Driving up the Douro

Crossing Over
Peregrination in Porto

All the port you buy anywhere in the world comes from Porto. And all the port in Porto comes from vineyards in the Douro River valley. A day tour of the valley seemed like a very pleasant way to spend a day, and the promise of several wine and port tastings didn’t influence our choice at all. The Douro is the oldest wine region in the world. In 1756 the region was demarcated, establishing it as the only place that port wine (a favourite with the British) could be produced. The valley produces not just port but also some of the best wines in Portugal.

Because we had booked an Airbnb, we kept getting emails from them about activities in Porto. In the past I have always ignored those emails, but one –“Wine Venture & Boat Trip in Douro Valley” – caught my eye and I checked it out. I have never seen so many positive, glowing reviews, and the price was lower than other tours we looked at, so we took the plunge and booked. I will say, the reviews were spot on (check them out here) and I highly recommend this tour if you find yourself in Porto.

The fun started even before we met our tour guides. The meeting point was outside McDonald’s, so that’s where we had breakfast. Now I know what you’re thinking – “McDonald’s?? They couldn’t find somewhere local to eat?”, but this is not just any McDonald’s. Known locally as McDonald’s Imperial, it is housed in the former Art Deco Imperial Cafe, and many of the original features of the old cafe were retained. Interesting tidbit – Portugal is the only country where Maccas has soup on the menu.

The tour was not in a bus but 2 large cars (bonus points for that!). In our car were the 4 of us, our driver/guide, Filipe, and a young Canadian couple, so it didn’t feel like a tour at all. We hardly saw the people in the other car except for the first wine tasting stop.

We drove up through the misty valley (it was winter, after all), till we reached our first stop, the small town of Pinhão, which is the geographical centre of the Douro Valley, and surrounded by port wine estates. We stopped at the pretty train station, which is decorated with azulejo tiles depicting images from the region.

In Pinhão we visited Quinta da Foz. Quinta is a Portuguese term for a farm or estate. We were given a crash course in wine-making, and showed through the facility. The process is still very manual, from the grape harvesting to treading out the grapes in large vats. Then the wines are bottled and sent down river to Porto to mature. We were there in winter, so there wasn’t much activity, but we enjoyed our tour very much. Quinta da Foz is a relatively small, family owned holding, about 20 hectares, of which 10 Ha are 80-year-old vines and the rest are olive groves.

After a short walk from Quinta da Foz, we boarded a small boat for a 1 hour cruise on the river, enjoying the scenery, a bit of wildlife and the serenity. About 10 minutes into the jaunt, the driver opened a compartment and pulled out some snacks – no ordinary snacks, but beautifully prepared canapés and an elegant carafe of port. No wonder people rave about this tour!

I think we would have been happy if the day ended there, but there was lots more to come. We drove for about 45 minutes through stunning scenery, including a photo stop at a lookout, to reach Quinta do Monte Travesso for lunch. This is a family run farm, and we were greeted warmly and treated to a delicious home cooked lunch of typical Portuguese fare – Caldo Verde (Portuguese Green Soup), roast pork with vegetables and for dessert a sweet pasta dish called Aletria. The farmhouse itself was old and atmospheric – the dining room felt like a medieval great hall (albeit a small one), and the people so genuine. It really felt we were guests in their home, not an organised, paid for event.

After a leisurely lunch and a tour of the estate, we drove back to Porto, happy and full. By the end of the day we all felt like old friends, chatting in the car and even singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody together. A really fun day, and the reviews were spot on. . Well done BL Heritage Tours.

2 thoughts on “Driving up the Douro

  1. Definitely convinced now that Portugal is my next destination. I have been wanting to go to Portugal for years and this is such a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing. And I will look into the BL Heritage Tour you took. Stunning!

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