Tania Braukamper heads into Portugal’s UNESCO-listed Douro Valley and discovers a tranquil region of fine dining and luxury spa hotels
There are many places in the world where modern comforts, beautiful landscapes and sumptuous dining combine to create the perfect travel experience, and Portugal’s Douro Valley is certainly one of them. The merits of this heavenly region transcend its capacity to stand out among other wine-oriented tourist destinations. The valley of the Douro river – birthplace of Port wine – is the archetypical expression of the harmonious relationship between man and nature.
The ancestry of the territory, with its prehistoric heritage and centuries-old traditions, gazes at the future-oriented vision of its wine producers, constantly challenging the edge of innovation. From the harshness of an unforgiving landscape springs a stream of dream-like hotels, restaurants and wine estates offering the most idyllic experiences you could possibly wish for.
If you’re heading to the Douro Valley, you’ll most likely depart from the nearby city of Porto, where the river meets the Atlantic and insurmountable quantities of port wine have been shipped to English cellars.
It is precisely in the ‘Invicta city’, as its proud inhabitants call it, that we’ll start our journey through some of thebest places to enjoy the luxury, comfort, and gastronomic delights of the Douro region.
The Yeatman Hotel
Roughly an hour and a half drive from the Douro Valley, The Yeatman Hotel, Porto, is a living extension of the wine country embedded in the bustling urban landscape. This charming luxury hotel sits proudly above the old port lodges – which can still be visited – and boasts a beautiful view of the charismatic old town across the waters.
The building is cleverly designed, spanning vertically through several storeys to maximise its exposure to the warm sunlight and the fresh Atlantic breeze. The interior is elegantly decorated with a Victorian-era flavour, where chesterfield sofas and ornate fireplaces alternate with panoramic glass windows to create the perfect dialogue with the breathtaking views of the Douro River.
Wine is the dominant theme here, and the hotel’s cellar certainly won’t disappoint with its selection of the best vintage ports served alongside other pearls of the wine world. Apart from its two restaurants and bar, the hotel offers a decanter-shaped swimming pool for you to relax in as you savour the divine nectar. For those who want to take full advantage of the beneficial qualities of wine, the award-winning spa offers signature facial and body treatments using natural ingredients extracted directly from the vineyards.
Crowning this beacon of hospitality is The Yeatman Gastronomic Restaurant. Awarded with two Michelin stars in 2017, this restaurant boasts an imaginative cuisine in which the ‘traditional flavours of Portugal are interpreted and presented with contemporary flair’. Naturally, special attention is given to the harmony between wine and food.
Leaving Porto behind and following the river upstream to the east, it’s time to head into the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Douro Valley.
For further information, visit: www.the-yeatman-hotel.com
Six Senses Douro Valley
Elegantly occupying a slope adjacent to the river, surrounded by gentle hills and terraced vineyards, the Six Senses Douro Valley is the ideal place if you’re looking to rejuvenate in the bosom of a man-made sanctuary.
The nine-acre property bears hundreds of years of history, whereas the building itself is a restored nineteenth- century manor house with a remarkable clock tower. The outdoor area surrounding the edifice is green, inviting, and extremely well kept – not many hotels can claim to be enveloped by a delightful century-old forest garden, as well as carefully maintained organic plots providing a farm-to- table experience to all of their restaurants.
The spa has plenty to offer, surpassing the usual skincare treatments and massages. It is equipped with an indoor pool, fitness centre, different types of sauna, cryotherapy facilities, and more. The wellness programme is similarly well rounded, including yoga, fitness, immunity strengthening, and also programmes for mental health.
For an immersive wine experience, you can visit the Six Senses Wine Library. Designed to make time disappear, you’ll find a vast array of specialised books and artworks, and a self-service wine tasting area where you can surrender yourself to the auspices of Bacchus.
Regardless of whether you’re taking advantage of the many experiences offered – such as guided meditations and organic farm tours – or meandering along hidden passages, tunnels and stone staircases, you’ll constantly feel harmoniously integrated with the valley’s distinctive landscape and heritage. And it’s that feeling, above all else, that truly makes the Six Senses Douro Valley a stand-out place to visit.
For further information, visit: www.sixsenses.com/en/resorts/douro-valley
Quinta da Pacheca
Continuing east between S-shaped curves, the river will gradually reveal the town of Peso da Régua. Just before arriving, make sure you stop at Quinta da Pacheca for a glimpse of how one of the most prestigious wine estates in the Douro region has adapted to the growing demands of the hospitality sector.
The value of this stylish estate is in the versatility and variety of what it offers, all the while maintaining high standards of quality without losing its traditional backbone. The ex-libris might just be The Wine House Hotel – an eighteenth-century manor house brought back to life with some frankly innovative features that give it a strong distinctive character.
On one hand, you have the stark and slightly haughty architecture of the old building, and on the other, the recently added enormous wine barrels transformed into guest rooms. Together, they make for a surprising and successful combination of the old and the new.
The truth is, you don’t have to stay overnight to have a fruitful experience at Quinta da Pacheca. The offerings for short visits are abundant and, surrounded by their own producing vineyards, the wines excellently represent the region’s prestige. Tastings are always available, as is the option to try seasonal products and regional delicacies.
Additionally, they’ve created a rather sui generis hands- on experience. The Ateliê D’or, created by local artist Óscar Rodrigues, is an opportunity for you to share the creative process of a seasoned and renowned artist as he guides you to create your own piece in ceramics, wood carving, or painting.
Finally, the restaurant at Quinta da Pacheca stands tall by itself and is one of the must-do gastronomical stops of the Douro region.
Upon arrival to Peso da Régua – an essential stop when exploring the Douro region – be sure to stroll along the beautiful riverside promenade and visit the Douro Museum before sitting down to your next memorable meal.
For further information, visit: www.quintadapacheca.com
Castas e Pratos
One of the idiosyncrasies of this region is the historical resilience of its people in the face of adversity, which expresses itself in modern times as a sharp sense for opportunity and entrepreneurship. Castas e Pratos embodies this attitude – a dynamic, all-around project which includes a restaurant, wine bar, lounge, gourmet, and wine shop.
The venue is an old railway warehouse. The facade preserves its industrial look whilst the interior is open and spacious, decorated with a contemporary touch.
Here, they harvest the best gourmet products available in the Douro region and make them available for you to buy or taste. The wine shop is bountiful and the staff are helpful and knowledgeable. The restaurant, a great option for a relaxed yet exquisite dinner, focuses on a modern and creative cuisine, playing with the traditional regional flavours. Do make a reservation and don’t skip dessert. From here, setting course for picturesque Pinhão is a must – no venture to the Douro is complete without visiting this small but surprising village. On your way there, either by car or cruise, the valley will unravel the full extent of its beautiful landscapes.
For further information, visit: www.castasepratos.com
As you drink in the views between Peso da Régua and Pinhão, another unmissable dining experience will present itself. If time and your tastebuds allow, swing by DOC restaurant to experience one of Portugal’s best- known culinary gems.
Here, Michelin-star chef Rui Paula showcases his seemingly-infinite creativity in designing sensory experiences that take flavours, textures and aromas tothe limit. In Paula’s hands, tradition is simultaneously honoured and creatively twisted. Choose from two tasting menus with wine pairings or stick to the à la carte menu: either way, you’ll hit the road (or river) with a satisfied belly and a smile on your face.
For further information, visit: www.docrestaurante.pt
The Vintage House Hotel
As Pinhão comes into view, the eye is immediately drawn to a magnificently restored eighteenth-century building. It stretches elegantly along the riverside with direct access to the docks, and also to the historictrain station with its famous tile panels. The Vintage House Hotel is sophisticated in its decoration and features several public areas in which you can enjoyably while away the hours. Take advantage of the outdoor swimming pool and tennis court, or step out of the premises almost directly into a traditional boat for a scenic cruise along the river. Adjacent to a room that blissfully marries the concepts of library and bar, there’s a common area with a cosy fireplace connected to a very pleasant roofed terrace.
The whole hotel flows effortlessly, creating the feeling of a home away from home and inviting you to indulge and relax. But perhaps best of all is the combination of things it brings together: warm hospitality, magnificent views, delectable food and, of course, an array of tempting wines. And isn’t that exactly what any Douro Valley getaway is all about?
For further information, visit: www.vintagehousehotel.com