I bounced eagerly on the balls of my feet at the bottom of the stairs. It was 8:10am on a Saturday and the streets of Porto, Portugal were quiet. I, on the other hand, was buzzing with energy; eagerly looking to start my day trip to Douro Valley; Portugal’s famous port and wine region.
The Douro Valley has been high on my list of places to visit for ages. Stunning vistas, endless vineyards, delicious port and wine, and a blue river snaking its way through the valley. I knew that when I visited Porto, I had to do a day trip to Douro Valley. However, when I was planning my solo trip to Portugal I kept coming across the same thing; to really experience Douro Valley from Porto, you needed a car.
I had no intention of renting a car in Portugal, so when I read that my heart sunk. I did a bit more digging and found that I could take a boat, or a train up but it would be more of just a scenic ride rather than an opportunity to actually visit some of Portugal’s famous wineries and port makers. Perhaps an option, but as excited as I was to see the scenery, I also wanted to visit a port maker. I’d never been to one before and it was something I wanted to try. Thankfully my persistence paid off and I found the perfect day trip to Douro Valley option for a traveller without a car. I booked the tour right away and a couple of easy clicks later I was set: I was going to Douro Valley.
The Douro Valley Tour is a full day trip leaving from Porto around 8:30am and arriving back around 6pm. It’s run by a local who knows the area, and has a good relationship with the local wine and port Quintas. This meant not only did we get to experience some quality port and wine makers, but we were also off the typical tourist track; visiting local businesses without a throng of other tourists in tow.
My pickup was listed for 8:15am and, sure enough, a mini bus pulled up to get me right on time. I was greeted by our smiling guide for the day, Guilherme and after picking up one last couple our group of eight headed away from Porto and towards the famous vineyards of Douro Valley.
It took about two hours to get to our first stop in Douro Valley, though we did have a quick coffee/ toilet break along the highway. Guilherme filled us in with little facts as we drove along, answering any questions our group may have. A few people slept for the ride; clearly not morning people. But I was perfectly happy staring at the gorgeous scenery we drove by.
Our first stop was the quinta (which means farm) for Fonseca Port. The farm was perched on a hillside overlooking the valley and a small river below. The surrounding area covered in and endless forest of vines. We started out visit with a thirty-minute audio tour that took us on a leisurely walk through a bit of the vineyard. I learned about the quinta itself which was founded by the great-great-grandfather of the current winemaker, and also about the different grades of farms (A grade is the best while is F grade the lowest quality). Fonseca Port, I was pleased to learn, was A grade.
After our audio tour which concluded inside where we learned how the port and wine was actually made, we were invited to three tastings; a white, and two reds. I’m by no means a wine or port expert, but could definitely appreciate the quality of all three we sampled. Though, if I had to pick, the ruby was my favourite and I was a little bit jealous of those on my group who had travelled with checked baggage and were able to purchase a few bottles to take home.
After our port tastings, we headed to the small town of Pinhao which is located on the shores of the Douro river. Guilherme timed it perfectly so we got on the noon boat cruise down the river, where he provided us with a glass of wine and a little package of dried fruit and nuts to enjoy as we cruised down the river. While the scenery from above in the hills, was stunning, being on the water was equally spectacular. I love boats and could have easily all day spent cruising down the river on this one. For me, this was a definite highlight of our day trip to Douro Valley.
After our boat ride it was time for lunch. We visited a local restaurant who offered two dishes for lunch: pork belly or sea bass. Our whole group opted for the sea bass which was grilled and served with potatoes and broccoli along with fresh bread, cheese, and olives. For dessert, we were offered a pudding, a ‘drunken cake’ which is a port soak cake similar to rum cake, or an almond tart. I chose the almond tart which was divine, though I noticed everyone cleared their plates so the other options must have been equally delicious.
Bellies full we headed for our final stop of the day; Quinta do Jalloto. Whereas Fonesca specialized in port, Quinta do Jalloto’s speciality was their wine. But, as much as I was looking forward to the wine, I was more excited about the view. Guilherme drove up, up, up the mountain to the quinta perched right on the top; offering a stunning panoramic view of the valley, hills, and Douro River below.
Guilherme and our guide for this quinta waited patiently for us all to take numerous photos before leading us inside to the cool interior. We were given a quick run-down about how this quinta works and the process; being such an old and established vineyard, everything here is still done by hand. Which meant smaller batches of wine, but of a good quality. After seeing where and how the wine was stored we were treated to samples of white, rose, and red wine along with some bread with their homemade olive oil and honey. While I did prefer the morning’s port to the wine, it was all still delicious.
After relaxing on the deck of the quinta for about an hour it was time to say goodbye and head back to Porto. A quiet drive back (which many again chose to sleep though) we arrived back in town around 6pm where we were all dropped off at our accommodations.
Without a doubt, the Douro Valley Tour: Wine Tasting, Lunch, and Boat Cruise was one of the highlights of my week in Portugal. Not only was it an easy and stress-free way to explore this beautiful part of the country, but it was the perfect option for solo travellers or groups who don’t plan on renting a vehicle but are still interested in exploring the area. If you are heading to Porto, Portugal and are interested in doing a day trip to Douro Valley, do yourself a favour and book this tour. I can tell you from experience that you won’t be disappointed.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of GetYourGuide.com for this experience. However, all opinons are, as always, my own.