For all my raving about Porto, Portugal, I may even love the Douro Valley more! Referred to generally as “the Douro,” the Douro Valley is a valley northern Portugal; yes, the one that borders the greater Porto area and the one in which the famous porto grapes, eventually make port wine, are grown. The Douro River (the same river that splits Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia) runs through the valley and its flanked with tiered vineyards and lots of greenery! In short, its one of the most stunning places that I have ever seen!
As you can see from this map, the Douro Valley covers quite a bit of land, however, for tourists purposes, there are very few proper towns in the Douro Valley. If you are traveling throughout the Douro on your own, you will probably drive from vineyard to vineyard with the very occasional stop in a town.
The lack of large cities in the Douro Valley make the Douro great, but it can also make it difficult to navigate/find gas. Both times that I have visited the Douro, I have taken a guided tour with a tour company our of Lisbon, and in my opinion , a guided tour is one of the easiest ways to visit the Douro Valley! This time around, I went with the upmarket Douro Exclusive tour company, and my experience was nothing short of fabulous. Disclaimer – I have also done a very similar with a less exclusive tour company and the tour was almost just as enjoyable!
This time around my tour started with a pick-up in a luxury Mercedes van outside our Airbnb. Our English speaking tour guide gave us some information regarding the Douro on our drive out of Porto. About an hour later, we stopped at what must be the most beautiful view of the Douro Valley, and I say this not just because it was beautiful, but because we stopped there on my previous tour as well! Definitely do not forget a camera when visiting the Douro!!
After snapping some pictures, we made our first stop at Quinta da Pacheca! Quinta da Pacheca is an old, prestigious winery that dates back to the 1700s. Quinta da Pacheca produces port wine and regular wine, and, fun fact, it also sits next to grounds owned by Sandemans. Be sure to look for the Sandemans famous mascot – The Don!
Even if you are not on a formal tour, many visitors stop at Quinta da Pacheca because its so well known! Our visit to Quinta da Pacheca started with a tour of the wine production process and the barrel room. Our guide, a Quinta da Pacheca employee, was very knowledgable and answered all of our questions!
After the tour, we did outdoor tasting of about four wines, both table and port. The wines that we tasted were excellent, and we ended up bringing one bottle home ! We probably would have purchased more, but Quinta da Pacheca ships (reasonably) to the US.
Post Quinta da Pacheca, we moved on to the part of the Douro Exclusive tour that I was most looking forward to, lunch at DOC!!! Actually, lunch at DOC was the driving force behind booking such an expensive wine tour. For those unfamiliar, DOC is a Michelin-starred restaurant perched on the banks of the Douro River. I had always wanted to eat here, but I did not want to make the drive out and back just for food. Enter: Douro Exclusive.
At DOC, we enjoyed a four course lunch with unlimited (seriously, unlimited!) on DOC’s deck stunning deck. As you can see from the pictures, we were extremely lucky with weather on our visit! I will save the “meat” of our DOC lunch (no pun intended!) for another post, but here are some sneak pictures! Seriously, please do not miss this restaurant in the Douro.
After a very leisurely lunch, we drove a short distance to a port wine producer for a very quick tasting of two port wines (we overstayed at DOC). For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the producer! In any case, the view to the vineyard was absolutely stunning!!
Our last of the day (actually the last stop on both Douro Valley tours that I took) was a cruise down the Douro River! The boat tour starts in Pinhão and lasts about an hour. Most tour guides bring some homemade port wine to enjoy on the tour. Be sure to bring your camera, as the views along the boat ride are absolutely stunning! Pro tip – bring your bathing suit as you can jump in if its warm!
After the boat ride down the Douro, we made the 1.5 hour drive back to Porto. As on my last Douro Valley tour, most people slept for the majority of the drive!
Take away. While these tours are expensive, navigating the Douro on your own can be difficult and if you are tasting, kind of dangerous. The roads are certainly not of highway highway quality and some of the turns are pretty tight. If you can swing it, these tours are generally worth the money and many upscale operators will make specific stops if you request it! If you do decide to travel on your own, be sure to plan out your day in advance and be sure that you have a map that is well marked with towns and your destinations!
STEAL OUR TOUR
Douro Exclusive: We took the Douro Exclusive Gold Experience, which included everything above and was quite luxurious. The cost was €190/person but I think it is a worthy splurge given everything that is included in the tour.
Cooltour Oporto: I took the Douro Tour, at 90€/person. This tour followed almost the exact same schedule at Douro Exclusive, except it went to less known vineyards and a standard restaurant. However, I do think that Cooltour offered more wine. This tour also sells via Viator.com (at a bit of a marked up price).
DOC: Cais da Folgosa, Estrada Nacional 222, 5110-214 Folgosa, Portugal. Open daily 12:00 – 15:00 and 19:30 – 23:00. Reservations should be made in advance here. DOC also has a sister restaurant, DOP, in Porto if you cannot make it to the Douro!
ON A BUDGET
I do not recommend visiting the Douro on your own if you are on a budget; its too big and spread out, and renting a car (especially an automatic in Europe) is not exactly cheap. I would splurge on the Cooltour. The tour is good value and includes a large lunch and lots and lots of wine! Alternatively, I would call hostels in Porto and ask if they are running a tour to the Douro! That is probably the cheapest option.
Finally, there is a train from Porto’s old train station to Pinhao, but you will miss much of the Douro’s charm and amazing views by taking the train!