A Scenic Drive on the Terraced Hills of Douro River Valley

Since the 18th century, the Douro Valley is known for its port wine and wine terraces. Its namesake river makes a 200-kilometer journey to the Atlantic Ocean from Spain to northern Portugal through terraced valleys of vineyards, groves of orange and olive trees. We spend a few days in Porto last December and went on a scenic drive to the Douro River Valley listed as one of the most beautiful roads in the world.

Through the centuries, row upon row of terraces have been built on the hills of the Douro Valley according to different techniques and require continuous maintenance. Protected from the harsh Atlantic winds by the Marão and Montemuro mountains, these sloping terraced vineyards produce some of the best wines from Portugal. This microclimate allows for the cultivation of olives, almonds, and grapes to thrive in this region. The Alto Douro Wine Region is listed as a UNESCO Heritage site. Traditionally, the wine was taken downriver in flat-bottom boats called rabelos, to be stored in barrels in cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto. Theses days the port wine is transported in tankers and trucks.

While we didn’t stop at any wineries or enjoy picnics or port tasting, it was a lovely day of driving through the countryside dotted with quintas and hilltop churches. We stopped often to marvel at the man-made terraces, the views of fog covered hills and the muddy river snaking through.  I love these hills covered in grapevines. Last time we were in Tuscany, we didn’t stop at any wineries either(I have been wanting a doover). But it was a beautiful drive. We make up for it when we are in Napa though.

Roads were made for Journeys, not destinations.

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Douro River Valley Drive

We had 3 days in Porto and spent our time finding all the azulejo tiles, beautiful churches and photogenic spots. From our hotel in Porto right on the Douro River, we had some of the best views of the city and the Douro river, we could see colorful buildings of the Ribeira, Dom Luis I Bridge. José Manuel from Pictury Photo Tours had taken us the city’s most mesmerizing viewpoints, monuments and some secret spots only locals know. He offered to drive us to the Douro River Valley and take us to some of the best spots and views of the river and the valley. We skipped the highway and took the smaller roads and drove along the scenic Douro River.

A day trip to Douro Valley from Porto

A river cruise is a popular way to discover Douro valley. They are also tours that take you on a day trip to Douro valley where you stop for some Wine Tasting, Portuguese Lunch and an optional River Cruise in a traditional Rabelo boat.

A traditional Rabelo boat sitting on the Douro river near the Wine Cellars in Porto
A traditional Rabelo boat sitting on the Douro river near the Wine Cellars in Porto

We were short on time and the river was flooded, owing to a few days of heavy rain. All boat rides were suspended, even the short ones from Pinhão. The 2-hour long boat journey on a traditional Rabelo boat is another way to discover the Douro Valley even if you don’t have time for longer river cruising. It is a unique way to discover the Douro Valley and seeing the terraced hills from the river must be spectacular.

When we initially planned our trip to Porto, I had wanted to spend a night at the Six Senses Douro Valley. We were visiting in December and I feared it might not be the right season so we opted for a day trip to Douro Valley instead. We love road trips and driving the scenic Douro valley road had also been on my wishlist. Our day trip and drive from Porto to Douro River Valley was everything I had expected and the scenic road deserves its title of one of the most beautiful roads in the world.

Discover Douro River Valley by Boat or Train

A Douro Valley river cruise from Porto is a popular way to visit the region. You can choose from day trips to week-long excursions that take you all the way to Spain. Another option is to take a shorter boat journey in the Douro Valley. There are several one-day cruises to Douro Valley to choose from. There are a few one day Douro Valley cruises where you cruise up the Douro River for a day to Regua and then take a train back to Porto. Book it here. Some go a little further up the river and you spend one night in a hotel at either Regua or Pinhao(which is what I would want to do next time).

Linha do Douro train stops at the Pinhão's railway station - Outside Suburbia
Linha do Douro train stops at the railway station at Pinhão

The Linha do Douro train runs from Porto to Pocinho, high up in the Alto Douro. The later sections of the route, between Pinhão and Pocinho, is beautiful and the reason why it is considered as one of the most picturesque railways in Europe. This scenic train journey leaves from Porto and stops in Peso da Regia, Pinhão and the village of Pocinho crossing 30 bridges and passing through the Douro gorge. Trains leave from São Bento station, in Porto and it takes about four hours to reach Pocinho. Tickets costing less than $15. Many people on a Douro Valley day trip, take a river boat cruise from Porto and returning by train. So you get to experience the best of both.

A Scenic Drive on the Douro River Valley

There are a few different options for driving to the Douro river valley from Porto. You can take N108 driving along the Douro River Valley following the river, drive along the waters edge with a great view of the river and the riverbanks on either side through small towns. Or you can take the A24 to Regua and then drive to Pinhao along the river bank. A little faster route to get to the scenic part of the Douro River Valley drive, which is what we did.

A Scenic drive along the Douro River Valley - Outside Suburbia

N222, One of most Scenic Road in the World

After a brief stop in Régua for coffee, we slowly made our way up the scenic stretch of the N222. In this section of the Douro Valley drive, between Peso da Régua and Pinhão, the road clings to the river. For about 15 miles all we saw were terraced hills with vineyards stretched as far as the eye could see. The hills hug each other as they rise up to meet the sky. Once we crossed the bridge into Pinhão, we stopped at the train station as Jose said that there might be something I would like to see. The train station was decorated with the Portuguese azulejos blue, white and yellow tile works I love! Here are a few scenic viewpoints we stopped along the way in the Douro Valley.

A Scenic drive along the Douro River Valley - Outside Suburbia

Viewpoints along the Douro River Valley Drive

Régua

Our first stop was at Doce Neves Pastelaria for some coffee and Portuguese pastries before driving up the Douro valley. A viewpoint to check out here is climbing up the hills to the Miradouro de Sao Leonardo em Galafura viewpoint. Once you get up to the rustic Portuguese church you have stunning views of the Douro Valley. Or you can visit Museu do Douro to learn about the celebrated wine history of the area. But we skipped the viewpoint and the museum and enjoyed the famous pasteis de nata … before driving further into the Douro Valley.

A Scenic drive along the Douro River Valley - Outside Suburbia
A stop in Régua for some egg tarts

Regua is a stopping point on the Douro River tours. Most day trips and tours to the Douro valley often turn around here. There is also take the train from Regua back to Porto. Mostly an industrial town there isn’t much here but it is an important hub nevertheless. There are multiple tasting rooms and wineries nearby like the Sandeman. Set in a prime location in Cima-Corgo, on the South Bank of the River Douro, between Régua and the village of Pinhão, Quinta do Seixo, a grand wine estate in the Douro Region is worthy of a stop.

Quinta do Tedo (Rio Tedo Mouth)

After a few minutes of driving through windy roads, we stopped at a beautiful Quinta. Unfortunately not for a visit or a tour or tasting but we were there for the views. We followed Jose up some secret stairs that opened up to views of the river mouth. We stopped to admire the view and photograph the terraces. I was surprised how green everything was even though it was Winter in Portugal. https://goo.gl/maps/QpQaL3nBuRSHfgd77

A Scenic drive along the Douro River Valley - Outside Suburbia
A Scenic drive along the Douro River Valley - Outside Suburbia
Secret stairs for stunning views
A Scenic drive along the Douro River Valley - Outside Suburbia
A Scenic drive along the Douro River Valley - Outside Suburbia
Photo spots along the Douro River Valley - Outside Suburbia

Pinhão

Pinhão, one of the main port producing town is the main hub in the Douro Valley and has many nice restaurants and cafes. We wandered for a bit and enjoyed a lunch of salted codfish and nice desserts at Veladouro Restaurante before continuing our scenic Douro valley drive. https://goo.gl/maps/GtvrSKxcrnEmVZfj9

Pinhão's riverside promenade from where you can go on a short boat trip
Pinhão’s riverside promenade from where you can go on a short boat trip

The pretty hand-painted Portuguese tiles at the Pinhão train station depict different scenes from the Douro valley and feature the grape harvest.

Pinhão's railway station - Outside Suburbia
Pinhão's railway station - Outside Suburbia
Pinhão's railway station - Outside Suburbia
Pinhão’s railway station with its beautiful tile works

If you’re driving the Douro Valley, another viewpoint to check out is the Casal de Loivos Miradouro. You drive through some narrow streets 7km above Pinhão for views of the river and the Douro valley’s rolling hills.

Miradouro Abelheira

From Miradouro Abelheira, the view of the terraced hills was stunning, all we could see were layers and layers of grapevines, eyes and lenses followed the beautiful patterns they make https://goo.gl/maps/SuaxfNPS3QMXs8bV7

Miradouro Abelheira, Douro Valley Drive - Outside Suburbia
View of the terraced hills from Miradouro Abelheira
Miradouro Abelheira, Douro Valley Drive - Outside Suburbia

S. Salvador do Mundo 

This viewpoint from the sanctuary of S. Salvador do Mundo, next to Pesqueira was one of the thrilling viewpoints on our Douro River valley drive. There was a small pathway that leads to a boulder for a great photo op with the valley and the river. I couldn’t resist! Mr. Suburbia was not too happy though! Proceed with caution and be responsible! https://goo.gl/maps/WCjaA9HRqR25LFYy5

This viewpoint from the sanctuary of S. Salvador do Mundo, Douro Valley, Portugal - Outside Suburbia
A Scenic drive along the Douro River Valley - Outside Suburbia
This viewpoint from the sanctuary of S. Salvador do Mundo, Douro Valley, Portugal - Outside Suburbia
S. Salvador do Mundo, Douro Valley, Portugal - Outside Suburbia
S. Salvador do Mundo, Douro Valley, Portugal - Outside Suburbia

Senhora da Ribeira

Senhora da Ribeira is another great viewpoint on the Douro Valley to drive to if you have time, but we were ready for some tea and to turn back.

Miradouro de Casal de Loivos

We stopped at Pousada Alijó for some tea before making our way back to Porto. Nearby, Miradouro de Casal de Loivos is a great place to see a beautiful sunset. Our heads were a little dizzy from driving through those loopy roads but our hearts were thankful for a lovely day in the Douro valley!

Sunset at Miradouro de Casal de Loivos, Douro Valley - Outside Suburbia
Photo by José Manuel from Pictury Photo Tours

Where to stay in the Douro Valley

If you are looking for the best places to stay in the Douro Valley, Peso da Régua, São João da Pesqueira and Pinhão are your best bets. From Quintas which are small farmhouses to country hotels to private estates in grand vineyards, there are many options in the area. The Douro valley is a relatively small area, you can base yourself in one spot and take a different route each day to explore and taste the wines. You can easily spend 2 to 3 days in the Douro Valley, 4 to 5 days if you have the luxury of time.

Two Douro Valley hotels that are on my list are Six Senses Douro Valley and Delfim Douro. Both have stunning views of the Douro valley. The lovely 19th-century manor house of the Six Senses Douro Valley is set high on a hill overlooking the vine-covered countryside of the Douro Valley and the river below. From the beautifully designed and furnished rooms and suites to the luxurious spa, fine and wholesome dining, organic gardens and nature trails, it is a place to spend a few days to relax and recharge all the while sipping some fine wine and soaking up the views.

The viewpoint from the sanctuary of S. Salvador do Mundo, Douro Valley, Portugal - Outside Suburbia
Thanks to José( Pictury Photo Tours) for capturing this photo and taking us on a lovely drive

The distances seem larger because of the twists and turns in the roads when driving the Douro River Valley road but it makes for a great road trip from Porto. I hope you find this Porto Travel Guide of the best viewpoints in Porto and where to find azulejo tiles and Portugal travel tips useful when planning your trip.

You might also like: 28 Beautiful places in PortugalA Day trip to Sintra and One day in Evora

If you like scenic road trips, here are a few you might like: Amalfi Coastal Drive, Moorea Island Drive, Pacific Coast Highway Drive, Chapmans Peak drive, A drive through Tuscany, Grossglockner High Alpine Drive, Best of Alps Drive, Ring Road in Iceland, Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP, Texas Road Trips

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