The literal translation of Rio Duoro is ‘river of gold.’ This beautiful river has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 2001. The Duoro Valley felt quite wild and untouched, yet it is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The roads are long and winding and the valleys are vast. As we drove through the landscape, I felt as though we were seeing a place, despite its reputation, that had not yet been pillaged and developed for and by tourists. The local Portuguese people were living their lives in the hills, as I imagine they always have been.
The best thing to do in the Duoro Valley is find a beautiful “Quinta,” meaning country estate, and base yourself there. There are a number of quintas scattered through the valley, some are closer to Porto and some require a decent drive (see below for recommendations on where to stay).
The old towns are beautiful, many crumbling, some abandoned. They are framed by terraces which are improbably steep, luscious and run all the way down to the water. It must be one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world.
The grapes grown on the steeply rising banks of the Duoro have been providing legendary port wines for centuries, and now their table wines are winning international awards too. The grape varieties will likely be unfamiliar to most, so get going and get tasting. This is really why you are there, so make sure to plan some vineyard visits into your itinerary, and even better, just stay at one.
Touring the vineyards is a treat. Many estates feature historic homes in dramatic locations. At most of them, you can visit and taste. In some, like mountaintop Quinta do Popa, or picturesque Quinta das Amendoeiras you can join the harvest, even crush the grapes, old-style by foot.
We had a wonderfully relaxing time – apart from a couple of hairy moments on the windy roads! But by far the best thing we did was visit a small family run Quinta one rainy evening for dinner. I was drawn to the Quinta de S.Bernardo after seeing they had a farm-to-table menu. As it turned out, it wasn’t just a vineyard and a restaurant but also a beautiful boutique hotel, and in fact this is where I would stay were I to go back. We met the lovely young owner and his wife who had taken over the family business and were still up at 11pm when we left, busily working away and sending us off, clearly passionate about what they were doing.
GETTING TO THE DUORO VALLEY
Aside from driving, I’ve read that another great way to see the Duoro is to take a boat ride from Porto. I can’t comment on this as I didn’t do it, but perhaps a nice way to see the area if you have limited time. There is also a train that takes three hours from Porto to the end of the Douro line at Pocinho.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE DUORO VALLEY
Aside from Quinta de S.Bernardo which I highly recommend, other great places to stay include:
- Quinta Nova
- Morgadio da Calcada
- Solar Egas Moniz
- Quinta do Gato
- The Wine House Hotel
- Quinta dos Murças
- Quinta do Vallado
- Vidago Palace
- Six Senses Douro Valley
- Quinta do Portal
- Quinta de la Rosa
- Casa De Casal De Loivos