Located a short distance from the historic coastal city of Porto, the Douro Valley is a must-visit wine region for fans of the occasional tipple! If you’re not much of a drinker or are holidaying with the kids in tow, there’s still plenty of other sights and sounds to soak up in this northerly section of sun-drenched Portugal.
If you’re wondering exactly what the main highlights of this scenic area are, here are eight exciting reasons why you should consider a driving holiday in the Douro Valley:
1. To fill your goblet with world-famous wines
One of the prime reasons to place this lush valley on your itinerary is, of course, its vineyards! The Douro Valley is famed for being the oldest demarcated (meaning it’s defined by strict boundaries) wine-growing region on the planet and a large section of it was even made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.
That’s beautiful scenery, lush grapes and wonderful wine!
Dozens of wineries (known locally as quintas) dot the land, with many producing the country’s most famous liquor – rich and syrupy Port wine. Why not book yourself onto a tasting tour to sample it straight from the source?
2. To pack the gram with spectacular views of terraced vineyards
Whether you’re a wine drinker or not, the Douro Valley’s patchwork of terraced vineyards is a real sight to behold. If you fancy really getting out and seeing what the valley has to offer in the scenery stakes, head to the likes of the Miradouro de São Leonardo da Galafura and get your fill of Insta-worthy snaps. It’s the highest point in the valley and, on a clear day, you can gaze for miles in every direction!
3. To get your cruise on along the Douro River
Love a good cruise? If you know that the only way to get your holiday kicks is with a little time in the sun while on the water, then taking a boat trip along the Douro River is by far one of the most memorable ways to view the valley. It’ll be deck chairs at the ready and bon voyage for a day in the sun.
You can choose from a range of different options, from an all-day cruise from Porto which stops off at key towns and historic wine villages to a romantic wine tasting trip with your other half that lasts just a few hours. It might not be the best with the kids in tow though!
There are loads of different tours which leave from Pinhão in the heart of the valley too, including quick one-hour cruises for those short on time. If you’d rather travel down the Douro in a more unusual way, why not hire kayaks or canoes? That’s definitely something the kids will enjoy!
4. To get some holiday indulgence with the region’s tasty traditional cuisine
Portugal’s coastal cities may be famous for their seafood, but inland regions like the Douro Valley also have some mouth-watering dishes up their sleeves.
Many of the vineyards and village tascas (casual eateries) in the region serve up rural specialties like Feijoada – a hearty stew made with beans, meat or mushrooms. But you’re on holiday, it’s definitely time to treat yourself. And the Douro Valley really gives you the chance to go all out by booking a table at one of Douro’s swanky modern eateries, including the Michelin starred DOC – Chef Rui Paula right next to the river in Folgosa. Super-swanky!
If you’re more of a picnic kind of person – and you might have to be for a while after a couple of nights out in Michelin-starred restaurants – Quinta do Bomfim a short drive outside Pinhão is known for putting together tasty takeaway hampers complete with their own bottles of wine.
5. To travel back in time at the region’s medieval villages
The Douro Valley is dripping in traditional villages which almost seem suspended in time. As well as larger settlements like Régua, there are six major wine villages to explore which all have strong connections to the region’s winemaking heritage.
Visit pretty Provesende to admire ancient cottages, majestic mansions and its cobbled town square where you’ll find a quaint 80 year old bakery that creates some of the best bread outside of Lisbon. Trust us, you really have to check it out. Barcos also has many historic points of interest as it was formerly the district’s major town, while Favaios is home to a great cooperative winery where you can enjoy tours, tastings and lush wine and cheese platters. Mmm, wine and cheese!
6. To work off all the wine with a hike through the Parque Natural do Douro Internacional
With so much gorgeous landscape around, it would be a shame not to enjoy a leisurely hike during your visit to the Douro Valley. And you’ll probably need it after all those hours spent in the quintas!
There’s no better way to work it off than by making a beeline for the Parque Natural do Douro Internacional. It’s one of Portugal’s thirteen National Parks and is located at the most eastern point of the valley and right on the border with Spain. It’s home to over 100 species of endangered birds – think golden eagles and Egyptian vultures! – plus its dramatic canyon scenery looks like something straight out of the Wild West.
7. To catch up on the local culture with a trip to little-known heritage sites
Portugal’s major cities and towns may be teeming with wonderful historic monuments and fascinating museums, but the Douro Valley also has its fair share of awesome attractions.
Why not learn all about the history of Portuguese winemaking at the Douro Museum in Régua, get to grips with the region’s ancient past at a dramatic medieval re-enactment in Ucanha or swot up on Portugal’s royal history at the beautiful Baroque Mateus Palace in Vila Real.
8. To make the most of four wheels with a spectacularly scenic drive
Road trip anyone? With its winding roads surrounded by backdrops of dramatic mountains, amazing National Parks and beautiful vineyards, the Douro Valley is the ideal location for a road trip. One of the best routes you can take for jaw-dropping views of the attractive countryside is the N222 between Régua to Pinhão. The road runs just south of the river and past a handful of quintas if you fancy stopping off to try some Port or tuck into a lazy lunch. Shotgun!
Getting to the Douro Valley – what you need to know
The heart of the Douro Valley is an easy hour’s drive from Porto. You can catch a direct flight into the city and easily pick up a rental car from the airport or the city centre. Before or after your discovery driving tour of the Douro Valley, why not spend a few days in Porto, the historic centre of Portugal’s Port trade? It’s a very cool city.