Discovering the Douro Valley
09 May 2018
The Douro Valley is the beating heart of Portugal’s wine growing region. Rolling vineyards are studded with charming quintas, wonderful hotels and historic port houses, making it the perfect destination for foodies and nature lovers alike. Europe expert, Emma, tells us where to stay in this beautiful corner of Iberia.
Our trip began in Porto with a stay at the luxurious Yeatman Hotel. Our spacious room was simply, but stylishly decorated with several pieces of antique furniture and had a wonderful outdoor terrace with views of Porto’s beautiful old city just across the river. Each of the rooms at the hotel has been named after a particular brand of Portuguese port or wine (ours was Dow’s Port), to reflect the strong heritage and key industry of this area, and the reading material and some of the artwork in each room reflects this too; a bottle of Taylor’s Port was even left in our room besides our water jug!
The most scenic route across the river to the old town is to take the cable car to the upper level of Porto’s iconic iron bridge, and walk across, enjoying the views up and down the river. It is certainly worth spending the best part of a day exploring everything that Porto’s charming old town has to offer. Wander through the narrow streets, with their colourful, tile-fronted facades, and seek out the ornate churches, public buildings and cathedrals. When you’ve seen your fill, stroll down to the river front for refreshment at any of the bars, cafes and restaurants lining the bank.
No stay in Porto would be complete without a visit to one of the town’s many port warehouses which populate the Yeatman’s side of the river. We stopped at the Taylor’s Port warehouse, located just opposite the hotel, for an audio tour and tasting session. This particular warehouse has strong links with the Yeatman, Mr Yeatman himself being a prominent figure in the Taylor’s Port business, and we enjoyed a fascinating hour learning all about the methods of port making and the origins of the company, before sampling some of the wines ourselves.
From Porto, we drove inland, deep into the heart of the Douro’s wine-producing region, heading for Quinta Nova, a beautifully restored farmhouse set within its own estate and attached to a working winery. Our scenic drive took us through hills covered with vineyards and olive groves, and as we headed off the motorway, the roads became narrower and more circuitous as we followed the contours of the slopes.
With only 11 rooms, and set well off the beaten tourist track, Quinta Nova is the perfect place for a peaceful and restful retreat. Enjoy long summer days and barmy evenings sitting by the pool or out on the vine-covered terrace, looking out over the vineyards and olive groves and down to the sparkling river below. If you can tear yourself away from the pool, it is certainly worth experiencing the tour of the winery, and if you visit at harvest time, you can even get involved in picking the grapes themselves. Since our stay at the hotel was not during wine-producing season, we were unable to see the machinery in action, but we did enjoy an extremely informative wine-tasting session to sample some of the local produce. For a wine experience with a difference, you can even try your hand at blending your own wine, which you can then either enjoy with dinner during your stay, or take home with you.
Dinner at Quinta Nova, like everything else about this property, is a very personal affair. Guests are given the choice of 2 main set menus, which change daily, each of which has been created and put together by the hotel’s talented kitchen staff. In this way you can be sure that your dishes have been cooked using ingredients fresh that day, and you are encouraged to try new dishes and combinations that you might not otherwise have experienced. There is also the option to have your wine chosen for you, with a different local bottle paired with each course, to fully complete your dining experience.
Besides the food and wine, and the beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces offered by this property, Quinta Nova is also superbly positioned as a starting point for many walks through the surrounding vineyards and villages. Bikes can also be hired through the hotel, either mountain or road, so that you can explore a bit further afield if you choose.
After spending some time reconnecting with nature and enjoying the rustic charm of Quinta Nova, we then made the short drive upstream to our final stopping point, the Six Senses Douro Valley, for a truly luxurious and regenerative end to our trip. The Six Senses Douro Valley is an outstanding spa hotel with panoramic views overlooking the river from many of its rooms and from its beautiful outdoor pool area and terrace. Besides its many wonderful spa treatments, all of which use products made from natural ingredients grown in the hotel’s organic garden, the property is also actively involved in several local schemes aimed at protecting the environment and promoting sustainability. The food served at the hotel’s restaurants also reflects this, and locally grown, organic produce, features heavily on its fresh and delicious menu.
During a stay here, it is certainly worth taking a couple of hours, or even a full day, to get out on a private boat trip along the river to get another perspective of valley’s shores, and to see how the banks change to become steeper and more dramatic as you start to move even further upstream. If you do decide to spend the day on the water you can choose from lunch on board, provided by one of the best restaurants in the region, or to stop off for lunch at one of the quintas along the shore. Upon returning to the hotel, head to the spa for a pampering treatment, or relax with a drink from the stylish wine bar out on the terrace, and reflect on the fabulous memories that you have made whilst here in Portugal’s Douro Valley region.