Paddling Portugal's River of Wine (Autumn Itinerary)
9 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Porto, Portugal
Our adventure begins in Porto, Portugal's second-largest city and cultural capital of the beguiling North. Scenic Porto sits amid granite cliffs at the mouth of the Douro River and has long been a cosmopolitan trading center. The compact city is rich in architectural gems from Roman, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassic and Renaissance eras. This afternoon, enjoy a private cellar tour and tasting at W. & J. Graham’s 1890 Lodge, across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia—the ideal start to a wine-soaked week ahead! We then gather for an opening dinner at Graham's award-winning restaurant Vinum, with its glass atrium and open-air terrace perched high on the southern bank of the Douro overlooking Porto's medieval landmarks. Featuring the best food of the Tras-os-Montes region, Northern Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean, dishes are created to be paired with fine wines from the Douro Valley.
Day 2: Pocinho / Felgar—Casa de Santa Cruz
UNESCO World Heritage SiteToday we journey by rail 100 miles up the Douro Valley, one of Europe's oldest winemaking areas. UNESCO has recognized the Alto Douro Wine Region as a World Heritage Site, with wine produced here for some 2,000 years. The Douro Valley, the only place authentic Port wine is made, was defined and established as a protected region, or appellation, in 1756. This long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty, shaping the social and economic heritage of the region. Paralleling the riverbank on a small local train, we disembark at Pocinho and continue to the sleepy village of Felgar and Casa de Santa Cruz. This historic farmstead on the main square has been beautifully restored by our hosts, Ana and Jorge, who share a passion for this place that feels lost in time. Before sunset, we take a walk down to the banks of the upper Rio Sabor, learning about life in this bucolic region as we go.
Day 3: Douro International Natural Park
We greet the morning with anticipation: It’s time to meet the river! After breakfast, we drive to the put-in where we are fitted to our kayaks and receive some helpful instruction from our Expedition Leader. We then plan to paddle approximately 5 hours downstream. This is the international section of our river journey, with Portugal on one bank and Spain on the other. The 335 square miles of rugged surrounding terrain is part of Douro International Natural Park, created to protect the scenic landscape and wildlife including eagles, red kites, Griffon vultures, herons, wild boar, and one of the last packs of wolves in the Tras-os-Montes region, which lives a few miles inland from the river. Natural vegetation covers the wild banks along this stretch of the river, including juniper, cork oak, holm oak and chestnut trees. Along the way, we'll stop on the banks for a picnic lunch. When we return to Casa de Santa Cruz, there's time for a swim before our hosts give us a tour of the historic house, sharing their passion for authentic details in its restoration.
Day 4: Vila Nova de Foz Coa—Casa do Rio
A beautiful paddle is in store today. We’ll spend approximately 4 hours on the river, following the slow current from Barca d’Alva to just east of the mouth of the Coa River, a tributary of the Douro. We stop along the way for a picnic lunch, possibly savoring some low-hanging fruit that grows in spots along the riverbank. Our paddle ends at the stunning new Casa do Rio, an intimate luxury guest house surrounded by the vineyards of Quinta do Vallado, one of the premier producers of table wines in the Douro Valley. Set into a steep hillside with magnificent views over the river, the contemporary inn enjoys complete solitude. Relax on the terrace or enjoy a refreshing dip in the infinity pool following an afternoon stroll through the vineyards. And if the luxury accommodations and glorious setting aren't enough, wait until you taste the gourmet dinner that comes out of the Casa’s tiny kitchen!
Day 5: Coa Valley Archaeological Park / Murca—Bairro do Casal
Today we take a break from paddling for an immersion in the rich history and Old World culture of the Coa Valley, which contains one of the world's most important ancient rock art sites. We'll depart by van for a guided tour of the extensive paleolithic drawings near Vila Nova de Foz Coa, discovered in the late 1980s and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998. The Coa Archaeological Park comprises thousands of engraved drawings of horses, bovines and other animals, and human and abstract figures, dated from 22,000 to 10,000 B.C. Afterward, an indulgent lunch is served on the veranda of Quinta de Ervamoira-Ramos Pinto, a noted wine estate in the valley. This afternoon we drive on to Bairro do Casal, tucked into the scenic small village of Murca do Douro. In the surrounding countryside, vineyards are interspersed with granite mountains, chestnut forests, olive and almond orchards, and undulating fields of wheat. Capping off a truly rich day of discovery, we enjoy dinner at a fine restaurant perched above the shimmering Douro.
Day 6: Freixo de Numao / Bairro do Casal
We’re back on the river for about 3 hours this morning, guiding our kayaks from the mouth of the Rio Sabor, a tributary of the Douro, to Freixo de Numao. Here, another delightful winery tour and lunch are in store at Quinta Do Carrenho, one of the oldest quintas in the valley, where our hosts, the Verdelho family, offer a warm and gracious welcome. The quinta is now the home of Dona Berta, one of a small group of boutique wineries that have contributed to the Douro’s growing reputation for distinctive white and red table wines. We return this afternoon to Bairro do Casal, with time to relax by the pool, take a sauna or wander around the narrow lanes of Murca before savoring an outstanding dinner on the veranda of Bairro do Casal, lovingly prepared by our hosts.
Day 7: Casa de Casal de Loivos
Rising early this morning, we travel first by motorboat past a few of the most magnificent local quintas—including Graham’s Quinta do Vesuvio, built in 1565, and Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas, established in 1820—to reconnect with our kayaks in Ferradosa. Launching from a small beach, we paddle about 3 hours through the striking Valera Gorge, a narrow granite canyon carved by the Douro. Our destination is the quaint village of Tua where we enjoy a lunch of freshly caught fish at a traditional riverside restaurant. Then, a spectacular winding drive takes us up and over the hill to Casal de Loivos, an 18th-century manor house set high above the heart of the Douro Valley wine-producing region. The BBC gave this village manor house the accolade of one of the six best hotel views in the world, and we heartily concur as we survey the panorama below us. The Douro appears as a narrow blue ribbon, wending its way between steep, vine-covered slopes and rows of rolling mountains dotted with the red tile roofs of centuries-old farmhouses. Before a sumptuous al fresco dinner on the terrace (weather permitting), we take a tour of this historic manor house.
Day 8: Pinhao / Porto
Our sojourn on the river comes to an end with one of our favorite paddling stretches, from Tua to scenic Pinhao, a journey of about 3 hours. We are in the very center of the Douro demarcated Port wine region, with neat rows of grapevines terracing down the schist mountainsides and stately white stucco quintas dotting the hills high above the riverbanks. After lunch at a riverside cafe, there's time for a walk to see the splendid hand-painted ceramic tile work in the charming little train station, which is decorated with thousands of blue and white azulejos from the early 20th century showing pre-dam river and harvest scenes. We drive back to historic Porto for a festive farewell dinner, reveling in the memories we've made on Portugal's famous River of Wine.
Day 9: Porto / Depart
A transfer to the airport is included today for your departing flight.
All This Included
Sun glints on the Douro River's glassy surface as you dip your paddle, gliding through northern Portugal's historic Port wine district. Raptors glide overhead as we wind our way between rugged mountains terraced with ancient vineyards. Tranquil days on the river give way to festive evenings at centuries-old quintas, the wine estates of the Douro Valley. Within these hospitable mansions and inns, we share warm personal connections with our hosts, enjoying an inside encounter with contemporary rural life in Portugal. Savor the best in traditional European ambience and cuisine on a Dionysian paddling odyssey through romantic wine country, and visit three World Heritage Sites en route. As our hosts say, "A sua saude"—to your health!
Porto: Hotel Infante Sagres
Felgar: Casa de Santa Cruz
Foz Coa: Casa do Rio
Murça: Bairro do Casal
Pinhão: Casa de Casal de Loivos
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