If you’re looking for an incredible guided experience in the world’s oldest wine region, then read on for the best one-day Douro Valley tour!
The Best One-Day Douro Valley Tour
Portugal’s Douro Valley is unlike anything else in the world. Thousands of acres of shale-covered hills have been, for thousands of years, tamed by enterprising farmers by digging rows of terraces into the slopes. From the shores of the river to the top of every hill, thousands of acres of grape vines grow in neat lines. It’s a testament to what can result from the hard work of human hands.
For wine lovers, the Duoro Valley is a can’t-miss part of any Portugal itinerary. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s the world’s oldest demarcated wine region – its official boundaries were set in 1756, though grapes have been grown here for over 2,000 years. It’s also the origin of port wine – in order for a wine to be a labeled a true “port,” its grapes can only come from the Douro region. (And here I used to think “port” could come from anywhere in Portugal!)
It’s a region worth spending weeks in. However, most of us don’t have weeks to spend anywhere. And since my mom and I were taking a mere 10 days to see as much of Portugal as possible, we only had one day. With hundreds of individual wineries, miles upon miles of scenery, and dozens of mouthwatering restaurants to choose from, how on earth were we going to get the best out of our one day in the Duoro Valley? With a guided Duoro Valley tour.
Douro Valley Tour: Oporto and Douro Moments
It’s not often I get to write about a travel experience where absolutely nothing went wrong. This is no exception, yet the one hiccup in the day’s plan couldn’t have turned out better. When I booked this tour months ago, it was actually with an entirely different company. But a week before our trip, those tour guides had a medical emergency and had to cancel. Not to leave us up a creek completely without a paddle, they recommended I reach out to Oporto & Douro Moments. In a mildly frantic state, I emailed them, praying that somehow they had an opening for two hapless Americans on their one day in the Douro Valley the Saturday before Easter. Their response: if we wanted our own private tour, they’d be happy to pick us up from our hotel at 10:30 Saturday morning. Perfect.
Duoro River Trip
10:30 on the dot, Joana and her dad, Rui, pulled up to our bed and breakfast in their spacious van. We piled in and began the journey down Duoro’s many twisting roads (Another reason to hire guides: these are not roads to drive after a day full of port tasting. You might think “oohh, I bet those curves would be REALLY fun after a winery visit!” But I’m sure that would just be the wine talking).
The first stop was Pinhão, a small village on the Duoro River, but the largest settlement in the region. There’s a 5-star hotel here, a historic train station, and an adorable wine shop that offers tastings and freshly baked pastries. There are plenty of tantalizing reasons to visit Pinhão, but the most alluring is the glittering Douro River itself.
Traditionally, once the grapes were picked, crushed, processed, and put into barrels, the barrels were shipped down the river from Duoro to Porto on boats called “rabelos.” Today, those uniquely designed boats are used exclusively for tourists (like me and my mom), to show them the beauty of the Douro Valley by floating down its namesake river. And beautiful indeed! Portuegese Quintas perched on the verdant hillsides covered in their terraces, a constant breeze working its way between the hills, the occasional rural train chugging along the riverside tracks. The boat trip was only an hour, but we would have been happy to stay there all day. But alas, there was port to be drunk, food to be eaten, and far more of the Duoro region to explore.
But before leaving Pinhão behind, Rui drove us up more of those one-lane, cobbled winding roads to the very top of a nearby hill, where a little known scenic lookout is hidden. From there, the birthplace of port stretched out in front of us in every direction, and the Duoro River, which had been up close and personal just moments before, was now just a glistening ribbon snaking between the slopes. As we admired the view, Rui pulled out a box of fresh egg tarts he’d gotten for us while we were cruising down the river. If there’s a perfect time to eat your first “pasteis de nata,” Portugal’s most famous pastry, that was definitely the moment.
Quinta da Pacheca
Next on the itinerary was our first winery. From Pinhão, it was a 40-minute drive to Quinta da Pacheca, so along the way, our tour guides told us a bit more about themselves and, of course, Duoro. Oporto and Duoro Moments is a family owned and run tour company. Rui’s wife is a former teacher who decided to stop teaching children and start teaching tourists about her beloved city of Porto and the Douro region. The company has since grown into a full-time business for the family. Rui prefers working with the Brazilian and Spanish travelers because his English isn’t perfect (according to him; we didn’t have any trouble understanding him!), but he’s lived in the area most of his life. For our tour, he tag-teamed with his daughter, Joana, because she is perfectly fluent. She’s a university student but helps with tours when not busy with school.
One of their goals is to make each tour personable and to make each guest feel like family. Not even halfway through the day and they had already accomplished that! Both were extremely down-to-earth, friendly, and easy-going. Which is exactly what you want out of tour guides that you spend an entire day with!
Just before we arrived at Quinta da Pacheca, Rui explained that he wanted us to experience both types of wineries that exist in Douro – the larger, more commercial variety, and the smaller, more traditional and family-run type. Quinta da Pacheca was the former. (And fun fact, this quinta is the home of the hotel where you can sleep in a wine barrel!)
But don’t let the word “commercial” throw you off – the quinta was exquisite and the port delightful. But it turned out that the 4-wine tasting, conducted outside at a picnic table in the shaded courtyard, was merely an appetizer of what Quinta da Pacheca can offer visitors. The real highlight of our visit was lunch.
Yes, lunch. A 3-course meal with wine paired with each offering, plus dessert and espresso, all included with our tour. The Quinta’s onsite eatery, the Wine House Resturant, provides an elegant, gastronomic experience featuring local cuisine dressed up in a gourmet fashion. Everything you’ve heard about the wonders of Portuguese food is put on full display here. Delicious, creative, fresh, and a 2+ hour long affair. It was so exquisite that finding food to match it the rest of our time in Portugal proved to be impossible.
Completely and totally stuffed, my mom and I rolled ourselves backs into the van with our tour guides for the trip to the next winery.
Quinta de Tourais
Which happened to be right next door. Quinta de Tourais has been in the hands of the same family for three generations. The latest owner, winemaker Fernando, greeted us in the courtyard when we pulled up. Unlike Pacheca, this quinta felt like a home. There was no plethora of staff guiding tourists around the property, no guests checking into and out of their hotel rooms. Just us, our guides, and Fernando.
Fernando gave us a tour of the wine production rooms, including the room where the barefoot wine stomping happens during harvest season. Another fun fact: Portugal is the only country in the world that still uses the traditional method of grape stomping (I.e. dancing around barefoot ala Lucy and Ethel) for their commercial wines.
Despite having absolutely no room to even think about food after that massive lunch, we got to try five more wines during our tour. Even had our Douro Valley tour gone terribly wrong, we would have been in a great mood no matter what at this point! 😉
Our one-day Douro Valley tour ended entirely too soon, but we truly felt like we had experienced as much of the region as possible in a short amount of time. We got to spend all day with amazing locals, eat the best of Portuguese food, drink an irresponsible amount of port, and take in the beauty of the Douro valley from every angle. Thanks, Oporto and Douro Moments, for a truly perfect Douro Valley tour!
- This was not a sponsored tour. I just loved their tour so much that I wrote a review to encourage you to check them out! Oporto and Douro Moments offer a variety of tour options depending on what you want to do and your budget. Ours was a private, all-around Douro experience tour. But they offer pre-made itineraries, wine/and or food centered tours, and a variety of tours in Porto as well.
Related: Take a day trip from Douro to the beautiful Peneda Geres National Park!
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