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TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen has a background as a food and wine writer and has covered wine regions all over the globe including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria and many of those in his native California, so we decided to launch a new #WineWednesday series where every week we give you a brief snapshot of wine regions all over the globe and insight on how to get there, where to stay and a couple places you might want to visit while there. Today we head to one of Europe’s most famous wine regions that’s known for its fortified wines, though its regular wines are fast becoming table favorites at restaurants around the world: Porto.
Like most places in Europe, wine came to Portugal with the Romans. Since vines first took root there millennia ago, Portugal’s wine fortunes and ebbed and peaked periodically, but lucky for us, the industry is currently on an upswing and the country’s famous Douro Valley with the gateway of Oporto (or Porto as it’s more often known) at the center of this Renaissance.
Thanks to some fabulous (and cheap!) new wines coming out of the Douro, as well as Portugal’s position on the far western end of Europe, now is a great time to visit this fascinating wine region.
Although its airport is far from the bustling hubs that, say, Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle, are Porto still handles quite a few international flights. TAP is Portugal’s national airline and a member of Star Alliance, and even flies there directly from Newark once a week. It also connects the city to London, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, and other major gateways. Iberia flies here from Madrid. Lufthansa flies in from Frankfurt.
The airport is also serviced by the low-cost carriers, with Ryanair flying here from London, Frankfurt, Brussels, Dublin, Paris, Barcelona, Dusseldorf and Madrid; while Easyjet flies from gateways in the UK, Switzerland and France. Porto is also just about a two-hour train ride from Lisbon or an hour flight from Madrid with several daily flights on Iberia and TAP.
Don’t skip over Porto in your hurry to get out to the hinterlands. After all, this is where the wine gets its name from, and the city is a picturesque seaside metropolis draped over rolling hillsides at the mouth Douro River. Thanks to its well-preserved Baroque architecture, stunning scenery and its cultural heritage, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
Many of the big names in Port – some of them dating back nearly three centuries – still keep their cellars in the waterside precinct of Vila Nova di Gaia, just across the river from the old section of town. Here you can taste the exceptional Port wines of houses like Sandeman’s, Graham’s and Taylor’s, each of which offers tours and educational tastings.
Those eager to learn more about the intricacies of Port (there are a lot of rules that wine houses have to follow!), consider a visit to the Instituto dos Vinhos do Porto, which has a small but informative museum that spans the region’s history and winemaking techniques. After your visit you won’t think that you have to be a British ex-military officer or an addled granny to enjoy a glass of fortified wine.
Apart from wine-tasting, the city itself is an architectural gem and includes graceful steel bridges across the river, one of which, the Dom Luis I Bridge, was designed by one of Gustave Eiffel’s students. Also on your architectural agenda should be a stop by the beautiful train station with its intricate tile murals, as well as the landmark Cleric’s Tower and the ornate golden altar at the Church of Sao Francisco. Bibliophiles will appreciate the neo-Gothic (some might say Harry Potter-ish Lello bookstore. If you have several days, spend one of them walking along the Atlantic in the suburb of Foz, or head there to enjoy dinner at one of the city’s best restaurants, Cafeina.
If staying in Porto, InterContinental recently opened a beautiful property in the heart of the old city where reward nights start at 30,000 points. Also on the luxury side of the spectrum, you can stay across the river in the neighborhood of Vila Nova di Gaia at the newish Yeatman Hotel, which has 82 deluxe guestroom with all the contemporary amenities and other nice touches like huge marble bathrooms, Caudalie bath products and high-speed WiFi. There’s also a Sheraton, where award nights start at 7,000 points, and Marriott operates an AC Hotel there.
The Douro Valley
When you’re ready to get out of town, take the train or drive about two hours east to the heart of the Douro Valley, the town of Regua. Castas e Pratos is an upscale restaurant in a renovated railway warehouse where you can taste local specialties like homemade sausages made from famous Tras-o-Montes pork.
Just across the river is the beautiful boutique design hotel and winery of Quinta da Pacheca which is owned by a family that helped pioneer the modern trend toward non-fortified wines being made in the area, though you can also try their delicious vintage Ports either in the cozy little tasting room or in the lodge’s swanky private green-on-green dining room over a gourmet tasting menu.
Even farther into the Douro Valley are several scenic boutique wineries including Quinta do Tedo, which is along a hidden tributary on the Douro’s south bank and is known for its robust vintage Ports.
East along the main road on the river’s south bank from here is one of Portugal’s most famous restaurants, DOC, which is helmed by local celebrity chef Rui Paula, who is known as one of the forebears of modern Portuguese cuisine and whose daily specialties might include dishes like octopus carpaccio with a parmesan tuile paired with a white Douro DOC wine, of course.
Quinta de la Rosa is a beautiful family-owned winery in a quiet little spot just west of the village of Pinhao, which is known as the cradle of the Douro. This quinta not only serves an award-winning slate of vintage wines, but also has a charming bed-and-breakfast on property.
Up the winding roads into the hills above town lie two gorgeous winery hotels. Quinta do Portal has a winery that was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Alvaro Siza and an inn called the Casa das Pipas set amongst the vines with a turquoise pool.
Back west along the north bank of the Douro isthe historical property of Quinta Nova, where, ironically enough, the buildings date to the early 18th century, and which has charming little rooms in the main inn as well as a wine-tasting bar and bougainvillea-draped patio, a gourmet restaurant that serves specialty local foodstuffs and a pool with vertiginous views of the terraced vineyards and the river far below.
The incredible scenery, ancient winemaking customs, friendly locals and quiet ambiance of the Douro Valley along with the stunning architecture, cosmopolitan vibe and world-class wineries in Porto make a trip to Portugal’s most famous wine region a must.