Portugal: local brilliance and fortified magic

From the lodges and vineyards of Port country in the Douro, to the sun-baked plains of the Alentejo and the island wines of Madeira, Portugal is ripe for discovery.

Always one of the great southern European wine countries, Portugal has taken enormous strides in the past couple of decades. Where once it was known internationally almost exclusively for its world-beating fortified wines—Port, from the Douro Valley, and Madeira from the eponymous Atlantic island—Portugal is now making better use than ever of its plentiful stock of indigenous grape varieties to make some of the most exciting—and best value—table wines in the world.


Nonetheless, it is to those big fortified names that many wine tourists are still attracted when they come to Portugal. Indeed, the view across the Douro River from Porto to the Port lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia is what many of us think of when asked to conjure up a representative image of Portuguese wine. And somewhere in the cluster of whitewashed buildings, with their terracotta-tiled roofs and 1950s-vintage advertising boards announcing names of the historic shippers, is one of the world’s most luxurious wine hotels.

Owned by the Fladgate Partnership, owners of Taylor’s, Fonseca, and Croft port brands, but with some of Portugal’s best-known wine producers as sponsors, The Yeatman Hotel, which opened in 2010, offers guests superb views back across the Douro River to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Porto, and houses a two Michelin-starred restaurant and 82 rooms with private balconies. It makes a suitably grand base to make a tour of the barrel-filled lodges of Vila Nova. All the big names are well set-up for visitors, with Taylor’s, Graham’s, and Sandeman among the most atmospheric.

On midsummer’s day, June 24, celebrated in Porto as the day of São João, crowds are drawn to the river banks to watch the annual Rabelo Boat Regatta, with the traditional rabelo boats that once were the sole means of transporting barrels of wine from the vineyards of the Douro Valley to the lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia for ageing. The event is the perfect way to recover from the previous late night’s revelry, when the city of Porto is filled with music and dancing.

In recent years, road links between Porto and the Douro Valley have been greatly improved, so the boats are no longer a commercial imperative for producers, many of whom now have their ageing facilities up river in any case. These improvements have also made one of the world’s most spectacular and remote wine regions considerably more accessible for tourists— although even now this landscape of vertiginous terraced banks is notable for its tranquility.

In fact, the train, which tracks the sinuous passage of the river far below, and is widely rated by aficionados as one of the world’s most beautiful railway journeys, is by far the best means of reaching the heart of Douro wine country; the trip from Porto to charming Pinhão in the Cima Corgo takes roughly two hours. On arrival, another Fladgate property, The Vintage House Hotel, is one of the region’s best, and it makes a fine base for visiting the various famous quintas that now welcome visitors. Fonseca's Quinta do Panascal (www.fonseca.pt) was one of the first quintas to open its doors in 1992, and now offers tours of the vineyards and lagares in nine languages.

Other quintas worth considering include: the Symington family’s Quinta do Bomfim (visits by appointment; www. symington.com); Quinta do Noval (by appointment; www.quintadonoval.com); and Croft’s Quinta da Roêda (www. croftport.com). Fans of the Douro’s table wine renaissance, meanwhile, may wish to make an appointment to visit the pioneering Dirk Niepoort at his underground cellar at Quinta de Nápoles in Santo Adrião (by appointment; www.niepoort-vinhos. com) or Quinta do Vallado in Régua in the Baixo Corgo, which also has a fine hotel with accommodation split between a renovated 18th-century manor house and a stylish new modern wing, and a the much-admired DOC restaurant.


Portugal’s other historic fortified wine has its equivalent of the lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia in Madeira’s capital, Funchal, where the largest producer, Blandy’s, has a deserved reputation for welcoming wine tourists to its historic Wine Lodge. Offering a range of tours and tastings that feature a comprehensive overview of the firm’s 200 years in the business, a museum, a cooperage, and the ageing lofts themselves, the lodge also takes in a wine shop and the well-regarded 1811 Bistro & Wine Bar on site. Further along the coast, in Câmara de Lobos, both Barbeito and Henriques & Henriques require advance booking for their extensive tastings and tours, with the latter promising to refund the price of a tasting of 10 wines should you purchase wines greater than the price of admission (www.henriquesehenriques.pt; www.vinhosbarbeito.com).

A two hour flight southeast into the Atlantic from Porto, Madeira has a well-developed tourist infrastructure, its benign year-round climate making it a popular destination for winter sun-seekers. The Vine, a super-modern luxury boutique hotel in the city center with wine-themed interiors by local designer Nini Andrade Silva, and a spa offering vinotherapy treatments, is a natural temporary home for wine-loving visitors.

North to south

Away from the magical world of its great fortified wines, many of Portugal’s new generation of table wine producers have taken enormous strides in oenotourism. In the far northwest of the country, the Vinho Verde region is another UNESCO-protected landscape, filled with pretty riverside towns and a verdant patchwork of smallholdings. One of the best producers in the region, Quinta do Ameal, has a set of gorgeously renovated suites and houses in the extensive forested grounds of its early 18th-century property near Ponte de Lima, while the Alvarinho specialist Quinta do Soalheiro offers tours and tastings for €15 as well as samples from its smoked port side project, Quinta de Folga, in a beautiful site in Melgaço up on the border with Galicia (www.soalheiro.com).

Heading south, a must visit in Central Portugal is the fabulous Portuguese-Manueline-Gothic Palace Hotel do Buçaco. Built in the late 19th-century, it retains the air of a slightly faded but wonderfully atmospheric grand hotel. It also produces its own, much admired, traditional wines—blends of grapes from its own vineyards and from growers in the Dão and Bairrada regions. While based at Buçaco, your exploration of both regions may well take you to one of Global Wines’ estates, both of which are well set-up for receiving visitors, with restaurants, wine bars, tastings and outdoor activities: Quinta do Encontro in Bairrada and Quinta de Cabriz in the Dão.

On the Atlantic Coast, Adega Regional de Colares (www. arcolares.com) offers guided tours of this idiosyncratic coastal appellation, with its pre-phylloxera vines planted in the sand dunes, while the Setúbal peninsula, easily accessible as a day trip from Lisbon, is home to some of Portugal’s most spectacular, and historic wine estates. The graceful José Maria da Fonseca (www.jmf.pt), and the exquisite palace and museum at Quinta da Bacalhôa (www.bacalhoa.pt) are both worth including in an itinerary.

Finally, the sun-baked plains of the Alentejo have become something of a wine-tourism hotspot in the past decade. Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, winner of the 2016 Portuguese Producer of the Year from the Portuguese magazine Revista de Vinhos, also houses one of the region’s best boutique hotels in a stylishly remodeled manor house (www.malhadinhanova.pt). And Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan’s stunning contemporary L’And Vineyards resort has a spa and well-regarded restaurant surrounded by vines, with views across the lake to the medieval castle at Montemor. As well as the luxury accommodation, it offers a range of activities, including wine tastings, balloon rides and cookery classes.

  • The Fladgate Partnership

    Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal

    Destination Porto and Douro

    One of the great historic shippers of Port, wit...

The Yeatman Hotel

A refined luxury hotel from the owners of Taylor’s and Fonseca, with panoramic views across the Douro River to Porto, The Yeatman also houses one of Portugal’s finest restaurants.
Rua do Choupelo, Vila Nova de Gaia, 4400-088 Porto | +351 220 133 185 | www.the-yeatman-hotel.com

Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo

Beautifully set above the Douro River, this luxurious hotel offers its own wines, a wine museum on site, and a plethora of other wine-related activities for its guests to enjoy.
5085-222 Covas do Douro | +351 254 730 430 | www.quintanova.com

L’And Vineyards

Set amid vineyards and around a lake, this stylish Alentejo resort, designed by Brazilian star architect Marcio Kogan, offers wine therapy, yoga and balloon rides over the vineyards and cork forests.
Herdade das Valadas, 8050-909 Montemor-o-Novo | +351 266 242 400 | www.l-and.com

Quinta do Ameal

A high-quality Vinho Verde producer that also offers a set of beautifully restored suites and houses amid gardens and forests along a stretch of the Lima River.
4990–707 Refóios do Lima, Ponte do Lima | +351 258 947 172 | www.quintadoameal.com

The Vine

With interior design inspired by the local winemaking heritage, this fine modern hotel with views across Funchal to the sea also houses a fine restaurant, Uva.
Rua das Aranhas 27, 9000-044 Funchal | +351 291 009 000 | www.hotelthevine.com

Palace Hotel do Buçaco

A grand, elaborate, old world 19th-century Portuguese-Gothic hotel between the Dão and Barriada regions, Hotel Bussaco also makes its own, highly regarded, highly traditional wines.
Mata do Buçaco, 3050-261 Luso, Coimbra | +351 231 937 970 | www.almeidahotels.pt


Top Portuguese chef Rui Paula has two contemporary restaurants along the Douro: DOP in Porto itself, and DOC further upstream in wine country. Both are superb.
Largo de São Domingos 18, 4050-545 Porto Estrada Nacional 222, 5110-204 Folgosa, Armamar | +351 222 014 313 | +351 254 858 123 | www.ruipaula.com

Castas e Pratos

Stylish wine bar based in a converted railway station in Régua in the Douro Valley, Castas e Pratos has one of the best wine lists in the region.
Avenida José Vasques Osório, 5050-280 Peso da Régua | +351 927 200 010 | www.castasepratos.com

Vintage House Hotel

One of the world’s finest wine-led hotels, Vintage House has been beautifully and sensitively furnished, in keeping with its 18th-century heritage. The Rabelo Restaurant, with its modern take on local Douro cuisine, is worth a visit even for non-guests.
Rua António Manuel Saraiva, 5085-034 Pinhão | +351 220 133 137 | www.vintagehousehotel.com

A Serenada

Some 13km (8 miles) from the Alentejo coast, a beautifully situated, small, modern guest house amid the vines and olive groves, offering wine workshops and tours.
RIC 1265, Outeiro André, Sobreiras Altas, 7570-345 Grândola | +351 269 498 014 | www.serenada.pt

For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.

Blandy’s Wine Lodge

A splendid set of old cellars in the center of Funchal, the Blandy family’s lodge includes a museum, bistro and wine shop, and offers a variety of tours.
Avenida Arriaga 28, 9000-064 Funchal, Madeira| +351 291 228 978 | www.blandyswinelodge.com

Adega Viúva Gomes

In the Colares region, Adega Viúvia Gomes offers a taste of tradition and some of the most ancient grape varieties in Portugal, which are grown along the coastline, giving the wines, aged in large foudra in the atmospheric old barrel room, their famous distinctly salty character.
Largo Comendador Gomes da Silva, 2 e 3 Almoçageme, 2705-041 Colares | +351 219 290 903 | www.adegaviuvagomes.com

Casal Santa Maria

The most westerly winery in Europe is known for experimenting with both international and traditional grape varieties. Set right by the Atlantic, it offers some stunning sea views.
Rua Principal Casas Novas 18/20, 2705-177 Colares| +351 219 292 117 | www.casalstamaria.pt

Quinta do Soalheiro

This family producer in Vinho Verde has made its name as a specialist in Alvarinho and offers tastings and lunches at its beautiful estate in Melgaço near the Galician border.
Melgaço, 4960-010 Alvaredo | +351 251 416 769 | www.soalheiro.com

Herdade da Malhadinha Nova

This award-winning Alentejo producer has wine tourism at the heart of its business, offering an acclaimed boutique hotel and restaurant as well as a variety of different visit options.
7800-601 Albernôa, Beja | +351 284 965 210 | www.malhadinhanova.pt

Quinta do Bomfim

The Symington family has two of the best options for visiting in the Douro: the delightful visitor center at Bomfim in Pinhão, and the fine Graham’s lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia.
5085-060 Pinhão, Alijó | +351 254 730 370 | www.symington.com

Quinta do Vallado

With a boutique wine hotel and manor house for hire on site, Quinta do Vallado also welcomes visitors to its stylish, modern winery in a beautiful setting in Régua.
Vilarinho dos Freires, 5040-364 Peso da Régua | +351 254 318 081 | www.quintadovallado.com

Quinta do Panascal

One of the first Douro producers to open its doors to tourists, Fonseca’s beautiful quinta offers wine and food matching and multi-lingual audio tours of the vineyards.
5120-496 Valença do Douro | +351 254 732 321 | www.fonseca.pt

Herdade do Esporão

One of the great names of Portuguese wine, Esporão is also one of the country’s best for wine tourism, with a restaurant, range of tours, and an architectural center.
Apartado 31, Reguengos de Monsaraz 7200-203 | +351 266 509 280 | www.esporao.com

Filipa Pato & William Wouters

You’ll need to book in advance to meet two of the stars of modern Portuguese wine, Filipa Pato and her husband William Wouters, at their small operation in Bairrada.
Rua de Sto André 41, 3780-502 Óis do Bairro | +351 231 516 041 | www.patowouters.com