During our first trip to Portugal, we had the Douro Valley on our bucket list. However, we ran out of time and ended up just driving through this magical place. In 2022, we were back and this time – we made sure to explore this place as it should be explored. We drove our motorhome, but there are several different ways to explore the Douro Valley. Here is our guide to one of the most beautiful places on earth!
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Douro Valley – what is it?
Douro Valley is not a city. In fact, the Douro Valley stretches for 80 kilometers along the river with the same name. The starting point is outside of Porto in northern Portugal. It’s a must-see and it’s a place where small villages are surrounded by vineyards. This is the place where the grapes are mainly grown to create the famous port wine that you can buy all over the world.
It looks like you are transported into another world. Small curvy roads allow you to stop every so often to take in some amazing views of the scenery. Terraces upon terraces with the grapes growing for the wine industry. And every so often, a small village that you can visit and buy some wine to bring with you. The Douro Valley is truly stunning and a place that you just need to experience.
Douro Valley is an UNESCO World Heritage Site
In 2001, parts of the Douro Valley were declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Excavations show that there has been cultivation’s of grapes here since 200 to 300 century during the Roman times. Today, a lot of the newer plantations are modernized but, a lot of them are still very old and everything has to be done by manual labor. It’s a lot of hard work to produce the grapes and even though the Douro Valley is famous for their port wine – a lot of the producers also make their own wine.
Make sure to see the differences in the vineyards, the old ones are more narrow and they have schist slabs to hold the grape plants up instead of wooden poles. The newer plantations are wider and there you can drive with a smaller tractor. So, it is the old parts of the vineyards that have become the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Vineyards For Port Wine and Table Wine
Even though the Douro Valley is mainly known for its Port wine, they also make great red and white table wines. There’s a reason why it’s mainly focused on the port and here’s why… Years ago – the interest in making table wine in the Douro valley wasn’t that great for the farmers. So, a lot of them got together and sold their grapes to all the port wine companies in Vila Nova De Gaia (Porto).
However, after years of doing that, they realized that they were giving their gold away for not that much money. And, with younger generations coming into the family business they decided to start making table wine. And boy are we glad they did. The table wines from the Douro Valley are amazing. The best of them are the ones from small places, so-called Quintas. Don’t get me wrong, they still sell grapes to the port companies but now, you can buy their bottles too!
A Quinta is a wine estate that has opened up to tourism!
Museo do Douro – A Great Introduction To The Douro Valley
There are several different ways you can visit the Douro Valley and we will cover several different options later in this article. However, a great way to start your visit and to learn more about the wine and the region is to visit the Museo do the Douro. Located in Peso da Regua it is a gateway into the rich history of this region. The museum is interactive and so much fun.
My favorite part was at one station where you are supposed to smell the right scent. Let me tell you – it’s a lot harder than you think. I did pretty well but as soon as Mini said the right scent I could smell what he was saying. So much fun! There is also a nice exhibition with wooden leaves. The leaves are engraved with the names of the grapes. It’s interesting to see how different the leaves are even though they are all the same in one way.
Learn More About The Port Wine At The Museum
Walking around inside the museum, just enjoying the different exhibitions. Another favorite of ours was the walls with the different bottles of Port wine from the different companies. There are so many different companies that produce port wine and you can see them all in Porto – lined up, offering port wine tastings.
There’s also a bar inside the museum where you can get something to drink. And at the end of your visit here, there’s a store where you can buy some bottles to bring back home with you. However, we recommend you to visit the different Quintas and buy the wine straight from them.
Address to the museum: Rua Marquês de Pombal, Peso da Regua.
A great tip: Buy a Passport at the museum. It has a map with all the quintas marked out and it makes for an easier trip!
Different ways to visit the Douro Valley
There are several different ways that you can explore the Douro Valley. We came here by motorhome but there are other options. Plan ahead and make the most out of your trip. Some of the Quintas have rooms that you can rent. Here are different ways how you can enjoy the Douro Valley and have a great time!
Douro Valley as a day trip
Most day trips start from Porto. You make arrangements and get picked up. This is a great option if you don’t want to be driving yourself. The tour arranger will take you to different Quintas where you get to try the wine and just relax. No need to be driving yourself – everything is taken care of! It’s nice to be able to try wine without having to worry about transportation. There are also day trips offered from Braga, if that’s where you’re staying.
Douro Valley by car
A lot of people drive, either their own car or a rental. Even if you probably will want to drink some wine, there’s a solution for that. Check in to a Quinta. Park your car, stay for the night, and pack up the next morning to go to another vineyard. It might be a good idea to book your spot in advance since a lot of the vineyards have limited space. If you go by car, you’ll have more freedom and you can pick and choose whatever places you want to visit.
Douro Valley by motorhome
This was our choice of travel during our visit to the Douro Valley. There are both pros and cons to coming here with a motorhome. On the upside, you have your home with you so you can sleep outside the Quinta (something most of them will allow). However, a lot of the streets are narrow and you might not be able to drive all the way to the vineyard.
We visited two different Quintas and we had to park the car further down the street in order to be able to visit the places. With that said, make sure that you can fit with your motorhome if that’s your choice of transportation. We spent the night in Parque de Pernoita de Autocaravanas where they have a large parking for motorhomes for 3 Euros/night. A tip is also to park your motorhome here and grab a grab which is really affordable in Portugal overall.
Douro VAlley as a Cruise
There are several different tour operators that will arrange cruises along the Douro river. You can choose from different options. Some of them are day trips while others are overnight. There are even cruises that will go from the Douro Valley to Spain. This is a good and relaxing way to travel and to enjoy the scenic routes of this majestic landscape.
Gueda Wines Tours and tastings
Gueda is the result of a brother and a sister, continuing their family’s legacy. It’s a fresh and different way to explore some really great wines. The Quinta is so nice and here, they offer both tours and tastings of their products. They might have the most awesome label too – a chicken. You might wonder why that is? That’s a story that you will learn when visiting this place.
One innovative thing that we really liked was the audio guide that we got while visiting parts of the vineyard. We got to stroll around the premises by ourselves and could take it at our own pace. After the walk, we got to have an amazing wine and olive oil tasting. Gueda Wines is a great place to visit in the Douro Valley.
Dorigem Wines and Olive Oils
Another really nice Quinta in the Douro Valley is Dorigem. Family-owned and with one of the nicest balconies overlooking the vineyard. When you come to Dorigem, you’ll also get to see the old olive oil mill and learn more about how the production was made. They offer both wine and olive oil tastings in a really nice environment. The wine is of great quality and, their olive oil is good too.
If you want, you can also spend a night here at Dorigem. They offer several rooms where you can spend the night and just enjoy yourself. And, ask to try their homemade jam while being here – it’s amazing and made out of their own homegrown products.
Douro Valley is more than wine
Maybe you noticed that we ended up trying more than wine. In fact, the Douro Valley is also known for its olive oils. Since we both are huge fans of olive oil we ended up visiting Quintas that produce olive oil as well. There are so many flavors and tastes in olive oils that we recommend everyone to stock up on that while being in Portugal. Personally, our favorite oil is made by Esporao which is located in Alentejo.
The best tip we can get you is to buy your wine and olive oil at the Quintas. Since most of them have limited production, you won’t be able to buy their wine inside a store. This is especially when it comes to the smaller producers that make their own table wine on a smaller scale. And, you won’t get ruined because these wines are offered at very good prices!