Staying with winemakers in Portugal’s Douro Valley

with 16 Comments

My greatest pursuit prior to visiting Douro Valley was not about finding the best port wine or the choicest stay. I was obsessed with the idea of finding a vineyard that has its own historic rabelo (a vintage boat found in the region), and offered vineyard picnics with tours on the boat. The Douro is dotted with innumerable boats offering river cruises, but the one I was chasing seemed elusive. It was only after Bharat’s subtle reminder that I actually started looking for stay options in this rather quiet, lush corner of the northern Portuguese countryside.

The Location

A couple of hours east of the city of Porto, Douro Valley is a curvy hideaway with trails of vineyards on both sides of the road. Having visited the Tuscan wine region in the past, we were excited about what Douro would have in store. Apart from being a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is also home to Michelin starred restaurants and wine estates of some of Portugal’s biggest port winemakers (Sandemans is a big one). But more importantly, the valley is one of the oldest wine districts in Europe. And we were hoping to experience some of that history (hence my quest for an authentic historic rabelo). That’s also when we chanced upon the idea of staying in a traditional Quinta or a country house.

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These quintas are small, family run wine estates with limited number of rooms, and wine production facilities on site. I found Douro4u through a trail of searches, checked for reviews and shot Manuela Coelho of Quinta de Tourais an email. Douro4u is a wine association of small, independent wine producers and Quinta de Tourais belongs to this group of winemakers who are attempting to preserve the small scale setups initiated by their forefathers.

On the road

Avoiding the highways, we took the alternative route to the valley. The roads were narrow and at times our GPS wasn’t too predictable. But the valley seemed to whisper a welcome through its slow winds and wild shrubs. The sleepy village of Amarante on our way had all the requisite elements for falling in love. An ancient church, street shops and cafes silently awaiting visitors, a bridge over a river and typical Portuguese pastelerias.

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A short drive away from the Regua railway station, Quinta de Tourais sits on a street corner, and looks like a welcoming family home.

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Sounds of chirping birds, an old wheelbarrow, a cat, orange and berry (pitaari in India) trees welcomed us as we entered the Quinta. Walking inside on the cobblestone path, we found ourselves in a spacious courtyard under the sun. The rooms and living room were on either side and a fleet of stairs led us to Manuela’s home and a rooftop terrace with a pool.

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Some places are designed to trigger relaxation. This quinta was one of those. There were corners to lounge by, enough room to twirl around or taste wine in the sun. I could sense that our stay would be a good one. But Manuela seemed to be anxious. The reason? My request for a vegetarian dinner. It then struck me that my casual expectation from this seafood loving country seemed to have caused some upheaval. We offered help but she graciously refused, encouraging us to enjoy the surroundings.

 

A photo posted by Fun Travelog (@funtravelog) on

After a quick cold dip in the pool, we took to the road again. This time to leisurely drive by the river and visit the train station in the village of Pinhão. At that late afternoon hour, it appeared that the Portuguese took their siesta as seriously as their Spanish neighbors. The station was fairly deserted and we took the opportunity to admire the fine tilework or azulejos. What I particularly noticed was that the tiles either intricately depicted significant elements of history or nature or were simple patterns repeated in two or three shades. While both kinds looked very attractive, the simpler ones tended to be more eye-catching.

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Wine production facilities

Subjecting our starving tummies to additional patience, we hopped over to the family’s vineyards upon our return. Olive trees separated one vineyard from another. The harvest season was months away but the vines were breathtakingly green. We also met Fernando, Manuela’s husband, who gave us a tour of their wine making facilities.

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The facilities are a different (and darker) world from the vineyards. Cork barrels with fermented wine from different years were stored in one corner, an entire room dedicated to grape crushing occupied another side. Wine bottles designed every year by local artists for the quinta‘s wines were lined up on a ledge. Fernando explained how port wine was made by adding grape spirit to wine and then through subsequent fermentation. It was fascinating to hear about the process, and I secretly hoped for another holiday to a vineyard during grape harvesting season to witness the actual wine making.

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Feast for the kings

We had been curious about the outcome of Manuela’s kitchen crusades and were looking forward to dinner. Turned out, she owns a restaurant in Regua village and the meal ended up being one of the best in my books. Every dish was thoughtfully prepared and the various flavors blended together in delicious harmony. Our meal included multiple appetizers, main dishes, an assortment of accompanying cheese, wines from their estate and desserts that I still have the sweetest cravings for. I was armed with my camera in the dimly lit dining room, but on seeing the spread and the hospitable family surrounding the table, it felt intrusive to take photos. They had not treated us as outsiders but brought us into their home and such moments deserved undivided attention. By the time dessert arrived, I did work up the courage to snap a couple of photos from my phone. Needless to say, we slept in a happy bubble that night.

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Time is budgeted when one is on the road, but thankfully, memories aren’t. If Douro Valley was a glass of wine, I’d take this journey as my first deeply satisfying sip. Someday I’ll be back, maybe chasing those historic rabelos.

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Quick Facts

Main towns near the Quinta: Regua, Lamego and Pinhão

Scenic driving routes: Mesao Frio to Regua and Regua to Pinhão

Pit-stops to consider: Amarante village, Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Lamego church)

Informative blogs: Julie Dawn Fox, Nelson Carvalheiro

More information: Quinta de Tourais

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Supriya
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As a kid, Supriya had to be brought back to reality from her daydreaming excursions. A digital marketer by profession, she enjoys reading, writing and photography. Her wanderlust list changes each week, but she's strongly eyeing countries in South America and the Middle East as destinations for her journeys :)

16 Responses

  1. Adelina
    | Reply

    This looks amazing! Something I definitely would like to do. Most wineries I’ve been to are just wineries so it never occurred to me you can find ones you can stay at. That food looks delicious too.
    Adelina recently posted…Discovering Cordoba, Spain – A UNESCO World Heritage CityMy Profile

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Thanks a million Adelina! Oh yes Douro Valley has lots of quintas where you can spend a night or two to get the best local experience. I am very glad and pat myself for being able to find this Quinta where we stayed at 😉

      Which wineries have you visited that you would highly recommend?

  2. Elaine J Masters
    | Reply

    You are such a lovely writer! The descriptions kept me rolling through slowly the better to savor the story. I’d love to visit Douro Valley one day. Great pictures too, by the way.
    Elaine J Masters recently posted…How to connect with the real Puerto PrincesaMy Profile

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      I am so glad you loved reading through the post Elaine, means a lot! It takes me a while to get my thoughts in one place but I love it that way 🙂

      Douro Valley is so picturesque that it is hard to get a bad picture. You should plan to visit soon- it won’t disappoint you.

  3. Carol Colborn
    | Reply

    My husband loves wine and we are planning to travel to Portugal to visit its wine-producing areas like those around Porto. Thank you for giving a name to this item in our bucket list!

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      You’re most welcome Carol. We absolutely loved this area of Portugal and cannot thank Quinta de Tourais’s hosts enough. BTW when are you planning to travel?

  4. Wow, looks beautiful, you have some wonderful photos! Sounds very relaxing and love that sense of hospitality that can be found in smaller places!
    Bell | Wanderlust Marriage recently posted…How to Save Money on Phone Bills while TravelingMy Profile

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Thank you Bell. You’re right, smaller places seem to hold a charm so different from bigger places. Any small places that you’d recommend from your past visits, that one must consider? Btw, love your blog name 🙂

      Supriya

  5. Natasha
    | Reply

    Great photos! Looks like you got to try some fabulous wine and food in the area.

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Thanks Natasha. Oh yes, we were so happy for the choices available. Despite it being a seafood loving country, and us being vegetarians 🙂

  6. Justin
    | Reply

    Wow! The area looks absolutely stunning, and that food looks so delicious! I’m planning a Portugal road trip next summer, so I’ve been searching for posts like this to help me plan the trip. Definitely adding the Douro Valley to the itinerary. Very impressive photos!

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Hi Justin,

      You surely must not skip Douro Valley. Even if you see it for a day, it will be a day well spent. Summer is the best time to go, we went in early May and managed to avoid the season rush. Good luck with the planning, let us know if there’s anything else that we can suggest – we found Instagram to be a great resource while planning 🙂

  7. […] sweet and packing quite a punch, ginjinha is to Óbidos what wine is to Douro Valley. We liked it, and then liked it a lot. There’s no escaping this local specialty on the […]

  8. […] in Douro Valley was special. We stayed in a small wine estate and the our restaurateur host prepared a vegetarian meal we won’t forget […]

  9. Madhu Shetty
    | Reply

    We had made plans to stay on a quinta in Pinhão this coming Sept. but we have just swapped the Duoro valley for a few days in the Azores. Your lovely account has me wishing I hadn’t. Love your photos.

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Thanks a lot for the appreciation Madhu 🙂

      We felt we should have added a day or two more in Douro region, it was divine to lounge around and visit the cute, little villages. However you know what- Azores might hold a great surprise for you. We want to visit the islands some day given the great non-stop connectivity from Boston. Just pray for good weather when you’re there!

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