Much of the Douro Valley’s tourism is currently centred between Lamego and Pinhão but the wine-producing activity extends way beyond the Douro River, to the town of São João da Pesqueira and beyond.
The small town in the hills to the south of the river, after which this Douro sub-district is named, requires a bit more effort to get to but has some tempting reasons for doing so, not least its proximity to the São Savador do Mundo miradouro.
I first visited after a grape-harvesting experience in one of the nearby vineyards and was pleasantly surprised by the historical centre and well impressed by the viewpoints.
Find out what to do in São João da Pesqueira and surrounds.
Visit the Wine Museum
Although this part of the Douro wine region is less visited than the places around Pinhão and Régua, São João da Pesqueira is known as the heart of the wine region. As such, it is a fitting location for the Wine Museum, which is modern, interactive and very well done, with an audio guide to help you get the most from your visit.
I particularly enjoyed the short videos by local wine producers and the section on the different terracing techniques over the centuries that have contributed to the patchwork of patterns you’ll see on Douro hillsides. You even get a glass of port wine at the end of your visit.
Practicalities: Av. Marquês de Soveral, 79, São João da Pesqueira. GPS N 41º 8′ 52” W 7º 24′ 30”
Open Tuesday to Friday 10 am to 1 pm and 2.30 to 6.30 pm | Saturday and Sunday 2.30 to 6.30 pm | Closed on Mondays and public holidays
Hang out in Praça da República
This is the main square in the old town and as such, is lined with iconic buildings.
The pink Baroque-fronted building on one side dates back to the 18th century and is now a museum, filled with sculptures and archaeological finds. I didn’t have time to go inside but you can find out more about it here.
Opposite the museum is the tile-clad Baroque Chapel of Mercy, once the private chapel for the local lord, Luís Alvares de Távora. Next to the chapel is the iconic clock tower and archway, which of course you must go through when you leave the square.
Before doing so, you might want to take a look at the local crafts and produce for sale at one of the shops or stalls on the square.
Wander along Rua dos Gatos
With its old stone walls, flower pots and cobblestones, Rua dos Gatos (Cat Street) is one of the oldest and quaintest streets in the old town and was apparently part of the 15th century Jewish Quarter.
Explore the other quaint streets in the historical centre
The old part of town is compact so it won’t take you long to walk around and soak up the local sights or spot small shops like the one I found selling locally-produced honey.
Party in style at Vindouro Wine festival
Unsurprisingly, picturesque Praça da República is the hub for celebrations and events, such as the Pombaline-themed wine festival, aka Vindouro, which usually takes place during the first weekend of September, although I don’t know if it will go ahead in 2020. I’ve yet to attend but essentially, it’s a huge costume party where people dress in the style of the early days of the demarcated Douro wine region.
It was the Marquis of Pombal who, as Prime Minister, created the Douro Wine Company to regulate the trade and production of port wine, hence Pombaline.
There are, of course, plenty of wine and wine-related activities too.
Read more about Portuguese festivals in this post.
Walk or drive to Miradouro de São Salvador do Mundo
This amazing viewpoint is a few kilomteres on the other side of São João da Pesqueira and well worth the drive. The view from here offers the contrast between the rugged, untouched landscape on one side of the Douro River and the sculpted, manmade terraces of the other. You can also look down on the magnificent Valeria Dam.
I particularly enjoyed exploring the nooks, crannies, chapels and shrines that cover the hilltop, including a little cave where a friar died.
Tip: As you enter the road that leads to the viewpoint, you’ll find a parking space on the big curve. There is a small layby a little further along but DO NOT drive past here, through the pillars as the road is unpaved and uneven and not good for your car.
The Grande Rota (GR 14) hiking trail connects São Salvador do Mundo with the town of São João da Pesqueira but I haven’t walked it so I don’t know how easy it is to follow. If you’re interested in trying the 2.7 km section, you’ll find the signpost on Rua de São Tiago.
Admire the views from Miradouro de Frei Estêvão
If you’re driving between São João da Pesqueira and Pinhão along the N222, be prepared for tight curves and spectacular scenery.
While drivers will need to keep their eyes on the road, there’s a handy viewing spot called Miradouro de Frei-Estêvão between Pinhão and Ervedosa do Douro, with stunning views across the valley to Pinhão.
Note: if you are heading south, the viewing terrace is on the opposite side of the road so if you’re planning to make your way back along the same road, it will be easier to get into the car park on your northbound journey.
Looking for more off-the beaten track spots in the Douro Valley? Check out these wine producing villages.
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