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Why You Have to do a Cruise through the Douro Valley, Portugal

One of the most stunning wine regions in the world, the hilly banks of the Douro Valley have been home to vineyards since Roman times. In the 16th century English immigrants set up Port wineries, using the Douro river as the perfect transport to deliver wine barrels to Porto.

Now you can follow the barrels route upstream, boarding a boat in Porto and winding your way through this beautiful valley with stops at centuries-old vineyards. It’s one of the highlights of any trip to Portugal.

Where is the Douro Valley

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The Douro River winds from Porto on the Atlantic coast up into the mountains of north west Portugal. These rolling hills create perfect growing conditions as they protect the vines from the damp winds that blow in off the ocean.

Best time to visit the Douro Valley

The Douro Valley is beautiful throughout the year but between May and September the weather is dry and warm and the vines are a lush green. In fall the rolling vineyards look spectacular in shades of oranges and reds and towards the end of September harvest season brings a festive atmosphere and you can join in with grape picking and squashing.

Historic villages to check out in the Douro Valley

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Peso da Régua

Known as the capital of the Douro Valley. 95 km up the river from Porto it played an important role in the production of Port wine as it’s here where the barrels were loaded onto the traditional barcelo rabelos boats and taken to wine lodges to age. Today you can find wine museums, historic estates and a lovely riverside promenade.

Pinhão

A sweet little town in a spectacular setting, where the Pinhão and Douro rivers meet. You can easily catch the train here from Porto and the train station itself is a work of art, lined with blue and white tiles depicting traditional scenes. At harvest time Pinhão is the place to be.

Lamego

A larger historic town with a 12th century castle, charming central square and a strikingingly positioned pilgrimage church that the devoted reach by climbing 600 stairs.

Viewpoints

Throughout the region there are also miradouros (viewpoints) that are worth going out of your way for. Two of the best are São Leonardo da Galafura and Casal de Loivos, both with breathtaking views over the Douro valley and terraced vineyards.

Douro river cruises

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Your main choice is how long you’d like to be on board. There are many day trip boats that leave from and return to Porto and include winery tours, lunch and a river cruise. Here’s a few of the best and a longer, luxury option.

Join A Day in Douro river cruise for a 9 hour trip into the Douro Valley, including 11 wine tastings and visits to authentic, less well-known winemakers. A farm to table lunch is cooked on board and there’s a promise to open a vintage bottle of Port with fire.. What more can you ask for?

Sail up the Douro to the charming town of Amarante and visit two wine estates. Stop in Pinhnão and enjoy a delicious lunch onboard with Living Tours.

Push the (cruise) boat out and stay on a luxury hotel boat for 5 nights with Cruzeiros Douro where you’ll stop at wine estates, picturesque villages and visit Lamego and Salamanca in Spain before cruising slowly back into Porto.

Top 3 Douro wineries to visit

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Quinta da Gricha

A beautiful old wine estate surrounded by the rolling vineyards that produce Churchill’s Port. With a high end restaurant serving local produce, a pool looking over the river and endless wine on tap it's a place to slow down, soak up the history and enjoy the fruits of the valley.

Quinta do Crasto

With a patio overlooking the valley set with white linen-covered tables ready for lunch, and an architect-designed infinity pool for lazing in after. It’s one of the most iconic settings in the Douro River Valley and incredibly romantic at sunset.

Quinta do Vallado

Next to Regua, this winery is part of the famous Ferreira family wineries, one of the top producers of Port in the country. This is a great place to come at harvest time and take part in the vindimas, squashing the grapes with the workers from the fields.

Don’t forget the food - Douro Valley specialities

Firstly, you have to try a Francesinha in Porto. Possibly the world's most-suitable-for-a-hangover sandwich, which is pretty handy in these parts. Thick white bread makes a three layer construction stuffed with ham, sausage and steak, smothered in a spicy sauce and topped with a fried egg. Oh, and it’s served with fries.

Bacalhau á Bras is a comforting dish of salted cod, fried potatoes and egg that goes well with the rosé of the region. A plate of Douro meats, cheeses and the local spicy olive oil with some fresh country bread is the best match for the famous Douro reds.

Long Story Short...

Come for the wine, stay for the scenery, history, food and pace of life. Time seems to take inspiration from the river here and invites you to slow down and fit into the rhythm of the region. The only thing you need to worry about is white, red or rosé?