Weekender: Douro Valley

Cocooned from the rest of the country, every nook of the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal bears a secret.

By Farida Zeynalova
Published 18 Sept 2016, 09:00 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 15:59 BST
Terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

Terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

Photograph by Getty Images

Hike into the wilderness

The little-known wilderness of Serra D'Arga, in Montaria, is as pacific as my guide Agostinho describes. Born in the mountains, his lifelong passion for the protected region is clear through his buoyant narration. "Even some Portuguese people don't know about this place," he says, ambling past the vivid flora. A four-hour hike to the area's seven lagoons with Agostinho is beautifully devoid of tourism, where you can enjoy creeping under the curtain of the Pincho Waterfall and splashing around in its refreshing turquoise waters — just watch out for the rickety bridge that leads you there. Then feed your post-swim appetite with a traditional forest picnic of mountain goat cheese, homemade cornbread and, of course, local wine. 

The lazy afternoon

Step into a fairytale in the country's oldest village. Join locals scouring the shops for the finest leg of presunto de Chaves (North Portuguese cured ham), admire the surreal steel army of Roman soldiers watching over the River Lima, or head to the market square for the bi-monthly market, hosted here since 1125.

Port of call

Hello sailor
Fruity and relaxed with hints of cherry and blackberry, ruby port is bottled for two years and best served ever so slightly chilled

Ocean cruise
Tawny port is matured in seasoned-oak vats for up to nine years, and is a more mature, woodier alternative to ruby

Captain's table
Only produced in the very finest years (two or three times a decade), vintage port is a collector's dream, with the most powerful aroma of them all

Santa Catarina Chapel, Porto
Santa Catarina Chapel, Porto.
Photograph by Getty Images

City in slow motion

Duck into a cobbled side street in Porto to find locals nattering away and catch a sniff of the city's famous bacalhau (salted codfish) drifting from eateries. Azulejos, the famed blue ceramic tiles, are everywhere in Porto, coating buildings like the Santa Catarina Chapel.

If you only do one thing

In the sleepy town of Pinhão, hop onto a rabelo, a traditional Portuguese cargo boat once used to transport port from local vineyards to cellars near Porto. Sink into one of the beanbags on board, sailing upstream along a tranquil stretch of river shaped by 2,000 years of winemaking. magnificodouro.pt

Tunes and tipples

Fading into Fado
At Cozinha Velha in Ponte de Lima village, the smell of roast pig floats across a dining room covered in blue tiles. The fadista, draped in black, takes centre stage, her haunting fado song snapping diners out of a post-vinho verde lethargy.

"To non-Portuguese speakers, it's called firewater," the guide, Sergio, says of the aguardente de medronho, a locally distilled spirit made from honey and the fruits of the medronho tree. One shot of this pungent spirit at lunch is enough to awaken the dead.

Barrell Brothers
It's a sin to leave the Douro Valley without tasting its famous port. Head to Graham's Port Lodge, in Vila Nova de Gaia, where guide Alex leads you through a winery that began with just 27 barrels and two brothers.


James Villas offers a seven-night stay at Quinta de Casal Maior in Ponte de Lima for two adults and two children, from £1,458, including flights from Gatwick and car hire.

Published in the October 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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