The Douro Valley is a perennially popular Portuguese holiday destination that’s particularly enticing in autumn and spring. Visiting the various local vineyards is a great way to discover the diverse countryside, as well as learning about the history and culture of the region. There are regular direct flights to Porto from London, Paris, Madrid and other European cities, making it easy to visit this beautiful historic city, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. Fewer crowds, and comfortable temperatures at this time of year, make Porto an ideal city for strolling, taking in views and, of course, tasting the famous Port wine. Renowned for its beauty, the Douro River flows from Porto to the Spanish border.
The Douro Valley is famous for being the oldest demarcated wine growing area in the world. Back in 1756, the Marquês de Pombal ensured that the region was the only place that could legally produce port wine. A larger section of the region was also made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, for its 2000-year-old cultivation of grape vines, which has resulted in a landscape of outstanding beauty. The past 22 years have also seen an increase in popularity for the Douro’s very palatable red and white table wines. Driving through the Douro Valley, visitors will enjoy wonderful river views, valleys and gorges, pretty small villages, and a spectacular panorama of terraces covered in vines.
Many of the wine producing estates, or Quintas, offer tastings and tours and, out of the four villas we feature here, two produce their own wine, with the owners of all the villas being able to arrange vineyard visits for guests. We recommend expert Sommelier João Koehler who offers luxury wine guided tours for couples, or groups of up to 7 people. For those who want to visit vineyards independently, we can also recommend Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta do Noval, which is famous both for its production of port and its beautiful location, with terraced vineyards leading down to the river.
As well as winery visits and tastings, there are excellent restaurants to discover in the Douro Valley, ranging from smaller friendly restaurants offering typical Portuguese dishes, like Tasca do Zéquinha(a typical restaurant in Mesão Frio), to four-star restaurants, including the Six Senses Douro Valley restaurant. Other tried and tested restaurants include Douro Exclusive’s Casa do Arco, which specialises in dry-aging meat and their special Casa do Arco olive oil. More recommended restaurants include The River and DOC, which caters for groups of all sizes, from couples right up to 100 people for a special occasion.
Another suggested Douro Valley experience is a boat ride along the river. Based in Pinhão, Anima Durius offers a selection of boat cruises in an array of boats, from a motorboat to a beautiful yacht. It’s a wonderful, relaxing way to enjoy the scenery, with the option to arrange wine tasting lunches, as well as a beautiful guided tour of the Quinta. For those wanting to learn more about the history of the region, there is also the Douro Museum at the riverside town of Peso da Régua, located inside a former wine warehouse on the riverfront. One of the most popular and picturesque towns to visit in the Douro Valley is Pinhão, with its beautiful railway station decorated with 25 ‘azulejo’ tiled panels, portraying the landscape and vineyards.
Recommended villas:Villa Pinhão (4 bedrooms, 8 guests)Located just 1km from the pretty town of Pinhão, this villa also benefits from wonderful views over olive trees and vineyard terraces, which slope down to the River Douro. There is a floodlit infinity swimming pool with spectacular views over the valley, and the villa also has an indoor jacuzzi. Breakfast is included daily and a cook service is available on request. For other holiday extras, the villa provides a concierge service to make all your local arrangements and bookings, as well as a local mobile and tablet computer to use as a reference guide to the region. Those staying for one week or longer will also be offered a complimentary meal using local produce, as well as a visit and tasting at one of the Port-producing Quintas, and a two-hour boat ride on the river.
Vista Douro (6–12 bedrooms, 12-18 guests)Set on a high plateau, this large historic villa is on a wine estate, and benefits from outstanding views over the vineyards and Douro River. Dating from the 17th century, the villa retains its original charm and character, while adding modern comforts, and is ideal for a relaxing holiday for a large family, or a group of friends. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and terraces, there is also a swimming pool with wonderful vineyard and river views. Moreover, the property also has a gym, a snooker table and a traditional wine cellar – which can also be used for a special celebratory dinner on request. A buffet breakfast is included for guests. The Quinta produces its own table wines, which guests are welcome to taste during their stay, and a concierge can arrange bookings for restaurants and tours, as well as wine shopping and delivery, laundry service, airport transfers or a car with driver, and spa treatments.
Rio Torto (5 bedrooms, 10–12 guests) This villa is situated on an organic vineyard estate right at the heart of the Douro World Heritage Site. From its position on a high plateau on the banks of the Rio Torto (a tributary south of the Douro River), the property offers sensational views of the hills and vine-covered terraces. As a wine-producing estate, the owners here include a guided tour of the winery, as well as a tasting. The estate also produces olive oil for guests to enjoy during their stay, as well as fruit trees, with delicious seasonal fresh fruit. There is a swimming pool, and pool heating can be arranged on request. On arrival, guests will find a welcome hamper, and a meal for guests to heat-up and serve. On early mornings, three times a week, a small white van stops by with other local produce from the region such as fresh bread, eggs and fruit, which can be purchased if required.
Quinta do Pessegueiro (6 bedrooms, 10–16 guests)Beautifully designed, this villa is rated as one of the most exclusive properties in the region, sitting in an idyllic setting, with stunning views over the terraced vineyards and the Douro River. Visitors staying here can enjoy various local experiences, including mountain biking, hiking, wine tastings on the estate, and learning about the history and wine traditions in the region. A private picnic can also be arranged for guests on the riverside, or woodlands, as well as enjoying a four-course dinner with paired wines in theproperty’s wine cellar. Guests might also like to enjoy the views aboard the Quinta’s boat while wine tasting and sampling regional delicacies (prices start from €400 per person).