Maybe you haven’t heard yet – port is booming. Future Market Insights reports that the global port wine market is poised for a whopping 8.1 percent annual growth rate over the next decade. For travelers to Europe’s hottest new (but old) destination, this means the famous eponymous fortified wine region of Porto and Northern Portugal’s Douro Valley will welcome even more international visitors to the city filled with terracotta for, among other things, a delicious taste. enjoy the world’s best ports straight from the source.
According to Adrian Bridge, CEO of Fladgate Partnership – known for their port brands including Taylor’s, Fonseca, Croft and Krohn – this shift has increased during the pandemic. “More entertaining at home meant more dinners and fortified wines at dessert,” Bridge explains. “As things turned around, the home market continued.” Bridge appreciates the symbol of port as an aspirational drink and the lifestyle it represents for increasing interest in fine wine. This further opened the doors for its domestic destination, enticing the same curious customers to explore the port in depth, from the terroir to its history and complex culture. But as much as a trip to Porto involves enjoying the port, there’s plenty to see and do between sips.
Start in Porto: About 175 miles north of Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, this port city is the second largest city in the country and one of the oldest cities in Europe. The Douro River that flows through it – winding through the Upper Douro Valley, which once transported port casks to urban warehouses – is the centerpiece that separates Porto’s populous right bank from Vila Nova De Gaia opposite, which historically hosted most . of wine cellars in the port. Today, the left bank is filled with a contemporary flair to make it worth exploring, and even staying.
Vila Nova De Gaia’s transformation – and perhaps Porto’s mark on the map – was recognized by the opening of Hotel Yeatman in 2011. The wine hotel emphasizes the destination by positioning all 82 of its rooms towards the river, equipping them with balconies and terraces for views of the UNESCO World Heritage city along the road (Porto). Each room is sponsored by a local winery, decorated with branded trinkets, antique bottles and informative coffee table books to start absorbing the rich history here from the first moment you check in.
The latest addition to the Left Bank is World of Wine, or WOW, a 500,000-square-foot cultural district that boasts seven interactive museums, 12 restaurants, numerous shops and even a wine education center. Although it opened in the middle of the pandemic, the phased opening has so far proved a success in intriguing visitors to stay in the city a little longer. Bridge explained that this was a major driver in the creation of WOW.
“It’s always been about the destination – a catalyst for change and regeneration across the city,” says Bridge, the brains behind WOW Hotel and The Yeatman. “It’s about people learning to love wine, not just port, and touching on the history of Porto and why humanity ever came to live in Porto.”
You can spend a whole day at WOW, browsing the 2,000 artefacts in the Bridge Collection of drinking vessels, with the oldest vessel dating back 9,000 years, or learning about cork in the dedicated exhibition. Fifty percent of the world’s cork is grown in Portugal, and 70 percent is processed through the country—so time your itinerary accordingly. Another day, or many days, in Porto could be spent meandering the medieval streets, visiting the 12th-century Porto Cathedral, sipping. green wine (a regional-style sparkling white wine that literally translates to green wine) on the banks of the Douro and indulge in freshly caught seafood (endless octopus, cod and sea bass).
There is also PintxosPorto’s version of Basque small plates, including smoked ham and sausages, clams, cod cakes, gizzards and octopus salad—and pintxos bars are the place to eat them. Try: Sagardi Porto or The Wine Box and keep an eye out for simple bars that put up colorful advertising boards outside their doors before dinner. For larger meals, order the bacalhau (codfish) at T&C Restaurant (pro tip: ask to sit in a repurposed port barrel), the braised meat at Brasão (they also do an elevated version of Francesinha, a stack of meat and cheese which originated as a hangover cure) or splurge on a tasting menu at Tábua Rasa, which specializes in 100 percent Portuguese cuisine, from their cured meat boards to land and sea delights featuring boards of preserved fish.
Once you’ve set up your bearings here, you’re ready to head into the countryside. Driving through the beloved Douro Valley is like entering an all-encompassing puzzle of rolling hills of grapes and olive groves. A landscape that is really difficult to capture, it is better to shoot a video to remember it than to put away the technology and surrender to the immensity of your natural surroundings.
This is where the tasting takes place. Despite tour operators advertising afternoon trips, the world’s oldest demarcated region is worthy of a multi-day stay. Head to The Vintage House, a 19th-century former winery turned 47-room abode that hugs the banks of the Douro River, and lace up your sneakers to walk (or bike) a little bit of starred wineries that surround this part of the valley. Pinhão. It’s Croft’s Quinta da Roêda, where you can walk among 100-year-old vines and take part in traditional grape stomping during harvest. Quinta de Bomfim is the vineyard owned by the Symington family, which produces grapes for DOW’s, one of their four famous port brands. Quinta do Portal operates as a lunch and dinner venue where you can also sample their table wines with rotating seasonal dishes.
Further afield, requiring a drive or a scenic train ride are Quinta do Panascal e Fonseca, one of the first tasting rooms to open to the public (go pro and ask for a sirocco on the rocks, their white port with an orange twist ). Quinta das Carvalhas is a stunning stop to witness their vines located at different altitudes (in the morning, misty clouds fly over the higher planted vines). And, Quinta Nova Nossa Senhora do Carmo is a quick stop for a port and table wine tasting, as well as an overnight destination, with their Relais & Châteaux hotel.
No matter where you stay in the Douro, one thing is certain. There is nothing rushed here. You will need to take your time to experience all that this region has to offer. Getting Started in Porto gives you that platform to understand port on a deeper level. As you pursue your journey down the valley, remember to look up as night falls. Located in the center of Portugal’s Dark Sky Road, the twinkling projection reminds you to slow down and reflect on your time here. If you’re lucky enough to catch a shooting star, hope you come back one day.
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