For two years we have talked about where we would choose to go after the COVID restrictions lifted for international travel and without hesitation our family all agreed on Portugal.
One of our favorite places in the world is the Portuguese city of Porto, a UNESCO-listed city full of baroque and 19th-century architecture set along the steep banks of the Douro River, which flows from Spain through Northern Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean. I recommend staying in a hotel on the river overlooking the Dom Luis I Bridge and the Serra do Pilar Monastery on the Vila Nova de Gaia side. Most everything you want to see in Porto is within walking distance, like the iconic Chapel of Souls with its exterior covered in blue & white tiles. Long lines are always waiting to see Lello, the gothic style bookstore that was the inspiration for Hogswarts Library in Harry Potter. Around the corner is the Clérigos Church and bell tower plus numerous pastry shops and boutiques at every turn. Porto is also a serious destination for foodies. The Mercado do Bolhão food market is a culinary paradise, as is the many port wine lodges such as Graham’s and Taylor’s. One of the most romantic and delicious meals we have experienced is at a small restaurant called O’Paparico (www.opaparico.com). With its ancient stone floors and old wooden beams the food, the service and the presentation is deserving of its Michelin recommendation. It is truly a gem.
After spending a day or two in Porto either take the train from the magnificent azulejo-decorated São Bento Station or drive about an hour into the Douro River Valley. Once in the heart of the valley you will find the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. Grape harvest and wine production goes back 2,000 years and is another UNESCO World Heritage site. The terraced fields on either side of the river are like a beautiful patchwork quilt that takes your breath away. Although they still cultivate much of their grapes for port, five winemakers known
as the Douro Boys have greatly advanced the region’s red and white wine production. Spend the afternoon at two of their wineries: Quinta do Vallado and Quinta do Crasto. We also enjoy Quinta de la Rosa in Pinhao where their ultra-modern tasting room has beautiful view.
Pinhao serves as a good base for exploring the many surrounding vineyards and has their own delightful train station with hand-painted tiles depicting the surrounding landscapes and vineyards. We stay at the Vintage House Hotel,(www.vintagehousehotel.com) a gorgeous riverside haven surrounded by terraced hillsides. At the hotel’s dock you can board a sailboat for a lovely cruise with boat owner, Paulo and his dog Luna (www.animadurius.pt). I assure you it will be a highlight of your trip as you sail past vineyards and orchards, whitewashed villages, and eye-catching gorges all while relaxing and enjoying some of the region’s famous port.
Another popular hotel option is the Six Senses Douro Valley (www.sixsenses.com/en/resorts/douro-valley), the region’s first full-service resort, outside the town of Peso da Régua.
The pink colored mansion, with its striking clock tower is surrounded by nineteen acres of rolling vineyards and private gardens, with forest paths, secret tunnel, staircases, fountains, and niches with viewpoints. The garden’s highlight is a beautiful 82-foot-long pool, which directly overlooks the resort grounds and Douro River. Spend a leisurely morning at the spa and then head out for lunch at DOC, where top Portuguese chef Rui Paula prepares pork he cooks for 12 hours, or venture where the locals dine at the neighborhood tascas. Specialties include grilled bacalhau (salt cod), roasted suckling pig and octopus salad. After lunch check out Casa de Mateus, an ornate 18th-century Baroque palace with spectacular gardens.
We have experienced the wine regions in California’s Napa Valley, Spain’s Ribera del Duero and the rolling hills of Tuscany, but the Portugal wine region is a truly unique and beautiful experience. We cannot wait to return.