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Walking in Portugal: Douro Valley

Walking in Portugal: Douro Valley

 

Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful corners of Portugal and this month we are excited to be launching a brand new walking trip. Our resident guide Jon Millen explains why it should be on your radar. 

 

The Douro area is a wonderful walking area of hillsides dissected by pretty river valleys draining into the Douro River. Generally too cold in winter and too hot in summer for comfortable walking; spring and autumn (fall) are the best times to visit the region, especially in the spring when everything is quiet and the vines are awakening. In contrast September / early October is when the pace of life whisks into a bustle harvesting. In late October and November the vines turn a gorgeous colour whilst the air is spiced by the fires from the on-going pruning operation.

 

 

The connection with Britain is almost as old as the hills. In 1678, a Liverpool wine merchant sent two new representatives to Oporto to learn the wine trade. While on a vacation in the Douro, the two gentlemen visited the Abbot of Lamego, who treated them to a "very agreeable, sweetish and extremely smooth "wine," which had been fortified with a distilled spirit’’. They were so pleased with the product that they purchased the Abbot's entire lot and shipped it home. This was the start of Britain's love affair with Port, named of course after Oporto; the city where it was stored and shipped from. These days the city is now known as Porto and is the second-largest city in Portugal.

Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, this enabled merchants to import for a low duty.  During the century several wars occurred meaning that English wine drinkers were often deprived of French wine. British importers could be credited for recognizing that a smooth, already fortified wine that would appeal to English palates, would coincidentally survive the voyage to London. Almost in anticipation of this demand, The Douro Wine Region, created in 1756 by the government of the Marquis of Pombal, was the first (oldest) demarcated and regulated wine region in the world. In 2001, UNESCO classified 24 600 hectares of the Alto Douro Wine Region as a World Heritage site.

 



Our walk stays 3 nights in the village of Vilarinho de Sao Romão, high above the river in a restored manor house; each room carefully thought through in terms of décor and period furnishings. There is a beautiful Wisteria engulfed veranda where you could sit all day with a glass of wine, a book or some paints if you weren’t walking, it is so peaceful. There's also the opportunity to cool down in the small pool before enjoying filling dinners that are prepared using local ingredients and traditional recipes. 

 

From here there are four walks threading through the wine estates and up and down the hills, through various villages and hamlets. The last of these drops down to Pinhão, a small port on the Douro where you have a night in a luxury hotel and can spend a couple of hours cruising the river passing the golden terraces of the various wine estates.

From here the tiny narrow gauge train takes you to the relative bustle of Porto and its sister town on the south bank, Villa Nova di Gaia. Hardly affected by the ravages of war during the last couple of centuries, the city is an architectural jewel, defined by the winding river and the Gustav Eiffel inspired Luis I bridge.

 

There is plenty of time to explore, for a few Euros each you can visit any number of the famed Port lodges and taste their wares. They are nearly all concentrated here including Taylors, Cockburns, Churchills, Sandeman, Croft etc. There is a kind of old fashioned decency and politeness of the locals in the area, however very few people know English so it would be a good idea to know a few Portuguese words such as ‘obrigado’ (thank you) and just as importantly ‘Saude’ (cheers).

 

More Information

For further information about our Douro Valley tour please visit our website for details on how to book. For a full list of our tours in Portugal visit our Self-Guided Walking Holidays in Portugal page for other recommendations.

 

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