Sweet and fruity, rich and full of flavour, Port wine is powerful and strong. After all it does have an alcohol content of between 18 and 22%. Yet we were surprised to find just how much variety exists during a river cruise through the Douro Valley – the home of the Port producers. Rosé, white port, vintage port, ruby and tawny, aged in barrels or deep red in colour; tasting sessions at the Quintas proved very enjoyable.
This is one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. Terraces of vines held in place by drystone walls rise in ranks high up the mountainsides while hawks and falcons swoop overhead.
Links between the English and the Douro Valley go back hundreds of years – and partly explain the rise of Port as a popular alcoholic drink worldwide.
England and Portugal have enjoyed close trading links since the Treaty of Windsor in 1386. Some centuries later, a ban on the import of French wine led some English merchants living in Portugal to discover the wines of the Douro valley. The river along which we were now cruising formed the main transport route for those wines.
All the wine was sent via Oporto, hence the name Port Wine. It became extremely popular among the nobility who introduced it all over the world. The Duke of Wellington drank Port wine on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, and it was even taken on the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic between Lisbon and Rio de Janerio in 1922. It was drunk at royal courts throughout Europe and is still popular with the British royal family.
Yet this is an area that has more to offer than just Port wine. It is full of hidden gems. Stopping off at the little village of Favaios, we discovered the delights of Moscatel wine and liqueurs produced with the local Moscatel Galego grape. Aromatic and very special, it is best sipped while eating home made bread and honey. The age-old links between the two are highlighted in the fascinating Museum of Bread and Wine.
Then there are amazing buildings found throughout the Douro Valley such as the massive Castelo de Ansiães. Covering almost 10,000 hectares it is made of solid granite! Over at Serra da Aboboreira is a collection of 40 megalithic tombs while the Dólmen de Chã stand out against the hillsides.
Springtime is breathtaking. The river landscape takes on a wonderful white and pink appearance as the almond trees bloom in the orchards. This is the Almond Tree route running through areas like Mirandes, Castelo Rodrigo Tabuaço and Vila Nova de Foz Coa. Local legend says that a Moorish king wanted to please his Nordic princess who missed the snow. So he planted almond trees to give a snowy appearance early each spring.
Almonds, grapes and Port wine make an incomparable combination in a dramatic and very memorable landscape. It creates the perfect photographic opportunities as well as wine tasting from which dreams are made.