Douro Valley

The River of Gold, the Douro, for us brings to mind colors beyond gold: the verdant green of its terraced slopes after rainy season, the deep purples of mountains of grapes waiting to be crushed, and of course the blues of the river itself, ever-changing as the sun moves across the valley.

The Douro Valley (yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site) is named for the river that snakes its way from Spain to the Mediterranean. The Douro was the first region in the world to be officially demarcated for the production of wine by the Romans in the third century. Its steep terraces were shaped by hand hundreds of years ago from the unforgiving granite mountains, which shelter the valley and give it its unique climate.

Until recent years, the river was filled with rabelos (barges) transporting precious liquid cargo to the port lodges of Gaia in nearby Porto, where the grapes are mixed with brandy to create port.

Although best known for its port, northern Portugal has in recent years earned a reputation for producing some of Europe’s most interesting flavor-forward reds. Conveniently, the Douro is also home to a few of Portugal’s finest hotels, not to mention some of its finest food.

And if you get tired of tasting wine at historic quintas (rural homes), there are always the quaint villages, Cistercian monasteries and Romanesque churches that dot the valley and the surroundings.

We can arrange for you to design and bottle your own wine (including the label), and have it shipped to you in time for the holidays.

Explore the winding Douro by private boat (or by more traditional modes if you prefer), and visit its little-known gardens and more exclusive estates.

Things are still very much done in traditional ways in the Douro. One of our favorite things to do is the most local: In many estates, grapes are still picked by hand every autumn.

The harvested grapes are then crushed by human feet in large lagares (granite vats), as they have always been. So we invite you, a la I Love Lucy, to join the locals at harvest time, accompanied by traditional musicians, to jump in the vat, and help turn all those grapes into juice so it can be mixed with brandy, given some time, and then end up in your local wine store. How many places in the world can you still do that?