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Douro Valley is burning

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Douro Valley is burning

Douro Valley is burning since June. Literally burning.

High temperatures that in some days almost reach 50ºC at the firing sun of middle afternoon.

Dry summer at Douro Valley

The vines and grapes were suffering a lot.

If it were not the strong July 6th storm and the things could go wrong on this coming harvest.

Even the resistant olive trees were shaking and feeling the effects of this 2017 dry summer.

Some yellow leaves here and there, some symptoms of burned fruits, some sad branches just hanged by the last solitaire molecule of water.

The storm of July 6th

But then the storm that brought in 20 minutes more water than a full rainy month of a heavy winter.

Aggressive rain and a piercing hail that knocked leaves and cracked grapes into the middle.

Especially in the high altitudes of Armamar, Sabrosa and Celeirós.

In some places some producers already made a forced early harvest directly to the ground.

After the storm comes the calm

One day after only the brown color of Pinhão river, the branches ripped off from the trees floating at Douro and the fainted mixture of sand and rocks along all the roads was remembering us this afternoon July storm.

The forest fires around Douro Valley

After the quick flood again the burning sun. And with him the forest fires around our wine region.

You are able to see the columns of smoke everywhere but the most impacting for us here in Pinhão, far from the fires, are the continuous planes flying over the Douro river catching water between Pinhão and Bateiras.

Astonishing sad spectacle.

The smell of spring

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The smell of spring is all around us.

Middle of April, the trees are covered with flowers here in Douro valley.

The smell of spring is all around us.

The happy birds are waking up very early in the day, announcing sunny but yet cold mornings.

The nights are still quite cold, for our standards, but nothing that a light jacket don’t solve.

After a smoggy and cold winter the heat of this spring sun is good for my soul. I think that the vineyards feel the same as me.

The vines are waking up from winter dormancy and the new leaves and branches are growing fast.

The vines are fast growers, we know, but is almost incredible seeing the rhythm they climb to the irons looking for their own place at Douro sun.

Last year was bad for almost all the fruit trees here. The rain and strong winds during the flowering damage the production of oranges, apples, peaches, cherries, almonds and olives.

This year it seems that’s going to be totally different. There are lots of flowers and small fruits in the trees. The nature is showing an incredible and powerful strength.

The first tourists start arriving in March but now with the Easter already at our door the few roads of Pinhão are bubbling of activity at lunch hour and all the afternoon.

My friends of the boat tour companies and in touristic small business are rushing to get everything ready for the new season.

It seems that this year in Douro valley everything is rushing towards the summer, even the nature.

Quinta do Crasto – Douro Valley

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Quinta do Crasto

Quinta do Crasto is one of the most emblematic Quintas of the Douro Valley in the subregion of Cima Corgo.

Roquette family estate

Quinta do Crasto 5This Roquette family estate, has acquired over the past decades a high reputation for its DOC wines. The Port wine, as in virtually every other medium-sized enterprises, it’s only Vintage or LBV.

The vineyards have an excellent exposure to the sun that is well reflected in their powerful red wines.

The winery is a modern and well-sized cellar, filled with stainless steel and oak barrels in the “aging” area.

Wine tourism at Quinta do Crasto

Quinta do Crasto 3In the global context of the Douro wine tourism this is a nice place to you visit.

The wines are good and very well promoted abroad. Mainly in Brasil, where the family have strong connections.

The visitors are accompanied by a very professional team that does not fail to establish a close contact with their visitors. It is both an educational visit but also very familiar and warm.

Booking wine tours at Quinta do Crasto

The major difficulty is to book with them, especially during the month of September, the time of harvest.

The wine tourism team is small and often insufficient for the amount of tourists wishing to visit it. Due to the strong Brazilian wine market they have, they are highly sought after by large groups of Brazilians friends and families. Private tours is something that it will be very difficult to you to get but you could try.

If you want to visit Quinta do Crasto you must make an advance reservation.

Localization

Quinta do Crasto 4Quinta do Crasto is on the right bank of the Douro River after Quinta Nova and Quinta da Marka.

The access can be done by road from Pinhão, Vila Real or Régua. The last one I do not advise because it is a very difficult road and you will have strong chances of getting lost.

The easier the road is from Pinhão. But easier is just a form of expression. The road is quite narrow and curvy and the 15km between Pinhão and  Quinta do Crasto will take, for sure, 30 minutes to make.

The other alternatives are the Train (Ferrão station) or the boat. In both cases you should contact Quinta do Crasto and ask them if they could pick you there. Walk is possible but it will be very hard.

 

Quinta Nova – Douro Valley

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Quinta Nova

Inlaid on the right bank of the Douro River, roughly midway between Pinhão and Régua, in one of the most difficult roads in the area you will find Quinta Nova.

Quinta Nova Hotel

Quinta Nova is a wine  and olive oil producer from the Cima Corgo sub-region, belonging to the Municipality of Sabrosa. But, for the moment I will not talk about their wines and olive oils.

Quinta Nova is also home to a hotel unit with few but beautiful rooms and a fantastic restaurant that rivals the very famous DOC.

The accommodation is excellent and the staff is very friendly and welcoming.

It’s a quiet place at night and during the day only the presence of winery  or restaurant visitors may disturb your serenity. But, even so, it will never be anything to much.

They offer an outdoor pool for exclusive use of hotel customers. You will really need that on the hot summer days.

Access to Quinta Nova Hotel

The access to the hotel isn’t so easy. We are talking about 15km of road between Pinhão and Quinta Nova. A narrow road, full of curves, with steep cliffs that sometimes frighten our visitors.

The alternative is chartering a boat to transport you from Pinhão or Foz do Távora to Ferrão, the dock near the hotel. They will pick you there, for sure.

The trip is nice and you will avoid the mountain road.

It is certainly a place to consider for your stay at Douro valley.

 

Douro river boat tour offer

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Douro river boat tour offer

See all Douro River boat tour offer and choose wisely according to your desires and budget. Here you will find all boat cruises available in the market.

The navigable Douro River

The navigable Douro river is a waterway extension of about 200km. Throughout this route you will find dozens of tours offers, from 50 minutes to 6 days.

I usually divide the Douro River boat tour offer in short-haul, medium-haul and long haul. I will try to give you my opinion about these three kinds of proposals.

Long-haul – Tours 6 days

Operating in the long haul on the Douro River boat tour are currently three operators with identical routes and is expected the arrival of a new company.

The offer is similar and involves the ascent of the river for three days and his descent also in 3 days.

This is a very targeted type of product, for seniors with low mobility.

It is an excellent product for them, since it guarantees to them a stay in a safe place, air-conditioned, a place where they have their meals on time and where basically the crew will take care of everything.

The overnight stay is made on board, not having the customer to carry the bags up and down during the stay.

Navigation is always done during the day since the Douro night navigation is prohibited to all vessels.

So every night the boat will dock in the path of the pier for customers to have dinner and sleep.

This simple ascent and descent of the river can become boring, especially in the route between Porto and Régua. This situation is solved by the companies providing short excursions to many existing attractions along the way.

This is not an exclusive tour, you are always in a group of about 100 people. If you feel comfortable to travel in the crowd, it’s a good product.

These tours are obligatorily carried out in huge locals, capable of harboring such a number of customers.

They tend to be impersonal places, very commercial and professionalized, basically a very artificial offer.

The prices of these long-haul trips tend to be high.

Medium-haul

The medium-haul does not presuppose the overnight stay on board.

They normally travel one day between Porto and Régua, Porto and Pinhão or Régua and Barca de Alva or Pocinho.

Let me be clear, you should avoid traveling between Porto and Régua. This route have little interest and you will do the least beautiful river section.

Between Régua and Barca de Alva you will find the most interesting route of all.

In these tours you will have the opportunity to make a locking process to raise or lower the dams.

Usually you will have meals and drinks included.

The price is generally low but be ready to the mess.

Boats are full of people who, later in the day, with the heat and the drinks are very effusive. It is a popular booze cruise.

Short-haul

Typically, these shorter walks will show you the local landscapes, as in Porto, in Régua or in Pinhão.

During the tour, depending on the operator, you could have an offer of a glass of wine.

Increasing the length of the tour you could get more or less complex services such as lunches, snacks, picnic’s, dips in the river, among others.

They are interesting tours and I recommend.

In Porto it’s worth making the route of the bridges and see the city from the river.

Régua boat tour is not the most interesting and given the proximity choose to go do it in Pinhão.

In Pinhão, where I am, the offer is at present, enormous.

You could find tours in the traditional Rabelo boats (1 or 2 hours) in sailboat or classic boats.

Prices vary according to exclusivity and the services provided. Some of these companies tailor made services.

So what to choose?

It will depend on your time, your interest in learning about Douro and your wallet.

If I had to choose, I would opt for a trip to Senhora da Ribeira or Foz do Sabor. It is a full day tour in the area I consider to be the most beautiful.

Alternatively a picnic on board with the engine off

In any case choose a ride on a smaller boat where the flexibility to change the program is an order.

Douro Valley tour guide

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How to choose a Douro Valley tour guide?

The task of choosing a Douro Valley tour guide that is appropriate for you is no easy task.

In reality the offer is big but the quality is not always the most desirable. What you will find are mostly poorly prepared students looking to earn a few extra money or luxury drivers without any knowledge beyond the basics.

As a rule, companies will propose you a tour departing from Porto and return the same day. You will do about two hours by car to get to the Douro valley and as many to return to Porto. In total you will spend between three to four hours in almost all unattractive route.

Believe me, at the end of the day you will be very tired and have been left with a very partial view of the wealth and importance of this valley.

A typical Douro tour proposal from these companies will be a visit to a vineyard, a lunch and a boat ride, usually 1 hour.

With this program you can find two types of companies operating in the market in well-differentiated segments. One in a middle segment in another in the higher segment. The big difference between the two will be the exclusive or non- exclusive offer.

Douro Valley tour guide for middle segment

The tour will be made in a minibus of 9 seats, led by a student looking to earn some money or a young urban boy/girl who found in this activity a way to escape unemployment.

You will have to share the journey with potentially unknown people that may have nothing in common with you.

See, stop, enjoy. Stay a little longer where you like are luxuries you are not able to have when you share your ride.

Share the lunch with someone is something I do only with my friends. Come to the Douro and share the table with strangers would let me uncomfortable, but people are not all equal.

The aggravating factor is the time you will have to go together with this group. Always count with a 8-12 hour ride.

Do not expect great flexibility on the part of the guides, they will have to convince all your travel companions to make the change to the program that you proposed it.

The advantage of this offer is the price, are usually cheap tours.

They will take you to the easier and more economical places, usually filled with other tourists and will avoid the most restricted and or difficult to reach. It is the ideal offer for those who have little time or limited budgets

Douro Valley tour guide for high segment

The proposal in this segment is somewhat different from the previous.

The guides will show you in magnificent luxury cars with black glasses, dressed in dark suits and wearing shirts and tacky ties that make me always seem emerging from a mafia movie .

With some exceptions they don’t know much about the history of the region, the vineyards and wines. When they are asked about any subject always have a ready answer and do not hesitate to give you the wrong information to not have to tell you that do not know what they are talking about.

They are drivers. They know the places and know how to get there.

Get ready because they will always be in a hurry and will try to return as soon as possible to Porto, especially in a football day .

And you will pay dearly, dearly.

The purpose of these companies is, sell, sell, sell.

It is an acceptable goal and you will do what you want with your money. In your case choosing between these two solutions or come by my own means I would prefer to came by train or renting a car depending on my money.

What you can see and do by train?

Departing from Porto towards Pinhão you can visit in this central location in the Douro a number of wine producers as Quinta do Bonfim, Quinta da Rhoeda, Quinta da Foz, Quinta das Carvalhas and a little further Quinta de La Rosa.

You can make a 1 or 2 hour boat tour and lunch in one of the local restaurants such as Veladouro, LBV 79, Cais da Foz, Sabores do Douro or and Ponte Romanica, a little further away.

That’s it. Take some pictures of the tiles of Pinhão train station and you could already tell that you know the Douro Valley.

What did you see? Just the basic.

What can you see on rental car?

Same as in the train but you can add a trip to Provesende or the viewpoint of Casal de Loivos. Lunch at DOC, if you have a fat wallet. And a handful of vineyards as Panascal, Tedo, Pacheca or Marrocos.

If you are more reckless or like to drive over rough roads you can can try Quinta Nova and Quinta do Crasto.

Be very careful with the narrow roads, full of curves, and in poor condition here do Douro.

If you are driving you will not be able to taste the wines on the vineyards or in the restaurants because the legal limit will be reached with a small glass.

You will be able to do everything in one day?

No.

You learn anything? You took advantage of the trip in this fantastic winery region?

No. But you will leave from Douro Valley with some pretty pictures to post on facebook or instagram.

How can you exploit properly the Douro Valley

Exit and return to Porto on the same day is not an option. For this let yourself get through Porto and explore more and better the city.

To absorb all the beauty and charm of the Douro you will have to spend at least one day and one night here.

If you want to take full advantage of the Douro Valley and your purpose is to know the people and customs, taste the olive oil and enjoy the wines, of best winery region of Portugal, without fear you will have, obligatorily, look for a local guide.

 

Barefoot 4×4 first big trip

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Barefoot 4×4 first big trip

This is the story of Barefoot 4×4 first big trip. After spending all my winter restoring my old car I was a  little anxious about this trip.

Beginning of the journey

Last May 4 I had a day off and I went to Porto. It was the first big trip of Barefoot 4×4 after the restore. I still have work to do on it but fortunately only cosmetic.

He behaved beautifully.

Returning to Pinhão

On returning to Pinhão, on May 5th, as I had to tow a boat I’ve decided to take the road that follows the the Douro River from Porto to Pinhão.

It is a difficult road and a lengthy journey that passes through Entre-os-Rios, Pala, Porto Rei, Alpendurada e Matos, Caldas de Resende Aregos and finally Pinhão.

A fantastic road, a very tiring journey. The Barefoot 4×4 already slow, toured the twists and curves of the Douro a snail’s pace. Pulling a trailer and a small yellow boat that will serve me to shoot beautiful landscapes that can be seen from the Douro tributaries like Pinhão river, Távora and Tedo.

I will not use to walk customers since it is a small boat of 3.70m with a capacity of 5 people and without the comfort of the ships for tourists that are moored to the pier of Pinhão.

It is basically a fishing boat.

Excuse this apart from the boat and will go back to the trip from Porto to Pinhao.

Contrasting Douro route

It is a contrasting route. Initially full of small villages, pine and eucalyptus forests. Which slowly add the orange trees next to Pala. Charged cherries in Resende. And at the end add the vineyard.

The cherry on this early May are in the beginning of production. The fruits alternating between green and red according to the place and the variety.

I caught some rain on the way. The weather this May is a little firmer than April but has been raining. Afternoons are awaken windy.

I took the trip to film the route. You can see on my Youtube channel a small sample of the final section between Régua and Pinhão on the road 222 which was recently considered the best road to drive.

That’s not, surely, the best but it is certainly a beautiful road. A road with stunning landscape among the vineyards of Cima-Corgo, the heart of the oldest wine region in the world, the Douro.

 

My first tour in Douro valley

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My first tour in Douro valley

This is the story of my first tour in Douro Valley. The story that will stay for me as the first step to my personal recovery after the crises of 2008.

Three intense days on a program whose main theme was the wine and the Douro. A planned and adjusted program with my customers on a circuit made specially for them, as I like.

Morning pick-up at Régua

I picked them on the railway station at Régua on April 22th. The train from Porto arrived slightly late at 11:15 am. It was a rush to Quinta do Vallado. We were expected for a visit to the winery, a wine tasting, followed by a fantastic lunch in the hotel premises.

At the end of lunch and already with another appointment booked for visit, now to Quinta do Crasto, I decided to do the hard way. Just along the right side of the Douro river. So we could enjoy the wonderful and stunning viewpoint of São Leonardo de Galafura.

Quinta do Crasto

The guided tour in Quinta do Crasto was a highlight of a day full of emotions, flavors and winding roads through the vineyards. We were fortunate to be the only ones present in the visit and wine tasting. Which has enabled my clients a more direct contact with this traditional Douro Quinta .

At the end of a strenuous day I left my clients in their hotel in Pousada Visconde Chanceleiros.

Second day of wine tasting

On the second day I pick them in the hotel for the first visit of the day at Quinta de La Rosa. Near the village of Pinhão.

We barely finished and we went to Casal de Loivos. Another magnificent viewpoint where you can watch the Douro River flanked by some of the most notable and emblematic Quintas on the outskirts of Pinhão. Quinta das Carvalhas, Quinta de Ventozelo, Quinta da Roeda, Quinta do Bonfim and many others.

Lunch at DOC

We had time for lunch scheduled for DOC restaurant and we decided to take a walk on the pedestrian route in Casal de Loivos. We were lucky because the owner of Quinta do Jalloto that is taking its first steps in eno-tourism was at the site and guided us on a visit to is small Quinta. Enabling to my customers come into contact with this great reality of Douro smallholders.

End of tour

Last Quinta we visited after the always exciting lunch at DOC was the Quinta do Panascal. Home of traditional and fantastic Port wines from the house Fonseca Guimaraes.

For the last day, we had planned a tour in a Rabelo boat on the course from Pinhão to Tua river. Unfortunately we were betrayed by the April rain that just gave us some tolerance three days later.

We had to change the program and ended up where we started, in the Douro Museum at Régua .

Nowadays tours

I changed a lot my tours since this first one. I think I’m far better now. More small places where almost nobody go. Out from tourist radars like Torto Valley.

But still I will miss this first program.

 

Douro Valley Spring

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Douro Valley Spring

In early Douro Valley spring the vines began to burst. They come up now in small bunches hanged in the still fragile branches of the vine.

The Spring after the cold Winter

This winter was dry but cold. The traditional rain of this season was infrequent and compared to an average year almost nonexistent.

With the beginning of April the temperatures increased. It’s already possible to wear a t-shirt all afternoon if you are prepared to the natural cooling of the end of the day.

This warming has been accompanied by some rain living up to the saying “In April  thousand waters”. That makes more sense in Portuguese because it rimes, but it means that April is the month of heavy rains

Rain of great importance right now to the vineyard and other crops because the soil moisture has almost disappeared and we began to be concerned about the possible effects of drought during the summer.

Douro Valley happy season

It is a joyous season with the presence of small  grape bunches on the vines, small olives in olive trees and flowering fruit trees, from the pink of peach and cherry trees and fragrant white flowers of the orange trees.

For those allergic to pollen is a difficult time because the floral intensity is immense. The cars and roads are covered with a tiny yellow powder and the bees begin to make their raids often.

Beginning of Douro Valley touristic season

It is also time to bottle the white wine of last year. I can assure that what I have proved, I approve.

April is also the start of the tourist season in the Douro Valley.

The cold and nakedness of the vines forced the visitors to stay away during the winter.

Now they are beginning to emerge as the flowers, quickly.

The first came in the Easter in the hotel cruise boats that cross the Douro river from Oporto to Barca d’Alva. Now in late April they arrive in all ways, boat, train, bus, motor home, car and even bicycle.

It’s start bubbling in so far asleep Douro Valley.

 

Douro Valley Wines

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Douro Valley Wines

I believe I’m not being presumptuous when I say that the Douro Valley Wines are extraordinary and unique.

I can not claim to be the world’s best, because it’s something I do not believe for any wine.

A good wine is a wine that we like

I learned recently with a famous Portuguese winemaker, that a good wine is a wine that we like. Said so this way so simple I could tell you that I like the wines of the Douro. And I like them more than from other regions and countries.

Douro Wines Sub-Regions diversity

The Douro Valley is now divided into three wine sub-regions, the Lower Corgo, High Corgo and the Douro Superior.

The question all people ask me is which one is the best.

The answer is difficult because the characteristics of each sub-region, soil, temperature, humidity, altitude, are reflected in different wines. Wines with their own personality.

In fact this diversity is in my view the very hallmark of the region. The factor that will make the Douro definitely and without complex as the beacon of world wines.

Here we are able to make totally different wines. The existing genetic variety in the vineyards and the blend culture that is rooted in the people, causes that two close neighbors could make high quality wines but completely different.

Douro Valley mono varietal wines

The trend in Douro Valley for mono varietal wines is now less and less frequent.

From the academic and pedagogical point of view mono varietal wines is an interesting concept. It allows to extend the wine market to a fringe of little informed consumers that successfully, with these wines, take the first steps in the wine tasting.

The complexity of Douro Valley Wines

Douro wines are for more enlightened and knowledgeable consumers. They are extraordinarily complex wines due to the blend in the vineyard and cellar and also the diverse terroir.

The landscape of vineyards on the slopes, on the terraces or in rows along the contour is the image of the wealth of aromas and flavors diversity.

It’s impossible to say which of the three sub-regions is the better. In the Douro blend tradition, producers seek to have grapes from various areas of the valley, which gives them a greater complexity.

The Douro wines are intense wines, soul wines, wines that are not afraid of difference. Free wines that resist the trends of standardization of tastes and flavors.