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Portugal Uncovered - The Douro Wine Valley

Travel Talk with Ed Finn

Saturday, August 28th, 2021 - 10 minutes

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.   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.  We hired a car and visited the beautiful town of Amarante between Porto and the Douro Valley and on the way to Pinhâo.   The Tâmega River runs through the town and is crossed by a large arched bridge, the Ponte São Gonçalo.  It is reputed to have helped local forces fend off a French attack in the early 19th century.  We had a delicious lunch here at Casa da Calcada which is a member of the very prestigious Relais & Chateaux  – The excellent set lunch menu was just €16 pp seated on the terrace overlooking the river - a little piece of heaven.  They do really good rates here if you'd like a great value stay in a castle  - https://www.casadacalcada.com/en/  and also across the river for a very affordable option is the lovely "Des Arts Hotel"  with doubles from just €65 including balconies with a river view.   https://www.hosteldesarts.com/en/ 

Onto Pinhāo - encircled by terraced hillsides that produce some of the world’s best port – and some stellar table wines, too – pretty little Pinhão sits on a particularly lovely bend of the Rio Douro, about 25km upriver from Peso da Régua. Wineries and their competing signs dominate the scene. Even the delightful train station has azulejos (hand-painted tiles) depicting the grape harvest. The town itself, cute though it is, holds little of interest, but does makes a fine base for exploring the many surrounding vineyards.  From here we take a lovely two hour river cruise for €15pp and then return to Quinta Bom Fim where we have some really sumptuous wine tasting with a lovely tour of the vineyard with João.  

Acquired by George Warre for Dow’s in 1896, the name of the property derived from Vale do Bomfim, ‘the well-placed valley’, as the area around the village of Pinhão was then known. In 1912, Andrew James Symington became a partner in Dow’s and made Quinta do Bomfim his Douro family home. Since then generations of Symington winemakers have worked the vineyards and enjoyed stays at this beautiful property.  One of the finest Douro estates, Quinta do Bomfim is sited in the heart of the Upper Douro Valley, ideally located in an area of transition between temperate and Mediterranean climates. Predominantly south-facing with ample solar exposure, the schist slopes are arranged in vineyard terraces which have yielded Dow’s memorable Vintage Ports for over a century.  All the grapes harvested at the property are taken to the small on-site winery where they are trodden in modern lagares, faithful to the method developed over hundreds of years which continues to make the finest Ports.  Web-site -https://www.symington.com/

Where to eat - Somewhere Special - DOC - Located right on the river between Regua and Pinhão, DOC offers upmarket, contemporary food in a glorious setting. It’s a beautiful space in which to eat while looking across the water and drinking in the scenery. Enjoy a meal with wine from about €80 (docrestaurante.pt)

Getting Around - It’s easy and relatively inexpensive, to travel along the Douro by train and local taxi – probably cheaper than hiring a car (and you won’t have to worry about drinking and driving). Choose a hotel close to the station of Pinhão, and use the taxis to ferry you between nearby vineyards.  I recommend to stay for a night or two in this area - it is a magical place full of beauty for the soul, the mind and the palette - 

For lots of info on this area visit - www.visitportugal.com and https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1046/ For Porto - www.visitporto.travel

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