The Douro Valley may produce the world's most famous fortified wines, but this green, terraced canyon in northern Portugal has more going for it than sugary vino. Recent decades have seen a significant uptick in quality table wine varietals as the Douro moves from its port-dominated past toward a future that locals believe may see the region becoming an Iberian Napa and destination for oenotourists from all over the world.
The vineyard leading the charge is Quinta do Vallado, which sits in tiny Peso da Régua, a 90-minute drive east from Porto. Established in 1716, it bottled only ports until the early 1990s but has since squeezed bold, award-winning reds from new vines. The sprawling estate has now renovated its quaint five-room manor house and transformed its cellar into eight slick rooms with expansive valley views, creating the boutique Hotel Vallado, a slate-covered wine hotel with one foot in the past and another in Portugal's prayed-for future.
"Eight years ago, you'd come, you'd enjoy the great views, taste the wine, enjoy the food, and then you'd call it a day," says João Roquette Ribeiro, the sixth-generation winemaker at Vallado. "Now that we have the attention of consumers around the world, we had to create the facilities to keep people in the region."
Hotel Vallado is an ideal base for an excursion into this billowy landscape of terraced vineyards, but the temptation to simply hang out is hard to overcome. Breakfast is served outside, under a fig tree that attracts birds and travelers. The complimentary winery tour and tasting, which showcases centuries-old wine-making techniques as well as some of the most modern equipment in the industry, is an engaging way to pass the afternoon, and those wishing for a more immersive experience can participate in on-site blending exercises.
After so much drinking, the best way to relax is by drinking a bit more: A full-bodied Vallado Tinto pairs perfectly with the vine-circled in-ground pool.
More information: Because of Portugal's dire economic situation, a stay at the Quinta do Vallado is far more luxurious than expensive. Prices range from a low of $80/night in the manor house to $200/night in the modern inn. There are direct flights to Porto, coastal gateway to the Douro, from Newark, New Jersey, and Boston.