Visiting The Douro Valley In Portugal
Traversing the landscape of Portugal just wouldn’t have been worth it with a travel-sick trio of kiddie-winks in tow, so with a few days to spare ‘sans-offspring’, we wrote a must-see list for the Douro Valley in the North of Portugal and set off in our brand new, zero mileage hire car. One week later we pulled into the JAP-Car parking lot with a Thousand miles on the clock and lots of fun memories.
We chose Lamego in the Douro Valley as our home for the next few nights and we were tickled we did – the town boasts its own version of smoked ham and a sparkling wine called Espumante, what more do you need? Personally I’d be satisfied with those 2 ingredients (and a bit of fresh bread) for breakfast, lunch or tea. And apart from a great pizzeria we found one evening in the back streets behind the castle, that pretty much WAS the sum of our meals! When in Lamego…
We filled up on ham and fizz and climbed a million steps to the Cathedral at the top and were rewarded with the best views of Lamego…
Things To Do In Lamego
The Shrine of our Lady of Remedies
Built in 1791, this location has become a site of pilgrimage for many devout worshipers who arrive in Lamego each August and September. They come to pray at the shrine after climbing the 686 steps on their knees in the hopes of having a miracle bestowed upon them. Azulejos (traditional blue and white painted tiles), urns, and statues of saints line the 9 terraces on the double staircase that lead to the shrine flanked by twin bell towers. We hadn’t come to pray but you may have caught us on our knees by the top!
We stayed at the Lamego Hotel & Life because of the views over the beautiful Douro Valley but when we arrived we were wowed in every respect. The staff were extremely welcoming and accomodating and the hotel turned out to be an absolute gem. Beautifully decorated interiors, including our room and our favourite – an outside terrace with views. There was car parking on site and it turned out to be the perfect place to explore the Douro region, especially as Lamego is such a nice town to eat and drink in on an evening.
Driving The Duoro
The Douro Valley is an undulating constant of neatly planted vineyards, rows of green terraces clinging to steep slopes, just going on and on with every bend you take. Little terracotta-roofed Quintas dot the landscape and break up the green canvas.
Once voted the worlds best road, the N222 from Peso de Regua to Pinhao in the Douro wine valley, definitely has to be one of the prettiest drives there can be – especially around October and November when the colours are just breathtaking. It cuts through the heart of the Douro and when you can take your eyes off the road for the 93 hairpin bends it affords you the best views of Portugal’s wine region. For part of it you’ll race the Douro River as it makes its way to Porto and its so beautiful and dramatic its easy to see why it made UNESCO status in 2001.
Being the driver can suck sometimes but thankfully in the Douro Valley there are plenty of places to stop and admire the scenery – several little parking bays with viewpoints (miradouros) such as the Miradouro de Assumadouro, Casal de Loivos or Miradouro de São Leonardo da Galafura. Look out for the Port Estates (Quintas) and their recognisable logo’s – you can’t miss the famous Sandeman Don silhouette looming blackly in the distance.
When we finally happen upon a town, I just love the worn painted doorways and wooden windows – I’d happily take a hundred photos of them on their own, with their rich colour palettes, but as Señor LifeLongHoliday likes to point out; folk would rather see pictures with humans in them. Decide for yourself…
There are many tours which incorporate a trip of some sort in Douro Valley – boat trips, excursions to the Port Houses and their vineyards, and train journeys to the city of Porto through the most picturesque countryside. Maybe some of these appeal…
The Northern Douro Town Of Amarante
So, if it’s ham and fizz in one place, Port in another, when you get to Amarante you must sample the sweet pastries and Green wine. Do you recognise a theme here? With a day to kill before we caught our flight we joined the city weekenders here and another 11th-century town called Guimarães. You’d definitely be forgiven for thinking Portugal is a nation of shy hermits 6 days of the week, where people sit in dark, cool Casa’s, perhaps weaving tumbleweeds to blow across the squares in the midday sun, but not on Sundays. On Sundays the squares are buzzing with locals and visitors alike, residents sat on their steps or up on their balconies, watching the world or chatting to a neighbour. Visitors sat at outside bars hiding behind their sunglasses, with their Cerveja’s, watching the locals watching the world. This country may appear like it’s permanently napping but I prefer to think of it as sedate and chilled – just what you need out of a holiday destination.
Amarante gets it name from the verb ‘amar’ – to love, which may go a little way to explaining the hilarious tradition of presenting phallic-shaped cakes to the one you desire at the early June Festival of São Gonçalo. I’m not sure I’m hungry anymore.
It’s a small town built on the River Tâmega and makes the most of its water feature with quite an impressive bridge, the Ponte São Gonçalo, and plenty of riverside cafes and terraces. The day we were there the local kids were getting their kicks downstream too. You would really do well to adopt a slow pace in Amarante, taking lunch with a river view, a quick look around the beautiful cathedral and a bit of retail therapy at the towns market and little gift shops. And if all of that works up a sweat there is always the river to take a paddle in.
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