The Douro Valley is Portugal’s major vineyard and winemaking region and the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. The Douro River runs through the valley and the terraced hillsides create a feast for the eyes and a sense of wonder as you try to imagine maintaining and harvesting the plantings on what look like treacherous inclines.
In the spring and summer, the hillsides are verdant. In the late fall, when we visited, vine leaves were orange and yellow, and some of the hillsides appeared more burnished than lush but were still incredibly beautiful.
Many visit the Douro Valley as a one-day driving tour from Porto. Others take the train. Some tours include a boat ride on the Douro River to view the vineyards and quintas (farms or estates) from below.
We rented a car in Porto and drove to the Douro Valley, staying four nights way up a hill in a little house with views to Pinhão down below. Our top tip, if you will be visiting the area when the weather could be an issue and can afford the time in your schedule, is to plan at least two or three nights in the region. We were happy staying for four. One of the days the area was completely engulfed in clouds from the river to hilltop. Had it been our only day there, we would have seen nothing. Clouds filled the valley for two of the remaining three mornings. Though our house was above the clouds in the sun, had we been driving in the valley and looking up, our views would have been stopped where the clouds began. Once the clouds had dissipated, we had gorgeous weather with unfettered vistas as we explored the region.
Many of the quintas offer wine and port tastings and various other packages (for example, picnics in the summer). Most require reservations. We opted, instead, to take road trips and see as much of the area as we could since we were there for the beauty of the region (and to taste ports by the bottle throughout our time in Portugal).
From Porto, our first stop was for lunch in Peso de Régua. We needed to purchase groceries for our four-day stay and, had we been more diligent, we would have stocked up there. The town also houses the Museu do Douro (though we didn’t visit it).
From Peso de Régua, it’s about 30 minutes to Pinhão, the heart of the Douro Valley and the station location if you’re arriving by train. We thought this would be a great place to purchase groceries. It worked, but the shopping is limited to a small grocery store and a few specialty shops so we had to be a bit creative in our meal planning.
From Pinhão, we backtracked a little, crossing two bridges to get to our AirBnB turnoff, which was easy to spot since it is also the turnoff for Quinta do Seixo, the Douro Valley headquarters of Sandeman’s winery and vineyards. We climbed up and wound our way to Valença do Douro, then climbed some more to our little village in the sky.
We used two sources (see details in TripBits, below) to guide us on our road trips. For the first outing, we drove back down into Pinhão, and headed north to complete a clockwise circle (we had already covered the west leg of the tour on our way into the valley). (Tips: There’s a nice grocery store at the top of this route, and a good washroom facility just before the turn for the Miradour de São Salvador do Mundo.)
For our second road trip, we again headed into Pinhão and headed north, but then completed a counter-clockwise circle back through Peso de Régua. We added a detour down to Lamego before returning home.
It was incredibly difficult to choose just a few photos as we experienced so many jaw-droppingly gorgeous views. The Douro Valley is a truly beautiful place.
- Car rental: Through KLM partner KLM Cars (cartrawler), we booked a standard transmission mini car (received a Fiat 500) from Porto (pick up) to Caldas da Reinha (drop off), no insurance (covered by our credit card), for 13 days for €251.64.
- Driving route links:
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