Douro Valley Holiday Guide
At Douro Valley’s westerly point, PORTUGAL’S second city Porto is your perfect starting point to explore the world’s oldest wine-producing region. The valley stretches from the Atlantic to the Spanish border in Northern Portugal, and the river its lifeblood. It boasts three UNESCO-protected regions, including Porto’s riverside barrio of Ribeira, with its Medieval streets and waterfront cafés, plus the key to the area: the Alto Douro Wine Region. Enjoy Porto’s soaring Sé (cathedral), its cloisters adored with azulejos painted tiles. Further east, religious worshippers head to the pretty town of Amarante, to touch the tomb of São Gonçalo.
At vibrant Porto, explore the warren of narrow Medieval streets of Ribeira, its pastel-coloured facades overlooking the River Doura, stopping to take photographs on the double-decker iron bridge, Ponte Dom Luis I. Across the river, the little town of Vila Nova de Gaia is the place for a tasting tour at one of many port wine lodges. Afterwards, you can gaze down at the jumble of rooftops, where the companies’ names are written in huge letters, as you ride in the Teleférico de Gaia cable car. Visit the spectacular prehistoric open-air rock art at the Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley, a 26km site dotted with thousands of carvings of animals on exposed rock faces
Eating & Drinking
One of Porto’s favourite dishes is tripas a moda do Porto – tripe stewed with spicy sausage. Taste it with caldo verde soup and bacalhau – Portugal’s famous dried salted cod – in the medieval Cais da Ribeira, where a busy collection of restaurants and bars line the waterfront. Try the hip, renowned DOC restaurant in Folgosa to lunch on contemporary fusion Portuguese cuisine, overlooking the Douro river and its terraced vineyards. For an after-dinner drink, admire the carved cherubs, Flemish mirrors and Belle Epoque style of Porto’s century-old Majestic Café.Relaxation [H2]
The region has enjoyed a long history of trading. Not just Porto, at the mouth of the river that has given the region its lifeblood as a trade route, but also evident in the extravagance of gold used to adorn churches, paid for by successful merchants. Wine culture developed as far back as the Roman period, where stone tanks and cellars are evident in archaeological sites. But it was from 1757 when the Upper Doura became the world’s first regulated wine producing region. Since the 1970s, and the formerly fast-flowing Doura was dammed, the vineyards became terraced, giving them the striped appearance of today.
Porto’s two-tiered Mercado do Bolhão rings out with the lively sounds of local fishwives hawking to sell the catch of the day; there’s also fresh fruit and household goods sold at this lively indoor market. A fine bottle of youthful ruby or aged tawny port will doubtless be on any oenophiles’ shopping list, which you’ll be tempted to buy after tasting on a tour of a port wine lodge. You’ll find Portuguese ceramic sold everywhere, with ornately painted azulejo tiles, and the ubiquitous Barcelos cockerel.
Relax on a boat trip along Rio Douro, where you can kick back and gaze at vineyards and quintos (rustic farmhouses) as you drift by along the famous wine route. Find peace and quiet in Porto’s many churches. The gothic São Francisco literally dazzles with a Baroque interior created from over 200kg of gold; look out for the intricate Tree of Jesse sculpture on the north wall. In Vila Real’s Palácio de Mateus – the grand palace adorning labels of Mateus rosé wine bottles – explore its beautifully landscaped gardens, dotted with elegant statues and a peaceful reflecting pond.
Arts & Culture
Porto’s arts and cultural scene is lively and varied. Fundação Serralves is one of Portugal’s leading cultural organisations, part of which is Álvaro Siza’s minimalist Museu de Arte Contemporânea, hosting contemporary art exhibitions by well-known artists. Enjoy a classical concert at the 12-storey Casa Da Musica, another contemporary architectural dazzler and a prestigious concert hall, with two auditoriums holding regular performances by the Orchestra National de Porto. Palace and museum Casa-Museu Guerra Jinqueiro, dating back to 1730, was built in memory of poet and writer Guerra Junqueiro, with a collection of religious art and ceramics.
Nightlife & Entertainment
At Vila Nova de Gaia, take in the river views from cafes and bars while sipping a glass of local port. For a cool Atlantic breeze, relax at Porto’süber cool Praia da Luz restaurant and lounge, with a heated terrace and sofas facing the ocean. Porto’s waterfront Ribeira district couldn’t be more contrasting – a hub of lively bars and best neighbourhood to hear fado singers. You can’t get much more Portuguese than this; a melancholic, nostalgic song by just one singer accompanied by an equally melancholic guitar or mandolin.
At the historic spa town of Chaves, people have come from far and wide since 1899 to sink into the hot therapeutic waters, said to cure ailments from head to toe. The dramatic Parque Natural do Douro, a protected nature reserve, spans a broad expanse along the Douro river and forms the border between Portugal and Spain. Bring your binoculars – it’s home to a rich variety of wildlife, including wolves, wild boar, plus over 170 bird species. The colours of the Douro valleyare magical year round, from blossoming almond trees in spring, to russet tones of ripening grapes in autumn.