Many moons ago, Ryan and I took our first trip to Portugal. The year was 2003, and our objective was to celebrate our marriage among the vines, the winding city streets and with any luck, to create a memory that would become the foundation of our relationship. Three weeks of exploration, and diving into the unknown with only 2 backpacks and no cellphone, led to an incredible adventure. The trip took us as far as south as the Alentejo, as far north as the Minho; and although there were several places that left a lifelong impression on me, it was the Douro that held center stage on this trip.
For those of you who haven’t visited Portugal, it’s important to note that it’s an absolute joy to travel through. Packed with gastronomic wonders of grilled fish and deliciously stinky goat cheese, charming little villages complete with your iconic old woman staring out her window, and enough wine to satiate the most picky of palates, Portugal bursts with diversity. And lets not forget the warmth and kindness of the people, the cornerstone of Portugal’s greatness. Hence, you can imagine the flowery words that packed our leather bound journal during our travels: beautiful, exotic, loving, amazing, that is until we arrived at Regua.
The city of Regua embodied the pit of despair for us. Despite our fabulous train ride from Porto on an old, rickety train (sadly not in use anymore), we were met with frigid temperatures, sour grins and less than stellar food. Clearly it was an “off” night for the little city, but it left an impression. Consequently, by day 2, Ryan and I agreed to hightail it out of the Douro early and head to Vinho Verde after our prescheduled meeting with Quinta do Vallado. Sidenote: Regua is a fab city today and worthy of a visit!
Towering well over 6 feet, Cristiano Van Zeller greeted us at the door, alongside Vallado’s winemaker, Francisco Olazabal. Cristiano’s physique reminded me of a brown bear, with a cuddly and kind smile, but a frame that could crush you in one swipe. At first glance, his appearance is rather intimidating, but spend a few minutes chatting, and you immediately feel charmed. “So, what do you think of the Douro?”
Smiling, he filled us with Port, provided us a tour of the winery and offered an enticing invitation. “Sadly, we don’t have a place where you can stay tonight, but at least I can offer you a bit of respite from the cold, rain and poor company.”
To date, we feel like we owe my first born to these men. Okay, maybe our second born now that we have our son Mica rocking in his bassinet beside me. Arriving by taxi up the incredibly steep and windy road that hugged the terraced mountains, we encountered a stunning 18th century manor house located in the hamlet of Chanceleiros, 4km from the river at Pinhão.
The experience was heavenly, and when overlooking the Douro the following morning, as the sun broke through the thick fog, we fell madly in love. The Douro Valley was breathtaking with its pastel hues, naked gnarled vines and gorgeous contrasting light. Add some background music by Howard Shore, composer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the moment couldn’t have been more magical.
Ten years later, we found ourselves at Quinta do Vallado once again, but this time 8 months pregnant, residents of Portugal and capable of spending an evening in their newly built hotel. After a generous invitation by the winery to explore a vastly different experience than the one we had in 2003, we happily accepted and found ourselves at the doorstep of a completely refurbished quinta.
Quinta do Vallado is situated on both banks of the Corgo River, a tributary of the Douro river, near to Peso da Régua. Founded in 1716 by Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira of the Ferreira Port House, Vallado is one of the oldest Quintas (wineries) in the Douro Valley. Interestingly, you wouldn’t know its historical claim to fame if you were t0 simply traverse their new winery. Revamped in 2008, the new facilities feel strangely warm and welcoming despite its schist and cement interior, a stark contrast to the older structures painted in Tuscan yellow with wood shutters. With hints of wood and strategically placed lighting, the winery feels homey and inviting, that is until you come to the laboratory. I won’t spoil the fun for your visit, but let’s just say that we’re confident Vallado is hiding a few crown jewels behind those “customized” doors.
Like much of Portugal, there has been a huge push towards wine tourism, and Vallado was smart to jump on board. The hotel offers 2 different experiences, the traditional and the modern, to suit your interest. We stayed in the recently converted 18th century manor, a family home that contains 5 tastefully designed rooms that maintain the feel of the period. It was a joy to stay in. Plus, you’re a short walk from their extensive, and beautifully kept, gardens; not to mention, a pool that offers a gorgeous view of the valley. It’s here, with my very large belly floating across the water, that we remained for much of our stay. With poolside lunch service, it’s difficult to justify another location on a warm July afternoon.
If traditional isn’t your scene, you can easily stay in one of the eight modern rooms. Located in the most recent addition of the hotel, these rooms mimic the winery in their sleek and simplistic design that highlight the terroir of the region: dark gray schist floors with light wooden walls. All the rooms in the hotel provide free wifi, a delicious breakfast, a winery visit and tasting, free bicycle and fishing rental and a very friendly and helpful staff.
Is there room for improvement? Absolutely! Despite having an incredible visit, there is one red flag that we hope Vallado will consider changing in the future. First and foremost, the wine list. Despite Quinta do Vallado’s wines being extraordinary, and they really are, we believe in supporting your neighbors. As one of the few wine hotels in the region, why not serve some of the wines that inspire Vallado or show contrast? If you really want people to stay and enjoy your meals, become an ambassador of your region, not just your wines. Additionally, be the winery that suggests other quintas for your guests to visit. Which wineries are children friendly, highlight tawny ports, offer a fantastic lunch, etc? The only way tourism will grow is if we promote the region as a whole.
Regional promotion aside, the hotel is stunning and worthy of a visit, especially if you’re keen to a few relaxing days in the heart of Port country. And be sure to say hello to Claudia, the heart and soul of the hotel. She’s the beautiful woman who simply cannot stop smiling, impossible to miss.
If you’re keen for a tour of the Douro, don’t hesitate to contact us!! We have loads of great options for you to enjoy a fabulous wine and food adventure during your stay!