When it comes to visiting northern Portugal, the Douro Valley is one destination tourists can’t miss. The region combines sun-baked landscapes with rustic villages, not to mention one of the premier wine destinations in Europe. While port wine may be most commonly associated with the city of Porto, it’s really the entire Douro Valley that deserves recognition for Portugal’s booming wine industry. It is after all, a UNESCO recognised region for this very reason. As such, wine tour day trips have become increasingly popular amongst visitors to Porto, which sits just downstream of the action.
During my time in Porto, I had the good fortune to experience the region and its impeccable viticulture with Cool Tour Oporto. Here’s what you can expect with a Douro Valley wine tour.
The Douro Valley
After the typical round-up of tourists, we soon were leaving the city and made our way out east. Despite the early hour, our guide Joao was cheerful and quickly dispensed details about the Douro Valley and its wine industry. As we left Porto behind, we learned of the region’s long winemaking history, stretching back to the early Middle Ages.
He educated us on the basics of growing and harvesting the grapes and how the determine the region’s ability to make their famed port wine, as well as the local Vinho Verde or “green wine”. Joao explained that it was the high sugar content of the grapes that attributed to these wines, with factors like the shape and height of the vine, soil type and local water supply all coming into play. What could have seemed as quite banal details, I actually found to be really interesting. You tend to forget just how many factors attribute to the quality of something like wine.
Joao also shared the struggles that literally plagued the region during the 19th century, when imported American roots brought with them diseases that devastated the valley and industry. Local winegrowers couldn’t get ahead of the plague until they realised that roses planted nearby were wilting before the grapevines. Thus they began planting roses by their vines as an early warning system and soon the people of the valley became known as the “Rosekillers”. Cool nickname right?
As we neared the small town of Regua, it was decided the group needed a quick coffee break to wake up. Upon learning that some in the group had yet to experience the joys that are Pastel de Natas, a round of them was quickly ordered. Those of us who had had them before certainly didn’t mind having one more.
From Regua we ventured further up in the hills that overlooked the river, forever climbing higher and higher. Passing the small town of Pinhao, we weaved our way up into the rustic village until we reached a perfectly suitable lookout point. Below, the dry and crumbling earth of the terraces descended down to Pinhao and the Douro, as it flowed away into the countryside.
D’Origem Winery and Olive Oil Museum
A short walk thankfully downhill and we arrived at our first official stop, the D’Origem Wine and Olive Oil Museum. Here, the genial owner of this generational family business walked us through a cellar and the various traditional instruments and processes that went into making both the wine and olive oil. As one of the few families with the essential equipment, many of the farmers and winegrowers would come to them to process their grapes and olives. In turn, they received a portion of the olives and grapes to produce their own wine and olive oil.
At first it was kind of curious that we were on a wine tour but were spending time also learning about olive oil, however the connection was soon made clear. Due to the terrain, the earth used for the terraces could be quite fragile and susceptible to erosion. The local farmers cleverly realized that planting olive trees along the boundaries of their property helped keep the soil sturdy and intact, thereby preserving their terraces. Hence all the olive trees.
After our informative tour, it was time for taste-testing, staring with the local table wines. While the region is known for port wine, plenty of non-fortified wines are produced as well. We sampled a white and rose from D’Origem’s cellar, paired with bread, local olive oil and honey. Now while each of the wines were delightful, I was truly blown away by the olive oil. I know, who goes on a wine tour and raves about olive oil? Well I do, because it was quite simply the most flavourful olive oil I’ve ever had and the rest of the group was equally smitten.
Douro River Cruise
Now quite content with our first few drinks and purchases, it was time to return to the riverfront and board a typical Portuguese Rabelo boat to cruise along the Douro river. Despite Joao telling us it was a short ride, the cruise actually went for almost an hour. Slowly sailing upstream, the cruise took us up through the scenic countryside and past several monasteries and wineries.
Having seen much of the region from roads high above like in Vila Real, it was refreshing to see it from a new vantage point. While not lush or vibrant, there was something about the dry, almost rugged landscape of this region that is truly captivating. And of course, the endless terraces cutting into the hillside create a fantastic effect as well.
Wine and More Wine
Suitably relaxed after our gentle Douro river cruise, it was time for lunch. True to form, lunch was no ordinary affair. Served on the top floor of a fire station, we were treated to an immense buffet of typical Portuguese food. Oh and a seemingly endless supply of wine too.
Our appetites sated, it was time to move on to another local award-winning winery for tasting. This time it was at the Quinta Santa Eufemia Winery. The visit started with a tour where we learnt about the particular process used to make their port wines. We learnt the difference between the White, Rose, Tawny and Ruby port wines, the ageing process and how brandy is used to stop the fermentation process. We also toured their cellar, admiring the massive barrels used for aging the wine. Safe to say, a lot of precision and care goes into crafting port wine, far beyond general winemaking.
We then moved up stairs where it was time to taste the port wine. Of the four, I was most inclined towards the tawny, although all were distinctive and flavourful. During the taste testing, the wine was paired with things like chocolate, which really intensified the flavours. In between tastings, various palette cleansers were on the table before us. The winery also had some pretty spectacular views down over their vineyards and the surrounding hills.
Having consumed a sufficient amount of wine, it was time to make the return drive to Porto. The way the tour had been structured, it never felt like we were overdoing it nor left wanting. As such, the group seemed extremely satisfied at the end of the day.
About the Tour
The full-day Douro Valley tour with Cool Tour Oporto, currently costing 90€ per person, includes:
- pick-up and drop off in Porto
- tour guide
- wine-tasting at the 2 wineries
- Douro River Cruise
They also offer various other group tours in around Porto and the Douro Valley, as well as private tours as well. Given my experience with them, I highly recommend booking your Porto adventures with them.
Have you had the good fortune to visit the Douro Valley and sample its fantastic wine? Will this kind of tour be added to your itinerary for your next Porto trip? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.
*Disclosure: I received a free tour of the Douro Valley courtesy of Cool Tour Oporto. As always, opinions are my own.
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