I just returned from a weekend in northeastern Portugal, the stunningly beautiful area of the Douro River Valley. One of the world’s oldest demarcated wine regions (since 1756), with snaking roads, steep hills, sloping vineyards and traditional quintas (wine estates), this bucolic area is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Sight.
The highlight of my trip (a mix of leisure and work; I was researching an article for a travel mag) was a stay at Aquapura Douro Valley, a new six-star spa resort spectacularly refurbished from an old manor tucked into a hillside. Everything inside was gorgeously fragrant, moodily lit and very zen. Another memorable experience was a boat ride from the pretty riverside village of Pinhão in a rabelo (boat traditionally used to transport port barrels) with dazzling landscapes rising from the riverbanks. I absolutely loved the super-informative wine tour and tasting at Quinta da Pacheca, a family-run estate where I learned what DOC meant (Controlled Origin Denomination) and the difference between tawny, ruby and vintage ports. I was enchanted by the ancient town of Lamego and its Baroque hilltop shrine. I’d love to return and climb those endless stairs. But what touched me the most were the lovely straightforward people I met along the way. Seemingly rough, they all possessed a sense of pride of this paradise which they’ve carved out of a tough landscape over many generations.