Posts Tagged With: Port Wine

 
 

Get to the heart of the Douro in Pinhão

The Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for being one of the oldest wine regions in the world, is recognized for its production of Portuguese regional Port wines. Along the Rio Douro, which travels east from the Atlantic coast and the city of Porto (Oporto locally) through Portugal to the Spanish border, is the Douro Valley, the prime region for the wine growth of Port wine.

The rugged and remote 60 mile area of the Douro Valley is broken down into subregions. Within the central core Cima Corgo (land above the Corgo river) is where you will find the famous terraced vineyards that produce the finest Port wines of the Douro wine region. 

As you travel the Douro river east, witness breathtaking high mountainous terrain with vineyards that expand into steep granite sloping land. From the rio you can see the grapevines growing in what appears to be a quilted patchwork. At the heart of the Cima Corgo where the Rio Douro and the Rio Pinhão converge is the small unassuming town of Pinhão. The small sleepy vila is surrounded by approximately 47,000 acres of vineyards and some of those vines date as far back as the original plantings by the Roman Empire.

The wines of Pinhão, similarly to most of the Douro region, are primarily sweet, fortified wines produced from local grapes; Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tempranillo. Blended together, these grapes create wines that are both higher in alcohol and superior in flavor. Port wines are produced in varying styles based on an aging process ranging from the standard couple year aged Ruby Port to long aged and tawny colored wines. In addition to the popular Port wines, unfortified still and dry wines are also produced here using the same grapes. White Port wines are also found produced in this region as well as some Rose’ and dessert wines. 

To fully understand these wines produced here, it is recommended that you immerse yourself in the wine culture of the town of Pinhão and its surrounding areas.

Pinhão Rail Station – considered one of the most beautiful train stations in Portugal, many visitors begin their Pinhão experience here in one way or another. For those arriving by train, they disembark and discover 25 beautiful panels of azuelos tiles each designed to portray historic scenes of the Douro wine region. As the main, central site within the town, even visitors who are not arriving by train will find themselves starting their explorations of the town of Pinhão here.

Tip: If traveling between June and October, take a ride on the historic coal burning Comboio steam train that travels above the scenic Douro river. During the ride, enjoy local entertainment while indulging in a glass of port onboard. 

Originating in Regua, the train will arrive in Pinhão, with your next stop being one of the many local Quintas. 

Visit a Quinta or two or three….. – family owned estates that feature a large manor home or possibly even a small palace, stands as the base for a vineyard, winery and even for an olive grower. Quintas, which means one-fifth, was the amount of produce that renters paid to use the properties they farmed on. The Quinta is at the center of wine production in Portugal and is part of a classification system that ranks Quintas based on characteristics of the vineyard. These include location, age, yield and topography with the highest quality Quintas receiving the highest prices for their wines.  

Quinta hopping is part of the Douro experience and is the best way to experience some of the finest Port wines within the Douro region. Taking a vineyard tour of a Quinta provides understanding of the history and the vinification practices of that particular Quinta. 

A highlight of your visit will be sampling their Port, usually while sitting on an open terrace peering out onto the vineyard and possibly overlooking the rabelos floating on the Douro river. 

Rabelo Boat ride – Part of a Douro wine experience is understanding the history and culture of Port Wine production. In the late 18th to early 19th century after being put into oak barrels, the wines were sent downriver to the city of Oporto for bottling and distribution. The wooden flat bottomed boats used to transport the wine barrels are called “barcos rabelos”. Only found in the Douro region, the historic vessels can still be seen floating up and down the river. 

A rabelo boat ride is the perfect opportunity to explore the Pinhão area from historic wooden cargo ships that transport guests between vineyards or offer a scenic cruise along the river. On your cruise as you travel from Pinhão and then back again, you will see the terraced vineyards as they have been seen for centuries.

Enjoy a late morning ride before grabbing a bite at one of the nearby cafes.

Dine like a local – When in Rome or in this case, Pinhão, sampling the local gastronomy is an integral part of your experience. Portuguese dining is essentially a farm to table experience. The Douro is well known for its fortified wines, and also grows many ingredients, like olives, almonds, mushrooms and chestnuts and more used in the fantastic dining experiences here. Honey and cured meats are also locally produced and served in Pinhão restaurants. Dining in Pinhão is all about the rustic flavors of the hearty meals and pairing them with the locally produced vins. 

Some of the recommended local fare to try; Bola de Lamego, sandwiches made with fresh breads and fillings, Alheira smoked sausage and Arroz de Cabidela, a Portuguese risotto-like dish. While there are some great dining opportunities in and around Pinhão, some of the best dining can be found in the Quintas throughout the region. Pinhão even has a Michlin rated restaurant, Rabelo, known for its high standards and reputation as being the “best of the best” in the area. Located in a small hotel overlooking the river, Rabelo offers a modern take on local Portuguese fare. Of course don’t forget the Ports and unfortified wines that will make every bite taste better then the last. 

Now that you are well nourished, you are ready for some adventure in the vineyards.

Hike the Douro Valley – One of the experiences that separates the Douro Valley wine region from others is the ability to hike your way through the area. The public trails through the villages and vineyards allow you to familiarize yourself with the famed wine region and its terraced slopes. 

If hiking on your own seems risky,  then take advantage of the opportunity to arrange a guided tour or hop onto a guided trail tour offered by one of the many Quintas throughout the region. 

As the center of wine production in Portugal, Pinhão offers plenty of experiences to immerse oneself into fully understanding the famed region. Familiarizing oneself with the grapes grown in the locally produced Port wines, learning about the historic production methods and of course sampling some of the Douro’s finest offerings are all included in time spent here.  Pinhão is the perfect base for exploring the central Douro Valley and enjoying the region’s highlights.

*Photo Courtesy of AmaWaterways

Many of the experiences discussed above are provided excursions on a Douro river cruise from the main city center of Northern Portugal, Porto. Enjoy seven days of travel on the scenic river stopping along the way to enjoy the amazing sites and flavors that this beautiful region has to offer. 

Categories: Active Travel, Eat like a local, Eco-Friendly, Experience, Food, River Cruise, Sustainable Travel, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Lets Hike the Douro Valley

The Douro River flows west from central Spain through Northern Portugal to the mouth at the Atlantic Ocean in Porto, Portugal. The region is agricultural, known for prehistoric archeology and the entire region is a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the most scenically impressive locales in the world but Douro is most notable for its fortified wine production of port.

Photo by AmaWaterways River Cruises

Even if you are not a wine drinker, the beautiful landscapes of the region and the active experiences of exploring the terraced vineyards, olive groves, meeting the friendly people from the small villages and stopping along the way for some authentic local gastronomy makes this a special place to visit and must add to the bucket list. 

I have already mentioned that Douro is a UNESCO World Heritage site. What does this mean? In general, as one of the oldest regions in the world, the landscape is almost unchanged from hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago. As you travel the roads along the river you will experience the terraced vineyards high above the river. Along the lower banks you will find a landscape of trees meeting with vineyards and villages filled with churches and rows of houses along narrow roads along with the Douro quintas that sit as major landmarks.

The valley offers absolutely amazing landscapes and the best way to experience them is hiking through the valleys where for generations terraced staircases were built on a terroir of steep hillsides along the river transforming unusable lands into award winning vineyards. 

You can start your experience in the town of Pinhão known as the “Valley of Enchantment” for its beautiful hillsides and never ending valleys. Not what you would expect for being the heart of the wine country, Pinhão is a small town in the Northern Douro region. It is here where some of the best wines in Portugal are grown, vinified and fortified into the popular Port and table wines. 

From arrival at the beautiful train station as you embark on the preserved historic trails you will find a different view of the Douro river from every bend. As you walk the beautiful Vineyard trail exploring the area from Quinta to Quinta (wine estates) sampling both the local Ports and the stunning views of the river and river valley from their terraced vineyards.Some of the Quintas will offer their own hiking maps of trails located within their properties for you to explore.

Photo by AmaWaterways River Cruises

As you travel the area you can visit a Quinta of choice (Portuguese for the country estates that act as a base for the wineries throughout the region) and there are many of them throughout the area. These are also where you will find some of the best restaurants in the region. If you are looking for a unique experience, some of the Quintas offer overnight accommodations to relax and immerse deeper into a Quinta bed and breakfast experience. 

Tip: If you are interested in wine, when visiting the town of Pinhão schedule time to visit the Quinta Nova. One of the larger Quinta’s features a wine tour and tasting plus the Museu do Vinho (Wine Museum) takes you on a tour of the history of the region, the ancient practices and how winemaking has developed over the past few hundred years. They also offer one of the top restaurants in the region and a winery home that can be rented out for extended visits. 

The weather in the Douro Valley is always temperate with annual highs around 85°F and the lows averaging about 60°F so you can truly visit anytime of year. However, for the best scenery while hiking, visit in the spring, April to June when the tree’s and vine’s begin to bloom or in the fall September to November, although a little more chance of rain, the colors will provide the best scenery with the best temperatures for hiking. Note that September, depending on that years weather is typically harvest season and may be more active with visitors and annual activities. 

Pinhão is but one example of a hiking experience that is available in the Douro Valley. There are multiple other options for hiking tours from the popular trails to off the beaten path scenic hikes that also vary from 3 – 6 hour tours to multi-day excursions hiking throughout the entire region. The perfect opportunity to immerse in the landscape, culture, vinology and people of the Douro River Valley. 

Note that when looking for a more extensive hiking experience, there are public hiking trails marked with red and yellow stripes on signs, posts, stones and trees leading you from point to point. Note that these may not be maintained to levels that you will find in the United States. For extensive longer hiking experiences, hiring a local guide is highly recommended and will enhance your experience on hikes from a few hours long to a few days, also providing information and historic details you will not get exploring on your own. 

Photo By AmaWaterways River Cruises

Hiking is one of the included activities on a 7 night river cruise from the city of Porto, known for the production and distribution for Port Wine. Travel along the scenic Douro River stopping along the way to hike, bike or explore the villages, Quintas and amazing sites that this beautiful region has to offer. 
For more information on river cruising check out our River cruise page.

Categories: Active Travel, Eat like a local, Eco-Friendly, Food, River Cruise, Sustainable Travel, Travel, Travel Bucket List, Wellness, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Why you need to add Porto to your Travel Bucket List

Portugal is often referred to as the garden that was planted next to the ocean. While it could be chalked up as quite a random saying, once you get to know the region you understand the meaning behind it. Portugal is like a garden of fresh offerings just waiting to be picked. Beautiful beaches, cosmopolitan cities, rural landscapes, mixed in with beautiful Mediterranean climate, culture, gastronomy, history and so much more.

The small country really only has 2 large cities, Lisbon, the largest of the two, which is the most known for its historic significance, and the smaller lesser known city of Porto. With 1.7 million residents, the old historic city of Porto holds a very intimate and unique travel experience and a must visit for any oenophile.

Discover Porto

Scenic Porto, Portugal

An elegant city, you will notice the difference from Lisbon in the narrow streets and manner homes and the overall sophisticated and friendly lifestyle of the locals. Centered around the wine industry, a visit to Porto is an experience in local gastronomy and culture that will have you wanting to see and do more. 

Although the weather is good almost year round, the best time to visit is late spring, May to early June, when in addition to that great weather you will find fewer tourists then peak season in July and August. 

The Sol Festival – Porto

Another reason to visit during the cooler mid season is the 600 year old annual Festos Santos (Saints festival) celebration that occurs annually June 13 – 24th. If you want to experience Porto in all her glory, be in town on June 23 for one of the most important and largest celebrations in the region, the Festa de Sao Joao do Porto. This large celebration starts in the afternoon (Saint John’s Eve) and goes into the night with street concerts, local celebration and rituals through-out the streets and neighborhoods and a midnight fireworks show. The celebrating goes well into the next day, June 24th, when revelers watch the sunrise over the ocean and further celebrate the Feast of St. John, the patron Saint of Porto, with an annual sailing Regatta. 

If your schedule does not allow for a visit during the celebration, there are so many other reasons why Porto should be on your travel bucket list:

Stop in at the Igreja e Torre dos Clerigos – 

Clérigos Church & Tower

A Baroque church that was built between 1735 and 1748, with its Clerigos tower, is the most symbolic monument in Porto. Tour the beautiful church with its unique architecture of goldsmithery, and the museum before the highlight of your visit, climbing the 250 steps to the top of the tower. Featuring a carillon made up of 49 bells that you pass as you reach your final destination for gorgeous panoramic views of the city of Porto. Good to know is – if you are lucky enough to be in the tower when the bells ring, the sound will offer a startling experience.

Tram to the Foz district – 

Porto Historic Linha Tram

A unique Porto experience is taking a ride on one of the vintage trams called “carros eléctricos”. A fantastic way to experience the city, the Linha1 is the best route from the Infante stop in the historic center of Porto and follows the banks of the Douro passing under the Ponte da Arrabida bridge to the serene tree-lined Passeio Alegre Park in the beautifully charming region of the Foz district.

Visit the Ribeira District – 

The Ribeira District of Porto

The oldest section of Porto, located on the riverbanks of the Douro river, right under the iconic Ponte Luis 1 bridge. Here is where you will want to wander the winding medieval streets and small cobblestone alleyways to see the ancient Hotchpotch houses, visit the family run boutiques and enjoy a Francesinha (Portuguese sandwich) on the terrace of one of the lively restaurants. I bet once you are there you will find yourself indulging in a glass of local Port wine at one of the trendy Ribeira bars. The district has a great atmosphere that becomes even more colorful at night. 

Spend a day at the local beaches –

A visit to the local beaches is definitely a must if you are a beach lover visiting Porto. The Costa Verde is a beautiful stretch of coastline with some amazing beaches easily accessed by one of the historic trams. Praia de Carneiro is the closest to the mouth of the Douro river, the resident lighthouse marks the southern point of the beach region. Located in the Foz district, Praia dos Ingleses is a large sandy beach with some rocky areas at the shore line. The local region offers many cafes and other sites to visit if you want to add to your beach day experience. Porto’s main beach, Matosinhos is your best bet for the true beach going experience of golden sand and great surf, beachside cafes and lots of locals to socialize with. 

Port tasting is a must while visiting –

Port aka vinho do Porto, is a fortified wine (aguardiente is added to stop fermentation and preserve the sweetness of the grapes) that is produced specifically in the Douro region of Portugal. Although a sweeter red wine, it typically has a high alcohol content (sometimes up to 19%) and also comes in dry, semi-dry and white varieties. Stopping into one of Porto’s local wine lodges for a tour and tasting is usually a top travel experience for a Porto visitor. The majority of the wine production houses is in Gaia, the hub of the wine industry, which is located on the opposite side of the Douro river from Porto. 

For a more immersive wine experience – 

There are a few options to take your wine experience next level. A day trip by car or boat excursion for exploring the Douro wine region are good sample experiences. However these will only get you so far. Our recommendations for really exploring the Douro growing region is the Linha do Douro train or a fully immersive river cruise. 

Visit the Douro River Valley

The Linha do Douro, considered one of the most scenic routes in Europe, runs along the Douro river offering expanded views of the river and river valleys. Passengers typically hop on the train at the São Bento station in Porto and ride the rails to the small village of Pocinho. Note this route can take anywhere from 3.5 to 4 hours without visiting any of the wine villages or stopping along the way.  

With so much to do and see to fully explore the UNESCO designated Douro river, wineries and impressive villages, we recommend a river cruise from Porto to Vega de Terron, at the border of Portugal and Spain. Immerse in the region as you sample the wines from the old world villages, historic sites and enjoy the raw beauty of the Douro region. The itinerary offers 2 nights in Porto and additional time in Lisbon and Madrid, Spain for a full bucket list itinerary. Prime time to cruise the Douro is late Spring during growing season through Fall just after the fall growth harvest when the colors start changing.

To learn more about river cruising the Douro river, visit our website. 

Categories: Active Travel, Eat like a local, Experience, Food, River Cruise, Travel Bucket List, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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