Knowing how hilly the Douro wine region is, I was a little apprehensive about doing a week-long walking holiday in the Douro Valley. Nevertheless, the promise of spectacular views and the experience of hiking from village to village were enticing enough to push myself beyond my normal comfort zone.
(Don’t let me put you off here – if I can do it, so can most people, with some advance preparation).
The walks and the scenery were even better than I’d imagined and my body soon adjusted to the challenge of steep sections. Read on to find out what this Douro hiking vacation is like.
Hiking from Pinhão to Vilarinho de São Romão
Our first walking day began with a scenic riverside path beside the Pinhão River. Before long, we began climbing through vineyards and olive groves to the village of São Cristovão do Douro, a cluster of houses clinging to the hillside.
The cobbled lane entering and leaving the village was probably the steepest part of the entire day. Fortunately, the stunning views gave me good excuses to keep pausing for breath.
Tip: After you’ve had a rest, it’s worth taking some time out to explore the village and see its traditional cottages, grand manor houses and other curiosities. If you get there in the morning, you should catch the traditional bakery, unchanged since 1940. If so, try the local meat cake (bolo de carne).
Pacing tip: I would take a good rest at São Cristovão do Douro before continuing to Provosende.
We completed the day’s trek by walking along the ridge of a glorious vineyard amphitheatre and through the cobbled streets of another small village, Vilarinho de São Romão to find our country house accommodation.
Douro vineyards and villages walking trail
On our second walking day, Paulo and I made our way downhill, through patches of pine forests, more olive groves and vineyards to the village of Paradelinha, where we found a once grand manor house that’s sadly been left to decay.
Oh, for a magic wand!
After crossing the Pinhão River, we passed some old wineries, some still in action, others with disused buildings but well-tended vineyards.
I was pleased to revisit a pretty riverside picnic spot I’d been to with my friend Tracey a few years ago. I was less enthusiastic about the hill in front of us to get to the village of Celeirós but it wasn’t as taxing as it looked, perhaps because the views were magnificent.
Tip: While in Celeirós, there are a couple of wineries you could visit, one being the historical Quinta do Bucheiro in the village itself and the other Quinta do Portal, a modern winery near the main road.
Walking to the edge of the Douro wine region
A few kilometres into the third day’s walk, we reached the town of Sabrosa, where the 15th century navigator Ferdinand Magellan was allegedly born (the small Minho town of Ponte da Barca also stakes a claim on this). The contemporary sculpture outside the Town Hall pays tribute to him being the first person to circumnavigate the globe.
Tip: There are several cafés in Sabrosa so it’s a good place to take a short break before continuing through forests and vineyards on an ancient footpath with great views of the surrounding hills.
Once again, after descending through a terraced vineyard, we found ourselves crossing the Pinhão River. From here, it’s a gradual climb through more vineyards and olive groves until the track levels off on the approach to Favaios.
I particularly like Favaios, partly because of the surprisingly good Bread and Wine Museum. Here, you can learn about, and taste, the locally-produced moscatel wine and discover the secrets of 4-cornered bread.
Tip: Better still, visit a local bakery where you can see the wood-fired ovens and buy bread that’s still warm. It also has some interesting architecture so try to time your arrival so that you have a couple of hours to explore.
From Favaios, it’s only about 3 km to the town of Alijó where we stayed for 2 nights.
In search of the Tua Valley
One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this circular walk was the ever-changing landscape. The mountains around Alijó are quite rugged, rocky and uncultivated but as you head in the direction of the Douro River, the undulating curves and ribboned slopes of more familiar Douro landscapes appear.
The small local vineyards on the outskirts of Alijó were hives of activity with local people busy tending their small scale vineyards, pruning vines and burning off the resulting piles of twigs.
São Mamede da Ribatua has a pretty park full of sculptures and an azulejo-clad church as well as plenty of traditional buildings. What we came here for was the view of the Tua Valley and it didn’t disappoint.
Walking from Alijó to Casal de Loivos
Despite being the longest hike on this Douro walking holiday, it’s relatively easy because most of it is along a ridge.
Because of this elevated position, the views of the Pinhão Valley are breathtaking – you can see all the little villages you’ve already walked through.
Before getting to the ridge, you’ll pass by a few quintas that are open to visitors, including Quinta da Avessada, which has a small museum and also offers grape juice tasting if it’s too early in the day for you to start on the wine.
Towards the end of the walk, you also get views of the valley on the other side of the ridge and a different perspective on the Douro River as you round the hill into Casal de Loivos.
Hike down to the Douro River
The last walk in this holiday is the shortest, which means you can time it so you arrive at the riverside wineries in time for a picnic lunch after (or before) you’ve done a tour and tasting session. All you need to do is make sure you don’t miss the train back to Porto.
Apart from yet more stunning views, the best bit about this route is that it’s pretty much all downhill.
Want to do this self-guided village to village Douro hike?
Complete this form and I will connect you with the specialist local tour operator. They will email you to confirm the itinerary, availability and price.
If you don’t have time for a full week of walking, just let us know. It’s also possible to arrange guided half and full day Douro walking programmes through the same tour operator.
(Disclosure: I may receive a small referral commission if you make a booking but the price you pay is the same as going direct).
Best time of year for a Douro walking holiday
Spring and autumn are the ideal seasons for hiking in the Douro vineyards and countryside. Not only are the temperatures generally warm during the day, you get added colour.
While the vine leaves may only just be sprouting in April and May, wildflowers abound. By late September, the landscape is beginning to change colour as the leaves turn orange and red. To get the full effect of autumnal hues in the Douro, late October, early November would be best but you’d be balancing that with increased likelihood of rain.
I did this in late February, just as the almond blossom was making an appearance. We were very lucky with the weather and had clear sunny days.
While it’s technically possible to do this year-round, depending on the weather, I would not advise it in the summer months, i.e. July and August. Temperatures often reach around 40ºC, which is not conducive to walking up steep hills.
Even June and September can be a bit too hot for walking but if you get an early start to beat the heat of the day and take sensible precautions, i.e. wear a hat and sunscreen and drink plenty of water, you could do it.
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