A couple of weeks ago, I went to a country I have never stepped foot in before. Considering how close and accessible it is from London, how great the food and weather is, and its beautiful landscapes, it is a wonder that I’ve never visited before.
These were, for instance, some of the dishes that I ate…
And this was the view from my hotel room. Quiet, serene and stunning, it was the perfect 4 day getaway from London.
The Douro Valley is located in the northern part of Portugal, towards the east of Porto. As the name suggests, the region is made up of hills and valleys, with the Douro River running through it. The area it covers is fairly large, with many small towns dotted through it, the deeper inland you go towards Spain where the river starts. That being said, the region is blessed with a microclimate which means that olive trees, almond trees and vineyards grow in abundance on terraced steps on the hillsides.
It was a little difficult deciding where to set up base for the duration of my time, but I decided on a lovely spa hotel located right on the hillside overlooking the river. This meant staying in a pretty secluded area, with not much to do outside the hotel especially as I didn’t have my own car, but it did mean peace, quiet and a view to absolutely die for.
The nearest railway station to the hotel was Aregos. For a small station which didn’t seem to get a lot of traffic during the times I was there, it was wonderfully well maintained in a lovely, classic style.
One of the best ways to see the Douro Valley is to travel by train. The tracks run along the river and the train passes through acres of terraces and there’s not much you can do but marvel at the wondrous expanse of this UNESCO World Heritage designated site. It’s easy to get hypnotised by it all and before I knew it, 30 minutes had passed and I was in Régua.
I had about an hour to spare before my tour at one of the quintas (wine estates) in Régua, so I took the opportunity to walk around the centre of town. Régua is much larger that Aregos with shops, restaurants and a lot more locals milling about, so if you’re looking for a livelier place to stay, Régua would probably be a good bet.
After a nice walk by the riverside, I headed to the Quinta da Pacheca for a 1 hour tour of the premises. This quinta is fairly small in comparison to some of the others in the Valley, so their wines are only sold locally (at the moment). Though “small”, the estate is gorgeous with a casual outdoor seated area overlooking the vines.
The tour includes a talk on the wine making process, from vine to bottle, which led us to the cellar where the port and wines are left to age in wooden barrels.
The tour culminated in wine and port tasting which included some of their premier bottles. All in all, it was a pretty good tour and I’d recommend this, or a visit to one of the other quintas in the region to learn more about Douro Valley and its wines.
If you’re after a longer activity however, I would definitely recommend taking a river cruise. There are a number of options you can choose from, depending on how much time you’d like to spend on the river, whether you’d like lunch on-board and how far into the valley you’d like to explore.
I chose one of the longer options, where we started by travelling via train from Régua to Pocinho, before getting off and onto a ferry for the start of our boat trip. The weather started off a little cloudy, but the day was long and things cleared up right around lunch time, just as we were passing by the granite cliffs.
Travelling back to Régua, there were a number of dams and locks that we had to pass through. Apart from the waiting times at each of these locks, it was pretty much smooth sailing through the river, passing by the numerous quintas and their acres of land. Pinhão was also a super cute looking town we had to pass and one that I would love to explore if I ever make it back to Douro.
By the time I had reached my last day in Douro, I had travelled extensively by boat (over 8 hours!), train and car (from taking numerous cabs to get to and from the hotel). The only mode of transport left was foot, and so, for my last morning, I decided to go for a short hike. There’s a well-defined hiking path leading from the Aregos railway station up through the hills, passing by some traditional houses, buildings and churches. The walk under the morning sun was actually amazing and one that I’d recommend to anyone who has a couple of hours to spare.
This was a good end to my 4 day getaway, with the Douro Valley being a superb introduction to Portugal. If you’ve got a penchant for wine, port, seafood or stunning scenery, I’d definitely recommend paying the Douro Valley a visit.