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.
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.
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.
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.