A trip to the Douro valley is a must for wine lovers. Being the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, Douro Valley is listed as an UNESCO site. There are towns and villages in the region where manylocate. We had added it to our trip to Porto without a second thought.
First we took the A4 to the sleepy village Amarante, the hometown of São Gonçalo. Portugal’s St Valentine. São Gonçalo was a monk and arrived in this area after completing a pilgrimage to Italy and Jerusalem, later becoming the city´s patron saint.
The river Tâmega runs through the town and the arched Ponte São Gonçalo crosses this waterway. It is reputed to have helped local heroes’ heroic resistance against Napoleon’s troops in the early 19th century. The bridge and the monastery attached to it are dedicated to Gonçalo de Amarante.
No visitor to the region can afford to miss visiting the Pinhão. We changed to the local roads N101/N108 and crossed the Douro River to reach Pinhão.
Pinhão sits on a particularly lovely bend of the Rio Douro, about 25km upper river from Peso da Régua. When approaching to the town, we saw the gorgeous hills covered with terraced vineyards and dotted with quintas. In Spring time valley
The Vintage House stands out among the other buildings and is perfect aligned next to the river between the bridge and the train station. The train station is also an example of using the Azulejos (hand-painted tiles) to tell stories of the grape harvest.
The small town is quiet and calm during the late Spring of the year. Many of the Port wine estates are to be found there, for example, Quinta de La Rosa, Winery.
Before continued our journey of the day, we had a short break in a local bar. There was no other guest other than us. After a while of drinking, the pwner of the bar offered us a local drink which I forgot the name. He tried to explain in English but unfortunately that was not clear enough for us to understand. But that was not important. With the help of body languages we could still “talk” as if we were the old friends. A touch of the local culture.
Not far from Pinhão is the next village Vila Real. Vila Real used to be the headquarter of the wine and port trade before Porto.
The must visit is the most famous Casa de Mateus, located 4 kilometres east of Vila Real. Built in a perfect example of Baroque architecture, it was used as a holiday home by the Portuguese royal family during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Casa de Mateus also has a beautiful garden landscape.
The Casa de Mateus is also featured on bottles of well-known Mateus rose wine.
Alternative way to explore the Douro Valley
To rent a car gives you the mobility of traveling around but it is difficult to drive through Douro valley. The best way is by boat. You can book a cruise tour in Pinhão (see below) or book one departure from Porto.
Another way is to take the historical steam train at Régua, Pinhão or Tua. But you still need to be there by car or by boat.
Tips for visiting the Douro Valley
There is a 5-Day Douro Wine Tour from Porto offering very good values. You will enjoy the traditional lifestyle of the wine region including wine tasting, UNESCO sites visiting, historical train trip etc.
If you want to explore the region by yourself I would recommend to stay overnight in one of the Quintas for example near Pinhão Many activities take place around there. For example, take a wine tasting, boat tour or a train tour.