Portugal – the oldest wine region in the world

We had another few days relaxing, exploring and enjoying the company of newly made friends at O Tamanco campsite.  We visited the lovely hilltop castle at nearby Montemor-O-Velho, which is one of the most beautiful (and one of the largest) ruined castles we’ve seen so far in Portugal, with beautiful views over the surrounding marshlands, rice paddies and corn fields.  We did some lovely bike rides, through olive groves, vineyards, rice paddies and forests of eucalyptus and gum trees, past a wonderful ruined convent and also got out on the SUPs, although there was still no surf.

From there we headed north to the beautiful Alto Douro, where a network of narrow winding roads connect terraces of vines, olive trees and beautiful manor houses.  Wine has been made in the Douro valley for over 2000 years and it is in fact the oldest DOC wine region in the world and a(nother) UNESCO world heritage site.  Many of the grape varieties here are not found anywhere else, so it’s been interesting tasting and getting to know more about local varieties and, of course, Port.

The Douro river

The Douro river

We stayed in Amarante, which is on the Tamega river, in the next valley along, which is a great base for exploring the Douro wine region.  Amarante itself is a charming town, set around a medieval bridge, large church and monastery.  We loved the river, which was clean and deep with some great beach areas and swam every evening from the campsite beach.  Amarante is also a bit of a foodie destination, with delicious locally produced cheese, smoked meats and of course good wine.  We fell in love with a small local Taberna where no English was spoken, but which served up platters of meats, cheese and olives, delicious rye bread and very quaffable Vinho Verde wine.

From here we explored the winding, narrow roads of the Douro valley region and visited some of the more famous adegas (wineries), including Quinta da Aveleda, a wonderful estate set in magical gardens, founded in the 1600s and the 18th century Palacio de Mateus (which doesn’t in fact produce the well marketed Mateus rose, but has a completely different range of award winning wines) which is Portugal’s finest example of Baroque architecture, also set in wonderful formal gardens.  A real highlight was a magnificent train ride along the Douro river from Regua to Pocinho, one of the most stunning sections of the Douro, with terraced vineyards snaking up steep hillsides, beautiful white washed quintas, olive trees, passing through tiny train stations dotted along the way each covered in beautiful blue or yellow and blue tiles.