A Douro Valley road trip

The Douro Valley is best described in a single word, evocative. Staggering views of vineyards, undulating terraced hillsides, soul stirring vistas. You soon realise that this is a drive that will remain memorable. Falling in love with the terraced vineyards and quintas is inevitable. Just let it all wash over you and enjoy the experience.

Our journey into the Douro is taken via a circuitous route. We travel from Spain, through Ciudad Rodrigo then north through San Felices de los Gallegos before we cross the Portuguese border to the west of Lumbrales. Travelling through these parts encompasses the pilgrimage route of the Way of St James. It is far away from tourist Spain and we continue to enjoy the rural experience.

The quiet toad through San Felices de los Gallegos, a historical and monumental town in the province to the west of Salamanca, is a trip through Spain’s western frontier. This town held a strategic position during the struggles between the kingdoms of Castile and Portugal. The castle of San Felices de los Gallegos was built at the end of the 13th century and over time, it was added to and was shaped like a star.

The real star of this road trip, though, is the Douro Valley. It is the primary wine-growing region of northern Portugal, noted for its port wine. Having read about the Douro, we knew it would be beautiful, but no idea just how beautiful. Sure, we are spoiled in Australia with some beautiful wine regions and splendid vistas, each having its own character. But nothing like the Douro. This is a delightful region. It is one of the most evocative landscapes we have seen, with vineyards rolling up and down the terraced hillsides, stone villages, palatial quintas – postcard views on almost every corner.

The drive along the Douro makes you step down a gear. You are almost compelled to slow down and enjoy what is before you. The drive tracks the bends of the Douro River. This is as picturesque as it is inspiring. How can you not but fall in love with steeply climbing vines and views from the meandering road high above the terraces. From every viewpoint, your vista is reduced to a postcard. You take in the full sweeping views across the river and valley beyond, the stone terraced vineyard and the river carving its way to the ocean, near Porto.

Driving on the small roads along the river valley provides a great introduction to this region. The roads are arduous too, up and over mountain ranges, plunging back down to the river valley. We can’t imagine how hard it must be to farm land this steep, how the vineyards are tended and olives harvested — but there are many families that have been doing so for centuries!

Arriving in Pinhão after a slow and winding trip presented us with an opportunity to enjoy the Douro River. The small town is encircled by terraced hillsides and sits on a lovely bend of the Douro River. Here, wineries dominate the scene and compete for the visitor. Otherwise, Pinhão is nothing much, just a small town located right in the heart of the Douro region.

It was here in Pinhão that we enjoyed a delightful lunch at the family run Quinta de la Rosa, on the terrace overlooking the river below and across Pinhão. We gaze out across the river and to the vines rolling into the terraces beyond. This quinta is simply stunning. It is beautifully restored and tastefully extended with modern facilities.

Our accommodation in the Douro was located in the small hamlet of Provesende, located above the Valley’s vineyard-terraced beauty. The hamlet is nestled into the mountain and surrounded by its own vineyards. While Provesende is away from the river, it has wonderful valley vistas. The town is small and has delightful narrow cobblestone streets.

The remote and somewhat treacherous location undoubtedly limits the encroachment of the modern world. The town has some handsome white-plastered and stone-trimmed buildings, tiny alleyways with ancient stones paths and curves that spark curiousity to see lurks around the corner, which was usually a dead end or barking dog!

Exploring the village on foot was pleasant and relaxing, almost untouched from a bygone era. Sadly, though, many of the old houses are in ruins and it is heartbreaking to see them crumbling away with time, particularly in light of the village’s position. We loved Provesende. Having experienced the Duoro, I would reserve a couple of days for the valley and stay at a nice quinta, such as Quinta Manhãs in Provesende.

The Douro Valley impressed us with its great value for money. Even though we did not complete a route following the river to Porto, we left feeling that we experienced a nice slice of heaven. I am sure that no matter the route chosen, once you drive through the region, you will leave it wishing you could have spent many more days there. Simply not enough time to explore every aspect of this enchanting wine region.

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