A fascinating region of Portugal, for walkers as much as for wine lovers and foodies, active Douro Valley tours offer a very different experience from that of beaching in the Algarve! Not only do you have the contemporary buzz of modern Porto (also spelled Oporto), but it is also easy to step into the region’s rich history. Examples of which include the legacy of Henry the Navigator and all the amazing architecture, especially from the 17th century, which drop in beautiful tiers down to the Douro riverside in both Porto and the southern riverbank where the city Villa Nova de Gaia is found. Here you can explore town markets and sup coffee while watching the rather gentile street life from a street café.
Higher up in the village of Vilarinho de São Romão, things usually are a little cooler. From here it is a treat to explore the attractive surrounding towns and villages on foot. Walk into towns such as Sabrosa, Vilela and Provesende and pass through various growing areas of the vineyard estates called
Tourism in the Douro Valley is a fairly recent phenomenon. Aided by the development of river cruising along the navigable sections of the river and the growth in popularity of city breaks (read Porto). Because of the relatively new development, Douro Valley lacks a large tourist infrastructure, which is however very nice for walkers. Picture quiet trails and country lanes without coming across many walkers or even tourists until reaching Pinhão. This small town has a few hotels and good restaurants but is hardly crowded with tourists. On this walking holiday in Portugal, you will discover that Douro Valley is a very different landscape to many other wine producing areas.
Best time of year for Douro Valley Tours
Spring and Autumn are by far the best times for those on walking itineraries in the Douro Valley. The summer months of July and August would be too hot for most people especially in the main and side valleys and winters can be surprisingly cold. During February, March and April, hillsides and hedges will be flecked with blossoms such as almond. In late March-April the first bright green vine leaves emerge and the walking conditions at this time are at a comfortable temperature. From September, after the heat of summer, the second walking season commences, this is the time of the grape harvest
and there is much activity on the vine terraces in the quintas
- another attractive time. October and November are times for the of beautiful autumn colours on the terraces before the vine leaves final fall although rain levels pick up in October. Temperatures during the walking season vary between 5°C and around 23°C and are obviously considerably higher in the summer months.
As regards to rainfall levels they are highest in December and January and rapidly diminish to quite dry months after that.
Top 5 Things to Do in Portugal’s Douro Valley
- Walk in the amazing wine terraces and quinta wine estates high above the Douro River and particularly along its tributary, the Pinhao River. This walk takes you deep into the working wine estates of extensive terraces laced with vines and wires to support them. The area is of UNESCO World Heritage.
- Discover the two famous ironwork bridges in the region that stem from the late 1800s: The Gustav Eiffel Bridge and the magnificent Ponte de Dom Luís I. This is Porto’s most recognisable landmark over the river Douro.
- Relax and take a replica Barco Rabelo, wine boat for a little cruise along the Douro River passing numerous wine estates that advertise themselves via large riverside logo boards.
- Get lost on a Porto walking tour! The city has a maze of ancient streets and old buildings with lovely squares and terraced vistas. Plus, you’ll find plenty of amazing decorations with the blue & white azulas tiles.
- Visit a couple of port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, opposite Oporto. This town is a separate entity and is where all the traditional factories of the wine estates exist.
Find out much more about these top 5 things to do in the Douro Valley when you read the full article.
Food and Drink on Douro Valley Walks
In terms of drink there are local red and white table wines and then there are the very famous fortified wines called Port, named of course after the city of Porto (Oporto). Created in 1756 by the government of the Marquis of Pombal, The Douro Wine Region Valley, up to Barca de Alva, is the first (oldest) demarcated and regulated wine region in the world.
Much is to be said about food in the Douro Valley. Fish is caught in the Douro River and its tributaries and is served fried or marinated. Everywhere however, seafood is popular especially salted cod and when you come nearer Porto, check out the shellfish on the menu (try Arroz de Marisco!).
The Douro region is well-known for an endless number of meat dishes, which include roasted baby goat with rice and potatoes, stews, cozido à portuguesa (boiled meat, sausages and cabbages), you can also find Rojões - small cubes of fried pork loin. Then there is bread, goat’s cheese and olive oil to go with many a meal..
Desserts include traditional pastries and rice pudding and the aletria (vermicelli with cinnamon) are also some of the region’s specialties.
Other Reasons to Visit the Douro Valley, Portugal
If you book early for our Porto walking tours with dates around the 23rd June, then you can take part in the festivities of St. John, or Festa de São João. This is an interesting 600-year-old tradition with roots in pagan courtship rituals. During the street party there is a custom of people hitting each other either with garlic flowers or soft plastic hammers. The next day is the Rabelo Boat Regatta, with historic boats that were once used to transport port from the vineyards to the ‘caves’ (warehouses) on the riverbank at Vila Nova de Gaia. It is organised by the Port Wine Brotherhood and boats’ sails display the name of the wine producer to which they belong. The boats gather by the mouth of the river and then sail upstream, where you can watch the regatta from both sides of the river.
In September, Portuguese railways offer an interesting Douro Valley trip, a one day harvest celebration where you take an early train to Pinhão, have a traditional breakfast and transfer by bus to Quinta da Avessada, with popular music and Moscatel (Muscat wine) tasting and some delicacies. You can then participate in the grape harvest (buckets and scissors provided) followed by a regional lunch with red or white wine. In the afternoon you can visit to the cellars and grape treading, with the entertainment of traditional Douro singers followed by liqueur tasting. At the end of the day, you return by bus to Régua Station where you will have the special train to Porto – phew! Quite a day.
Douro Valley – How to Get There
Porto has a good international airport with links to many European cities. From the airport there are buses, taxis and a tube line to central Porto or you can take the train from São Bento or Porto-Campanha into the Douro Valley via Regua. The journey takes 2,5 hours to Pinhão. Taxis for further travels can be picked up by the station there. Return the same way.
More about Porto Walking Tours & the Douro Valley
Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful corners of Portugal and our resident guide John Millen explains in this article why it should be on your radar. The Douro Rambler trip finishes in the lively city of Porto. There are so many things to do in the town and to help you, we believe this shortened Porto walking tour may be a good start to go out and explore. Or find out why Porto is a fantastic city to visit over the Easter holidays, combine with a walking trip as the spring season is one of the best times to travel. And for those that are totally into wine and port, read more about the Douro Valley’s grape harvest season.
Walking Holidays in Douro Valley Portugal