Kayak the Historic Douro River by Day & Feast at Classic Vineyard Estates by Night
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. Porto is rich in architectural gems from Roman, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassic and Renaissance eras. This afternoon we take a tasting tour at one of the port wine lodges across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, the perfect start to a magical week! Then, we’ll gather for a welcome dinner in a traditional restaurant, followed by a port wine nightcap.
Day 2: Felgar—Casa de Santa Cruz
Today we travel 100 miles up the Douro Valley, one of Europe's oldest winemaking regions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Paralleling the riverbanks via a small local train to Pocinho, we disembark and continue to the village of Felgar, where we spend a leisurely afternoon and evening at Casa de Santa Cruz. This historic farmstead on the main village square has been beautifully restored by our hosts, Ana and Jorge. Before sunset we’ll take a walk down to the banks of the upper Rio Sabor, learning about life in this bucolic and traditional region as we go.
Day 3: Casa de Santa Cruz
We greet the morning with anticipation: it’s time to meet the river! After breakfast we drive to the put-in and, conditions permitting, paddle approximately four hours. This is the international section of our trip, with Portugal on one riverbank and Spain on the other. The 335 square miles of rugged surrounding terrain is part of the Douro International Natural Park, created to protect the scenic landscape and a host of wildlife species including herons, eagles, Griffon vultures, wild boar and one of the last packs of wolves in this region, which lives a few miles inland from the river. Along our 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 restoration and their commitment to this sleepy village.
Day 4: Quinta do Barracão da Vilariça
A beautiful paddle is in store today. Conditions permitting, we'll paddle from Barca d’Alva to Barragem do Pocinho, about five hours, stopping along the river’s edge for a picnic lunch. Time permitting, we’ll make a late-afternoon visit to the stunning new Museum of Art and Archaeology, perched on a hilltop high above the river. The museum’s view alone is worth the trip, but it will also set the stage for our adventures ahead in the Coa Valley, which includes one of the most important paleolithic rock art sites in the world.
Then it’s off to Quinta do Barracão da Vilariça, a rural guest house on an organic wine, cheese and sheep farm with magnificent territorial views—not to mention delicious food, all made with products raised or grown on the land. This quinta boasts olive trees more than 400 years old, and the olive oil they produce is simply the best. Maria and Rui, the quinta owners and our hosts, exude hospitality as they share details of this 4th-generation family operation.
Day 5: Quinta do Barracão da Vilariça / Coa Valley
Today we take a break from paddling to soak up more of the rich history and Old World culture of the Coa Valley. Our day starts with an extended walking tour of Quinta do Barracão da Vilariça as the morning sun illumines the vineyards and orchards and the shepherds tend their flocks. We’re then off by van and foot for a guided tour of the extensive paleolithic drawings at Vila Nova de Foz Coa, discovered in the late 1980s and designated a World Heritage Site in 1998 by UNESCO. The site comprises thousands of engraved drawings of horses, bovines and other animal, human and abstract figures, dated from 22,000 to 10,000 years B.C.
Afterward we’ll enjoy lunch on the veranda of Quinta de Ervamoira-Ramos Pinto, another noted wine estate in the valley. Our afternoon activities will depend on seasonal conditions and guest interests, with options including local hikes, relaxing by the pool, and opportunities to learn the art of making olive oil. Our special time with our hosts ends with another fabulous dinner from the farm’s bounty.
Day 6: Bairro do Casal
We’re back on the river for about three hours this morning, guiding our kayaks from the mouth of the Rio Sabor, a tributary of the Douro, to Numão. There we are off to another delightful tour and lunch at Quinta Do Carrenho, one of the oldest quintas in the valley. This 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 wines. Indeed, our hosts at the winery, the Verdelho family, are so warm and gracious it’s difficult to tear ourselves away! But drive we must, to our home for the night, Bairro do Casal, tucked in the scenic, tiny village of Murça do Douro. Here, the vineyards are interspersed with granite mountains, chestnut forests, olive and almond trees, and even fields of wheat. Capping off an exceptional day, we share dinner with our hosts or maybe locals in the village.
Day 7: Casa de Casal de Loívos
We take to the river early this morning, first traveling by powerboat past a few of the more stunning 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 through which the Douro courses, and down to the quaint village of Tua. There we enjoy a freshly caught lunch at a traditional riverside restaurant. Then it’s a spectacular drive up and over the hill to Casal de Loívos, an 18th-century manor house set high above the wine-producing heart of the Douro Valley. The BBC gave this village manor house the accolade of having one of the six best hotel views in the world—we heartily concur as we survey the panorama below, with the winding blue ribbon of river 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 dinner (weather permitting outside on the terrace), we’ll enjoy a tour of this historic house.
Day 8: Pinhão / Porto
Our sojourn on the river comes to an end with one of our favorite paddling stretches, from Tua to scenic Pinhão, about three 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 to take 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 the famous River of Wine.
Day 9: Porto / Depart
Today you will be transferred to the airport for your departing flight.