Wine: Portugal takes wine tourism to the next level
PUBLISHED: 15:35 08 August 2011
»Wine people generally are a welcoming lot, but in Portugal's Douro Valley that hospitality is being taken to new lengths. Wine tourism there (as it is in so many other parts of the vine-growing world) is burgeoning, and the Portuguese are particularly good at it.
It helps to be in such a wonderfully scenic location – as far as pools with a view go, I doubt there are many better – and the ubiquitous white plaster/grey granite architecture is special, too. But what impressed me during an all-too-brief stay earlier this summer was the standard of the accommodation for wine tourists, at prices which are often very reasonable indeed.
Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, perched prominently on the hillside terraces amid its 85 hectares of vines, claims to have been the first wine hotel in Portugal. Whether it has rivals for that distiction is immaterial: it has certainly got things right.
As well as a warm welcome, spacious traditionally-furnished rooms – my room had two splendidly carved beds – and a pleasant restaurant, there’s a comfortable lounge with adjoining bar, a computer with internet access for guests’ use, and the pool with a fabulous view of the vines.
Tours and hands-on activities are added attractions, there are footpaths through the estate and if you don’t want to drive along the Douro’s winding roads staff will pick you up from a nearby station on the scenic railway which runs along the river.
The Quinta Nova vineyards are all A grade, top of the port heirarchy, and the spacious and very well-equipped winery includes both traditional granite lagares (the shallow tanks used for foot-treading of port grapes), and sophisticated robotic treaders with ultra-controllable silicon “feet” of which winemaker Pedro Pina Cabral is immensely proud.
The first evening of the trip had been spend a little further west, at the new hotel at Quinta da Pacheca, down on the valley floor: so new, in fact, that despite the local mayor’s enthusiasm for its excellent restaurant it was still waiting for the local municipality to complete the formal licensing process.
The attractive, very comfortable hotel is converted from the 19th century family house, its roof unobtrusively raised to incorporate an extra floor of bedrooms (there are 12 in all, and the one I had was big, balconied and excellently fitted).
The dining room overlooks the river, and its enormous 16th century elaborately vine-carved buffet is a fantastic centrepiece. Breakfast was one of the best I’ve had anywhere.
Pacheca has lagares galore – 11 in all, set in an impressive stone-pillared hall – and all are used at harvest time, says José Serpa Pimentel, who with his sisters Maria and Catarina runs the estate.
There’s a great guesthouse, too, at Quinta do Portal on the northern edge of the valley terraces.
Casa das Pipas (house of the barrels) is very stylish, with splendid views from the higher of its two sitting rooms and a pool set among the vines.
Guests eat at the estate restaurant, where our lunch was delicious – classic Douro food, but delicately done.
And at Quinta do Passadouro, up a scenic side valley where round olive trees and pointy cypresses edge the approach road, the relaxed, peaceful guesthouse has a reputation which make visitors happy to seek out its remote location.
I was fortunate to be a guest (of the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto), but a little Googling shows how affordable the experience is – prices start at around 70 euros for a double room (at Passadouro – others are more), including breakfast.