and Peso da Régua. After climbing up the narrow mountain roads with numerous hairpin turns, you will arrive at the mountain village Oliveira. One of the amazing places at Oliveira is the Casa d’Alem – an old stately farm, now a bed and breakfast-style venue with an amazing infinity pool, providing the guests with magnificent views of the surrounding terraced vineyards stretching down the hillsides into the valley, as well as the pretty village church. The setting here is really perfect to enjoy a glass of the local port!
Casa d’Alem dates to the the beginning of the 19th century and consists of a main building, the old pigsty and other side buildings, even including a chapel, an orchard of olive, pear and lemon trees, vine, and a vegetable garden. The owners are self-sufficient in fruits and vegetables from the property. However, most of the original, surrounding vineyards have now been sold off. The interior of the rustic house is packed with antiques and church relics in the form of angel figures, crucifixes and even a fine copy of a handmade hardcover book in Latin.
A stay here is also the ideal opportunity for a hike in the spectacular vineyards up and down the traditional terraces – maybe before visiting one of the local quintas for some more wine tasting!
After a picturesque drive along the Douro River, where wine terraces climb the hillsides, you will arrive at Peso da Régua, located 120 kilometres upstream from Porto and picturesquely backed by the mountains. This is one of the historic towns along the Douro River, once inhabited by the Romans and at the time named Villa Reguela.
It is easy to reach Peso da Régua whether you arrive by car, boat cruise or train, since there is both a quay and a train station. It was here that the special flat-bottomed boats, Rabelos, were loaded with barrels of port wine in order to transport it downstream to Porto’s wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia. From here it was traded and exported to the whole world. Today you can still see these boats along the river at Vila Nova de Gaia.
Peso da Régua expanded in the middle of the 18th century when the port wine industry and production took off! In Peso da Régua you can now visit the Douro Museum, housed in a former warehouse, to gain some more insight into the Douro region’s old wine culture and history. Another noteworthy landmark is the Casa do Douro which is the headquarters of the Trade Union Federation of the Douro Wine-Growers. The town is today one of the main towns for port wine tasting along the Douro River.
At the foot of the slopes, even deeper and steeper into the Douro Valley, is Pinhão, likewise backed by the stunningly picture-postcard mountains. That is also one of the renowned winegrowing towns along the Douro River and another location with plenty of wine-tasting options. It is here that the grapes for the world-famous port brands are grown, brands such Graham’s, Croft, and Taylor’s.
If you arrive by train, you will immediately catch sight of the beautiful railway station with painted tiles, or azulejos, depicting the traditional winemaking, as well as the landscape as it looked before the five dams were established. The train journey from Porto takes slightly more than two hours – and a bit less by car.
Around Pinhão there are numerous wine estates you can go to for wine tasting and a tour into the vineyards. The landscape around Pinhão is absolutely scenic – in general, the further you get into the valley, the steeper the terraced vineyards – and the more breathtaking the views are.
Douro Valley Local Stay or Douro River Cruise
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Douro River Cruise – Douro Portugal