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Nov 15, 2022

Unique character of the Douro region

The Portuguese edition of Best Of Wine Tourism 2023 definitely demonstrated a very high quality and diversity, highlighting the wealth of attractions as wine destination of choice.

The diversity on offer and quality of the services highlight a wealth of attractions, which places the Vinhos Verde, Douro and Port wine regions among the most sought after as tourist destinations of choice.

The Portuguese edition of BOWT 2023 definitely demonstrated an increase in the quality level of the participants, emphasising such relevant attributes as the variety of options in terms of accommodation; the blending of the spaces into the landscape, which are bold exercises of modern architecture; the wine and gastronomic proposals of choice, on paths where museums appear that recall the history of Portugal, the oldest nation-state of old Europe.

Architecture and landscape are the hallmarks of Caves Graham’s Terraço Vinum terrace, in Vila Nova de Gaia, where the view takes in stunning scenery: the houses of Porto, like the Sanjoanina waterfall sung about by Rui Veloso; the Luís I bridge and the Gaia riverbank of interlocking roofs, hiding a unique treasure: Port.

The terrace, with sofas instead of chairs, and a hundred or so seats, is ideal for a snack, a light meal or simply a glass of wine.

On our way inland on this journey which begins in Porto, the tourist destination of choice that transformed the charming old medieval town into a cosmopolitan city, we reach the heart of the Alto Douro Wine Region.

Accommodation at Casas da Quinta da Casa Amarela, a centennial mansion surrounded by 15 hectares of vineyards is an experience to be remembered, in the Unesco World Heritage region.

Casa Amarela, which has been a Port producer forever, although it has only had its own brand since 1986, and CDO Douro wines since the beginning of the 21st century, has been in the possession of the Regueiro family for three generations, since 1835.

The provision of accommodation was added to this producer’s wine tourism offer in 2020. It is composed of four rooms – Ruby, Tawny, LBV and Vintage – and another independent unit, which originated from the successful adaptation of a traditional stone building next to the swimming pool.

In a cosy and intimate family atmosphere, reminiscent of old family homes, you can taste excellent wines, enjoy the unique landscape and savour the regional gastronomy.

In this wine tourism, where attention to detail is the seal of quality, a recreational component is available so that tourists may be able to interpret the vineyard and the landscape.

In terms of Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices, the Six Senses Douro Valley hotel, expanded since last July – it has 11 new rooms, suites and villas – continues to work in a manner that justifies praise.

The abolition of non-essential plastic is one of the short-term goals of this luxury hotel. The ‘wine library’, with over a thousand references and which is, in a way, the heart of the hotel, has converted recycled bottles into lamps. Wine boxes have also been reused as appliqués on the walls and composting is an imperative activity.

Another practice rooted in the culture of this hotel is that of ‘from farm to table’. An example of this is the honey consumed in the hotel, which is produced by bees from a dozen hives located somewhere in the surrounding 10 hectares of forest, where wine tasting in full contact with nature is also possible.

Social concerns are also associated with the management of this hotel unit: 0.5 percent of the revenue goes to an environmental sustainability fund and various types of support are provided in conjunction with other entities, namely Bagos de Ouro.

Sustainability is a concern that is also very present at Lavradores de Feitoria. It has a new model winery in Sabrosa, which was architecturally designed by Belém Lima.

Lavradores de Feitoria turned a dream into reality at the Vinha do Medronheiro vineyard when, from April 2022, it began to provide Wine Tourism Services, which include five types of visits, in three languages, with tastings in the superb room with a panoramic view of the vineyards.

Meanwhile, there is the possibility of enjoying a picnic next to the gigantic strawberry tree, which gives its name to the vineyard. The vineyard is also the location for walks where we learn more about the region, the grape varieties and the wines thanks to the captivating description, provided with undisguised passion.

The walk is completed with a visit to the modern winery, which has an installed capacity of one million bottles.

On this journey up the Douro, through a land of sublime grandeur, it is time to pause in Pinhão, specifically at the winning Wine Restaurant: Bomfim 1896 with Pedro Lemos, set in one of the Douro’s most emblematic properties, owned by the Symington family for five generations.

The Quinta do Bomfim estate maintains an aura that takes us back to 1896, the year when Dow’s Port started being produced there, as it still is today.

The building heritage has been preserved in detail: the wood of the buildings has been restored; the old mills are still in their place, alongside the robots, and the century-old wine cellar with 11 vats, each with 24 barrels and a capacity of 13,350 litres.

There is no better way to get to know the region’s history and traditions than by savouring the gastronomy, one of the tasty facets of the Douro region.

The restaurant, led by chef Pedro Lemos, holder of a Michelin star, opened in June 2022. It is set on a higher level than Casa dos Ecos. The basic cuisine, of a more classical nature, is specifically designed for the restaurant, although with elements that embrace comfort and sharing, according to the seasonality of ingredients of national origin.

The pleasant and inviting entrance hall opens into the restaurant area, where we have a breathtaking panoramic view.  It is a spacious, open and elegant room, with plenty of light. The atmosphere is very calm and comfortable in the vast restaurant area, where a Douro kitchen is brought to mind by the large chimney, the oven and the wood-burning stove.  Everything is in plain sight, creating an unusual atmosphere.  We are in a family home where the chef Pedro Lemos and a young team work with creativity and elegance in reviving tasty memories.

The wine list is of a high standard, very vast and diversified; the service is professional and very competent in advising the pairings with dishes, which remind us of past flavours from Douro’s kitchens.

Upstream, we head in the direction of the emblematic Quinta do Vesuvio estate, owned by the Symington family since 1989.

This estate, lofty in its standing, is one of the Douro’s largest, stretching over seven hills and 30 valleys, according to the description of the Viscount of Vila Maior.

The doors of the estate that belonged to Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, ‘A Ferreirinha’, a unique figure of the Douro region, opened in July 2022 for Innovative Experiences.

The exclusive programme (only one group per day, three times a week) is tailored for two to six people. It includes a jeep ride through the vineyards to the dovecote, the culminating point of the journey and where the 360-degree panorama view is simply overwhelming. Breathtaking. The break will be used to savour a snack made from regional products.

On returning to ‘The quinta of all quintas’ (“estate of all estates”), a symbol of the ingenuity and tenacity of the people of the Douro, our gaze is lost in contemplation of the river, whose placid waters transmit a contagious sense of tranquillity, arm in arm with the mysticism of this unique place.

The next step is an immersive experience in the world of wines produced on this estate, leading to unforgettable moments. It begins with a visit to the cellar built in 1827, where the 25 oak barrels stand out, which are favoured for ageing the top wines, produced from grapes crushed by bare feet in the eight magnificent stone presses. A unique environment to taste CDO Douro wines and Vintage Ports.

Lunch in the century-old house, expertly prepared by skilled cooks, allows you to taste some traditional Douro delicacies: octopus or codfish dishes; pork shank and roast duck are some of the options, paired with choice wines.

When the weather is fine, the terrace may be the place to enjoy all the surroundings, but in the indoor room you can ‘breathe’ history.

A fabulous, memorable and exclusive experience that portrays the Douro in all its dimension and fullness.

At the Quinta do Vesuvio estate, looking across the river to Senhora da Ribeira, we can enjoy an area of rare beauty.  The contemplative solitude of the landscape infuses us with a strange sensation, so elusive is the gaze fixed on this Douro that is almost overlooked.

It’s time to leave Vesuvio, by boat, train or car, with the unconfessed desire to return. But, there’s Art and Culture on the plateau of Favaios, the ‘Muscatel Wine Capital’.

 

So much Art and Culture in Douro

In Favaios, Adega Quanta Terra/ Distillery No. 7 was born by the will of two oenologists and producers – Celso Pereira and Jorge Alves – who drew up a unique project in the Art and Culture field.

The Quanta Terra Douro project renovated Distillery No. 7, built by Casa do Douro, presumably in 1932, judging by the materials used, and transformed it into an exciting centre of art with wine, thanks to a very well-designed architectural project.

The old, abandoned distillery was given a new lease of life as a winery and an original space that hosts concerts and other cultural events.

The artist Joana Vasconcelos opened the ‘book of honour’ with seven works on temporary exhibition.

The famous ‘Garrafão’, built of wrought iron; the ‘Coração independente’, an interpretation of traditional filigree, made from plastic cutlery, filled one of the rooms where it was possible to hear three fados sung by Amália Rodrigues.

The partnership with Joana Vasconcelos led to the launch of two wines with labels designed by the artist.

The space aims to be a hub of culture, a way of taking visitors from the coast to the inland areas, thanks to a programme of musical events, exhibitions and debates at this facility where the brandy — considered the Fifth Essence — drips from the still with boiler filled by gravity in an imposing room.

In this oasis of culture, wine tastings can take place in one of the four 25,000-litre capacity tiled brandy vats.

There are five types of tasting – 1 wine (white, rosé red); iconic wines (Reserve and Grand Reserve); signature wines (4 wines from the highest range).

The special tastings (masterclass) include six Quanta Terra wines and take place in the presence of oenologists.

The tastings are accompanied with smoked ham, salpicão spicy sausage, cheese and the famous Favaios bread, in a tasting that allows you to taste regional products of recognised quality.

At the end of the programme, the terrace built on a higher level is the ideal place to contemplate a breathtaking sunset, painted with the colours of a setting sun and the silhouette of the Favaios church on the horizon.

The symbiosis between art and wine in this cultural space is perfect thanks to the vision, sensitivity and boldness of two oenologists and producers.

Adega Quanta Terra/Distillery No. 7 is on its way to becoming a reference of the Douro region.

This groundbreaking project has won the 2023 Global Best of Winner award, in an announcement made at the close of the annual conference of the Great Wine Capitals global network, on November 3 in Mendoza, Argentina.

 

Best Of Wine Toursim – Porto Winners 2023 (Video Presentation)

Featured image: Quanta Terra Douro – 2023 Global Best of Winner

Text by António Catarino