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Day Trip from Porto, Portugal: Douro Valley Wine Tour

Touriga Nacional grapes, early in their season, being shown by Michel at Quinta São Luiz in the Douro Valley aka Alto Douro in the Douro Wine Region. The Douro River is in the background.

Are you planning a trip to Porto? If you are and you love wine, set aside a day for touring Portugal’s Douro wine region—also called the Alto Douro. For less than €100*, you can spend 10 splendid hours taking in gorgeous scenery and drinking delicious wine without doing any driving. From Porto, you can board a tour bus, boat, or train. There are group tours and private tours. Depending on the route and options, you can spend considerably more than €100, but it may be well worth it.  

What’s so amazing about Portugal’s Douro Wine Region?

Portugal is a great country to explore wines in. It has over 250 native grape varieties and the highest density of indigenous grapes per square mile of any country in the world. Beyond its stunning scenery and world-famous wines, Douro is the world’s oldest demarcated wine region. Demarcated in 1756, wine has been produced here for more than 2,000 years. In 2001, the region became a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Overview of the Douro Valley Tour We Took

We booked the “Douro Valley: Tour with Wine Tastings, Cruise, and Lunch,*” a 10-hour day trip. The tour included historic sites, a scenic drive, lunch paired with local wines, a vineyard tour, a wine tasting, and a boat ride on the Douro River. On a sunny Thursday in May, we met our fellow tourists and our guide, André, outside the Living Tours office in Porto’s city center (R. de Mouzinho da Silveira 360A), not far from São Bento station, a train station famous for its azulejos artwork.

Our group of eight was small enough to fit comfortably in a plush tour van. We set off in the direction of pretty Pinhão, a popular wine town about two hours east of Porto in Portugal’s Douro Valley. On our way to Pinhão, we made several stops:

  • In charming Amarante to explore and snack as we wished.
  • At what many consider the Douro Valley’s best viewpoint.
  • For lunch at a traditional Portuguese restaurant accompanied by local wines in the Vinho Verde wine region.  
  • At Quinta São Luiz, to tour its vineyard and taste its wine.

Charming Amarante, Portugal

Our tour’s first stop was in historic Amarante. Founded in 360 B.C., it’s one of Portugal’s oldest villages. André gathered us outside Igreja de São Gonçalo, St. Gonçalo Church. He shared a few unique details of its history, and of a sexually suggestive sweet inspired by the same saint the church is named after. Construction started on Igreja de Sao Gonçalo in 1543 and lasted for 80 years. Four different kings ruled Portugal during that time. You can see them on the Balcony of the Kings: D. João III, D. Sebastião, Cardinal-Rei D. Henrique, and D. Filipe I (aka Philip II of Spain). Portugal and Spain have had a tumultuous relationship over the centuries, so a sculpture commemorating a Spanish King here is unusual.  

Speaking of unusual, the bolos de São Gonçalo or Doces Fálicos, invented in conservative, religious Amarante, are penis-shaped cakes. São Gonçalo had a reputation for being a matchmaker. Legend has it that eating the cake helps single women attract husbands and promotes fertility. During Portugal’s dictatorship (1933 – 1974), bolos de Sao Gonçalo were forbidden. After the dictatorship ended, the sweet became a symbol of freedom. When André gave us thirty minutes to explore the town on our own, we found a quaint café for coffee and tried the delicious bolo de São Goncalo.

Bolos de São Gonçalo being held by André. He is wearing a red Living Tours jacket. This was part of our education on the Douro Valley tour we took.

On the Road from Amarante to Miradouro São Leonardo de Galafura

We set off from Amarante to Miradouro São Leonardo de Galafura or São Leonardo de Galafura viewpoint—a viewpoint that offers more than a gram-worthy photo op. It offers one of the most stunning views of the Douro Valley. 

The drive to Miradouro São Leonardo de Galafura is stunning, albeit a little intense. I was glad that a local guide was doing the driving. On our way to it, we went through Portugal’s longest road tunnel, the Túnel do Marão. It’s 3.5 miles (5.6 km) long and takes about four minutes to drive through.

After taking photos and videos of the view, we ate lunch and drank wine at Restaurante São Leonardo. Chris and I opted to stroll from the viewpoint to the restaurant – maybe a 10-minute walk.

Chris in a black button down short-sleeve. Melissa in a green top. Both are sitting in front of the Miradouro São Leonardo de Galafura overlooking the Douro Valley.
This photo was taken of Chris and I by André at the São Leonardo de Galafura viewpoint.

Quinta São Luiz, the Day’s Main Event

Quinta São Luiz is located in the heart of the Douro wine region – a delightful place to visit and a challenging one to work. The Alto Douro is known for having nine months of winter and three months of hell. During those three months, temperatures reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Harvesting is still done by hand here. Imagine harvesting grapes by hand, going up and down these gorgeous terraces, carrying a basket full of grapes in those temperatures. Brutal. 

On our May 18th visit, the weather was beautiful. Warm but not torturous. Michel, our guide at the vineyard, showed us baby Touriga Nacional Grapes. When ready for harvest, they’ll be used to make port wines and full-bodied red wines. We also learned that 2011 and 2016 were excellent years for wine in the Douro Valley.  

At the end of the vineyard and winery tour, we tasted three Kopke wines – a São Luiz white table wine, a white Kopke Port, and a ruby Kopke Port. They were all quite good.

Douro Valley Tour Tourigo Nacional Baby Grapes
Touriga Nacional Grapes in mid-May, 2023.

Rabelo Boat Ride on the Douro River

Our tour concluded with a Rabelo boat ride along the Douro River. Before reliable roads and railways took over, the boats used to carry barrels of Port wine from Douro Valley vineyards to Vila Nova de Gaia, where Port wine cellars are still located. The views were beautiful and the ride felt like the just right amount of time. It’s cool to do for the scenery and the history, but for our taste, we could’ve skipped this part.

Final Thoughts on Our Douro Valley Tour

When we took the “Douro Valley: Tour with Wine Tastings, Cruise, and Lunch,” we paid €95 (about $ 102 USD). We feel it was a good (maybe even great) value because:

  • We didn’t have to worry about the 2-hour drive to or from our day’s destinations. And, more importantly, we had a sober ride.
  • We may never have thought to visit Amarante. Now, it’s on our list of places to go when we’re fortunate enough to return to Portugal for a visit.
  • If we’d gone by boat or train, we would have missed some of the views we were able to see by tour van.
  • Lunch and wine.
  • Vineyard tour and wine tasting.
  • Getting to the Douro Valley and vineyards from the boat.
  • Delightful conversations with our tour guide and fellow tourists.

On the whole, our day was romantic and fun. Chris and I had a fabulous time. Check out our video, “Douro Valley Tour Review: The Best and Worst Parts of Our Experience,” to see if it’s the right tour for you.

You might also enjoy our post, Portugal Wine Tour: 3 Vineyards to Visit in the Algarve Region. You can connect with us on YouTubeInstagramFacebook, and Pinterest for more travel and food inspiration. 

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