Portugal, yes Portugal, has some of the best hidden gem wine regions in all of Europe as it always seems to be in the shadows of its more popular neighbors – Spain, France or Italy. The most popular region, the Douro Valley, is located in the North, and extends from Porto to the eastern boarder of Portugal. Porto is easily accessible via their own international airport (OPO), or by train connecting through most European cities. Traveling into the Douro Valley is best done by boat or train. Most hotels have a dock, or will offer transportation from the closest train station. Both options offer awe-inspiring views of the surroundings!
The Douro Valley
The vineyards of the Douro Valley are set on incredibly steep slopes surrounding the Douro River creating the most breathtaking of views. Seriously I could have sat and stared at the view all day and still feel it was not enough time. I highly recommend making the trek into the Douro Valley if possible, but if not you can still experience some great local Port and table wines in Porto and Lisbon.
White and tan hacienda-style wineries (aka “Quintas”) scatter the hillsides of the valley. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them, but we stayed at Quinta Nova De Nossa Senhora Do Carmo and it did not disappoint. It’s an intimate place with only 11 rooms giving you the feeling of a large Portuguese family home. The terraces span the different buildings on the property and offer a nice place to relax, taste wine, or layout by the pool. During your stay, carve out some time to walk the trails throughout the estate, I didn’t think the view could get better UNTIL we walked to the top of the hill! It’s well worth the walk, and a good way to work off all the wine you’ll drink! Traveling all the way into the Douro Valley and not take a guided tour would be a miss. On the tour you’ll get the chance to see some of the traditional techniques most of the vineyards are still using today.
For centuries wine has been produced in the Douro Valley, and then transported down the river to be stored before shipping. It wasn’t long before warehouses started to pop up in the suburb of Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from the city of Porto. Today those warehouses are open for tours and tastings.
Cálem Cellars was my favorite stop as they merge the two great icons of Portuguese culture – a guided tour followed by a wine tasting and Fado concert. The tour starts with time to explore their interactive museum, then moves on to a guided tour of the historic cellar, and concludes with a tasting of two port wines (Cálem Fine White, and Cálem 10 Years Old Tawyn) during a 45min Fado show.
Wherever you go while in Portugal make it a point to try one of their famous pastries – Pasteis de Nata. It’s an egg tart that I have dreamed about ever since I took my last bite. Most bakeries will sell them, but they were created by monks in the Jerónimos Monastery, in Lisbon. A major tourist attraction today and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.