The Duero (in Portuguese, Douro,) is the most important river in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Born in Fuentes del Duero, on the southern slopes of the Urbión peak (Duruelo de la Sierra, Soria), about 2160 m. above sea level, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean in the Porto estuary (Portugal). It is 897 km long, with 572 of travel in Spanish territory, 213 navigable through Portuguese lands (navigation channel of the Duero) and 112 km of international character, being located on it the border between both countries. This last section is of singular natural beauty, in which the channel narrows and deepens, forming the so-called arrivals, whose margins have been protected by the creation of the natural parks of the International Duero in Portugal and Arribes del Duero in Spain.
In this article we refer to this navigable section and why it is called “Riu Douro” Rio dorado. When the setting sun catches it right, you can see why. The waters gleam like liquid bullion bars.
The Douro cuts across northern Portugal, snaking 200 miles from rugged wilderness on the Spanish frontier to the old city of Porto and the Atlantic beyond. Grapes grown on its steeply rising banks have been sending forth legendary port wines for centuries. It may be the world’s most beautiful wine region.
And if that wasn’t enough It’s also got spectacular landscapes and a scattering of World Heritage sites. Here’s the best Portugal’s golden river has to offer:
. Douro Cruises: Riding the river.
Narrow boat rabelo sailboats no longer race down Douro rapids laden with wine casks. Still, there are plenty of ways to get afloat.
Sleek floating hotels provide weeklong cruises punctuated by plenty of wine-estate tastings. Ferries chug upriver for day trips from Porto complete with hearty on-board lunches and return by river-hugging railroad.
Private yachts and historic launches offer bespoke romantic sailings. All give unforgettable views of vine-covered terraces emerging from the meandering river.
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The list seems endless and we can organise just the right activity for every group’s needs. The groups can vary from about 8 people up to about 250 passengers.
. Getting into the red
The Douro has been famed for port over 300 years. Now its table wines – especially robust reds – are generating international buzz. Wine Spectator placed two Douro reds in its 2014 world top four (a port was No. 1).
Touring the vineyards is a treat. Many estates are centered around historic homes with dramatic locations. In most you can visit and taste. In some, like mountaintop Quinta do Popa, or picturesque Quinta das Amendoeiras you can join the harvest, even crush the grapes, old-style by foot.
. Hopping on the Pocinho express.
Trains take three hours from Porto to the end of the Douro line at Pocinho. Time will fly. The track clings to the riverbank, with breathtaking views at each curve.
Along the way are riverside stations brightly decorated with azulejos – painted ceramic tiles. Special trains with historic carriages run in summer.
You can get luxury nine-hour rides on Portugal’s former presidential train, including a four-course gourmet tasting menu by a Michelin-starred chef.
. Staying in palaces, fifths, manors or grain silos
There’s a dazzling array of distinctive accommodation along the Douro. Urban palaces such as Palacio do Freixo, charming, family-run mansions like Solar Egas Moniz, even luxuriously converted grain silos.
Welcoming wine estates blend old-world elegance with modern design. Quinta do Vallado, Casa das Pipas, Morgadio da Calcada are worth looking out for, as are the staggering views from Quinta Nova Winery House.
. Dining on lamprey or stewed tripe and beans.
Douro delicacies include lamprey (parasitic, eel-like river critters) cooked in red wine with rice; pork innards in blood (sarrabulho potatoes), baby goat (kid), fried octopus (fried powder), salt-cod pie (bacalhau bolus) and wonderful smoked sausages served with broccoli raab (alheiras com grelos).
Food is big here, whether in gourmet hangouts, or rustic restaurants serving gargantuan portions.
From the upper deck of Dom Luis I Bridge, Porto presents a stunning urban landscape. Its heart is a UNESCO Heritage site centered on the quayside Ribeira district’s cluster of brightly painted houses. In winding alleys, restaurants serve the local delicacy: stewed tripe with beans.
Churches shimmer with blue tiles outside, gold within. Bolhao market is a foodie delight. Downtown overflows with stores unchanged for generations. Cinnamon toast at the 1920s Majestic Cafe is hard to resist.