Acres of terraced wine vineyards. Picture-perfect views. Vintage ports and old-world wines. Sunshine and relaxation. A Douro Valley road trip and stay at the Six Senses Douro Valley made for an epic ending to our trip to Portugal.
Let’s rewind. In 2017, I flipped through Condé Nast magazine and came across its annual Readers’ Travel Awards. The number one hotel location didn’t interest me, but the number two was the Six Senses Douro Valley in Portugal. Hmmm, what is this Douro Valley, I thought? After some research, I promised myself to keep this resort and destination in my back pocket.
Fast forward a couple of years to planning our 10-year wedding anniversary trip to Portugal. We love wine so we factored the Douro Valley wine region into our itinerary. Then I convinced Nick to pony up for the Six Senses for two good reasons: 1) it was a milestone anniversary; and 2) we had a three-night home exchange in the Algarve arranged for free (full disclosure I also got a media rate and free breakfast, so that helped.)
This post provides details about our Douro Valley road trip and visiting four quintas, plus a few others I researched but didn’t make it to. It also gives an overview of our luxurious three-night stay at the Six Senses. If you’re looking for wine tasting, relaxation, pampering, gorgeous scenery, and beautiful weather – you’ve come to the right blog.
The Douro Valley
The Douro Valley in Northern Portugal is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, and has produced wine and port for more than 2000 years. This UNESCO world heritage site is Portugal’s most famous wine region. The valley is picture-perfect, with the jade Douro River winding through the bottom of its steep hills, each one dotted with row after row of terraced vineyards.
Sprinkled throughout the hills are the many quintas (wineries) that you can visit to taste wine and port, take a tour, or gape at the valley views. I’m not a huge port fan, but I do looooove my vino, and wrote previously about our wine tasting escapades in Canada and Italy. The port grew on me, at least enough to figure out that I prefer a ruby to a tawny. Thanks for the education, Quinta da Pacheca.
Douro Valley road trip and four quintas (wineries)
The towns and rental car information
The past two times I’ve rented a vehicle in Europe, I found the best options and prices on Auto Europe. It lists all the rental car companies and compares sizes, classes, and prices in a nicely laid out chart. We rented a Volvo SUV through Avis and it only came to $250 euros total for a full week.
Other than the Six Senses and the quintas, our road tripping took us to the towns of Peso da Régua and Pinhão. Peso da Régua didn’t have much to do, so we only ate there. Locomotiva was great with meat portions bigger than my hand and excellent service.
Pinhão had more charm, but also didn’t have much to do. It’s the town closest to a high concentration of the Douro’s best wineries though, so you will likely pass through. We strolled the streets and stopped for a drink, where we received an outstanding quinta recommendation (see Quinta do Jalloto below).
Our goal was to find some hidden gem quintas and visit a couple popular ones. Mission accomplished with the four described below. Other quintas I had heard about and would’ve visited if we had more time were Quinta do Bomfim (recommended by travel guides, bloggers, and locals in Pinhão; appointment recommended), Quinta do Vallado, and Quinta das Carvalhas.
Now, I realize there’s a problem with a self-drive Douro wine tour. We had four people, so one person always took it easy with wine tastings so he or she could drive. If you prefer to have a driver for wine tasting, contact tour guide Pedro Rodrigues via Facebook Messenger. We met him in Pinhão, and he gave us great advice on which quintas to visit. He provides tours with his Mercedes van, and is the hottest guy I’ve met in a long time.
A note on Portuguese wine: most table wines in Portugal are not your typical single varietal wines (merlots, syrahs, chardonnays, etc.). Most are made with Portuguese grapes you won’t have heard of, usually a blend of a few. You may find yourself trying everything and taking recommendations from servers and bartenders. The good news is – they are all reasonably priced (or cheap) and no recommendations were all that bad.
Quinta do Jalloto
Make sure you put Quinta do Jalloto on your Douro wine tour list, as it has the best views of the stunning Douro Valley (a local’s words). You likely won’t read about this winery in any guidebooks or other blogs, but we were sure happy a local tipped us off on it. It’s about a 15 minute drive up into the hills above Pinhão, but worth it. The drive is windy and steep, but certainly not dangerous. The photo below doesn’t do the view justice.
Quinta do Jalloto has a nice, smooth range of white, rosé and red wines, as well as port, served up on a picturesque patio. We sampled a charcuterie board with our tastings under an olive tree. It was oh so European.
Quinta do Panascal
This port-only quinta is an ideal stop for those who want to compare a variety of vintage ports. Although the service wasn’t overly friendly (maybe she was having a bad day), the ports are good, and tasting room is inviting, with chairs around port barrel tables.
The valley and river views are nice here, but not as impressive as the views from Quinta do Jallota. There is a self-guided audio tour in nine languages, which also includes a tasting of four ports. Quinta do Panascal also offers organic port for tasting and the easy, breezy porto tonico (white port and tonic cocktail).
Quinta da Pacheca
If you’ve ever wanted to stay in a giant wine barrel hotel room(!) overlooking vineyards, you can for 200-250 euros at Quinta da Pacheca. Although these barrel rooms were the most memorable part of this winery for me, it also has tasty sips, educational tours, and a photo worthy, tree-lined entrance.
This winery is well known and it shows. You can join an hour-long free tour without an appointment, so we did. It started with a talk about the history of the winery and Douro wine region. Then we saw the giant vats of grapes, full of a soupy, burgundy grape mixture (it was harvest) and went down into the cellar. The finale was an outdoor wine and port tasting.
Quinta da Pacheca also has a hotel (separate from the wine barrel rooms) and restaurant called The Wine House Restaurant.
Quinta da Casa Amarela
While Quinta do Jalloto is our hidden gem for best views, Quinta da Casa Amarela was most memorable for the experience. A late arrival near closing time and sweetly asking for a “quick tasting” turned into an epic and lengthy tour, wine tasting, and hilarious conversation with the 70-year-old, third generation owner, Gil.
We saw the wine and port barrels, stored in the same room they had been since 1885. Gil showed us the massive concrete vats where they crush the grapes by foot, and reminisced about visitors grape treading so drunk they dove head first into the grape vat, coming up for air covered in black juice and grape particles, while Gil laughed and washed them down with a hose. Our next visit to the Douro Valley will be in September for this sort of party!
Our tasting included a delicious, easy-drinking red blend called Selection km 16. A large pour turned into a healthy top up, while Gil told stories of tourists asking for Coca Cola to mix with their wine (“I told them, “it’s eem-possible!”) and entertained us with other anecdotal musings. The next pour was, according to Gil, “one of the best 10 year tawnies in the world”. Can’t say no to that.
Don’t miss out on a visit to this quinta on your Douro Valley road trip.
A side of luxury at the Six Senses Douro Valley
I could write a whole blog about this resort. The Six Senses Douro Valley is the dreamiest place I’ve ever stayed. The best way to describe it is that no detail has been overlooked. Every inch of this place is designed with immaculate consideration and high-end, modern touches. The over the top service complements the surroundings, and the staff are at your beck and call.
A former 19th century manor house set high on a hill, you could spend your whole time in the Douro Valley here without leaving. There is a beautiful outdoor infinity pool looking out to the valley, an indoor pool, steam rooms, and saunas (sweat out the wine toxins in the infrared sauna). It also has a gorgeous wine library with self-serve wine and a luxurious spa (our facials were blissful). Then there’s the nature paths for a quiet walk in the hills or along the river. It’s complete with areas to rest, a waterfall, and lookout points.
The restaurants are lovely and breakfast was to die for, with healthy organic options, green detox juices, and the best pasteis de nata (Portugal’s famous custard tarts) I had in all of Portugal.
The rooms are modern and stylish, with everything you need placed exactly in the right spot, and super comfortable beds. If you have a question or need anything, simply send a message on the smart phone or tablet provided. We joked about messaging for some of that delicious pasteis de nata for a bedtime snack.
The Six Senses Douro Valley also offers a multitude of “Experiences”. From tree climbing, to sommelier guided wine tours or on-property tastings, to stand up paddle boarding on the Douro River, to a morning run with the General Manager.
If you can afford it, do it. Nick wasn’t a fan of the price initally, but now says it was worth it and won’t stop talking about it.
Douro Valley road trip: final thoughts
A Douro Valley road trip provides the flexibility to see this unique pocket of Portugal as you please. Even if you don’t have your own vehicle, a Douro Valley tour is an ideal day trip from Porto. Book a tour independently or through your hotel.
I could’ve easily spent more than three days there, but our 10 days in Portugal were precious while we were away from the kids. The Douro Valley is a perfect destination for those looking for a short romantic getaway, a sampling of Portugal’s best wines and ports, or a luxurious retreat to unwind. Plus (and this won’t be the first time I’ve said it)… everything is better with a wine buzz!
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