The Douro river stretches across northern-central Portugal, with its source in Spain, ending in the city of Porto and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The area is steeped in history, producing wine since before the 13th century. The region is the oldest regulated wine region in the world, with boundaries and controls set up by the Marque de Pompal in the mid 1700’s. During the 17th and 18th centuries wine production increased dramatically in the region due to England outlawing French wine and looking to Portugal to satisfy their needs. Unfortunately the wines didn’t survive the trip to England and needed to be “fortified” with brandy thus, Port wine was born.
We began our Douro travel at the eastern Portugal end of the river in Vila Nova de Foz Coa. Steeply terraced hillsides (more hill climbing!), vineyards and olive groves greeted us as we rode into this town. Even almond trees grew next to the road providing easy access for tasting!
We had read and been told by numerous sources that the most scenic parts of the valley were between Pocinho and Pinhao and the best way to see this was by train. After a relaxing day in Vila Nova de Foz Coa drinking espresso and tasting the local honey and walnuts we cruised the 6km downhill to Pocinho.
The regional train from Pocinho to Pinhao took us along the river’s shoreline for just over an hour, twisting and curving its way through the valley. Views of the terraced hillsides and old stately Quintas (vineyard estates) entertained us for the ride.
The Portuguese regional trains have a separate car for bicycles and allow them as long as the train has room. We were eager to try this out as dismantling and packaging up the bikes would not be required. Good thing our train car wasn’t full!. The only difference we noticed on the regional trains was more room in the entrance way which still meant having to move the bikes around each time someone entered or exited the car.
Upon entering Pinhao we quickly realized this is where all the people were! The streets along the riverfront bustled with tourists wielding cameras, hotel owners shouting out to new arrivals and vineyard workers hopping in and out of pick-up trucks laden with purple grapes. Quite a shock for us coming from the sleepy towns of the Beiras.
It was harvest time in the Douro and everyone seemed to be out to enjoy the feast.
We jumped on our bikes, braving the pick-ups zipping back and forth on the N222, and cycled a short 8km to Quinta do Panascal for a lesson and tasting on Port. We spent the afternoon wandering through the narrow terraces of the vineyard (wide enough only for people and work animals) plugged into an audiotour.
Walking amongst the grapes we learnt the history of the prestigious Foneseca Guimaraens Port and about the harsh winters, hot dry summers and long stretching roots that all contribute to these delicious wines. And the tasting of 3 unique Ports (Foneseca Tawny our favourite!) accompanied by local goat cheese was the perfect ending to the tour.
The next morning we were up early to beat the heat and humidity of the valley. Along with the harvest trucks filled with workers, we headed east along the Douro river winding our way towards Peso Da Regua where we turned north into the region of Tras-os-Montes.
- Vila Nova de Foz Coa: Pousade de Juventude (Youth Hostel)
- Pinhao: Hotel Douro
- Hostel-Private Room/Breakfast incl.: 32 euros/night
- Hotel Douro-Breakfast incl./free welcome glass of Port: 50 euros/night
- Train Pocinho-Pinhao: 4.50 euros/person
- Wine Tour & Tasting: 9 euros total for 2 people
- Groceries: approx. 27 euros /day
- Michelin Spain & Portugal Atlas 1:400000
- iPad: Google maps
- GPS: Portugal Openstreet Map
- Book: Lonely Planet Portugal
- Book: Rick Steve’s Portugal
- Web: http://quintadopanascalvisitorscentre.wordpress.com/about/
- Web: http://www.dourovalley.eu/en/
- Web: www.crazyguyonabike.com