The southern side of the Douro Valley gets far less attention than the north, which makes it perfect for an off-the-beaten-track walking holiday. I had the privilege of experiencing this 1-week, self-guided hiking vacation in the Douro wine region while working on the written descriptions and route instructions that the clients will receive.
This wasn’t my first experience of spending a week hiking in the Douro but it was a very different one. My first Douro walking holiday began and ended in the village of Pinhão and took us through vineyards and villages on either side of the Pinhão Valley. It was an amazing experience and well worth doing.
This time around though, our focus was on the other side of the Douro, in every sense. Five of the six walking days take place on the south side of the Douro River, where most tourists never venture. This is the rural Douro where, as well as wine, fruit is a major product. The final walking day on the north side of the river allows you to see the landscape you’ve traversed over the previous few days.
The tour operator and I did this Douro walking holiday in late May and the wildflowers were abundant, the cherries and figs almost ripe, olive trees in blossom, apples taking shape, vine leaves already flourishing and clusters of baby grapes visible. The many vegetable patches we saw looked healthy and bountiful too.
If you were to do this Douro hiking trip at other times of the year, you might see fruit trees in blossom, harvests in progress or the spectacular autumnal colours of the changing leaves.
I also loved the range of vistas and the chance to see more of the smaller wine estates. We got to see the Douro River from various perspectives and to appreciate the majesty of the UNESCO World Heritage Alto Douro Wine Region.
What we also got was peace and tranquillity in beautiful countryside and unassuming villages that have barely been touched by tourism.
That includes villages like Barcos and Salzedas that have been singled out as Aldeias Vinhateiras, aka Wine Producing Villages. They were chosen mostly because of their historical monuments; pretty much every village in the Douro is connected to wine production. They just aren’t all as attractive or otherwise notable as these favoured 6 Douro Wine Villages, which you can read about in this article.
What to expect from this wonderful walking holiday
Although I drove to the Douro, the official programme starts with a night in Porto city centre, followed by a scenic train ride from Porto to Peso da Régua.
You’ll spend a night in this riverside town, which has the Douro Museum and plenty of nearby wineries to visit, so that you can start your first walk fully refreshed and raring to go.
First walking day: Régua to Armamar (16 km)
Once we left the busy roads of Peso da Régua behind, we were soon into the vineyards and starting a gradual climb towards the village of Valdigem.
From the top of the first big hill, we were treated to splendid views of the Varosa Valley and reservoir and could see the town of Lamego on the opposite slopes – look for a monumental staircase to identify Lamego. These spectacular vistas accompanied us to Valdigem and beyond.
As we got further into the hinterland, the vineyards started making way for orchards, which give the landscape greater variety in terms of patterns and colours. The elderflowers in particular created splashes of white amid the greenery.
The villages that we walked through are not on the tourist trail although there are some interesting old buildings to see, as well as cafés to hang out in and watch life go by.
We walked all the way to our accommodation for the next two nights, a beautiful 17th century house with a delightful garden and outdoor pool.
Second day of walking south of the Douro (15 km)
This linear walk starts from the Monastery of Salzedas, which looks a bit odd because the church bell towers, added way after the Cistercian monks founded the monastery in the 12th century, were never completed. You can read more about its history and why it’s worth a visit in this article.
We spent the day walking between apple and cherry orchards, olive groves and small vineyards, with the odd patch of woodland with chestnut and oak trees. With birdsong all around us and a myriad of wildflowers, I was more than happy!
Besides Salzedas village, we also passed through Cimbres, which has some attractive buildings, and a supermarket if you need supplies, as well as lots of tiny hamlets.
One thing that stood out for me was the number of mountains around us, including the endless slopes and peaks of the Alto Douro wine region and the rugged Alvão Natural Park in the distance.
Day 3 linear hike from Armamar to a Douro Valley winery (14 km)
The small town of Armamar is famous for its apples but it also has a lovely Romanesque church in the town centre and that’s where we began our walk.
What I enjoyed about the first part of this walk were the quirky details, like onions growing between rows of grape vines and olive trees that look like weeping willows.
We started off with some lovely views on the way out of Armamar but the closer we got to the Douro River, the more dramatic they became.
The very best views were the reward for a steep slog up the hill from Quinta das Frades, an estate that used to belong to the Cistercian monks from Salzedas Monastery. From the top of this hill, you can see the enormity of the UNESCO World Heritage landscape surrounding the Douro Valley, with terraced slopes as far as the eye can see.
Thankfully, the hard work of the day was over by that point so I was able to recover from the climb and enjoy the scenery, and my packed lunch, in the shade of a massive cherry tree.
The remaining section took us downhill to another small village then through more vineyards to reach Quinta do Tedo, perched at the mouth of the River Tedo. When you do your celebratory wine tasting here at the end of the day’s walk, you’ve got views over the Douro River from the tasting room and of the Tedo on the other side of the property.
There’s no need to walk any further that day – the programme includes a taxi ride to the small town of Tabuaço, our base for the next 2 nights.
If you have time and energy in Tabuaço, do pop into the tourist information centre to see the Rijomax, the most comprehensive clock in the world!
Day 4 Tabuaço circular walk (16.5 km)
This was one of my favourite days of the programme, perhaps because there weren’t many steep climbs, or perhaps because the weather was perfect, the wildfowers were in abundance and the scenery was gorgeous.
As we made our way to the village of Barcos, another of the Douro’s Wine Villages (Aldeias Vinhateiras), I noticed that the vineyards were flat rather than terraced and that schist stone is predominant, rather than granite.
Barcos itself has a charming historical centre so it’s worth factoring in a few extra minutes to see the notable buildings, including the 12th century Romanesque church. There’s a map and information board near the church.
I was thoroughly enjoying the peaceful countryside surrounded by birdsong and the various scents of flowers and trees and then we hit the halfway point, where the views are stunning. You can see right across the Douro River to Quinta do Crasto, one of the most famous wine estates in the Douro, which I had visited the year before on a private tour.
As we moved away from the valley and towards the village of Adorigo, the scenery changed again, with rugged mountains and patches of woodland coming into view before the final stretch back to Tabuaço.
Walking day 5: Valença do Douro to Pinhão (15 km)
After a short drive from Tabuaço to Valença do Douro, we walked through the village streets and out into a landscape of vegetable patches, shortly followed by small wine producers.
These tiny vineyards make for interesting patterns on the slopes, especially after the next village of Sarzedinho where you can see vertical planting on the hills above the stream.
That’s also the hill you have to climb, zig-zagging through the vineyards of a couple of small local producers.
As with previous climbs, the views do compensate for the not inconsiderable effort. This time, the reward is the perspective of a bend in the Douro River near Quinta do Ventozelo one of my top picks for places to stay in the Douro Valley.
The breathtaking views of the Douro Valley accompanied us as we made our way downhill through the private estate of Quinta das Carvalhas to the Real Companhia Velha port wine tasting lounge by the river.
At one point, which we’ve marked in the route notes as an ideal place to stop and eat your lunch under an olive tree, you can also see the terrain to the other side of the Quinta das Carvalhas hill, including Valença do Douro and beyond, to other places you will have walked or driven through over the course of the week.
You’ll spend the night in the riverside village of Pinhão.
Final hike to Pinhão with views from the north side of the Douro Valley (9 km)
The final walking day starts with a scenic drive through the Pinhão Valley up to the village of Vilarinho de Cotas. From there, the walking begins and it’s pretty much downhill all the way back to Pinhão. I did this section on a different occasion, which is why there are no leaves on the vines in my photos.
One of the highlights of the route was when we rounded the bend on the approach to Casal de Loivos and saw the same curve in the Douro River as I described in Day 5, but from the opposite side.
A little further along lies the miradouro made famous by the BBC, who described the view from Casal de Loivos as one of the 6 best views in the world. From here, you can look across the valley and spot places you’ve already been to, such as the Quinta das Carvalhas estate opposite and some of the villages on the hillsides.
After Casal de Loivos, the trail leads you downhill through the vineyards of Quinta da Roeda and Quinta do Bomfim, owned by two of the big names in port wine, Croft and the Symington family.
Once again, you’ll end up in Pinhão and then take the train from the tile-covered station back to Porto.
You can add an extra night in Pinhão and return to Porto by river cruise if you like, or forgo the walk and take the boat.
Itinerary summary (can be customised)
Day 1: Arrive in Porto, in-person briefing, stay in 4-star hotel
Day 2: Train to Peso da Régua, stay in boutique hotel
Day 3: Linear walk to Armamar, stay in country house with outdoor pool
Day 4: Transfer to Salzedas, linear walk to Armamar, stay in country house with pool
Day 5: Transfer to Armamar, linear walk to Quinta do Tedo, wine tasting, transfer to Tabuaço, stay in boutique guest house
Day 6: Circular walk, stay in boutique guest house
Day 7: Transfer to Valença do Douro, linear walk to Pinhão, stay in 3-star hotel
Day 8: Transfer to Vilarinho das Cotas, linear walk to Pinhão, train to Porto
Available from 1st March to 31st October from €910 per person in a double room, low season.
- 7 nights accommodation with breakfast
- Packed lunches on days 3 to 7
- GPS track using an app to smartphone
- Road book with detailed route descriptions and elevation profiles
- Tour and tasting session at Quinta do Tedo winery on day 5
- Port wine tasting at Quinta das Carvalhas on day 7
- Luggage transfers between accommodations from days 3 to 7
- Private transfer from Porto airport to Porto hotel on day 1
- In-person briefing on day 1
- 24/7 emergency contact number
A) Add a night in Pinhão and return to Porto by river cruise
B) Substitute the walk on Day 8 with a river cruise back to Porto (extra cost involved)
C) Add extra nights in Porto and/or guided tours of the city before or after your time in the Douro
Interested in booking this self-guided Douro walking holiday?
For full details and a quote for your dates or customisation, please compete the enquiry form below and I will connect you with the 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.