Paddling Portugal's River of Wine

© Mark Hickey

August–October Itinerary

Itinerary Map
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 heritage from Roman, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassic and Renaissance eras. This afternoon, take a brief walking tour through the city’s historic heart and across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia where we enjoy a private cellar tour and tasting at where we enjoy a private cellar tour and tasting at Cockburn’s Port Lodge —the perfect start to a wine-soaked week ahead! We then head over to W. & J. Graham’s 1890 Lodge for a welcome dinner at its acclaimed 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 local ingredients of the Tras-os-Montes region, Northern Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean, dishes are created for pairing with fine Douro Valley wines.

Day 2: Pocinho / Felgar—Casa de Santa Cruz
Today 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 more than 2,000 years. The Douro Valley, the only place authentic Port wine is made, is the world's first demarcated wine region, established 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 on the Linha do Douro line, we reach Pocinho, where we disembark and continue to the sleepy village of Felgar and Casa de Santa Cruz, where lunch awaits. This historic farmstead on the main square has been beautifully restored by the owners, Ana and Jorge, who share a passion for this place that feels lost in time. This afternoon, our Expedition Leader offers an orientation to our kayaking equipment before an optional walk through the village down to the Sabor Reservoir, wandering among almond and cork orchards and learning about life in this bucolic region as we go.

Day 3: Kayaking the Douro—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 on the Douro where we are fitted to our kayaks and receive some helpful instruction from our Expedition Leader. We then plan to paddle approximately 5 to 6 hours. 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 scenery 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 banks along this stretch of the river, with juniper, cork oak, holm oak and chestnut trees providing a green veneer for the rocky landscape. Along the way, we stop at a delightful riverside park for a picnic lunch. When we return to Casa de Santa Cruz, there's time for a swim before a tour of the historic house, with attention to the authentic details in its restoration.

Day 4: Barca d’Alva—Kayaking the Douro / Vila Nova de Foz Coa—Casa do Rio
A beautiful paddle is in store today. We spend approximately 4 to 5 hours on the river, following the river west as it winds from Barca d’Alva to just east of the mouth of the Coa River, a tributary of the Douro. A picnic lunch provides a peaceful interlude. Our paddle ends at the stunning Casa do Rio, an intimate luxury guesthouse 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 panoramic views over the river below, the contemporary inn enjoys complete solitude. Relax on the terrace or refresh with a dip in the infinity pool following an afternoon stroll through the vineyards. And if the fine accommodations and glorious setting aren't enough, wait till you taste the gourmet dinner that comes out of the Casa’s tiny kitchen!

Day 5: Coa Museum & Archaeological Park / Casa do Rio
Today offers an encounter with the layered history and culture of the Coa Valley, which contains one of the world's most important ancient rock art sites. Depart by van for a guided tour of the Coa Museum and Archaeological Park, where we learn from archaeology experts about the extensive paleolithic drawings near Vila Nova de Foz Coa, discovered in the late 1980s and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. The Coa Valley Archaeological Park contains thousands of engraved drawings of horses, bovines and other animals, and human and abstract figures, dated from 22,000 to 10,000 B.C. After lunch at the stylish museum cafe, we board our vans to meet up with Coa Archeological Park guides to venture to Penascosa, one of the largest collections of rock art that we can experience up close. Penascosa is a tiny sampler of the most remarkable open-air ensemble of Paleolithic art on the Iberian Peninsula. As dusk falls, return to Casa do Rio where another starlit dinner on the terrace awaits.

Day 6: Paddle to Pocinho / Quinta das Mos / Bairro do Casal
We’re back on the river this morning for about 3 to 4 hours, guiding our kayaks from Casa do Rio to Pocinho. A quick drive away, a very special lunch and winery tour are in store at Quinta das Mos, a boutique winery producing outstanding white and red table wines and olive oil. Our hosts, the Cabral family, offer a warm and gracious welcome. We then drive on to Bairro do Casal, tucked into the scenic small village of Murca do Douro. In the surrounding countryside, vineyards are interwoven with granite mountains, chestnut forests, olive and almond orchards, and undulating fields of wheat. Capping off a delightful day of discovery, enjoy dinner at a fine local restaurant on the banks of the shimmering Douro.

Day 7: Ferradosa / Paddle to Tua—Casal de Loivos
Board a boat to cruise downriver to Ferradosa. Along the way, we pass some of the most magnificent local quintas, including Graham’s Quinta do Vesuvio, built in 1565, and Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas, established in 1820. Launching from a small beach, we paddle about 3 to 4 hours through the striking Valera Gorge, a narrow granite canyon carved over millennia by the Douro. Our destination is the village of Tua, where we enjoy lunch at a traditional riverside restaurant. Then, a spectacular winding drive takes us up and over a hill to Casa de Casal de Loivos, an 18th-century manor house set high above the heart of the Douro Valley wine-producing region. The BBC gave it the accolade of one of the six best hotel views in the world, and we avidly concur as we survey the vista from the terrace. The Douro appears as a narrow blue ribbon far below, wending its way between steep, vine-covered slopes and rows of rolling mountains marked with the red tile roofs of centuries-old farmhouses. Before a grand al fresco dinner (weather permitting), we’ll have a guided tour of this historic house.

Day 8: Paddle to Pinhao / Porto
Our sojourn on the river comes to a close with one of our favorite paddling stretches, from Foz do Tua to scenic Pinhao, a journey of about 3 to 4 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 river. After a picnic lunch, there’s time for a walk to see the splendid hand-painted ceramic tilework in the charming little train station, which is decorated with hundreds 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 to meet your departing flight.

Physical Rating: Moderate to Difficult

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