With three World Heritage Sites recognised by UNESCO, there is no shortage of reasons to visit the Douro Valley, one of the most stunning landscapes in all of Portugal.
In the Historic Centre of the city of Porto you will find remarkable buildings lining the riverbanks. Many of these buildings are directly linked to the production of wine and bear witness to the urban development that this production has provoked over the years. On the opposite bank of the river you will find the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, a hive of commercial activity with the famous Port wine cellars.
Following the river Douro upstream, you reach the Alto Douro Wine Region. This is a land of traditions, a place of enchantment and mysticism, a great stretch of land where Nature reigns in perfect harmony with the inhabitants that have shaped the valley slopes and organised the land into vineyards. Each of these vineyards can be accessed by winding roads that pattern the landscape. There has been evidence of wine production for more than two thousand years in the region but it was only in 1756 that the Demarcated Douro Region was created and wine production in the region was organised and became internationally recognised. It was the first region in the world to be demarcated and it is a land where traditions and modernity go hand-in-hand. This combination is still evident today in the traditional harvest that is still done by hand and the squashing of the grapes by foot and the most modern vinification processes that accompany these traditions.
Further to the East in a picturesque region where the river Douro meets the river Côa, Prehistoric Rock Art can be found in the Côa Valley, a large archaeological heritage site that has been preserved for thousands of years. It is a unique example of Man’s first creations of symbolic expression and the beginning of culture that dates back to the Palaeolithic time.
The course of the Douro river winds through the valley, carving its way through the rock and rushing furiously towards the sea. The construction of dams has made the river navigable and nowadays cruise liners are a common sight. In the wine region, the train follows the Douro river along the majority of its stretch, giving its passengers a privileged view of the stunning landscape.
In addition to its wine, this region’s fertile soil also yields other plant life in the form of olive trees that produce high quality olive oil and almond trees that fill the valley with colour and perfume in the months of February and March and produce the almonds that are used to make several traditional sweet treats. Farming is common in most villages which results in flavoursome dishes made from traditionally cultivated produce. Roast kid goat and veal are some of the main dishes in the region but those passing through cannot miss the wide range of smoked meats, artisanal cheeses and typical desserts.
Memories of days past are held within this vast landscape, carved in stone or forged in different shapes and forms. The first men from the Palaeolithic period, the Romans, Arabs, Visigoths and the Suevi all left traces that are spread across the region. Each era in history has left behind proof of its existence that has been preserved over the years. From the Middle Ages we have the Catholic temples, from the very smallest to the most extravagant in all its splendour.
With the beginning of wine production, the nobility moved to the region, building grand manors and palaces that today open their doors to tourists and visitors. Many of the vineyards that produce the most succulent fruit in the valley are found on the valley slopes and they also offer accommodation to passersby. Any of these would be ideal for a romantic getaway, offering new sensations for all the senses. In the quaint villages you can also find wonderful examples of rural tourism with a local and unique character.
Despite the changes that the famous Port wine brought to the region, the Douro Valley has maintained its rural character and traditional roots with its handicrafts and religious customs. The Valley is renowned not only for its beauty but also for its friendly inhabitants who work the land and welcome those they find there exploring the region.
Stunning landscapes that yield produce and wines of excellence, a unique cuisine rich in homemade products, a history that makes you dream of days gone by and a warm welcome that makes you want to return. These are the reasons to visit the Douro, but living these experiences is much better than listing them. Come and discover the Douro, come and live the experience!