If you’ve been to Porto in Portugal you’ll probably have paid a visit to some of the port caves for a port tasting session. We had a fabulous tour at Graham’s Port Cellar. Here you’ll learn that the grapes are grown in a region called the Douro Valley. I did just that, and after falling a little bit in love with Porto, its wines and port, I was keen to take a closer look at the area where the grapes are cultivated before they’re transformed into port and wine. What better way to discover the region than by Douro Valley steam train followed by a boat trip – which is exactly how the barrels were originally transported to Vila Nova de Gaia for ageing in the port caves.
The Douro Valley Historic Steam Train
We started our journey at the station in Régua where the hulking, black 1925 Henschel & Son steam locomotive was impatiently hissing and steaming on the platform. A few last-minute checks were made. A drop of oil here, a smear of grease there, a whistle blast and we were ready to leave. We trundled out of the station gradually picking up speed and getting into an easy rhythm. As we headed out into the countryside the train let out an ear-piercing celebration blast, glad to be flying along the tracks again.
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The Douro River
We soon caught our first sight of the glistening Douro River lined by a beautiful landscape of billowing hills and steep, terraced vineyards spiked with Cyprus trees. Whitewashed quintas (wine estate homesteads) sit cushioned amongst the lush green terraces.
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I stood at the window watching the scenery pass me by. Most of the line runs alongside the Douro River which wends its way along the valley floor reflecting the colours and curves of the landscape. I had the feeling that the views probably hadn’t changed that much since the river-hugging track was finished back in 1887. What a magical journey.
The Douro Valley is the first officially designated wine region in the world and also a World Heritage site. It has the perfect climate for cultivating grapes with the earth soaking up the heat during the hot, sunny days and retaining the heat to keep the vines warm overnight.
There are three classes of carriage; first, second and third and I sat myself in third class with the hard wooden benches, mainly because I wanted to check out the viewing platform at the back. I got some great uninterrupted views of the track and river as we clattered along.
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Pinhão Station, Douro Valley
The historic train runs from Régua to Tua and back and takes around one hour 15 minutes each way. We got off around half way through the journey at Pinhão station. The pretty little station is decorated with blue and white Azulejo tiles so it’s worth checking out if you love these Portugese tiles. Through a little gate on the platform is Vintage House Hotel which is a great spot for lunch right on the river.
Pinhão train station – Photo credit Alan Metheringham
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There are many wine cellars and warehouses in Pinhão. Quinta da Roêda estate, which is part of Croft, offer tastings, walking tours and, during the harvest, grape treading. We didn’t have time to take a look as we had a boat to catch. From Pinhão and the Vintage House Hotel we walk a few metres down the river to the jetty to take an hour-long boat trip back down to Régua.
A Douro River Boat Trip
Port barrels were originally transported by flat-bottomed barcos rabelo boats on a dangerous journey up river to the Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. It seemed fitting to take a boat ride and it was a relaxing way to soak up the Douro’s stunning scenery. Sitting right in the middle of the river at the lowest point in the valley with vibrant green hills on both sides and surrounded by the beauty of the valley is a picture I’ll always remember.
A whistle sounds in the distance and the steam train appears around a bend and clatters past us on its return journey. As the smoke billows in its wake it’s wonderful to see the train steaming along in all its glory against the valley backdrop. I can’t help but smile to myself as it disappears into the green.
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Douro Valley Historic Train Information
In 2016 the train runs as follows:
Saturdays, between 4 June and 22 October 2016
Sundays, between 3 July and 25 Sptember 2016
Wednesdays, between 3 and 31 August 2016
Monday, 15 August 2016
You can find more details, times prices and booking information here Scroll to the bottom of the page for the historical train info.