The Douro Valley is one of our favorite places in Portugal. One of the experiences we love to offer our travelers, and a wonderful way to see this colorful region of Portugal from a new perspective, is a private river cruise down the Douro from Portugal's second city, Porto to Bitetos.
The River Douro rises in Spain and flows east to west across Northern Portugal reaching the sea at Porto. Once a fast-flowing river of rapids and narrow ravines it has been tamed over the past 25 years by the construction of eight dams along its length, giving it, in most places, a tranquil, lake-like appearance.
The valley is spectacularly beautiful with the hills falling steeply down to the water’s edge becoming more and more sparsely populated and wild the further inland one travels, with more of the land being given over to terraces of vines and, to a lesser extent, olive groves. The color of the land changes throughout the year as the vines mature.
This is port wine country and was, in fact, the world’s first demarcated wine region established in 1756. Evidence of the port industry can be seen along the valley with all the famous company names – Cockburns, Taylors, Sandeman and others – appearing on large placards on the hillsides.
Madrid & Beyond’s expert insider in the Douro, Bruno, tells us more.
Tell us about the Douro valley
“The Douro Valley is probably the most beautiful wine region in the word, it’s a landscape that perfectly combines the hard work of man over the centuries, using all the land available for planting our vines for the production of our port and still wines. It’s located in the heart of Portugal where life is very simple and quiet, and people are authentic; they’re hard workers and very welcoming to everyone.”
Describe the region in three words
“Memorable, historical, breathtaking.”
If you could choose five favorite wines from the Douro Valley, which would they be and why?
“Barca Velha would be my first choice. It’s the first still wine to be commercialized in the Douro after about three centuries of port wines dominance. Next, I’d go for Dow’s Vintage 1985, a wine that immediately attracts your palate, even if you’re not familiar with port. Then we have Graham’s 40-Year-Old Tawny – if you think you don’t like port, think again! This tawny port is like drinking history. Mirabilis is a top-rated white wind, voted best in the world in 2018 and finally Quinta do Crasto Vinhas Velhas, a blend of about 50 different grape varieties all more than 100 years’ old. When the vines are this old, they produce very little, but the flavor is amazing!”
What are some of the most memorable experiences you have provided to a traveler?
“We recommend a boat rides on our tours, they are always memorable, and travelers get a different viewpoint of the vineyards from the water. As a local, I know everybody around here which means I can introduce travelers to some really special people to help them get under the skin of this region. I was lucky to learn about the Douro from my friends – winery owners, winemakers, winegrowers – all of whom carry a lot of knowledge from their ancestors and continue to develop their practice today. When I started as a guide here, I knew straightaway that I could enhance the experience and offer something different by touring in classic cars – it’s like traveling back in time for a day!”
You used to be a police officer… what made you take the leap to become a guide?
“I worked as a police officer until 2008 in Vila Nova de Gaia. My office happened to be in the same area as the port wine cellars so I watched, what at the time was a trickle of tourists, and realized that few people knew about the very region that produces the wine. An idea took root and finally, a few years later, as Portugal became more and more popular as a destination, I was able to start working as a guide on a part-time basis. I started my own company in 2016 and finally in 2019 left the police force to work 100% in tourism. I am very happy to be able to do what I love in life!”
Where do you go on holiday with your family? Do you have a special place in Portugal you go to often outside the Douro Valley?
“When I have the chance, I always go on vacations with my family to the Algarve, it’s always a fun time with my kids after a year of hard work. We drive there and rent a villa for the family. The Algarve has a lot of beautiful beaches, so we like to go to a different beach every day. It’s great to recharge our batteries there, but truly there’s no place like home, I really love to live where I’m from!”