From Charleroi-Brussels airport, it will take you about 2 hours and 15 minutes to land on the beautiful port city of Porto and experience a real change of scenery! Upon your arrival, the blue sky, the warm sun of a country with a Mediterranean atmosphere welcome you, not to mention the wonderful smile of each Portuguese you will meet. The scenery is all set: you will not be disappointed with the stay which will reserve you unsuspected surprises!
Porto: the excitement of a colourful city!
Before venturing into the varied landscapes of the hinterland, start with the discovery of this human scale city with its 214 000 inhabitants, second largest city behind the capital of Lisbon. Set around the estuary of the Douro River, you will discover on one side the old town with many churches and tiny charming streets till the lighthouse and beaches overlooking the edgy waves showing varied shades of deep blue colours from the Atlantic Ocean. With comfortable shoes, you will climb the numerous steps and the hilly streets to reach the cathedral and enjoy a breathtaking view over the city. The colourful facades have their own style, often accompanied by a tailored set of azulejos, the famous local ceramic tiles hand painted as per the tradition! The lighthouse is accessible along the Douro by taking the traditional old tramway of the city. On the way, a botanical and bucolic stop is worth a visit in the numerous gardens of the Crystal Palace, which after a beautiful rise walk, will offer its most beautiful sight on the city, from its medieval tower. You can reach the other bank of the river in the district of Vila Nova de Gaia, where there are plenty of Port wine cellars to visit. To reach the Port wine houses, just walk on the bridge with the "Eiffel" metallic structure known as bridge "Dom-Luís”. Some 1-hour cruises are available for sales along the harbour to discover the 5 bridges along the Douro.
Wine lovers, enjoy a break on the terrace at Maria and Jerome, who opened a wine bar on one of the banks of the Douro, near the “Eiffel” bridge : welcome to Bacchus Vini! You can opt for one of the Portuguese wine tasting formulas with 5 glasses starting from 13 € and enjoy a plate of local products as Portuguese tapas: smoked ham sliced under your eyes, local cheeses and olives! The tasting begins with a Vinho Verde from Quinta Do Barco, a white grape from the North of the peninsula named loureiro. It starts freshly in the mouth, slightly sparkling on the tongue and a pale yellow coloured wine under your eyes followed with a fresh green apple nose and some tropical fruit notes. Then, we continue with Espumante, a sparkling wine made according to the Champagne method with a 2nd fermentation in bottle. Rosé-colored and based on the flagship national grape, Touriga Nacional, it displays notes of raspberry with simplicity and freshness on the palate. We continue the tasting with a white wine displaying golden yellow highlights, coming from the small region of Dão, first region distinguished by the production of wine with an appellation. With continental influences, the grape Encruzado, spent 4 months in barrels and presents a nose with some petrol notes and quince aromas and marks a beautiful oily presence on the palate with small yellow fruits and apricots, leaving a nice length of pleasure in the mouth. We move on with red wines from the Douro Valley, a region starting at the gates of Porto.
This valley presents microclimate characteristics. The particularity of the region is the diversity of grape varieties, since there are more than one hundred grape varieties, some of which dating back to medieval times, or even Roman Empire period. The diversity of vineyards and grape varieties planted on the banks along the Douro River are all harvested together. Therefore, Douro wines are always blends, and it is sometimes difficult to know how accurate the % of each variety is in the wine. The red wines tasted at Bacchus Vini offers a range of rich and varied aromas : with the flagship varieties of Touriga Nacional and Tinto Roriz (the Portuguese name of the Spanish grape Tempranillo), we discover intense red colour, sometimes with purple hues, a deep nose of black fruits, hints of caramel or spices for others. We end the tasting with a beautiful discovery of the Quinta da Devesa, located in the heart of the Douro Valley, 2011, with a wine that spent 12 months in barrels made from 50% French oak and 50% American oak. This nectar is a blend of 70-year-old vines with a complex nose of cherry, white pepper, that goes velvety on the palate with subtle but promising tannins.
The Douro Valley: Humanity World Heritage!
The visit of the beautiful city with oceanic influences ends and we now travel through the small Portuguese roads to get further inland in a geographical region classified as World Heritage by UNESCO: the Douro Valley! If you have some time, avoid the highways and drive along the Douro peacefully through the many small villages here and there, climb the hills and admire the expanse of the landscape drawn by humans and years of hard work to shape the rows of vines! 2000 years ago, the Romans planted vineyards everywhere because drinking wine was less risky than water, from a health point of view. Today, with over a hundred grape varieties, the rich heritage of the Douro offers a plethora of wines from more than 17,000 producers. 65% of production is processed in altitude. The oldest vines are 110 years old, and some can fetch water from the soil up to 18 meters deep!
A stop of a few hours will be worth visiting the city of Peso Da Regua to discover the interactive and entertaining Douro museum at “La Maison de la Compagnie”, created in 1756 by the Marquis de Pombal. You will learn a lot about the history of these classified landscapes, the development of the vineyard and the work of locals until the export from the Port wines from Porto. The soil of the Douro Valley, composed mainly of shale and granite, is conducive to the exploitation of the vine. To this, add the Mediterranean climate and the variety of microclimates throughout the Douro and you bring together exceptional factors to get wonderful Portuguese wines, still too little known in the wine world! The further you go inland, the more drought will be noticeable and the fauna and flora will change even more. The landscape line is made of olive and almond trees, brought by the Roman Empire, all accompanied by pleasant smells of a variety of plants such as rosemary, sumac or rockrose. Thermal amplitudes remain marked with moderate winters and very hot and dry summers. The Cistercian monastery has developed throughout the Douro properties called “Quinta”. These quinta are linked to the city of Porto for trading purpose. They are characterized by their farming poly-culture around wine, fruits and vegetables. But, it is the wines which get rapidly distinguished by their resistance and their aromatic power: quickly, exports to the United Kingdom are amplified, favoured by the wars in France and the embargo on French wines. Port wine becomes “the wine of the English people”. In 1756 the general company of vines agriculture of the High Douro is created and the first lands demarcations become official to better control the wine trade: it is thus the first region in the world which delimits these lands through appellations. Appellations are created according to the superior quality of the wine with the establishment of 335 granite stones in the region. The region hosts more than one hundred grape varieties.
Quinta Da Pacheca : a winery visit on your way…
Facing Peso Da Regua, stop by the Quinta Da Pacheca to discover a lovely property along the Douro. Displayed over 51 hectares with plots vines aged up to 65 years, the XIXth century property sells a wide range of wines from red to white passing by Port wines, but also award-winning olive oils. 61% of the production is made of red wines. The guide explains that irrigation is not allowed despite the drought, except upon request of a specific permit. Therefore, the vines must go deep in the soil to get water with roots up to 6 meters deep. The oldest building of the estate dates back to 1738. A chapel was built on the property, a sign of nobleness at that time. On certain plots, various grape varieties have been planted which contributes to the typicity of Douro region with blended red wines of which we do not know the varietals % distribution as almost all the bunches are harvested together. The estate also produces a world-renowned olive oil from its 600 olive trees planted. You can sleep in one of the beautiful rooms or in luxurious rooms set in traditional wooden barrels. You can also enjoy a gourmet menu in the starred restaurant. Here, the pressing step is still traditional. Each year, the harvest is processed in music and the clusters are crushed barefoot in a dancing movement according to the tradition. It takes one person per ton of bunches. The density remains around 3000 to 3500 vines per hectare. In the Quinta, the red wines are fermented for 9 to 10 days while for the Port wines, the fermentation is stopped after 2 to 3 days by the addition of neutral alcohol spirit. The Port reached its peak in exports in the 19th century during the embargo of Bordeaux wines from the United Kingdom. The Port wines age in chestnut barrels of 33,000 liters and remains at least 2 years. A Vintage Port is produced from bunches of the same year and matures in the bottle while the Tawny does not age in bottle. Thus, a Vintage will have to be drunk like a normal wine, that is to say a few days after opening while the Tawny can be kept a few months after opening.
Quinta do Seixo, symbol from a well-known brand : Sandeman !
Then, continue your way to the charming town of Pinhão and climb the hilly and curvy roads along the vineyards for an exceptional tour of Quinta do Seixo, one of the 9 estates of the Sandeman Group that produces 8 millions of liters of wine a year. The guided tour in the cellars with the commented tasting with Fabio, our guide wearing the "Sandeman" outfit of the house, is a real exquisite moment! Sandeman, founded in 1790, developed the wine trade from Porto.
Quinta do Seixo was created in 1947 and is at the origin of the Rosé wine, one of the most sold in the world: the Mateus. Set over 500 hectares, Sandeman displays on its labels the Spanish sombrero with a black cape. The cape is worn by students at the university since the 13th century. The Quinta keeps the barrels coming from Burgundy 60 to 70 years, which creates over the years a thick layer of sugar inside that is simply cleaned with water, and then sold to whiskey houses in Scotland (Macallum and Cutty Sark).
Relaxing getaway near the Spanish border
Finally, if the energy is still there and if your eyes and taste buds are still ready to face beautiful discoveries, continue your journey to the Spanish border to meet Filippa in her "Quinta Do Poulão", located in Mirandela. This time, the landscape is more arid and vegetation changes even more. The region is known for its famous sausage, but other local products are not lacking, considering the many olive trees that surround you. You will be warmly welcomed by a passionate family! With a menu at an exceptional price, you will discover typical specialties prepared with fresh products from the property, all in a distinguished decoration created by Filippa, former interior designer specialized in paintings & patinas! A wonderful and traditional cuisine to discover!
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