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Douro Valley self-guided wine tour from Porto

A few years ago, right at the start of my journey as a digital nomad, I stayed in Porto – the biggest city in the north of Portugal and gateway to the entire fortified wine scene that is port. At the time, my husband and I didn’t have a car and we were particularly busy with work, which meant we didn’t have a chance to explore the Douro Valley – the iconic river valley to the east of Porto that’s characterised by thousands of hectares of terraced vineyards. I’d regretted that omission ever since.
  And so in spring 2024, we decided to make up for lost time and spend a few weeks in the Douro Valley. We were actually staying up in the mountains, in a tiny village called Vinhos (population: 176!) in the Vila Real District, but this time we had plenty of opportunity to explore the food and restaurants, and to take our own Douro Valley wine tour. I’ve written this article in the format of a day trip from Porto, because that’s how the majority of first-time visitors experience the Douro, but in fact I pieced this itinerary together over a few different outings from our digs in Vinhos.

Travel to, and transport from, Porto

The city of Porto is accessible by plane via all the usual airlines: Transavia and KLM from the Netherlands; TAP Air Portugal, easyJet and Ryanair from the UK. Having spent a few days exploring, eating and drinking in Porto (more on that in my Porto restaurant guide), you have a couple of different options for reaching the Douro:

  • Take the train to Pinhão – this takes around 2 hours and 20 minutes and is the cheapest option;
  • Rent a car and self-drive – we found this to be the easiest and quickest option (at around 1 hour and 45 minutes from Porto to Pinhão) but is of course pricier;
  • Travel by boat – these are usually in the form of organised cruises, and as such this self-guided wine tour won’t really apply.

This itinerary is based on the driving option, although you could do most of it by train as well.

Morning: boat cruise from Pinhão

Pinhão is arguably the geographical heart of port wine country, so it makes a logical location to start your day. It’s a picturesque little town in its own right, perched on the north bank of the Douro River, and gets very busy in high season. We were there in April and it was ideal: warm but not too hot, not particularly crowded, and very green. Pinhão is also home to one of the most beautiful railway stations Portugal, with impressive tile panels that depict the history of life in the Douro (and a good reason to take the train!).

The oldest quinta in the Douro, as seen from the river

Even if you don’t opt for a longer boat cruise from Porto all the way up the river, you can hop onto one of the rabelo boats at Pinhão for a one-hour or two-hour cruise, depending on how much time you have. The boat companies are lined up along the side of the river, about 500 metres west of the train station; they all seem to offer pretty much the same services for the same prices, so it’ll probably just be a question of availability at the time you want to go. Most of them also offer an audio guide (live or pre-recorded) and a small glass of port along the way. Seeing the vineyards and wineries from the river leaves you even more impressed by the sheer grit and determination that the early port producers must have had to even consider cultivating slopes that are often between 30 and 60 degrees in angle!

Lunchtime: Cardanho dos Presuntos

You’re going to be doing some serious wine tasting in the afternoon and evening, so it’s a good idea to keep lunch light to avoid getting too sleepy. (Or perhaps you’d prefer to make it heavy to soak up the alcohol?) Anyway, that was our thinking when we went to Cardanho dos Presuntos in Pinhão for lunch: presunto means ham in Portuguese, so you can expect plenty of variations on cured pork, plus cheeses, bread and a few other nibbles. Pair with a refreshing glass of Douro rosé and you’re all set to hit the quintas

Presunto three ways at Cardanho dos Presuntos in Pinhão

Winery 1: Quinta do Bomfim

Just past the train station (in the opposite direction to the boats), you’ll reach Quinta do Bomfim – a winery that I was surprised to discover is owned by the British Symington family (in fact, a lot of the port houses are owned by British families). But try not to let that put you off because it really is breathtaking. Guided tours are available, but even if all you do is sit on the terrace overlooking the river, you will feel like an insanely glamourous rich person. Luckily, you do not need to actually be an insanely glamorous rich person (I am a freelance writer in pyjamas 90% of the time) – you’ll be treated like royalty anyway. It probably helped that the women serving us fell in love with our tiny dog, but she was also a fountain of knowledge and enthusiasm about the port wines we tasted.

Tasting Dow’s LBV on Quinta do Bomfim’s stunning riverside terrace

I went for a 1998 Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and a 20-year aged Tawny port, both from Dow’s (Dow’s is the brand name, but they come from the same quinta). Both had the benefit of not being overly sweet, but the LBV had a firm tannic structure and clear ruby fruits, while the Tawny sang with gently oxidised caramel, apricots and nuts. Then again, pretty much anything would’ve tasted amazing with that view…

Winery 2: Quinta do Tedo

The N222 road, which connects Pinhão to Peso da Régua, is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful driving roads in the world. Which is why my next winery pick – Quinta do Tedo – is about a 15-minute drive from Pinhão alongside the river. This is the only part of the itinerary it wouldn’t be possible to do by train, but you could by boat. The views from Quinta do Tedo are spectacular (although you’ll have come to expect that by this point), orienting towards the Tedo tributary to the south.

View of the Tedo river from Quinta do Tedo

Quinta do Tedo also offers plenty of award-winning port to taste, but we decided to try a couple of their unfortified wines instead. Their rosé was nothing to write home about, but we couldn’t get enough of their 2019 reserva red blend, which was smooth with oaky vanilla and ripe with black cherries and plums. I bought a bottle to take home with us, and they gave us the tasting glasses for free, which was a welcome surprise!

Evening: Peso da Régua

From Quinta do Tedo, continue along the N222 in the same direction for another 16 kilometres and you’ll reach Peso da Régua: less visually appealing than Pinhão but equally accessible by train and with plenty of good restaurants and wine bars to tempt the curious vinophile…

Dinner: Castas e Pratos

With its chic downstairs wine bar, its upstairs restaurant overlooking the train tracks, and its quiet but expansive terrace outside, Castas e Pratos is the kind of multi-functional space that looks like it would suit a range of occasions. You could stick with the wine and snacks theme, but I’d recommend going all-in for a proper dinner on the elegant rail-side terrace.

Rail-side, al-fresco dining at Castas e Pratos

The wine list is a tad intimidating: you’re faced with 104 pages of Portuguese wines, from €20 house wine up to bottles costing well over €1,000. Frustratingly, having finally chosen one, they’d sold out – so I cut my losses and went back to the selection on the first page. We eventually ended up with the 2020 Lote 5 reserva, because (let’s face it) you can’t really go wrong with a Douro red blend.

Foie gras with pineapple chutney and port wine reduction

Castas e Pratos’ menu is more creative than many you’ll come across in Portugal, which made a welcome change. To start, we tried the foie gras with pineapple chutney and port wine reduction, which I should perhaps have paired with a port. Next, we split two mains: the black pork with black truffle and egg on toast, and the grilled octopus, which was so meltingly tender that Mr Foodie declared it the best octopus he’d ever eaten. I don’t usually do dessert, but on this occasion I felt like trying “The Lemon”: it was essentially a lemon cheesecake but formed in the shape of an entire lemon. It was, as you might expect, very lemony!

Pre- or post-dinner drinks: Pecados do Vinho

Right next to Castas e Pratos along the same little strip, you’ll find a generous handful of wine-focused bars – each serving their own selections of Portuguese wines, from Douro ports to sparkling whites to classic reds. We particularly liked Pecados do Vinho, which felt small and intimate but still had a huge selection (the walls are lined with wine bottles in every direction). Before dinner, go for a local aperitif: white port mixed with tonic and a twist of lemon zest – an intensely refreshing way to enjoy port when it’s still warm outside. After dinner, pop back for a full-bodied vintage port – the perfect way to end the night…

Bottle-lined walls at Pecados do Vinho wine bar

Planning a wine tour of Portugal? Check out my wine lover’s guide to the Algarve

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