You wouldn’t believe how much there is to see and do in the region north of Porto. It mightn’t look much on the map but its quite a whirlwind to fit everything into a week. However, with 7 days, you can do more than sample wine and admire the Douro!
Our wish list:
Some medieval towns
Vale do Coa archaeological site
Start / Finish: Porto Airport.
The Route: We traveled anticlockwise from Porto – a rough circle with some detours and add-ons. While we had prebooked accommodation, our plans had to be tweaked several times – e.g. unsettled weather meant rescheduling vineyard and river trips while the archaeological site was not available at the time we had originally planned on visiting. I’d shirked on my prep in spots and some mountain routes didn’t actually exist (but I know I saw a line on the map!!) while hoteliers and tourist office staff suggested detours and landmarks we would have missed on our travels.
So -as for all trips of course – allowing for flexibility eases pressure and adds to the overall pleasure of the trip.
Summary and Highlights
Late arrival into Porto airport
Mateus Estate, Vila Real
Overnight Peso da Régua
Mosteiro de Sao Joao de Tarouca
Pass through mountain villages
Drive along by river
Parque Arqueologico do Vale do Coa
Douro river Trip
Parque natural do Alvao
Pitoes das Júnias
The countryside is dotted with canastros or old granaries
Across the mountains towards Geres
Change in the landscape
Ponte da Barca
Ponte de Lima
Back to Porto
If I ever go back…
Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres
The city of Guimaraes
Explore south of Porto
Concentrate on the Douro Valley and leave the border region for another time.
Spend a few days exploring and walking in Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres
Enjoy a few days in Porto.
Add 3 nights in Porto and 4 nights at a coastal resort
Car Hire and Driving
There has been a lot of bad press about car rental companies in Porto airport, including the more ‘reputable’ established businesses. Make sure to examine the car thoroughly for scrapes and scratches and photograph everything you find. You’ll probably be given a list of existing damage so if you notice anything extra tell the staff before you leave. We dealt with Europcar and had no problems.
Local drivers tend to pull up very close behind you but otherwise driving was fine. Fuel is relatively expensive.
We found accommodation to be very reasonable (2nd half of June). Some of the towns along the river will be busy in high season so book rooms there as soon as possible. Hotels/ hostels etc. in town centres might not have parking facilities so check before paying anything. It is lovely to stay in a quinta (wine estate) for a night or two but they are more expensive and if you are out and about all day you won’t get value for your money. We stayed in a very nice quinta near Pinhao for 2 nights but didn’t dine there, or do a wine-tasting there and as we had bad weather at the time, we couldn’t enjoy the pool and grounds.
Most places will have someone who speaks English
Just to note (because I heard it discussed while we were there) – in some of the older hotels the shower is in the bath so keep that in mind if you are mobility-challenged.
Where we stayed:
Amarante – Des Arts Hostel and Suites
The Positives: Good value with breakfast included (€62) / no problem with late arrival / great location close to the bridge / big communal kitchen and sitting room / nicely decorated.
The Niggly Bits: Can be a bit difficult to find by car / parking is on street so you will have to pay if staying a while.
Peso da Régua- Hotel Columbano
The Positives: €59 / good breakfast / free access to lido next door / Lidl close by for drinks and snacks / plenty of free parking.
The Niggly Bits: About a 20 minute walk into town.
Pinhao – Hotel Rural da Quinta do Silval
The Positives: Beautiful setting / offers the full ‘quinta’ experience (wine tasting, dinner, etc) / pool / good breakfast / free parking.
The Niggly Bits: 8km out of town / a bit expensive (€105) if just using it to sleep!
Chaves – Forte De Sao Francisco Hotel
The Positives: Fabulous setting within the walls of the fort / great value (€63) / right beside the town centre / lovely pool area / good breakfast / plenty of free parking space.
The Niggly Bits: Can’t think of any!
Geres – Moderna do Geres Hotel
The Positives: Good value(€50) / close to town centre / nice breakfast / free parking
The Niggly Bits: It is situated on a narrow winding one-way road – if you miss the car park just pray there’s no one coming up behind as you reverse!!
Braga – Hotel Dona Sofia
The Positives: Good value (69) / free parking available / fantastic location
The Niggly Bits: Could do with more parking spaces.
Food and Drink
Food and drink is generally of very good quality and reasonably priced. You will have to queue for popular restaurants. Most tourist venues will have someone who speaks English. Off the beaten track might be more of a challenge. For us, this tended to happen at lunchtime where we might be in a remote location en route to our next destination. However, everyone recognised ‘omelette’ so we didn’t go hungry. On a few mornings, we were able to stock up on picnic lunch items in supermarkets which was a nice option – especially in the mountains.
Best Lunchtime Award!
Codfish gratin at the cafe across the road from Mateus Palace – Yum!
Best Dinner Award!
A shared veal platter at Lurdes Capela in Geres – well worth the 40 minute queue!