Postcard from the Douro Valley
Continuing Stylecamp's four-part travel series exploring parts of Portugal, postcard number two comes from the scenic valley of the Douro River where the grapes for the country's famous Douro wines and ports are grown. If you enjoy drinking and learning about wine, a visit to the Douro region is a must!
Admiring the stunning Douro scenery in Stylecamp's floral Marlene jumpsuit
So far in our Portugal trip, we've taken in the beautiful Art Nouveau style city of Aveiro (just south of Porto), known as the 'Venice' of Portugal, and explored its beautiful golden beaches that stretched for miles. If you missed my last post, be sure to check out Stylecamp's Postcard from Aveiro to learn more about this charming city.
After a lovely two night stay in Aveiro, we hopped in the car to begin a long drive up into the wine-making region of the Douro Vallley, which would take us almost to the border of Spain.
The stunning hills of the Douro
The winding roads of the mountainous Douro valley brings you to some of the most remote and breathtaking scenery I've encountered so far, dotted with gorgeous historical Quintas that tell the story of this remarkable place.
Wine terraces for miles in the Douro
As you ascend into these amazing wine-producing mountains, rows and rows of impressive grapevines cover every inch of land as far as the eye can see. Around every turn, the different wine producers proudly lay claim to their patch, with tall, logo-bearing signs standing high over the terraces.
Young grapevines in the Douro
Wine has been produced in the Douro region for over a thousand years, as the climate in these mountains is ideal for growing the grapes needed for Portugal's famous port wines, whilst the river below was traditionally used to transport the wine back to the coastal city of Porto to be traded. I'm reliably informed that in peak summer it can get as hot as 50°C in the shade!
CASA DO RIO
Our first stop in the valley was the Casa do Rio, a fancy wine hotel near the historic Vila Nova de Foz Côa. I've since learned that the area is a UNESCO world heritage site, home to some of the most important open air Palaeolithic rock art in the world. However, that's just another reason to visit this breathtaking region.
Casa do Rio wine hotel
We booked the Casa do Rio as a very special treat and, my word, it was absolute heaven on earth. An exhilarating 3km mountain track offers glimpses of the river through fields of colourful wildflowers and leafy grapevines, to bring you to this incredibly stylish, modern hotel that sits surreptitiously into the landscape. The main part of the hotel bridges two grapevine terraces offering spectacular views over the Côa river, a vast tributary of the Douro itself.
The mountain track down to the Casa do Rio overlooks the Côa river
With only six suites on offer, the experience at Casa do Rio is extremely homely and intimate. It's owned by one of the oldest wine estates in the region, the Quinta do Vallado, who in recent times have been working as part of the 'Douro Boys' collective to produce and promote Douro wines around the world.
Casa do Rio wine hotel
On arrival we were greeted with a glass of the Quinta's white port, my first taste of a white port, which is steadily on the rise as my summer tipple of choice. We sunk back in the stylish lounge with its open-air decking that looks out onto the river, in awe of the beauty of our new surroundings, while the hotel manager relayed the evening's dinner menu to us - a sublime duck magret finished with an apricot dessert, washed down with a bottle of their lovely red wine. Our fellow guests raved about the previous evening's roasted kid goat, all sourced and produced locally, leaving us slightly envious we only had one night to enjoy it all.
Suite at the Casa do Rio
Our luxurious suite featured a huge glass window that perfectly framed the view over the river, something you could hardly resist taking millions of pictures of. Our own private decking stretched out in front where you could sip some chilled wine and stargaze the endless night sky - even make a fire if it got a little chilly. The most striking feature? The absolute peace and serentity. Hailing from the hum of London, such tranquility is something you rarely get to experience.
Wandering around the Casa do Rio estate
Despite the hotel being so remote, there was so much to do - we heartily enjoyed a wine tasting of the house wines with the staff who made you feel completely at home. Afterwards we were able to roam the vineyards and estate down to river, which was safe enough to swim in. They also provided picnics, boat trips, bike riding and kayaking. We could have easily stayed here a week.
Infinity pool at the Casa do Rio
Wanting to make the most of our short stay, the following morning we rose early to take the best swim of our lives in their amazing inifinity pool, completely surrounded by nature and restored by the gentle warmth of the rising sun. Also took some time for a little photo shoot with one of my new pieces, the Myrna shirt - I just can't get enough of those lemons!
Making the most of the stunning infinity pool at Casa do Rio - wearing the Myrna shirt in lemon print
Breakfast was a real treat with homemade pastries, meats, cheeses, jams and cakes, washed down with some much needed strong coffee after the excesses of the previous evening's sumptuous meal. We then seized the opportunity to take a kayak to explore the peaceful river and spot birds of prey nesting in the trees, before we had to tear ourselves away from this memorable place.
Azulejos at Pinhao train station - wearing Marlene floral jumpsuit
This marked the start of our journey back towards Porto, driving along the N125 which is hotly tipped as the world's most beautiful drive - I wouldn't dispute that! Our first stop was Pinhão in the central part of the region, a very sleepy town that historically played an important role in the distribution of port wines. It's famed for its intricately tiled railway station (another UNESCO site) and unusual barcos rabelos which were originally used to transport the port down-river.
Views around Pinhão
A two mile journey to the next Quinta where we were staying took around 45 minutes to drive due to the winding roads that hug the banks of the magnificent river. We were treated to some amazing scenery along the way, taking in vast miradouros, passing by old convents and some very idyllic-looking wine estates. It was a bit of a shame about the unseasonable heavy rain we experienced on the way!
Yet another jumpsuit! Dressing for dinner at the Quinta Nova
We stayed that night at the Quinta Nova which is set in some of the most beautiful surroundings the region has to offer, something we could only appreciate fully the next morning once the weather had started to break. However, their in-house award-winning restaurant fed us extremely well the night before, including dishes of roasted guinea fowl and a rich chocolate pudding to die for.
Spectacular views around the Quinta Nova
After wandering the gorgeous Quinta Nova estate, which had such a timeless 1930s charm, we nabbed a couple of homemade pasteis de natas (custard tarts) from the exquisite breakfast spread and hit the road once more back towards Porto. We stopped briefly for lunch along the way at another important wine destination in Régua.
The stylish Castas e Pratos restaurant is set in some revamped wine warehouses
The experience was unique as there were a number of restaurants and bars set within old wine warehouses nested between the railway and the river, where once the port wines would have been transported back to the city.
We ate at the very stylish Castas e Pratos restaurant, which had such a tempting food menu and vast choice of wines by the glass, it was really difficult to choose. Luckily you can't go too far wrong with a glass of the local Douro red. I settled for the veal with a pearl barley risotto which was divine, finished off with a delicate chocolate pud (standard) and a (why not?) glass of port.
Eating (and drinking!) well at Castas e Pratos restaurant
As you can perhaps tell, we really enjoyed visiting the Douro region for its amazing food and wine, finding it a must-visit also for its history and beautiful scenery. We continued our journey, following the river all the way back to the coast, so my next postcard will come from the bustling city of Porto. I look forward to sharing the next part of our trip with you!