WHY GO: The Douro Valley in northern Portugal might not be on the mind of every wine-lover. But the way things are going, it soon will be. Home to some of the best Ports in the world (Dow’s 2007 Vintage Port, 100 Points, Wine Spectator Magazine), and a growing number of acclaimed Reds, the Douro Valley is witnessing a budding “Tuscany” moment.
But why stop at the Douro Valley? Drive north, and you’ll start to see groves of olive trees clinging to mountainsides, supplanting the vineyards to the south. Portuguese Olive Oil producers are also having a moment – and you are welcome to visit.
The photos below provide an overview of towns, wineries, restaurants and a former King’s palace, now a stunning boutique hotel.
Things to Do in Douro Valley and Northern Portugal
Plan an intimate wine-pairing lunch at a private winery estate home at Quinta Do Crasto
Wines are some of the best on the planet, and you are invited to try a few of the best in a magazine-photo-shoot-ready estate home. Complete with starchatect-designed infinity pool, the estate overlooks the Douro River and vineyard studded hills.
Your visit begins with a tour of the grounds, and, if chilly out, ends inside a small antique home where nibbles are set out before a warm fireplace.
And wine flows like water. (10-people maximum, Contact estate for rates).
Stop for a Tasting at Symington Quinta Do Bomfim
You can continue from there to other tasting rooms around the valley. Stop at Symington Quinta Do Bomfim, the winery that brings you some of the best Port Wines in the world.
These establishments are tough to find (some not even on GPS), especially if you are “trying” lots of wines, so it helps to have a guide.
Plan a Drive to the Antique Hamlet of Romeu
Plan another day in a rustic northern town, like Romeu, which was renovated after falling to seed.
Romeu is sleepy and picturesque, with a small “Museum of Curiosities” and a fantastic stone restaurant, Maria Rita. (See Where to Eat below).
Visit Casa De Santo Amaro Olive Oil Producers for a Jug and Tour
From Romeu, it’s a short ride to the somewhat larger town of Mirandela, home to Casa De Santo Amaro Olive Oil Producers. Just “knock on the door” and someone will give you a tour .And it just might be an associate obtaining his PhD in oil sensory properties at a top Portuguese University.
Yes, they take their Olive Oil that seriously here. You also might be privy to seeing busloads of countrymen buying 5 liter jugs of Virgin Oil for the incredible price of 16 Euro.
Where to Eat in Northern Portugal and Douro Valley
Maria Rita Restaurant in Romeu
Wines and olive oil set out for guest don’t get more local than this. You may need to stop a few times to ask for directions, but it’s well worth snaking uphill for a couple of miles to find this gem.
And, back in the Douro Valley, you’ll find the modern yin to Maria-Rita’s rustic yang – the DOC Restaurant.
A contemporary rectangle of a space set right on the Douro River, DOC serves up some of the most exciting and innovative dishes this side of Lisbon, including this Pop-Rock laced “explosion of Grapefruit” intermezzo.
Where to Stay in Duoro Valley and North
STAY: Vidago Palace,Chaves Portugal
Driving up the elongated entryway to the deep coral-colored Vidago Palace, in Chaves Portugal, you can almost imagine the image of King Carlos I, fleeing the pressures of Lisbon and his royal duties in Sintra.
But Carlos never had a chance to use Vidago as his northern getaway, as he was assassinated in 1908. And neither did his son, Manuel II. Manuel served as King for just two years, from 1908 to 1910, when the people of Portugal overthrew the monarchy. He was lucky enough to find safe harbor in England.
On the day of the coup, all Royal Palaces, including this one, were flung open to the public, and remain so. Some, like those outside of Lisbon in Sintra, are managed by the state. Others, like the Vidago Palace Hotel, are privately owned.
Vidago Palace Now
The Vidago Palace now serves as a very popular Golf and Spa resort. Fortunately, with only 70 renovated rooms, it’s blessedly free of crowds. The entry foyer, with carved wooden double sweeping staircases, provides a magnificent first impression.
Public rooms, like the “library” and breakfast rooms, are stunning as well.
Breakfast is a vast buffet, spread out over all corners of a newly decorated Victorian-style dining room.
Rooms, especially the Junior Suites, manage to merge antique elegance with modern colors and flourishes,
with baths that are Instragram-candy for sure.
The Vidago Palace Spa – a contemporary space with a clinical air – was quite controversial when first built. It’s as modern as the hotel is traditional, with halls lined with white marble slabs, and color limited to the breathtaking landscapes and gardens viewed through large windows.
But treatments are astoundingly good. They are provided by well-trained massage therapists and estheticians who know what they are doing. Products and human proficiency leave your skin soft and dewy. The Facials are magic.
And after each treatment, you’re invited to sit on the “Relaxation Chairs”for as long as you’d like.
Or enjoy the outdoor heated multi-function hot-tub pool.
Or the large indoor pool. Rooms at Vidago Palace Hotel start at 250 Euro per night and include a bountiful hot and cold breakfast, free wi-fi and bend-over-backwards service.