Maeve is holding on to dear life (and Richard), as the wine terraces next to her take a deep plunge. She does not dare to look out the car window so as to enjoy the magnificent view out into the Douro valley below. I take her hand, soothing her softly, and we both start laughing. Being the true Irish she is, Maeve is nothing short of having a great sense of humour. Meanwhile, Richard starts talking a few words in German with me, while Jeff & Lisa have simply fallen silent with happiness – they are on their honeymoon. Behind the wheel is our friend & driver Marco, who as a real local from Douro valley takes us up & along the most intricate and beautiful vineyard lanes of this magnificent river valley. He smiles because he knows: “Here, I can be who I am, taking pleasure in showing international visitors my homeland.”
A good thought. This is exactly what I had ahead of travelling out here into Douro valley for a day trip with Marco, of “Douro Exclusive”, after being recommended this tour by my dear friend André of Taste Porto Food Tours. At 09.30 a.m. sharp, Marco picks me up in Porto. Together with Maeve & Richard as well as Jeff & Lisa, we embark on our one-hour journey into Douro valley. It is an easy drive out here, full of interesting talks and first pieces of information about the world-famous wine growing district of the Douro valley, home of the great Port wines & UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape.
Our small group size, coupled with a sense of 100% flexibility and real gourmet moments, is exactly what makes “Douro Exclusive” so special: A true winelover trip of a kind.
“We take care of visiting only small vintners for instance, such as ‘Quinta do Panascal‘, while taking our time during the exclusive boat ride on the Douro river with typical flat boats that have always served for transporting barrels up & down the river. Lunch too is meant to be all about time & enjoyment – we enjoy that at DOC – Rui Paula, as is custom here in Portugal sampling the best food the area has to offer.” Marco continues to smile at me, talking fluent English & Portuguese the whole time. I love it. Portugal just wins me over more and more. “Parece poesia …” Oh, I could forever listen to the sweet accent of the Portuguese. Inspired and motivated, I grab a Portuguese audio guide at Quinta do Panascal while going for a stroll around the vineyards … my kind of magic! 😉
All the fresh air makes us hungry! Or is it the sweet scent of the wine-terraced hills here in the Douro river valley? In any case, I can recommend you head to gourmet DOC – Rui Paula restaurant near the small town of Pinhão.
The cosy atmosphere of our “Douro Exclusive” tour translates into further customised experiences right on Douro river. Instead of taking one of the large tourist boats, we step aboard a small “dinghy” type boat that has ensured a safe passage of the precious wine barrels down the river for many centuries past. These boats are somehow reminiscent of ancient Viking ships from the north, apparently ensuring the best engineering technique for navigating the tricky river rapids. 50 barrels or more have once been stapled on top of and next to each other, using simple rudders for steering the boats all the way downriver and into the port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia in Porto … Hard to believe likewise adventures, as the Douro river today is a large, tranquil river thanks to five major locks. Enjoying this boat trip, as well as our gourmet lunch at DOC – Rui Paula restaurant are definitely what mark the highlights of our exclusive day tour out into Douro valley.
Treading the true paths of the locals: Marco takes us up & away to one of the best vantage points over the central Douro river valley!
It is a steep take up from the main road by the river Douro and up into the wine-terraced hills. While dear Maeve gets more and more nervous at each turn of the road, I actually feel more and more “at home” – Douro river valley mirroring our own wine-terraced river valleys of the Danube & Kamp rivers back home in Lower Austria! Of course, a different micro climate marks this land, what with more than 200 autochthonous grape varieties growing in the Douro valley alone!, but the spirit, dedication & commitment of the people working the land over many centuries is palpable in a very similar way. I take a deep breath, enjoying the countless photo and short walking stops along the way. Last but not least, we are up at the Miradouro do São Leonardo da Galafura, some 800 metres above sea level with a view over the entire middle section of the Douro valley. Breathtaking moments indeed, featuring soft words of admiration spoken by our very friend & guide Marco. A moment to remember!
Looking for even more “winesome” travel tips & ideas for discoveries in both Douro valley & Serra da Estrela? My dear friend & co-blogger Julia Oberdorfer has recently travelled there and shared her stories. Worth reading: Check it out!
- Douro & Serra da Estrela: From Porto into the “Aldeias Históricas” Belmonte, Sortelha & Linhares da Beira
- Douro & Serra da Estrela: From Almeida to Faia Brava Nature Reserve and into Castelo Rodrigo
- Douro & Serra da Estrela: Highlights of travelling world-famous Douro valley!
- Douro & Serra da Estrela: From Douro valley to Sabrosa and Tarouca