Douro – undulating hills, vineyards and almond orchards
The hidden gems of Portugal have the power to impress and surprise even lifelong visitors. I remember living in Tabuaço, a small village near Régua, and the best memories that I have from this time of my life are the smell of the freshly baked bread and the view of endless undulating vineyards. I moved to Porto when I was 5, but since I was a child, every new visit gave me the chance to dig deeper into this beautiful place. And each and every time, I was presented with a special gift. I visit Douro, quite often and it’s an addiction for me and others. Why? Because we’re not expecting it from this place, but the truth is that Douro delivers precisely what we so often attempt to find in our day-to-day lives —genuine surprises!
The last time that I visited Douro it was in the company of Alfredo from Tourvent and Julia from @aprendizdeamelie, and even though I’ve been there so many times, when he announced that we were stopping at a viewpoint with a historic chapel, I wasn’t quite prepared for the magnificence of this spot. Miradouro of São Leonardo da Galafura is not alone. These hilltop chapels are commonplace throughout the Douro. In ancient times, the population built them at high points to be as close to the heavens as possible. They would trek up to pray for protection against thunderstorms, ailments and bad harvests. These days, they’re visited during ritual festivals.
At the top, we were welcomed by a wonderful weaving of the Douro Valley, vineyards, olive groves and almond orchards that stretch the sight. It was already Autumm, so the almond trees weren’t in bloom. But it’s already in my list for the next visit on Spring to witness the spread of pink and white buds that are sure to be a stark contrast to the sculptures of schist and granite that nature showcases along the hills and mountains brushed by the Douro River.
Douro is it’s people respect for their rich wine-production past – an authentic Port wine story can be heard in each village, and it’s proudly recounted by the wine families and producers. At the Douro Museum, this heritage is recorded for every visitor to discover. Douro is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and nowadays Douro is bursting with energy and fresh stories to share.
But you can’t visit Douro and not visit at least one winery. Viewing the striking terraced slopes of the Douro Valley on the river is magical. Doing a lazy stroll through the vineyards, breathing the ancient stories, following a thorough tasting of top-notch wines and a traditional lunch.
Taking a ride on a sailing yacht in the Douro river, is one of the most breathtaking experiences I’ve ever tried. Viewing the striking terraced slopes of the Douro Valley on the river is magical. What I loved the most was the peace that I felt while the boat slowly sliced through the water, surrounded with green, yellow and red vineyards, it’s a memory that I always will cherish.
Another amazing experience is riding on the historical train. Running from June to October, between Régua and Tua, is like travelling back in time. The route runs along the bank of the river Douro, with the five historical carriages being hauled by Steam Engine 0186, which was built in 1925 by Henschel & Son.
It’s a unique trip back into the past through beautiful landscape that is classified by UNESCO as World Heritage.
While on the train station don’t forget to admire the beautiful tiles on the walls. All the Douro train stations are special and covered with beautiful tiles. The one that I loved the most was the Train Station from Pinhão, facing the hilly vineyards, it’s tiles artwork are amazing.
But Douro, is not only vineyards, breathtaking views and good gastronomy. Many monuments of interest will come on your way. Take the small village of Ucanha, for example. A medieval bridge over the Varosa river and the tower standing at its entrance on the right bank form a rare and beautiful testimony to Gothic civil architecture in Portugal. The bridge has been clearly documented since the thirteenth century and was part of an old mediaeval road linking Lamego to the region of Riba-Côa.
While on Ucanha, don’t leave without trying the “petiscos” at Tasquinha do Matias.
Other monuments of interest are the Monastery of Santa Maria de Salzedas, from 1168, it’s a male monastery and it’s one of the largest Cistercian monasteries in Portugal, having been given vast areas of land in the surrounding region with the express duty of tilling and populating them. The Monastery of São João de Tarouca, was the first monastery of the Cistercian Order to be founded on Portuguese territory in the 12th century, on a site that had a longstanding monastic tradition.