While I was spending last week in Porto, CoolTour Oporto invited me to check out their famous Douro Valley Tour (#7 of 133 Tours in Porto, Certificate of Excellence on Tripadvisor).
Many people visit Porto mainly with the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Douro valley region in mind, famous for its port wine production (they are the only region that is officially allowed to call their wine port wine, even though some Australians do not seem to have taken notice yet). A bit harsh on the beautiful seaside city of Porto, but once you’ve done this tour you’ll understand the enthusiasm.
An old friend from Germany, who was spending the week with me in Porto, and I were picked up at our hotel at 9:30am. The only other guests were a gentleman in his 50ies from Portland, Oregon, who owned shares in a vineyard and a restaurant that had just been crowned one of the five best U.S. wine restaurants, and a bubbly young lady from Sydney, who is working as a graphic designer in Durham, England. It is still off-season here. During main season it’s best to reserve your place well in advance.
Our first stop was in Peso da Régua, where we checked out a few of the local bakeries with their lovely pastries and enjoyed the view towards the first few hill ranges of the valley (yes, rivers do tend to prefer valleys to mountain tops, but it’s only called Douro Valley from that point onwards) and the two bridges that were covered in the morning mist.
After 20 minutes we hopped back into the van and made our way to D’Origem vineyard in Casal de Loivos, right next to Pinhão, where we were walked through the production process of olive oil, given an overview of their wine production, and tasted some of the best wines I’ve tasted during that week, sold under the ‘Velha Geração’ (‘Old Generation’) label. Different from many other regular (non-port wine) wines of the region, they taste like solid wines, and not like low-alcohol, dry port wines, they were similar to great wines I’ve tasted in Spain, France, or Italy. At just above £10 some of their best wines come at a very reasonable price.
We also tasted some of their delicious, locally sourced honey and other produce.
A short while later we found ourselves boarding a boat in Pinhão, that was made to look similar to the vessels that used to transport the port wine barrels from here to Porto. Well, not quite Porto, it was Vila Nova de Gaia the barrels were transported to (it took over a week in the mid-19th Century). Despite the port wine being named after Porto, it never touched Porto. It was in its slightly larger (just over 300,000 residents today, as opposed to just under), even though much less important twin city of Gaia on the other side of the river, that the port wine was shipped from around the world, mainly to England).
We passed by the magnificent iron bridge that crosses the river here and enjoyed the beautiful scenery for about 40 minutes, until the boat docked again at Pinhão pier.
From there it was just a minute’s drive to Sabores do Douro restaurant. The menu only ever contains two dishes per day. On the day we visited the choice was between cod and pork, so we thought might as well, and went for both. Our tour guide was convincing, when he said that the food tasted just like his grandmother’s cooking, and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. For dessert, three different varieties of cake were offered, and again we tried all three of them. ‘Drunken cake’ was my personal favourite, a sponge cake soaked in port wine, what’s not to like?
The next stop was Pinhão train station with its fabulous traditional blue-and-white painted tiles, and off we went again alongside the picturesque river valley towards our next and final destination, a port wine distillery about one third back to Porto, where the sister-in-law of the winemaker (the latter also female), a charming lady who must be well into her sixties, made us immediately feel at home when she gave us a tasting session of the various port wines her house produced, each with a different snack on the side. It was moving when she pointed to the black-and-white picture on the wall which shows the wife of the founder, a member of her family-in-law.
We gave quick cuddles to the large number of all types of dogs (the biggest one being a 45kg shepherd’s dog that had the gracefulness of a king, or potentially was just an exceptionally lazy bone, hard to tell, when it comes to dogs), before we drove back to Porto after a truly brilliant experience.
When writing this post, I was thinking about including more facts about the wine and the port wine, the processes involved in producing it. We learned a lot during our tour, but compared with seasoned wine experts, whose blog posts are easy to find, I decided that there was nothing I could add. I love my wine, but what I enjoyed most about this trip, was the taste experience (without having to think too much about the processes and details behind it), the majestic nature everywhere, and the lovely people we met along the way. Great day indeed.