We lived in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for more than 30 years prior to moving to Valencia. With more than 500 wineries in the region, we fell in love with the tranquility and beauty of vineyards, enjoyed vineyard events like concerts and dinners and, of course, the end product. One look at photos of historic terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley and I knew it was a destination for us. It is the largest area of mountainous vineyards in the world.
But where to start? The train from Porto stops in Régua and Pinhão so I focused my search for a quaint, rural accommodation in the environs of these stations.
I found a range of accommodations but luxurious, boutique hotels and resorts seemed to dominate. My own experience with wine country lodging in Oregon and California proved that if you are willing to spend $50.00 for an average bottle of wine, you are willing to spend 5 to 10 times that for a room in a luxury hotel. I’ve never been one to pay those lofty rates. Besides, I had my heart set on staying in a Quinta (a Portuguese farm or vineyard estate) in a region where we could spend a few days hiking.
I broadened my search to the small villages around these major tourist areas and found the perfect Quinta in Provesende. And since we were in low season it was possible to lock in a rate just under 100€ a night.
We stayed just a few minute walk outside the village of Provesende
Quinta Manhãs D’Ouro
Even though I knew that in May we probably wouldn’t be using the lovely pool at Quinta Manhãs D’ouro, I liked what I saw when I found the online listing. Then I read reviews from others who used this hotel as a base for hiking. One traveler even mentioned hiking downhill to Pinhão on a trail through vineyards. I was sold.
A six-minute walk from the village of Provesende on a quiet road framed with newly planted vineyards, it looked quite new. In fact, the Quinta Manhãs D’ouro is a family business, built five years ago.
From the beginning, we understood that each employee felt a sense of joy, pleasure, and reward garnered from providing warm and generous hospitality. We felt we were at home.
Our welcome began when Filipe picked us up at the airport and asked if we would like him to call the kitchen to arrange for a dinner. A French air traffic controllers strike delayed our arrival and the kitchen was scheduled to close before we’d reach the Quinta. We asked for a vegetarian meal and they rose to the occasion that evening and for each of our evening meals with them. Tapas and a fixed dinner menu are also available.
The guest rooms and public areas are simple but clean and comfortable. We really enjoyed having a glass of port in front of the wood-burning fireplace each evening after dinner and our chats with Joaquim, one of the owners, enhanced our knowledge of Portugal.
How we spent our days at the Quinta Manhãs D’ouro in Provesende
On our first morning, we decided to investigate the cute, little village of Provesende before breakfast. We found an unusual café/bar called O Arado Museu, stopped in for a coffee and took in their extensive collection of farming tools, gourd sculptures, and found objects that left little room for the café’s chairs and pool tables but somehow the owners made it work.
The story of Provesende and the Douro Valley dates back to Roman times when settlers eeked out a living growing grapes in soil too poor for anything else in a climate with summer temperatures in the 40’s C (above 100 F). In the mid 1600’s the Douro Valley became legendary for their Port Wine (a wine fortified with Brandy) made from grape varieties mostly unknown to the rest of the world. (Have you heard of these varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Sousão, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela and Alicante Bouschet? No? Neither had I.) It wasn’t until 1756 that the Douro Valley became known for being the first demarcated vineyard region in the world. The designation was created by the Real Compania Velha (The Old Royal Company) with the idea to protect the name and quality of port wine. This demarcated area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
Their wine making heritage and the fact that Provesende was the seat of local government during the mid 19th century explain why many noble families made their home there. As quiet as the town is today it’s not difficult to imagine it in the days when bustling grand manors (no less than 12 in the tiny village) were the hub of activity and people could live a full lifetime in that one place. Today, most of the manor houses are in decay but it is still easy to pick them out by their sheer size and family crest. One lovely manor house hotel called Morgadio da Calcada, remains today to serve guests in high style.
After our morning coffee, we wandered through the village marveling at the fresh green gardens, birdsong, and rural tranquility of the place. Then, feeling a bit peckish we climbed the hill back to our Quinta to break our fast.
Breakfast is served from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. There was a buffet of cold selections including juices, fruits, yogurts, cereals, bread, pastries, cheeses and cold meats. Brewed coffee and a variety of teas rounded off the meal. Espresso was also available.
After breakfast we continued our exploration by heading out to a viewpoint (or mirador) where we were promised a grand regional view. Although we missed the trail we were supposed to take, we ended up atop an entirely different hill, topped by a small stone chapel and enjoyed nearly the same 360° vista we’d anticipated.
When the threatening skies opened, we chose to return to Provesende where we were lucky enough to enjoy a lunch at a local landmark, Papas Zaide. By piggybacking on a catered lunch buffet they’d prepared for a bicycle tour group of about 40 people, we had our choice of dozens of vegetable dishes on the buffet. We marveled at our good fortune as we washed it down with local wine.
A seven-kilometer hike through the vineyards to Pinhão was the highlight of our excursions. We took a leisurely walk straight down the mountain, explored Pinhão and the truly spectacular Vintage House Hotel, and had a specially prepared vegetarian lunch in Rufete Restaurant. We followed lunch with a 2-hour water tour of the Douro Valley on a traditional Rabelo boat. We didn’t leave ourselves time to hike back up the mountain, so a taxi, caught at the train station, returned us to the hotel in time for a little happy hour on the terrace prior to dinner.
By the end of our three-night stay in Provesende, we were already making plans for a return. This destination ranks among the top most enjoyable excursions we’ve ever made.
We finished our trip to Portugal with a few days in Porto where we learned more about the production of fine Port wine.
A hike through the vineyards to Pinhão was the highlight of our excursions
Tourist Information in the Vicinity
Wine tasting in the Douro Valley? There are several Quinta’s available in Pinhão such as Croft Quinta Da Roêda, Quinta du Bomfim, and Quinta da Foz.
You can cruise the Douro River in traditional Rabelo boats. Instead of ferrying barrels of wine from the vineyard to the Port Lodge in Porto, they’ve installed seating for tourists. It’s quite a popular activity and you don’t need a reservation unless you are in high season. Just head down to the river and you’ll see vendor after vendor selling tickets for a one or two hour cruise. We took the two-hour cruise for 20€ per person and it was a disappointment. We both thought our preferred way to see the Douro Valley was up high and in the vineyards, not on the water.
Getting there from Porto
Many visitors to Porto will schedule in a full day tour up the Douro River by motor coach that includes wine tastings, a one-hour boat tour, and a typical Portugese lunch. There are many vendors who offer this tour and some who offer a train/boat option as well.
If you prefer independent travel and don’t want to rent a car, the Portuguese railway system will also get you to this lovely area. Trains depart from the historic Sao Bento Railway station in the city center of Porto and head toward Régua and Pinhão. Both river towns have significant tourist infrastructure for exploring the Douro Valley on your own and taxis are available at the train station to take you anywhere you want to go.
We took a third option. While the trains cover about 12 hours of the day with multiple trains per day, the schedule didn’t align with our arrival time. Instead, we used a personal shuttle service offered by our Quinta. We could also have hired a towncar to take us to our destination in Provesende.