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Paddling Portugal's River of Wine

June Itinerary

Portugal summer nature tour mapDay 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, 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 stunning 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 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. 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 walk to an overlook of the upper Rio Sabor, learning about life in this bucolic region as we go.

Day 3: Barca d'Alva—Casa do Rio
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 get some helpful paddling instruction from our Expedition Leader. We'll spend approximately 4 hours on the water, following the slow current 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, and we may have a chance to pick 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 panoramic views over the river far 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 4: Freixo de Numao—Casa do Rio
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. 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. Return this afternoon to Casa do Rio, with time to swim in the spectacular pool overlooking the river below. This evening, savor another outstanding dinner on the terrace.

Day 5: Coa Valley Archaeological Park / Murca—Bairro do Casal
Take a break from paddling today for an immersion in 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 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. An indulgent lunch is served on the veranda of Quinta de Ervamoira-Ramos Pinto, a noted wine estate in the valley. 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 rich day of discovery, enjoy dinner at a fine restaurant perched above the shimmering Douro.

Day 6: Freixo de Numao—Bairro do Casal
It’s a short drive back down to the river to our launch point at Freixo de Numao. We’ll paddle about 4 hours total, stopping for lunch along the way as we pass many of the Douro Valley's most historic and magnificent quintas and vineyards. Among them are Quinta do Vesuvio, renowned for its vintage Port, and Quinta de Vargellas, owned by Taylor’s, which was established in 1692 and is one of the oldest of the founding Port houses. We paddle through a beautiful granite-lined gorge to reach the beach at Ferradosa, returning by late afternoon to Bairro do Casal. There should be time to relax by the pool, take a sauna or wander around the narrow village lanes of Murca before dinner on the veranda, lovingly prepared by our hosts.

Day 7: Ferradosa / Foz do Tua—Casal de Loivos
Today's paddle is a 3-hour journey through the striking Valera Gorge, a narrow granite canyon carved by the Douro. Our destination is the village of Foz do 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 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 panorama below. The Douro appears as a narrow blue ribbon, 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 sumptuous al fresco dinner on the terrace (weather permitting), we take a guided tour of this historic house.

Day 8: Foz do Tua / Pinhao / Porto
Our sojourn on the river comes to a close with one of our favorite paddling stretches, from the Tua River 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 river. After lunch at a riverside cafe, there may be time for a walk to see the splendid hand-painted ceramic tilework in the charming little train station in Pinhao, which is decorated with thousands of blue and white early-20th-century azulejos 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.

Physical Rating: Moderate to Difficult

Our Portugal kayaking adventure includes five days of flatwater river kayaking at a beginner level. This trip is suitable for those with little to no paddling experience, although you should know in advance that you are physically able to kayak the minimum daily distance, and that you actually enjoy kayaking, before signing on for this tour. You must be able to paddle a minimum of 4 hours per day (with breaks) in order to participate. The exact distance we paddle each day will depend on local weather and wind conditions, and participants should expect to paddle for sustained periods of up to 2 hours at a time. The river is relatively narrow and water is very slow-moving, with little or no current. We will encounter no waves or rapids, though sometimes it can be windy in the river canyons and we may have to paddle against the wind, which can be more taxing. Please note that during breaks ashore for rest stops and/or a picnic lunch, 'bathroom breaks' may entail finding a hidden spot in the bushes, as toilet facilities are not always available. Hikes ashore take us through inviting landscapes that frequently include historic sites. Hikes typically last from one to three hours over well-marked easy but hilly terrain, sometimes following a dirt road among the vineyards. You must be able to walk a minimum of one mile to participate in this trip, including easily navigating stairs.
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