If you have ever considered exploring Portugal’s wine country, you should head to the Douro Valley. The River Douro begins in the northern Portuguese city of Porto and runs 557 miles to the Spanish border. As the river winds through the countryside, it is bordered by stunning landscape that takes your breath away. This is the Douro Valley of Portugal. Made up of terraced vineyards, port wine producers, and breathtaking views, a trip to the Douro Valley should be on everyone’s Portugal itinerary.
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What You Need to Know about Touring the Douro Valley
The Douro River Valley is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. Farmers have been cultivating the rocky schist terroir for over 2000 years, creating rich, sweet red dessert wine called port. It is the only region in the world that can legally produce “port wine”.
We enjoyed sampling the country’s beloved port wine in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Porto, but it was worth the trip to see the steep slopes and beautiful landscape of the Douro in person.
Should I explore the Douro Valley by boat or car?
Many travelers explore the Douro Valley via a boat trip, but it’s also possible to explore the Douro Valley from Porto in a car. If you are prone to motion sickness, a Douro River cruise might be the best way to go as the roads through the valley are winding. We took a tour planned by Epic Travel who created a custom itinerary for our Douro Valley vacation. We would highly recommend them if you’re planning a trip to the region.
Should you want to book a full-day tour of the wine estates, we would recommend hiring a local guide. We took a day trip exploring Douro Valley wine region with LAB Portugal tours. Our driver Miguel was truly, “the best driver in the world”.
Traveling by car allows you to visit the vineyards of your choosing, stop for photo opportunities (there are spectacular views of the dramatic landscape everywhere), and find a nice spot for lunch.
It’s best to have someone else driving, as the wine tasting can leave you a bit tipsy. We find hiring a driver preferable to the river cruises that take days to explore the Douro region.
Note: There is a Douro Valley train that runs from Porto to Régua, and a few will continue on to Pinhão and Pocinho. Pinhão is the most popular stop where you can take a boat ride on the river and sample wine at one of the cellars within walking distance.
What is the best time to visit Portugal’s Douro Valley?
As with many destinations, the best time tends to be the shoulder seasons: April to May and September to October. June to August is the busiest time for river cruise companies, bringing crowds you probably want to avoid.
Note: The weather in the Douro Valley can be unpredictable. In early October we had sunshine, rain, and fog. There were days that were perfect for t-shirts while others needed a rain coat. Those wishing to see the grape harvest in the Douro Valley should aim for September and October. Fall offers colorful changing leaves and cooler temperatures along with smaller crowds.
Which types of wines are produced in the Douro Valley?
Northern Portugal is known for its traditional port wine, but that’s not the only wine produced in the region. The Douro wines cover everything from light white wines to deep reds, and everything in between. Some of the most common grape varietals are: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, and Malvasia Fina. Typically, wines are a blend instead of a single grape.
Which vineyards should I visit in Douro Valley Portugal?
There are dozens of wineries to explore in the Douro. We recommend booking a Douro Valley wine tour. Let LAB Portugal Tours plan your day, and you will not be disappointed. They can customize a vineyard road trip to suit your needs.
As we departed Porto for our Douro Valley tour we drove along winding roads bordered by steep hillsides, manor houses, small villages, and grape vines on terraced plateaus. These are truly some of the best views in Portugal.
Must visit Douro vineyards
Quinta Dos Murças is a unique vineyard in the Douro Valley in that it is home to the first vertical vineyard in the area (before this, vines were only planted horizontally on terraces).
Our Douro Valley winery tour at Quinta Dos Murças showed us the wine production and gave us an opportunity to learn about the rich history of the property. Through the years, this estate slowly replaced some of their port grapes with grapes used for table wines.
It was fun to learn about the estate’s wine production and see grapes soaking in giant baths before they become wine. We enjoyed a tasting on this lovely property before heading on.
Our next stop was for lunch at Ventozelo Hotel & Quinta, a wine estate with a restaurant, wine bar, accommodations, and tastings. We enjoyed a lovely lunch with a spectacular Douro Valley view and sampled a variety of wines with our lunch.
Afterwards we made our way to Quinta da Gricha, home of Churchill port wines. We were lucky to find them at the end of their harvest time and watched grape stomping in progress during our tour of the property. The accommodations are lovely with gardens and a swimming pool.
This was one of my favorite port wine tastings in Portugal, and the white port shouldn’t be missed!
Our final stop of the day was Quinta do Panascal, home of Fonseca porto. They have a lovely patio overlooking the Távora River. I was a fan of Fonseca before this trip, and the samples at the vineyard did not disappoint.
When we were finished, Miguel drove us to our accommodations for the night, Douro41.
Where to stay in the Douro Valley Portugal
We spent two nights in the Douro Valley and visited three different hotel properties. If you do not take a Douro river cruise, it’s definitely worth take a quick sight-seeing tour on the river. More details on that below.
Douro41 Hotel and Spa
This property is the perfect destination for a family to choose as a home base during a stay in the Douro. Located about 45 minutes from Porto, this hotel has everything families need. There’s a common area with a movie projector, pizza making classes, and a game room with snooker and board games for kids.
Rooms feel similar to a river cruise ship, with beds facing the floor to ceiling windows looking out over the water. Beds and bathrooms are very spacious so families will be comfortable.
Adults and kids alike will love the Raiva restaurant for unique and flavorful Portuguese cuisine. There’s a spa, weekly market with local vendors, and an infinity pool. You’ll never want to leave.
Douro41 is happy to arrange a variety of activities for families, from hiking to paddle boarding to canyoneering. An active family will love a stay here.
Six Senses Douro Valley Hotel
Six Senses is one of the most popular hotels in the Douro Valley, and with good reason. The elegant hotel is a refurbished 19th century manor house with stunning views over the river and valley. Every detail of the hotel is absolutely perfect, from the outdoor spaces to the elegantly designed Uber-spacious suites. It’s quite possibly one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever visited.
Some of the Six Senses highlights include: a hotel dog (Aqua, I’m obsessed), an alchemy workshop (we made our own bath scrub), a Wine Library with wine and olive oil tastings, an organic garden, and a fabulous restaurant, Vale de Abraão. The restaurant has an open kitchen, and the dishes they prepare are true works of art. It was one of my favorite meals of our trip.
This property is extremely family friendly, although not all families will feel comfortable here because it focuses on food, wine, and wellness. Personally, I would save this property for a couples trip, or a trip with older children.
The Vintage House Hotel
Located in the village of Pinhão, the Vintage House Hotel has an enviable location overlooking the Douro River. This is where we took a boat cruise on a Rabelo. This boat was the traditional way they used to transport port wine from the Douro to Porto. It was a quick one hour tour and the perfect way to see the valley from a different perspective.
Vintage House has a very British feel to its decor, and while the common areas are very cozy, the rooms are in need of updating. The rooms are very clean with lovely balconies overlooking the river.
The property offers a lovely welcome port on their gorgeous outdoor patio, and there’s an amazing swimming pool that kids are sure to love. Dinner at the Rabelo restaurant was delicious.
I would highly recommend booking a Douro Valley tour through Epic Travel. They organized our driver and accommodations in the Douro Valley. This is one region of Portugal you don’t want to miss.