Even if you don't fancy drinking wine, the history, landscape and savoir-faire crafted into each bottle is really something amazing. Wine is born from beautiful vineyard landscapes, pairs with delicious local food and brings people together, in both its simplest and most luxurious expressions, as a shared experience.
But wine is increasingly promoted and appreciated as a monoculture in many traditional regions like Douro Valley where it is rather just one of many agricultural goods and artisan crafts.
Today we step out of the wine bubble to appreciate the wide range of wonderful resources and experiences Douro Valley has to offer for other traveler interests!
Douro Valley Museums
Think of Régua’s Museu do Douro as your gateway into Douro Valley. This well-designed, interactive museum covers the history and winemaking evolution of this oldest demarcated and regulated wine region in the world and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Don’t miss the vintage film showing the treacherous transport of pipas (Port barrels) downriver to Vila Nova de Gaia for storage before shipping overseas to England. Find nice soaps, ceramics, books, wine paraphernalia and other gifts in the boutique, a rotation of local art and photography in the temporary exhibit and refreshing Port Tonics on the patio overlooking Douro River.
The Núcleo Museológico de Pão e Vinho in Favaios is a charming and informative museum covering local wheat bread and sweet Moscatel wine production.
Pass Pinhão en route to pick up some cheese and charcuterie at the famous Qualifer butcher and aim to arrive in Favaios by 11:00 and pop into a local bakery (the museum can suggest which one) before your visit to watch local women shape the famous four-cornered bread and bake it in a wood-burning oven. Come back after the museum to stock up on fresh bread to complement your bounty from Pinhão and a bottle of Moscatel for lunch.
Above Pinhão, in Casal de Loivos, D’Origem olive mill and museum is another place to taste and learn about another of Douro’s rich gastronomic resources - the so-called “liquid gold” that is olive oil and the ancient mills and techniques that produce it.
Douro Valley Markets
Peruse fresh, local produce, cheese, charcuterie, bread, olives and other specialties and gifts from charismatic merchants at Régua’s traditional municipal market, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8h00 - 12h00. Wednesdays’ stands are more diverse, including textiles, livestock, farm equipment, woven baskets and terra cotta crafts.
Douro Valley Art
Businesses in Alijó are fighting to bring world-class cultural stimulation to Portugal’s more rural areas. Quanta Terra is a historic distillery-turned-boutique-winery and tasting room currently exhibiting impressive pieces by Joana Vasconcelos (more internationally-acclaimed artists to come!) Casa do Noura is a recently-opened municipal exhibition center featuring temporary exhibits and quality local products besides wine, like honey, bread and olive oil.
Quanta Terra Exhibit
Alternatively, you can hone however Douro Valley inspires your own artistic expression by signing up for a tile painting workshop with Marta Barato, an entrepreneurial local ceramicist with an atelier in Régua.
Douro Valley Historical Monuments and Architecture
Outside the heart of Douro Valley, Casa de Mateus in Vila Real is an 18th-century Baroque masterpiece, designed by architect Nicola Nausoni behind Porto’s Clérigos Tower. Explore beautifully designed rooms, gardens, fountains and botanical mazes. Afterwards, head to Vila Real’s historic center for a wander and a glass or bite at the sleek Cais da Villa or hip 259.
Lamego’s Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios is a beautiful hilltop church accessible via 700 steps or a tree-lined, shady road. Head down to Pastelaria da Sé along the central avenue for a slice of traditional bola stuffed with wine-marinated pork, moist chicken, flaky fish, or succulent veggies or a sweet, custard-stuffed bola de Berlim.
We’ll wrap up our list of Douro’s cultural heritage pit stops with São João de Tarouca’s impressive 12th-century monastery. This was Portugal’s first Cistercean monastery and features an ancient wine press, interesting museum and aromatic herb garden. Nearby, in Ucanha, climb up a medieval watchtower and walk across the 14th-century bridge for a traditional lunch of milhos (savory cornmeal porridge with various meats and cabbage) with a local chocolate liqueur for dessert at Tasquinha da Matias.
Douro Valley Hiking
The Farah Trading Co Team Hiking the Trails at Quinta Nova
Hiking aficionados, don’t let the lack of recommendations on the internet deter you - formal trails with clear start and stop points are a developing “attraction” in Douro. Wander between old vines and olive groves and down charming dirt roads without ever coming across a “no trespassing” sign and seldom another hiker, although you’ll usually always have a small town in eyesight as a guiding reference.
There are some registered and well-signaled trails around Folgosa and even more in Alíjo (Trilho das Fragas das Más has an incredible view!) and some wineries like Quinta do Tedo and Quinta Nova have their own. One of our favorites starts with a taxi ride from Pinhão up to Provesende where you can enjoy a glass of wine, Port or a bite to eat at the familiar Papas Zaide before walking downhill on the Trilho de São Cristovão back to Pinhão amidst vineyards and breathtaking views - it’s still a workout with gravity playing on your side!
The best resources to find information about these trails are via wikiloc.com, alltrails.com, osmeustrilhos.pt, 100atalhos.com, solagasta.com, walkingportugal.com or by hiring a local guide like Douro Walks, Paralelo 41 Expeditions or Grapeland. The latter two also offer more adrenaline-rushing sport options, like kayaking, mountain biking and 4x4 quad off-roading. You can also rent an e-bike and self-guided itinerary with GPS included via GoOnBike in Régua.
Douro Valley River Boat Cruise
Of course, no Douro Valley visit is complete without a river boat cruise. Of many options, we suggest a sunset tour with RIVUS Wine Boat’s fun and engaging local father-son duo - Captain António and his son, Barman António - and a Quinta do Tedo Porto Rosé Tonic on a classic English Trawler from the 70s. Alternatively, Douro Magnifico offers tours on more traditional Barco rabelos.
RIVUS Wine Boat’s fun and engaging local father-son duo take a boat ride with our author, Odile Bouchard!
Douro Valley Bird Watching
In recent years, Douro Valley has increasingly also become a bird-watcher’s haven. Bonelli’s Eagles, Egyptian Vultures, Red Kites and and other large birds of prey, rainbow-colored Bee Eaters, Gray Herons and Great Cormorants, swallows, thrushes and warblers and many migratory bird species can be spotted all-year long. Find a calm and quiet place to enjoy them, like Quinta do Tedo’s river eco-reserve where 120 species are registered in their bird-watching pamphlet.
Douro Valley Star Gazing & Lookouts
Away from major cities, Douro Valley has pristine night skies which you can enjoy star-gazing on your own or with EV Tours including pick up in a Tesla and a mountain top picnic with opportune valley views. EV Tours owner Sérgio Costa is wonderfully-mannered and well-informed local, and great company in general.
Speaking about mountaintops, there are many in Douro Valley with incredible views - these are called “miradouros”. Armamar’s Miradouro de São Domingos boasts a view across 5 districts from the Marão mountains to Lamego, Peso da Régua and Douro Valley. Miradouro de São Salvador do Mundo inland near São João de Pesqueira and Miradouro do Ujo up river lie a bit beyond the heart of Douro Valley - here the landscape evolves from from man-made terraced vineyards to wild and dramatic mountain plateaus and river gorges.
Miradouro de São Leonardo de Galafura, near Régua, may be Douro Valley’s most iconic miradouro - it’s adorned with literary giant Miguel Torga’s poems and strategically located next to Restaurante São Leonardo where you can enjoy great traditional dishes and cheap, quaffing and delicious white house wine. Miradouro de Santo António, also near Régua, is next to another well-known restaurant, Varanda da Régua. Of course, beautiful food and views go hand-in-hand in Portugal!