The Douro Valley — Portugal’s Golden River

In our fifth photo essay about Portugal, we’ll share with you images of the beautiful Douro Valley. The majestic Rio Douro (River of Gold) is Iberia’s third longest river and runs mostly through rural and strikingly beautiful landscapes, from central Spain into northern Portugal, to its mouth at Porto, the second-largest city of Portugal. Our last installment focused on the magic of this beautiful city. Read more here. »

The terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley create beautiful patterns especially when they're backlit in the early morning or late in the day.

The terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley create beautiful patterns especially when they’re backlit in the early morning or late in the day and the rim light just touches the top of the vines.

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Port Wine Tradition

Wine has been cultivated in the Douro region for roughly 2,000 years with a focus on port wine production since the 18th century. The Douro vinhateiro (vine land) has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. In the past, the wine was taken downriver in flat-bottom boats called rabelos, then fortified with brandy and stored in barrels in the port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto. The once wild and uncontrollable currents made this journey very treacherous in the past. Today, tanker trucks transport the wine from the Douro vineyards to Porto and the river is safe for fun daytime cruises. 

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The Amazing Terraces of the Douro Valley Vineyards

The wide Douro River is flanked by vineyards on steep terraced hills reaching up to breathtaking altitudes. The roads leading up to the top are cut into the hillsides with dizzying drop-offs. The amount of work it must have taken (and still does take) to cultivate this land is awe-inspiring as are the wonderful patterns of the vines we get to photograph here. The best time to shoot is early in the morning and late in the day when the vineyards are backlit and attractive shadows give depth and a jewel tone richness to our images.

A Small World

Running into another Austrian in the remote hills of the Douro Valley

In the small town of Tabuaço high up in the hills of the Douro Valley, Jim and I stumbled across a restaurant of local fame known for its special Bacalhau (reconstituted salted codfish) dishes — still not a fan but here’s a recipe in case you’re inclined to give it a try.

Interesting architectural detail in a small town the Douro Valley

Interesting architectural detail in a small town in the Douro Valley

The owner and chef of this restaurant is Thomas Egger, a transplant from Kitzbuehl in Austria. Thomas fell in love with the region and now runs the Restaurante Tabua d’ Aço as well as a small hotel together with his Portuguese wife Fatima. He also produces his own olive oil and wine. For me as an Austrian to run into another one in such a remote area reminded me again of the fun and unexpected surprises traveling often has to offer!

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Rod-iron cross in the old center of Provesende

Rod-iron cross in the old center of Provesende

Provesende

Jim and I fled our AirB&B in Tabuaço due to persistent mothball odors in our otherwise cozy room and ended up in a fantastic little hotel even higher up in the hills in the even smaller traditional town of Provesende. 

A charming ivy-covered facade in Provesende

A charming ivy-covered facade in Provesende

An architectural detail at a hotel in Provesende

Architectural detail at a hotel in Provesende

Provesende is a very charming village high up in the Douro wine region of northern Portugal. This town is surrounded by vineyards and productive vineries. In its center you’ll find historical sites and stately manor houses which attest to an illustrious past. However, many of these old buildings are now in ruins. Time stood still in Provesende making it a very fun place to photograph. 

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Blue door number 1

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Blue door number 2

Lots to explore in the back alleys of this small traditional village of Provesende in Portugal

Lots to explore in the back alleys of this small traditional village

Detail of a historic fountain in Provesende

Detail of a historic fountain in Provesende

Pinhão

Pinhão is a small town in the valley at the banks of the Douro. Even though this town offers a very elegant and expensive hotel, several great restaurants, and short river cruises, the rest of the town is pretty run down. Rick Steves, our local travel guru, calls it a place with “the charm of dirty fingernails.”

Beautiful painted tiles on the train station in Pinhão

Beautiful painted tiles on the train station in Pinhão

For photographers, that can of course mean fun explorations of architectural details like the lovely azulejo tiles that adorn the Pinhão railway station.

Terraced vineyards oil the Douro Valley with the mighty Douro in the background

Terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley with the mighty Douro in the background

One of the many stately Quintas (agricultural estates) in the Douro Valley

One of the many stately Quintas (agricultural estates) in the Douro Valley

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By now, you can probably tell that we love Portugal. Feel like exploring more yourself on our 2022 Portugal Photo Tour?

Don’t hesitate to call 425.672.9760 or email us with questions. We love talking about any of our tours.

Contact us for more information!

 

Quirky Portugese ceramics

Quirky Portugese ceramics

Would you like to catch up on our previous photo essays about various fascinating aspects of Portugal? Check it out: