When you think of Douro, you think of wine… But this wonderful region in the North of Portugal is a lot more than just wine.
We are very grateful to our Dear Friends for showing us around and teaching us to “drink and eat” the spirit of the region.
We Drink & Eat Douro = Bebemos e Comemos Douro
View this post on Instagram
Bebemos e Comemos Douro
Douro is a short name for a big region located along the river Douro, flowing through the Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro region in the Northern part of Portugal. It is also the oldest demarcated wine region in the whole wide world.
Douro river is the highest-flow river of the Iberian peninsula.
And yes, Douro is best known for its wine – Port wine and non-fortified wines. Yet Douro valley is also a very unique place that boasts of the vibes that can’t be found elsewhere.
Tranquility of Douro Region
Partly for its landscape, partly for the wine (vinho) all around you, Douro is the only place that we’ve been to so far that is… completely silent. Whether we were standing on a top of a hill or strolling along the river, we had a feeling of an absolute calm and serenity.
View this post on Instagram
It is a very unique state of mind and a very special type of feelings that overwhelm you with joy and yet… complete tranquility.
Schist and Wine – Xisto Influence
The air is different, too. It is dryer and has a distinctive smell coming from the schist (xisto) – a medium-grade rock that you will see everywhere in Douro. It is great for exteriors, interiors, trails and, what we’ve agreed, a pavement in front of a garage to increase traction of tires when it rains. This may be helpful for those garages that are located above or below the main level of a house.
There are some debates whether schist affects wine flavor (there is plenty of schist at vineyards), and here is one of them. But our own feeling is that it does… Here is why. When the sun shines bright, it warms up the rocks just as anything else. The rocks start to give back the heat they’ve got from the sun and a result – influence grapes on the slopes. There is no way this whole phenomenon doesn’t influence the quality and flavor of the wine. Perhaps, this is why Port wine can only be made in Douro and nowhere else in the world?!
Douro Wine Quintas
There are many wine-growing estates (quintas) in Douro. Some are bigger, such as Sandeman and Pacheca, and some of them are smaller. But they are all united with one common thing – their love to wine and perfection in wine making.
Each estate has a wine tasting room and a little shop. And you are more than welcome to visit their premises to explore the area and enjoy the wonderful views that open up. Everywhere you look you will be able to see an everyday miracle: our dear Mother Earth giving life to plants that give the finest wine you can possible think of after being treated with love and care by people passionate about what they do.
Standing up high and listening to the silence, you can hear this miracle loud and clear – it fills your soul, heart and mind with what was has been missing there and lets you walk away refilled and inspired. Douro valley is a true doc of your inner state of mind.
DOC or DOP
Douro wine has DOC classification, meaning it has the highest classification possible in Portugal (unlike Italy, where DOC is the second best after DOCG). There are 31 DOCs in Portugal, and they are all worth a dedicated exploration.
DOC / Denominação de Origem Controlada = Protected Designation of Origin
At Pacheca, they have all of the Douro grapes lined up with the names of each in front of the grapes. This was particularly interesting to see because every time we buy a bottle of wine in a store, we can see the types of grapes used on the back of the bottles. Many Douro wines are made of at least three types of grapes: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. We found all three. Note how each has a slight difference visually?
You can see how Moscatel looks there, too:
Our friends picked us up at 10:30 in the morning. The road was really nice and not crowded. We’ve got to admit, sitting in the back of a car is quite a unique feeling (not sure when was the last time we sat in the back). It was very relaxing.
The whole ride took us around an hour and a half. Yes, it’s possible to travel to Douro by train or even a river cruise but be mindful of time as that can take you a lot longer to reach Douro.
But no matter which transportation you choose, you will get the perfect idea of how and why Douro differs from other regions in Portugal.
Miradouro de São Leonardo de Galafura
Our first stop was the Miradouro de São Leonardo de Galafura. It is a very picturesque place where you can have a bird eye view over various wine fields. It has a wonderful viewpoint that lets you appreciate the scale and amount of work being done every year.
The place is calm and beautiful. If you take some food from home, you can have a snack there sitting on the rocks. That’s what we did!
Our second stop was the town with the name of Régua. You will find many cafés and restaurants there – the perfect spot to plan for a proper lunch.
We had ours at Cacho d’Oiro – ordered grilled seafood and meat. The bread was fresh and just the way we like it – soft inside and crunchy on the outside. We also had leite de creme, strawberry cream for dessert and mango, and let’s just say everything was perfect. That crunchy surface hiding the deliciousness underneath was worth a hundred smiles!
Quinta da Pacheca
After lunch, we visited Quinta da Pacheca. Pache has a nice village vibe with different grape types grown on the hills of Douro.
The quinta has a hotel that is know for its fu accomodation built it in the shape of wine barrels. They look really awesome and let you feel what it’s like to be inside a barrel (because you always wanted to try that, right?). There is a nice pool, too – a great compliment to the hotel.
Last but not least, Quinta da Pacheca is the perfect place to try local wine and relax from the hustle and bustle of a city.
The next place we went to see was Sandeman. Sandeman is another hill and yet another quinta with some finest wine to enjoy.
It is worth mentioning that the whole Douro region is made up of beautiful hills covered with wineries. And each hill is cultivated by a big winery or is divided between two or more smaller ones. So each hill is a different experience really.
Sandeman is one of the biggest wineries in Douro, and so you can enjoy everything what a good winery is known for. You can have a wine tasting with you friends, enjoy the Sun over the Douro river or simply walk around and inhale the sweet air of the place. Sandeman is a fantastic location to get the real feel of nature holding a glass of the finest Port wine. Tranquility to the fullest.
Our Own EN-222
After stopping at a few wine quintas, we went down to Douro valley to see old train stations of the Linha Do Douro – railway that connects Porto and Pocinho located up high in Alto Douro.
We crossed the bridge built by one of the Eiffel students (alunos) and drove the EN-222 (Estrada Nacional 222″ in Portuguese).
Estrada Nacional 222 was voted to be “the most beautiful road in the world”.
Fall in love with Douro. Then fall in love with driving!
On our way back we stopped for a few drinks in Pinhão – the place where we dipped our hands into the Douro river (it was rather warm by the way) and enjoyed the beautiful wine slopes from below. A great contrast to seeing Douro from above.
Pinhão is a charming town near the Douro river. We enjoyed a few drinks while watching the sunset. Such a romantic scene.
When the sun hid behind the hills of Douro, we left the town and went hunting for a good restaurant for dinner. This led us to a neighboring town called Alijó.
We discovered this place in the evening, so really enjoyed the end of our day there. Next time we will definitely look for more adventures in Alijó as this town is spectacular. We stumbled upon a restaurant called Cêpa Torta.
The restaurant received a Michelin star in 2018 and was serving Duck Magret – a rare dish in Portugal. Let’s just say that it was up to N-222 standards… The duck was sweet, risotto was creamy and house wine (vinho da casa) was outstanding – ruby in color, with marvelous taste and that classy Douro aftertaste. We really enjoyed it. The dinner was marvelous and really complemented our trip – perfect ending of the wonderful day in Douro.
Vinho da casa is the wine produced locally at the same café you are eating in.
Douro offers so many things to try, drink and eat and you need more than one day for sure. But with openheart and positive mindset, you will enjoy every second you spend in Douro – the place where you feel tranquility and nature like nowhere else.
We are so grateful to our Dear Friends for this adventure and will always remember it as the #FirstTimeWe went to Douro. Thank you!