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Ports of call: a wine tour of the Douro

Portugal’s Douro region is famous for its port, but also produces fine, good-value reds and top nosh. Perfect, then, for thirsty foodies like our writer


The Douro river is wild and tamed, fertile, rich and dust poor. She is the heart, soul and life force of the region she gives her name to. For 900km, from central Spain to Atlantic Porto, she pushes and runs, fat, green, inexorable. The Douro region is about the size of Suffolk but, unlike East Anglia, has barely a metre of flat ground. Instead, dizzying mountain slopes are creased and folded and combed with the millions of vines that make those juicy Douro table wines and its celebrated ports.

Visitors have been welcomed here for centuries but it’s taken until just now for the Dourense region to cotton on to eno-tourism, that happy marriage between travel and tippling. Though frequented mostly by cashmere-and-smart-slacks travellers, the Douro is also a fine destination for the thirsty but thrifty.

Getting to the region can be fun. There are hotel boats from Porto, but these seem mostly to be witless, Duplo-like affairs into which you’re tightly packaged and drably excursioned. It’s better by far to take the train to Pocinho. This is one of the world’s great train rides and, once away from Porto’s concrete suburbs, offers twisting, sighing, soaring riverine views for much of its three-hour route…





Newspaper PUBLICO interviews our partner Francisco Abrunhosa.
Read the article that talks about his passion for the Douro Valley and the work we develop in the region

Portugal voted best golf destination in the world


É o terceiro ano consecutivo que a World Golf Awards atribui esta distinção a Portugal.

Foto: José Carlos Pratas

Portugal foi eleito no sábado o melhor destino de golfe do mundo pela terceira vez consecutiva, recebendo o prémio instituído pela World Golf Awards, que atribui os ‘óscares’ da modalidade.

Numa cerimónia realizada no Conrad Algarve, na Quinta do Lago, Portugal voltou a superar destinos como a Inglaterra, Escócia, Irlanda, Irlanda do Norte, País de Gales, França, Alemanha, Espanha, Turquia ou Itália, que competiam na mesma categoria.

“Portugal irá continuar a trabalhar na captação de novos segmentos [profissionais de ensino dos campos de golfe, corporate, mulheres e jovens] e a apoiar aquele que é um evento de referência: o Portugal Masters, já agendado para 21 a 24 de setembro de 2017”, frisou o presidente do Turismo de Portugal, Luís Araújo.

Existem atualmente 91 campos de golfe em Portugal (dos quais 66 têm 18 ou 27 buracos). O Algarve é a região que concentra o maior número de campos em Portugal (44%), seguido da região de Lisboa (17,58%).

Segundo a organização, o World Golf Awards “visam estimular a indústria turística do golfe e resultam da votação online de profissionais ligados ao setor, a operadores turísticos especializados e a meios de comunicação dedicados ao golfe, mas também do público”.



Forbes considers Portugal one of the best destinations for real estate investment



 “From an investment perspective, The Todora-Petraglia Team feels that today’s best properties can be found in Portugal and Panama. Granted, risk profile, investment horizon and tax consequences should be considered before making any decisions. But according to the real estate experts, Portugal is an excellent choice because their real estate prices are generally undervalued and rental returns are strong…”



Why Portugal’s majestic Douro Valley should be on your holiday wish list

Courtesy of “The Telegraph”




“The Douro valley is a majestic wilderness, one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world”

If the label on a port bottle seems something of a puzzle (what, exactly, is LBV? Tawny? Single Quinta? – for answers, see box below), then the region where it is produced, the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, can feel every bit as mysterious.

A Unesco World Heritage site since 2001, the Douro is a majestic wilderness, one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world, but a surprisingly silent place, apart from three bustling weeks of harvest each autumn.

Until now a cruise up the Douro was the only popular way to holiday here – a lovely way to see the river, but quite time-consuming and not for everyone. So why don’t more port lovers – perhaps on a short break to Porto – make the trip up to these beautiful terraced vineyards where the port grapes are grown? Perhaps because there weren’t enough appealing places to stay.

The bright lights of Porto often overshadow Douro

The bright lights of Porto often overshadow Douro


Also, I’m sure, because they just didn’t have to. For centuries port shippers have packed off their famous fortified wines to age down river near the coast, where they slumber in oak casks at the huge port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia.Gaia is just across the river from Porto, and is geared up for guests, offering plenty of touring and tasting opportunities near the modern international airport, without the rigours of a journey 100km inland to the hot and arid, if spectacular, Douro Valley.

Those that did make the trip often travelled in a creaky old train from Porto’s Sao Bento station to the village of Pinhao, which sits by the river at the heart of the vineyards – a memorable trip with stunning scenery, but slow and rickety, and stifling in summer.

"I stayed at the five-star Yeatman hotel in Gaia, which has astonishing views"
“I stayed at the five-star Yeatman hotel in Gaia, which has astonishing views”


The roads felt arduous, too, up and over the Marao mountain range. And, as one port shipper put it, the drive “could be really hairy” in bad weather. A day or two in the Douro, travelling by car or train, clearly didn’t have much appeal.

That all changed earlier this year with the opening of a six-kilometre tunnel through the Serra do Marao range along a new stretch of the A4 motorway between Amarante and Vila Real. The driving time from Porto to Pinhao has now been cut by about 20 minutes and it is a much smoother journey, too. At the same time, two new visitor centres have opened up in the port heartland of the Upper Douro.

You can head off around the vineyard for a guided tour, then tread the grapes at harvest time

Earlier in the summer I spent an afternoon at Quinta da Roeda, less than a mile from Pinhao. “Quinta” means country estate, and the old barns and stables of the grape farm here have been converted by the Fladgate Partnership port group into a visitor centre with a terrace overlooking the Benedita vineyard, dotted round the edges with century-old olive trees.

Fladgate presides over the Taylor’s, Croft, Fonseca and Krohn ports; you can taste the Croft range at the centre, then head off around the vineyard for a guided tour, and even put your best foot forward and tread the grapes here during harvest-time (though it’s best to book that in advance). The other Fladgate ports can be tasted at the Quinta do Panascal estate, also open to the public, near Pinhao.

The Vintage House Hotel, on the riverfront in Pinhao
The Vintage House Hotel, on the riverfront in Pinhao


The Fladgate Partnership, in particular its chief executive Adrian Bridge, has been key to the development of port tourism in Porto, Gaia and in the Upper Douro. It has also just reopened the Vintage House Hotel on the riverfront in Pinhao, right across the tracks from the pretty little train station.

The hotel, first created from old port warehouses in 1998, has had several incarnations over the years, but this is its smartest, with pale blue and yellow rooms that fill with light from the wide glinting river below, and serene green riverside gardens.

The wine list at the Vintage House restaurant showcases fine labels from all over Portugal. I chose sautéed salt cold with eggs, olives, roast peppers and salsa verde, washed down with a cool glass of Quinta da Romaneira, a crisp local white wine (no, they are not all red and fortified in port country).

The Fladgate Partnership is not the only port company developing tourism here. The Symington Family Estate (which makes Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, and Cockburn ports among others), last year threw open the doors of Quinta do Bomfim, less than five minutes’ walk from Pinhao.

Barrels of port wine maturing in the Offley cellars in Porto
Barrels of port wine maturing in the Offley cellars in Porto


This visitor centre is notable for its museum containing old winemaking and vineyard equipment with 19th and early 20th-century photographs of the Douro. You can take a vineyard tour here, too, enjoy a tasting and, during vintage, watch the various stages of winemaking. They even provide picnics, complete with wine.

The two visitor centres could be seen as rivals (as might the two port houses that own them), but with several decent hotels now open, there is no reason not to stay in Pinhao and see both. And once there, the most appealing way to travel up and down the Douro, seeing the various quintas, is by traditional rabelo boat.

Flat, wide, wooden barcos rabelos were used for centuries to transport port barrels down river to their resting places in the lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia. Today the old cargo boats still float outside the port lodges of Gaia by the city, and are spruced up for the annual rabelos port shippers’ race on June 24, St John’s Day.

Back in the Douro Valley, you can jump into one outside the Vintage House and be taken for a more peaceful hour afloat.

Douro valley vineyards
Douro valley vineyards CREDIT: © HEMIS / ALAMY/HEMIS / ALAMY


Once back in Porto, with a night to spare before the flight home, I stayed at the five-star Yeatman hotel in Gaia, with its astonishing views, a swoop of city scenery that takes in a steely-grey expanse of river, stunning high bridges across to Porto and a mosaic of ancient buildings in white, orange and tan across the river.

Surprisingly, until the hotel was built in 2010, this site was unused. The Yeatman is now a seriously swish hotel. It has a fabulous spa, so vast I got lost in it, what with all the Roman baths, tepidarium, hammam, saunas, and Caudalie Vinotherapie treatment rooms (which use grape products in their body wraps, exfoliants and creams).

The hotel’s wine cellar, presided over by the youthful and dynamic Beatriz Machado, can deliver 83 wines by the glass and 1,300 by the bottle to the restaurant which is also known for inventive port cocktails and delectable seafood.

You can take a vineyard tour, enjoy a tasting and watch the various stages of winemaking. They even provide picnics, complete with wine

The Yeatman is also owned by the unstoppable and acquisitive Fladgate Partnership, which this summer opened a new large-scale Taylor’s port visitor centre next door to the hotel, and has also recently bought the hotel Infante Sagres in the heart of Porto.

Apart from the port trade, there are enticing food shops, busy bars, baroque cafés and seafood restaurants in the city, which is fast becoming a popular place for a short break.

It may be tempting to stay in town for the whole of your trip. But I recommend that you take to the new fast road, drive through that tunnel, or go by train, pitching up for a day or two in port vineyards. The Douro can now be done at more of a dash – and it isn’t going to be quite so mysterious in the future.

Know your ports | A quick guide to fortified wine

Port is a fortified wine made in the Douro Valley; spirit is added during the wine-making process to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sweetness in the port and adding alcoholic strength.

The grapes are a blend of local Portuguese varieties. Most are red and long-aged in wooden casks.

Red ports

Ruby: inexpensive red port bottled relatively young after two or three years in wood.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV): wine from a single year bottled after five or six years in cask and ready to drink on release.

Single Quinta Vintage: port from the grapes of one estate only and made from one year’s harvest. They are often made by port producers in years which have not been “declared” for a classic vintage port.

Vintage: Only about three harvests per decade are “declared” good enough for a classic vintage (one-year) release which will state the year on the label. The best fruit from the best vineyards generally goes into these complex and rich wines. They are aged for only two years in barrel, are not filtered and may need ageing for many years until they mellow.

Tawny: port aged for a notably long time in barrel until it becomes amber-hued, smooth and nutty in flavour. Aged tawny comes in 10, 20, 30 and 40-year-old styles. A Colheita or Single Harvest is a port from one year that has been aged as a tawny.

White and rosé

White port is enjoyed as an apéritif in Portugal, either chilled and neat or topped up with cold tonic and ice, usually served with salted almonds. Rosé or pink port is a refreshing modern alternative, mixed with cold tonic, soda water or, for a sweeter long drink, lemonade or used as an ingredient in cocktails




Portugal is the 6th most beautiful country in the world

according to the Destination Guide UCityGuides

Read more: http://www.ucityguides.com/cities/top-10-most-beautiful-countries-in-the-world.html


 For the pristine natural wonders of the volcanic Azores alone, Portugal would be on this list. Then there’s the “floating garden” that is Madeira, the dramatic coastline and mystical capes of the mainland, the serene plains of the Alentejo with the stunningly-sited white medieval vilages of Marvão and Monsaraz, the Peneda-Gerês National Park, or the perfect collaboration of man and nature in the magic fantasy of Sintra and verdant Douro Valley. And while the old centers of Lisbon and Porto are inexplicably rundown and stubbornly neglected, it’s hard to match their scenic beauty with their grand riverside settings. Everything is in a small scale but when all combined it’s impressive how so much diverse beauty somehow fits in such a tiny country that seems to be a favorite of the sun.