This Stunning Region in Portugal Is a Wine Lover's Dream — With Historic Train Rides, Scenic Boat Tours, and Luxury Hotels

Wine, forests, and boat tours. What else do you need?

<p>Brandon Rosenblum/Getty Images</p>

Brandon Rosenblum/Getty Images

As a newly minted resident of Portugal, I am here to tell you, every single square inch of it is beautiful. But there's something extra special about the Douro Valley.

Located in the northern region of Portugal, the Douro Valley is as enchanting a place as they come. Its rolling hills — punctuated by perfectly aligned vineyard vines, which are a testament to the agricultural dedication of local farmers dating back thousands of years — give away to winding river views that go on for as far as the eye can see. In the summer, the word "verdant" doesn't do the greenery justice, and come fall, the dazzling foliage takes over.

"The Douro Valley is renowned for its breathtaking beauty, steeped in centuries of winemaking history," Madalena Dinis, director of marketing and communication for the Porto and northern Portugal tourism board, told Travel + Leisure. "Notably, the Douro is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, which adds a historical richness to its vineyards and winemaking traditions. It’s a haven for wine enthusiasts and a perfect place for anyone seeking a serene escape in nature. The region’s rich culinary traditions and the warmth of its people make it an inviting destination for all."

Ready to see it for yourself? Here are the best places to stay, attractions to see, and vineyards to visit on your next trip to Douro Valley.

Douro Valley, Portugal

  • Don't miss the fantastic views from around the riverbanks, especially at sunset.

  • Indulge in all the wonderful spa treatments offered in the Douro Valley hotels.

  • Book a table at one of the hotel restaurants for a taste of delicious regional Portuguese cuisine.

  • The easiest way to explore the area's fantastic history is by taking a ride on its Historical Train.

  • Taste the fruit of the valley during a wine tasting at any of the area's vineyards. None of them will disappoint.

Best Hotels and Resorts

<p>Courtesy of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas</p>

Courtesy of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas

Six Senses Douro Valley

The Six Senses was voted one of the best resorts in Portugal and Spain by T+L readers in the 2023 World's Best Awards, and it's easy to see why. The 19th-century manor-turned-hotel sits amid the terraced vineyards and offers spacious suites for you to call home. Here, guests can also indulge in spa treatments, walk the organic gardens, dig into locally sourced meals, and yes, enjoy plenty of wine tastings, too.

Lamego Hotel & Life

Lamego Hotel & Life is tailor-made for those seeking a more modern experience. The property's contemporary design, which includes a clean-lined pool surrounded by neutral-toned chaise loungers, provides the utmost relaxing atmosphere. Guests here can also swim in the indoor pool on chillier days, get a treatment at the L'Occitane spa, and indulge in traditional Portuguese cuisine at the restaurant, O Comendador. The hotel is also within walking distance of regional cultural landmarks, including Lamego Cathedral and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies.

Quinta de la Rosa

Perched on a bend in the Douro River, Quinta de la Rosa offers a family-style stay so guests can feel immersed in the destination. Calling it a "hotel" is a bit of a misnomer, as the rooms are sprinkled all over the property, giving everyone a sense of solitude during their stay. When ready for a meal, guests are invited to Cozinha da Clara (or Clara's Kitchen) for a regionally inspired meal.

Vidago Palace

A few nights at Vidago Palace, a historic hotel set in a centuries-old forest, is bound to make you feel like royalty. The palace was the vision of King Carlos, who wanted to build a luxury spa to entice a global clientele — and he succeeded. Here, visitors will find opulence at every turn, from the grand staircase in the entryway to the manicured gardens, rooms with leather furnishings, and a thermal spa that will undoubtedly undo all your aches and pains.

Best Things to Do

<p>Octavio Passos/Getty Images</p>

Octavio Passos/Getty Images

Drink in the view at São Salvador do Mundo.

While the Douro Valley is beautiful from every angle, the São Salvador do Mundo viewpoint allows visitors to take in all of its splendor at once. Located high on the riverbank, this vantage point offers a sweeping view of the water and terraced vineyards. Plus, it's a prime spot for admiring the sunset. There's also a tiny chapel at the top, along with pre-Roman remains.

Get to know the land at Côa Valley Archaeological Park.

The Côa Valley Archaeological Park, located about a one-hour drive from the heart of the Douro region, offers a glimpse into not just Portugal's past, but into humanity's. The museum and open-air gallery are home to an extensive collection of Paleolithic rock carvings, some dating as far back as 30,000 years ago. The museum itself is a sight to behold, made out of a natural-colored cement that blends seamlessly into the landscape. But don't stop there — continue on to explore the park via a guided tour so you don't miss a thing.

<p>Image Source/Getty Images</p>

Image Source/Getty Images

Take a boat tour.

Get a whole new perspective of the valley during a boat tour down the river. There are several local operators offering tours, from quick river trips to multiday cruises. For something even more unique, Anima Durius hosts trips on super-cool small vessels, including classic wooden boats and a few handsome sailboats.

<p>Octavio Passos/Getty Images</p>

Octavio Passos/Getty Images

Hop aboard the Historical Train.

Travel back in time with a ride on Douro's Historical Train. The trip, which runs between Régua and Tua, hugs the banks of the river, providing beautiful videos from the five historical carriages. Passengers can also expect entertainment and even a few little gifts on board.

Related: 20 Beautiful Places to Visit in Portugal — From Fairy-tale Castles to Charming Beach Towns

Best Vineyards

<p>Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure</p>

Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure

Quinta do Seixo

Quinta do Seixo, located along the banks of the river, goes on for nearly 250 acres. The winery is well-known for its modern winemaking center that pairs perfectly with its traditional vineyard farming. Guests can come for a tour and tasting led by one of the vineyard's experts.

Quinta da Pacheca

Quinta da Pacheca has been producing wine since 1738, making it one of the Douro's oldest estates. Here, guests can opt for the traditional tastings, book a picnic lunch or dinner to enjoy among the vines, or visit in the fall to experience the olive oil harvest. As for where to stay, you can book one of the vineyard's massive wine barrels turned glamping sites, which have become popular thanks to Instagram.

Quinta das Carvalhas

Quinta das Carvalhas is younger than Quinta da Pacheca, but not by much. It began producing wines in 1759 and has been a prominent vineyard in the region ever since. Here, guests can go on guided tours, which include climbing the hillside landscape for a 360-degree view of the Douro Valley and learning all about the history of viticulture along the way.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Douro Valley, according to locals, is really whenever you'd like. 

"Whether you prefer the vibrant colors of spring, the bustling atmosphere of harvest season, or the serene tranquility of winter, there's never a wrong time to visit the Douro Valley, Richard Bowden, the director of marketing and communications at the Six Senses Douro Valley, shared with T+L.  "Each season offers its own distinct charm and allure for travelers." While he has a hard time picking a favorite, Bowden notes the grape harvest season, which runs from September to October, "is a particularly vibrant time to visit, as the vineyards are ablaze with autumn colors, and many wineries offer special events and experiences."

If you had to choose, the most optimal time to visit is usually between late spring and early autumn (May to September), when the days are sunny, long, and warm. All that adds up to lovely days made for hiking, wine tasting, or cruising down the river. However, if you want to stretch your trip into late October, you'll catch the olive harvest season, too.

How to Get There

By Car: Driving is the easiest way to reach and explore the Douro Valley. From Porto, it's about a 1.5- to two-hour drive via the A4 motorway and N222 road. With this drive, it really is about the journey and the destination, as the N222 road is often regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the world thanks to its green hillsides and plenty of viewpoints. From Lisbon, you can make it to the Douro Valley in about 3.5 hours. It's not as glamorous of a drive, but it will get you there.

By Train: For a more relaxing alternative, try the train. The Linha do Douro (Douro Line) runs from Porto’s São Bento or Campanhã stations to Pocinho, passing through Régua, Pinhão, and Tua along the way. It, too, is known for its picturesque landscapes en route, including right along the river's edge, making it a pleasant journey.

Related: I Saw Portugal by Traveling This Scenic Train Route — and I Can't Recommend It Enough

How to Get Around

By Car: Again, it's easiest to bring your own car when visiting the Douro Valley, as things are quite spread out. This way, you can see all the sights in your own time. Travelers can rent a car from either Porto or Lisbon; companies like Avis, Hertz, and Alamo all have stations in each city.

Tour Guide: If you're not comfortable driving on the narrow, winding roads, you can hire a private tour guide. There are plenty of local (and knowledgeable) guides ready to whisk you away to all their favorite spots, including some off-the-beaten-path gems.

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