7 wine-free things to do in the Douro
March 15th 2017
Portugal‘s Douro region is world-famous for its wine, but hopping from vineyard to vineyard isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. These seven things to do in the Douro dodge the wineries but still show you the best of this incredible part of western Europe.
1. Go hiking
Even if you choose not to enjoy the fruits of their labour, that’s not to say you can’t appreciate the beauty of the Douro’s vines. Hike across the undulating landscape to connect with the area’s sweeping views, down into its valleys and across the tops of the handful of houses that call this place home.
There are many tour groups that run from Porto into the Douro that you can join on a guided walk, day trips or longer breaks. It’s possible to go walking without a guide, however, but despite there being trails all over the valley there is little information online about specific routes. Your best bet is to ask at your hotel reception where you can go hiking in the local area.
// Related: Travel itinerary: a weekend in the Douro
2. Sample the gastronomy
The Douro region boasts a rich a varied culinary scene that, like much of Portugal, is typical to its surroundings. As there’s a lot of farming and grazing land around the region, meat dishes are common as opposed to lots of fish, which you’ll find more of down in the Algarve or on the coast.
Hearty meats like wild boar or goat are often cooked here, and it’a easy to find delicious cheeses and smoked sausages too. Splash out for a meal at Régua’s Castas & Pratos, or the more humble Restaurante Residencial Ponto Grande in Pinhão.
3. Discover the historic architecture
Palaces and churches are strewn across the Douro, adding remnants of history to this otherwise nature-heavy part of Portugal. These include the Casa de Mateus, an 18th century estate just outside Vila Real with beautiful gardens and links to the famous rosé wine of the same name (although it is not made here).
Also don’t miss Lamego’s Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, a spectacular church with an ornate staircase of 686 steps leading up to it, and the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Salzedas, one of the largest Cistercian monasteries in Portugal.
Casa de Mateus. Image source
4. Go kayaking
Thousands of visitors each year see the Douro from aboard a boat or cruise ship, but not many opt to experience this river from a kayak. Paddle this UNESCO-classified landscape over a few hours or even a couple of days to take in views of the slopes rising up around you and sunshine glistening off the water.
Portugal Kayak runs two day tours from April to October and for €300 you get a hotel stay plus meals included in the price. If you already have experience, rent a kayak from Magnifico Douro at €35 for four hours – one person, two person, and two plus a child kayaks are available.
5. Travel on the Douro railway line
One of the most unique ways to experience the Douro and perfect way to explore if you’re not able to hire a car, the Douro Railway line – Linha do Douro – hugs the riverbed and is one of Portugal best rail trips. Running from Porto to Pochino, it’s one of the easiest ways to reach the Douro right from the city, stretching over 150km and passing through 26 tunnels and 39 bridges.
The route takes three and a half hours and it’s possible to do there and back in a day if you’re willing to spend most of your time staring out a train window. Some of the stations are seemingly plonked in the middle of no where whereas the more useful ones, such as Pinhão, make for a good place to stop for lunch. Tickets cost €13-15 each way.
6. Stop by the natural parks
The International Douro Nature Park is on the far eastern end of the Douro and sits tight with 122km of the border with Spain. Characterised by gigantic granite gorges, some reaching over 200m in depth, this is one of the most dramatic parts of the Douro and well worth venturing to the other side of the country from Porto to find. Among the most interesting features of the parks is that due to the nature of the landscape it’s home to nesting birds. Come here to spot vultures and eagles wheeling through the skies.
In the Douro you also have the Alvão Natural Park, just northwest of Vila Real and part of the Serra do Alvão mountain range. One of this park’s more famous sights is the Cascata de Fisgas do Ermelo, a waterfall that tumbles 250m down the rocky scenery, a section of the River Olo.
Six Senses Spa. Image source
7. Pamper yourself with a spa day
As there are so many things to do in the Douro, it can be a slightly draining experience if you’re out and about every day. To recharge your batteries after long excursions, pamper yourself with a massage, scrub, or facial at a spa for a few hours.
Named as one of the best spas in the world, Six Senses Douro Valley is one of the top places to do this. High up in the hills with a beautiful view down across the landscape and to the river, the setting alone is breathtaking but the treatments here will help you relax and unwind even further.
What would you choose from this list of things to do in the Douro?