BY ROGER VOSS
You will fall in love with the Douro. Northern Portugal’s claim as the most beautiful wine region in the world is supported by the grandeur of its landscape and wines. Hewn from schist mountainsides like unpolished granite, the steep-terraced vineyards rise above the majestic Douro River’s ribbon of water far below. For centuries, its remoteness—the journey on twisting, cobbled roads—made it hard to reach. Today, it’s easy. Even so, this is a place where neighborhood dogs sleep in the village streets and the annual cycle of the vines seems timeless. Sit on a terrace in the evening, a glass of white Port and tonic in hand, and listen to the distant, mournful hoot of the evening river train. The land is calm, and calming.
Where to dine
Eat at DOC, between Pinhão and Peso da Régua, the winemakers’ hot spot for celebrated modern cooking. The Douro wine list is impressive. Arrive by river if you want—there’s a boat dock. On the riverfront in Peso da Régua, Douro In is popular with wine locals for its modern interpretations of classic Portuguese dishes. For a friendly welcome and traditional family food—especially fresh fish and chicken—head for Ponte Romana near Pinhão’s old bridge.
Where to stay
Quinta do Vallado Wine Hotel is run by the descendants of the 18th-century grande dame of the Douro, Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira. Stay in the renovated historic manor house or in the 21st-century wing. For classic home cooking, stupendous Douro views and a great art collection, try Casa do Visconde de Chanceleiros on the hills above Pinhão. Romaneira Quinta dos Sonhos, a Relais & Châteaux property, is the ultimate in luxury. The aim is total relaxation: no phones, cell phone reception or TV, but there is public Wi-Fi.
Where to taste
Sandeman’s winery and award-winning visitors’ center at the Quinta do Seixo wine center offers an atmospheric venture into Port wine production, including tours of the open lagars (fermenting vats). Keep an eye out for the Sandeman Don. Afterward, enjoy tastings in the modern bar with views over the river. There’s a family-style welcome at Quinta do Crasto after a twisting, sometimes scary, cliff-hugging drive. Climb up to the chapel for a dramatic view. Fonseca’s Quinta do Panascal sends you into the terraced vineyards with an audio guide (stout footwear recommended). Visit Panascal’s restaurant or taste on the terrace overlooking the torrent of the Távora River after the walk. A short drive up from the Douro Valley is Quinta do Portal, a beautiful, modern, family-owned winery where you can visit, taste and dine. But don’t limit yourself to these suggestions: Stop along the way at any quinta, and make sure to taste the Douro table wines as well as the Ports.
When to go
March–June for almond blossoms, wild flowers and budding vines; September for harvest.
Famed for its Port wines, the Douro also offers redoubtable red table wines. Rich and powerful, they vie with the wine world’s top selections. Still, no one goes to the Douro without tasting Port. Naturally, every option is here, straight from the quinta—a Port lover’s heaven. Try the late-bottled vintages (LBVs), vintages, the tawny variations (golden-brown from aging in wood for 10–40 years) and the rare vintage-dated colheitas—there’s no experience that can compare to tasting a Port older than you are. All the Port and table wines are products of some of Portugal’s finest native grape varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca are among the best.
Take a picnic to the chapel of São Salvador do Mundo near São João da Pesqueira. Enjoy the best Douro River views down almost vertical slopes.
Quinta de la Rosa’s co-owner, Sophia Bergqvist, takes the train along the Douro through vineyards, villages and the moon-like granite landscape from Pinhão to Ferradosa. “At Ferradosa, you can walk to a small restaurant with beautiful views over the river and feast on some great traditional food,” says Bergqvist.
The Foz Côa prehistoric rock-art site in Douro Superior features 20,000-year-old rock carvings interpreted by clever guides. The Côa Valley Archaeological Park is remote and arid. Carvings, long a part of shepherd gossip, were recognized in the beginning of the 1990s when it was to be flooded for a dam. Make reservations for four-wheel-drive tours.
Roger Voss on Wine Enthusiast