Staff Review

The Douro Valley & Oporto

by The Kirker Team

I couldn't believe that during my many travels and adventures Portugal had managed to escape my bucket list so far. Easy direct flights from all over the UK, stunning coastlines, vibrant cities and who could forget the Port?'I finally got to explore this diverse and beautiful country this summer; starting off in the relatively untrodden and unspoilt Douro Valley.'Picking up a car directly from the airport I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at our first destination, the new Six Senses hotel in only one and a half hours. The scenery is stunning and the hotel is idyllically located just across the river from the small city of Regua. Luscious green valleys and the Duoro River set the scene and it makes for a perfect place to relax and unwind. This recently opened hotel is more contemporary in style and provides all features for a modern getaway - an excellent spa, wine library and both an indoor and outdoor swimming pools. 'If, however, you are hoping to really disconnect from the modern world then you can delve a little further into this region. About an hour away from the Six Senses perched high in the hills and surrounded by vineyards sits the charming Quinta Nova. With only eleven rooms this is more of a home from home. Views are second to none across the valley, and this characterful traditional manor house sits within its own relaxing gardens. A car would be necessary here, as you cannot reach a local town without a hike. The hotel features a small pool, but the real draw is the beautiful walking trails and outdoor activities you can do from here. It is also worth noting that the further you travel into the Duoro Valley the more charm and authenticity the region retains. The roads become a little smaller and windier making these hotels inaccessible to the tourists who typically travel by coaches in mass.'The last hotel I saw in this region was just a little further along the river. The Vintage House sits directly in the small town of Pinhao and is a traditional property filled with character. Its location suits those who like to have the choice to dine at other restaurants without driving to them. The location right next to the station also means you can travel to this property by rail directly from Oporto, and therefore car hire is not necessarily needed. 'The Duoro Valley stunned me with its natural beauty and I was amazed at how unspoilt the whole region felt. You can do boat rides down the river, wine tasting in its many vineyards or walk through its beautiful landscapes. There is a great amount the region can offer, and at present it doesn't suffer the same downfall of overcrowding as many other destinations do. Travelling in the peak season I was able to feel relaxed in the destination rather than fighting against the crowds - it made for a wonderful and welcome change. 'After leaving the Duoro Valley I went to visit Oporto. Again another destination that I feel is currently neglectfully overlooked by the tourist market. Being the second biggest city in Portugal and one of the oldest European centres, its historical core was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. Local bars and restaurants are dotted along the river front and provide the life and buzz to the city. I stayed at the Yeatmen Hotel, which is arguably one of the best hotels in town. Sitting high up across the banks of the river this purpose built hotel provides glorious views of Oporto city. Their Michelin-starred restaurant as well as all rooms in the hotel boast this stunning view. However, being located on the other side of the river does mean it is a steep walk downhill or short taxi ride, to the old town. Other hotels such as the Pestana Porto or Infante De Sagres are well located in the centre of Oporto, offering style and character in an excellent location.'Oporto is a lively and vibrant city and is an excellent choice for any Port lover. Being the primary region for distributing and exporting this fortified wine in Portugal, Oporto is now home to many famous Port houses. Port tasting and cellar tours are a great way to experience the vast selection of ports the country is famous for and can be arranged in advance by Charlie Dyson, the Kirker Concierge.'Although Oporto sits in the north of the country it is well connected to Lisbon and the south. The drive between the cities is very easy or alternatively the direct train service takes less than 3 hours between the two. Lisbon itself is an energetic and dynamic city full of culture, art and great restaurants. It has a faster pace of life than the north of the country and as a destination it compliments Oporto as an excellent twin centre holiday.'Portugal proved to be a culturally interesting and scenically beautiful destination. Although it is a small country it is still able to cater for all types of holiday, whether it is gastronomic, cultural or relaxation. The cost of living and ease of travel throughout the country should appeal to any tourist and I look forward to my next trip here.

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