Gold by name and nature, the Douro Valley is a sun kissed spot in the north of Portugal, just perfect for a weekend getaway. As one of the oldest wine regions in the world, it is a haven for gastro gurus, offering world class dining at traditional quintas and exquisite wine tasting tours at its famed vineyards. Staying at the Six Senses Douro Valley, luxury travel expert, Jules, spent the weekend drinking in the charm of the region.
The main aim of my trip was to spend a few days relaxing at the Six Senses Douro Valley, and exploring the surrounding area. However, it seemed a shame to miss out on spending a couple of nights in the charming city of Porto, staying at the city’s ‘wine hotel’; the Yeatman. Each room is sponsored by a Portuguese wine producer, it hosts a Vinothérapie spa and an onsite wine museum, complete with the world’s largest wine cork. From the hotel, you can enjoy the many bike and walking tour options available in the city to soak up its historic highlights. Alternatively, you can take a day trip to local vineyards for wine and port tastings, followed by lunch or a boat cruise on the Douro River. After all this activity, relax on the Yeatman’s amazing terrace, drinking in the views of the city’s eponymous port, and the magical night sky over the surrounding rooftops.
So, is Porto all about port? Frankly, I found that besides the hallowed tipple, there were some very interesting wines and gastronomic experiences on offer. With this in mind, we headed off into the Douro Valley proper to explore more of this charming countryside.
The drive to the Six Senses Douro Valley is quite painless now the new AutoRoute has been completed, and the journey from the airport only takes about an hour and twenty minutes. Beautiful countryside flanks the road until you turn off into the grounds of the hotel, arriving at an oasis of peace overlooking the Douro River.
We had dawdled en route, so by the time we arrived, the sun was beginning to lose its fierce heat. We sank into the cool of the June evening as shadows lengthened across the grounds before being ushered- and for a Quinta Suite, you can only be ushered- into our wonderful room. We immediately decamped on the stone balcony looking out over the incredible view. I was lucky enough to look at most of their suites which are all lovely and quite different from another, from Douro River views, panoramic vistas over vineyards or sweeping views from balconies overlooking the beautiful forest.
First things first, we had been invited to the General Manager’s Friday wine tasting in the Wine Library and Terrace, and fell in love with the space, the wines, tapas and cheeses on display. Aware of our dinner reservations at the onsite Vale de Abraão Restaurant on their terrace, we paced ourselves, sampling various reds and whites, nibbling on the various canapés and watching the obvious enjoyment of all the guests chatting and mingling with each other. For those wanting to escape the outside heat, there is an Open Kitchen and Dining Room but we loved sitting outside as the dusk fell, dining off their regional Portuguese cooking and local wines.
If you do not feel like a full dinner you can choose from a selection of charcuterie, cheeses and tapas, all washed down by a glass of their local wine either in the Quinta Bar, on the Terrace or tucked away in a corner of the Wine Library. Anything goes here and it is a welcome change if you have been out all day and simply want a snack. No charge for the magnificent sunsets!
One thing I had not known was that the Six Senses Douro Valley is famous not only for its holistic and medicinal spa, but also its special sleep programme. In a bid to help you break old habits and enhance your sleeping patterns, they hope to introduce you to a ground breaking sleep standard. We certainly needed no more than their wonderful local wines, a sky full of stars and their fabulous beds, which are hand sourced from Devon and surely one of the most amazing beds I have ever slept in.
Under the expert eye of Spa and Wellness Director, Javier Suàrez, the spa is a truly special place. It comes complete with an indoor lap pool housed in a glass conservatory, saunas fixed at different heat for different experiences, saunas and steam rooms infused with fresh herbs and oils to aid relaxation, and every type of machine in their state of the art gym. Treatments vary from hypnotherapy and wellness evaluations with their incredible practitioners to yoga and meditation in their revolutionary ‘Somadome’ pod where you can train your mind to relax with the help of a personalised programme. Defy gravity with a spot of aerial yoga or unwind in a woodland nest hanging from the branches of tall blue cedars and pines.
There are so many therapies here and it is a true spa in every sense of the word, rather than just somewhere to go and have an aromatherapy massage. This is a place where they pride themselves on changing your habits to achieve a happier and more balanced lifestyle through meditation, diet and well being.
To find out more about the Six Senses Douro Valley Spa, enjoy leafing through the pages of their brochure here.
Waking to another cloudless day, we breakfasted again on their lovely terrace and what a breakfast it was. There was everything you could imagine or wish for, plus a whole charcuterie, ham and cheese room set up in one of the cellars, a chef on standby cooking the most deliciously fresh fare, setting the benchmark for the perfect poached egg. Wafers of the most delicious crispy bacon that melted in your mouth accompanied one of the most perfect creations I have ever seen. Add their amazing pressed juices, fruits, pastries and freshly baked bread and more and you can see why breakfast was a total triumph. Our morning’s indulgence became quite the concern, as we had booked into the Michelin Star restaurant, DOC, made famous by its chef and owner Rui Puala, later that day.
And what a magnificent meal it was. Worth the short drive through such beautiful countryside and the amazing river views. Course after course of the most delicious dishes arrived. The tasty food combinations were so exquisitely structured and surprisingly light, and all were paired with interesting and elegant wines suggested by the sommelier.
It was late in the day when we returned to bask in the late afternoon sun by the wonderful pool whilst debating how on earth we were to manage dinner in Terroir that evening. Of course by the time we had showered, had a glass of wine on our own lovely balcony and enjoyed a last sunset on the terrace we were ready for a late last meal by the pool at their new farm to table vegetarian restaurant. The combinations on the menu seemed to be anything but vegetarian, it was just the ticket after a huge lunch. Satisfying, fresh and inventive. All served in the most perfect setting under the stars, watching the moon come up over the Douro Valley.
Unfortunately Sunday arrived all too soon after another wonderful night’s sleep. Embarking on yet another fabulous breakfast, we earmarked the day to lie by the pool, ignoring the plethora of daily activities on offer at the hotel which are all complimentary. We ignored the hiking trails down to the river across their wonderful land. And studiously ignored the bikes and paddle tennis court. And even ignored the boat trip up the river to see the terraces of Douro Superior. We could have busied ourselves all day, both on the water or on land, but for us, a day by the pool was just fine! After a leisurely lunch by the pool and an hour and a half drive back to Porto, we boarded the 7.15pm BA flight back to London feeling rejuvenated, Six Senses style.