Portugal's Douro Valley is a must if you really want to experience Port in its birthplace. While the Douro Valley is famous for its wine and Port, many travelers are often unsure if they should stay in the Douro Valley or just head to the Douro Valley for a day tour from Porto.
If you are interested in visiting wineries and small off the beaten path towns in Douro, Farah suggests renting a car in Porto, driving to Douro Valley and spending a few days exploring its winding slopes, incredible wines and views. The ride is under two hours and the beautiful views towards the latter leg of the journey will build hype for the rest of your journey!
Rachel Farah giving a tour of Quinta Nova's Rugged Slopes
Where to say in the Douro Valley?
Deciding to stay in a town or at a Quinta will shape your Douro Valley experience differently. Most Douro Valley towns are small and charming and have more diversity of dining options.
Most Douro Valley Quintas offer a full package - dining, sleeping, fun and relaxing activities all in one spot - surrounded by not much other than beautiful vineyards and nature.
The good thing is, whichever ambience you decide to call home-base, you can (and should!) drive, taxi or train out to explore the other.
The view from a Quinta high above the Douro Valley
Vila Real and Lamego
Vila Real and Lamego are the larger cities on either side of the Douro river.
While they have more to offer in terms of restaurants, shopping and cultural points of interest (such as the Igreja da Nossa Senhora dos Remédios in Lamego or Mateus Villa and gardens outside of Vila Real), they are a 30-minute drive from the heart of Douro Valley, its riverfront and Quintas.
As you are most likely coming from the urban hubs of Porto or Lisbon, we suggest you dive full-on into Douro Valley’s rural charm by staying in one of its smaller towns or Quintas and venture out to these cities for a day trip.
Régua is the gateway into Douro Valley - the largest and most dynamic riverfront town with a train station.
Check out the weekly market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Museu do Douro and the restaurants, petiscarias (traditional joints for Portuguese tapas), cafés and shops that line the renovated wooden train station walkway and cobblestone streets in the historic centre or along the riverfront esplanade.
This is a good hub from which you can visit Lamego, Vila Real, Armamar - Portugal’s Mountain Apple Capital, and the impressive monastery in Tarouca.
Pinhão is a petite Douro Valley town with a train station further upriver. It’s more charming than Régua, but has less to offer in terms of dining and shopping.
It is also a good starting point from which to visit other quaint towns, such as Alijó, Sabrosa, São João de Pesqueira and Quintas, such as Quinta Nova, Quinta do Tedo, Quinta de la Rosa, Quinta do Bomfim, nestled along the river in Cima Corgo, the heart of Douro Valley. You can also venture further out of Douro for a day trip to Mirandela or Foz Côa.
The town of Pinhão
Douro Valley Quintas/Hotels
If you really want to live an authentic and full slice of Douro Valley life, we suggest you stay at one of these Douro Valley Quintas, listed in order of how deep into Douro Valley they are: Quinta da Pacheca, across the river from Régua, offers unique luxury rooms in gigantic, converted wine barrels.
The patio at Quinta Nova
Quinta Nova also has a wine museum, chronicling the history of Port wine - a must stop if you are curious about learning more about how this elixir came to be the main economic driver of the region.
Charming Quinta de la Rosa is further upriver and walkable from Pinhão.
Right in the town of Pinhão you will find the Vintage House. Perched right above the river, the views from just about every room are magical. Most have patio or balcony allowing you really to soak in the Douro. The hotel is wonderfully situated to walk into the small town, jump on a river boat ride or even walk to a local wine tasting.
For an equally memorable experience at a more traditional hotel, we suggest the very high-end Six Senses retreat near Régua.
Now you’ve got the basic travel info you need to feel out Douro Valley and how to navigate Douro Valley’s incredible man-built landscape, friendly and hardworking people, flavorful dishes, fine wines, Ports and rich culture.
Stay tuned for our next blog series with a checklist that chronicles our top picks for wineries, restaurants and more!