Portugal’s picturesque Douro wine country is legendary. To begin with, it produces delicious wines — table wines as well as the fortified port wines enjoyed all over the globe. The “Alto Douro” or High Douro has been growing wine grapes for over 2,000 years since when occupied by the Romans. It was also the first legally protected wine-growing region in the world and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The spectacular scenery and fascinating things to see, eat, and do make the Douro somewhere to have many one-of-a-kind experiences. Here are just a few of those we think are worth exploring.
1. Do A Port Wine Tasting
It’s hard to imagine a visit to the Douro wine country and not think of port wine. After all, the Douro Valley is the only place in the world that can legally produce port wine because of its status as a demarcated region. Just as “champagne” can only rightly come from the Champagne region of France, port has its official home in the beautifully terraced steep hills and deep valleys that dominate any view of the area. Port wine has a fascinating history. It is made with a blend of grapes. During the fermentation process, brandy is added, which stops the process and enhances the sweetness of the wine.
Port Wine Producers
There are lots of choices when it comes to tasting port wines (or any wines) in the Douro. For delicious port wine tastings, Quinta do Noval, Quinta da Roêda, and Quinta do Seixo are some recommended spots.
2. Stay At A Quinta
One of the best ways to get a full Douro experience is to spend a night (or more) at a quinta. A quinta in the Douro is an estate where you can enjoy accommodations and often tours, tastings, and personal experiences with the proprietors. Some of the most enjoyable quintas are run by the families that tend the vineyards. The warmth and hospitality are generous and genuine. The passion for winemaking comes through, and not only can you experience the phenomenal views of the landscape around you, but the cozy accommodations and quinta grounds make you feel part of it all. Friendly people were instrumental in our move to Portugal.
Quinta De La Rosa
One of our favorite stays is Quinta de la Rosa, with peaceful views of the river and terraced vineyards all around. The restaurant Cozinha Clara honors the owner’s grandma Clara with phenomenal dishes and optional pairings. You can sign up for a tasting and tour if you like to see how it all comes together.
3. Visit An Olive Oil Museum
As luck would have it, the soil and conditions that make the Douro wine country so great for growing grapes also make it a great place to grow olives. Olive oil, or “liquid gold” as it is often known, comes from another intense and laborious process. You can learn all about the process by visiting the D’Origem Museum of Olive Oil. Here you can see the equipment that is used to press the olives and produce delicious olive oil.
Dórigem Museum Of Olive Oil
During a visit to D’Origem, you can visit both the oil mill and the wine cellar. Learn about the processes of producing both olive oil and wine from this family gem that has been working for generations. You’ll also enjoy a spectacular view as a backdrop.
4. Ride A Boat On The Douro River
Watching the Douro River as it winds through the canyons of the region is an invitation to get closer. A great way to see incredible views and to experience the Douro from a different perspective is to take a boat ride or river cruise. There are many companies offering trips on the water from short 1- or 2-hour journeys to week-long cruises on a large river boat. If you are short on time, you can choose a short ride on a rabelo boat, the traditional wooden cargo boat that was used to transport barrels of wine. For a more extensive journey, river cruises on larger boats can run for several days starting from Lisbon or Porto and even traveling on the Douro to Spain.
Douro Boat Tour Providers
Picturesque boat tours on the Douro river can be private or shared and come in a wide range of durations, itineraries, and prices. Ânima Durius, Douro Vintage Boat Trips, and Cruzeiros Douro are three popular providers.
5. Pick And Stomp Grapes In A Douro Vineyard
The steep landscape of terraced vineyards along the Douro is truly a wonder to behold. That is probably part of why the region has earned its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The innovation, dedication, and history of this wine region — which produces not only the famous fortified port wines, but increasingly well-received white, red, and rosé table wines — is fascinating to see up close. Visiting a vineyard can be an observational affair. But if you’re visiting in harvest season, usually starting in September, and are willing to roll up your sleeves or your pant legs, some also offer you a chance to help with their harvest tasks.
Where To Pick And Stomp Grapes
6. Take A Scenic Train Ride
The picturesque Douro wine country can be seen in so many ways. One of the prettiest is by train. If you want to make a visit to the Douro from Porto, the Linha do Douro Railway will start off from the gorgeous São Bento station in Porto. There are various trains and connections so you can stop where you like before the final stop in the town of Pocinho. You can also get started at one of the stops and take a partial journey.
Douro Historical Steam Engine Train
For something truly magical a ride on the Douro historical train is just the ticket. With a steam engine locomotive design from the 1920s, the historical train runs on Saturdays and Sundays from June through October. It travels along the Douro River from Peso da Régua to Tua with a return trip taking about one and a quarter hours each way.
7. Enjoy A Wine Pairing Meal
We love tasting and exploring wine from Portugal. Wine can be enjoyed on its own, of course, but we love the experience of pairing it with food. And with so many great chefs and excellent places to eat in the Douro, we just loved having a wine pairing meal. Since so many of the wineries are small and family-run, there are numerous opportunities for wine-pairing meals that appeal to every taste.
Aneto & Table Food And Wine Pairing
We had a memorable meal at Aneto & Table in Peso da Régua. The menus on the table offered suggested pairings for the various dishes and the helpful servers also provided more information about each. The family-owned winery didn’t disappoint with creative preparations of elevated Portuguese fare designed to show off each wine pairing to its best effect.
8. Dive Into Nature At The Douro International Natural Park
One of the largest nature areas in the country, Douro International Natural Park is a stunning landscape of 86,500 acres that also serves as a natural border between Portugal and Spain. There are steep gorges, soaring vistas, and numerous opportunities for wildlife and birdwatching, including wolf, wild boar, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons. The steep canyon is known as the European Grand Canyon, running along the Douro River.
Douro International Nature Park In Bloom
While any time is a great time to visit the park, if you are able to brave a little bit of chill in February or March, the park comes alive with color. The reason is that the almond trees bloom and puffs of pink flowers emerge to adorn the region. For even more fun, you can follow the Almond Blossom Route for interesting towns and almond festivities.
9. Visit The Majestic House Of Mateus
One look at the flask-shaped bottle of the iconic Portuguese wine Mateus Rosé sparks curiosity about the regal home pictured on the label. Turns out that not only is it a real place in the Douro town of Villa Real, but it is also a place that you can visit. Casa de Mateus displays a wealth of history, art, and artifacts. It also includes a chapel and beautiful gardens. Far from being a fad from bygone days, selling three and a half million cases around the world in the 1970s, Mateus Rosé today still sells 20 million bottles a year in more than 120 countries.
Events At Casa De Mateus
While exploring Casa de Mateus in itself is a wonderful Douro treat, the home hosts many fun and interesting events as well. Concerts and performances, seminars, exhibits, and even horticultural workshops are among the many offerings.
Pro Tip For Experiencing The Douro
The vineyards in the Douro wine are many but they are not necessarily near one another. You will not likely go “vineyard hopping” through several in one day. Do a little advance work to decide where you might most like to visit, then plan on spending at least one night to ensure you are able to get a good sense of what makes Portugal’s picturesque Douro wine country so special.