The Douro Valley during the wine-making season, what with excellent food and tastings of Porto

October is the perfect month to visit the Portuguese wine heaven. Our recommendations, using the magnificent resort Six Senses as our base, where we met Marc Lorés, a chef of great value

16-10-2020
The magnificent Douro Valley with Six Senses Dour

The magnificent Douro Valley with Six Senses Douro Valley. The resort is a perfect starting point to discover one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. October is the perfect season to do so. Here are our recommendations...

It's a fantastic season, the best of the year, to enjoy a few days in the Douro Valley, one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, a Unesco world heritage, a pride for Portugal, an Eden for lovers of wine, nature, fine food and tranquillity. Very cheap flights, Covid-19 under control (it has never hit the north of the country too hard, there are no restrictions for tourists coming or going), nice weather, vineyards – some 45'000 hectares – at the end of the harvest: you can participate in many activities connected with the harvest of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Rabigato, Codega, Malvasia Fina, Malvasia Rei, Carrega Branco, just to mention the most precious grape varieties… In other words, this is an ideal setting, even if only for a short break or a long weekend of absolute pleasure. For the palate, of course.

A view of Douro

A view of Douro

The first stop we recommend, perhaps driving from Porto, is at the historic Confeitaria da Ponte, a fine pastry-shop established in 1930, one of the points of reference in the docaria conventual, we wrote about it here, years ago, fantastic. In front of the windows of the Confeitaria you can't make up your mind: every option is marvellous, the quality is very high. It's in Amarante, an elegant town where pilgrims devoted to San Gonçalo go, he's a sort of local Saint Valentine (but only beatified by the Church) and a destination for unmarried men and women who come here to buy the propitious and traditional penis-shaped pastries.

Confeitaria da Ponte and its exceptional pastries, in Amarante

Confeitaria da Ponte and its exceptional pastries, in Amarante

Confeitaria da Ponte overlooks – with a nice dehors – the Tâmega, the longest tributary of the Douro river, that is to say the backbone of this magical wine valley; it is born under the name of Duero in Spain, in the province of Soria, in the autonomous community of Castiglia y León; then with its 897 km (it's the third longest river of the peninsula) it covers 572 km in Spain, marks the border with Portugal for as many as 112 km, while its 213 km Portuguese stretch is the subject of our interest.

Amarante is only 45 minutes from Porto and as many from Six Senses Douro Valley, our destination and marvellous base to visit the region. It's an estate from the 19th century, beautifully renovated and converted into a hotel in 2007. It's on a hill overlooking the vineyards of the valley and the river below. It's a high standard hospitality place – we're not in high season now, the prices are very reasonable– and it's part of the Six Senses group, based in Thailand, which includes 16 5-star hotels and resorts in Asia and Europe, with a location also in the Seychelles, so also in Africa.

The Six Senses Douro Valley surrounded by nature 

The Six Senses Douro Valley surrounded by nature 

This place is a dream, with splendid woods and wide landscapes. The area has some 3,500 protected botanical species, hence the Six Senses Douro Valley protects and makes available to its guests a wood of 4 hectares, with the commitment of safeguarding the environment, with organic gardens and naturalistic paths.

The 60 rooms, all finely designed, are the perfect starting point to visit the surrounding area, perhaps on board one of the many boats that run down the river. However, we have also discovered many other things. Like the cuisine of executive chef Marc Lorés Panadés, born in Lleida, Catalonia, 36, who trained in iconic Spanish restaurants (elBulliMugaritz) and then left for a trip around the world to Austria, England, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Bali… His cuisine is based on products, with few ingredients, and is very contemporary; a celebration of the region, with many products coming from the surroundings and especially from the three vegetable gardens within the estate, which guarantee a supply of delicious vegetable and aromatic herbs throughout the year.

The executive chef Marc Lorés Panadés

The executive chef Marc Lorés Panadés

The dishes are therefore an ode to nature and seasonality; we liked the light touch of the chef very much, his culinary intelligence that blends the local products with his Spanish training. For instance, his Calamari and rice, that is to say “almost a paella”, crunchy and very tasty, was exceptional, enhanced by the aroma of the juice of carabineiro and coriander: a great dish. The same goes for the Smoked papaya with ginger oil, coconut and chilli pepper, a clear memory of his past in Thailand where he also met his wife, who drew him to a vegetarian choice, hence his special liking for vegetables.

As for the meat, his Rubia gallega (matured 40 days) with quenelle of roasted carrots and courgettes, is a masterpiece of taste and products; it's the last savoury dish in a menu that then includes an original tiramisu. Marc won the Negrini Creative Cuisine award at Madrid Fusión, in 2012, with a Paisaje terroso de tiramisù, that is to say Landscape of tiramisu in which he gave his take on the famous Italian dessert in different ways, with burrata gelato; an original inspiration that led to Woods of mushrooms, which he presented in the same contest four years later, and we tasted at Six Senses: a sort of tiramisu, with zabaglione with Porto, pumpkin, cream of shiitake, hazelnut caramel.

Calamari and rice 

Calamari and rice 

Smoked papaya with ginger oil, coconut and chilli pepper 

Smoked papaya with ginger oil, coconut and chilli pepper 

Rubia gallega with quenelle of roasted carrots and courgettes 

Rubia gallega with quenelle of roasted carrots and courgettes 

Wood of mushrooms

Wood of mushrooms

The resort also offers the chance to enjoy a spectacular breakfast, of the highest quality, a cornucopia of sweets, fruits and savoury dishes prepared on the spot (eggs Benedict; toast of avocado from Algarve, broccoli, poached eggs and smoked paprika; creamy omelette with herbs from their garden, which you will want again and again... And so on, a memorable breakfast in terms of quality and quantity); or a tasting of Porto, which they organise every night with bottles of the highest quality from the rich cellar; or enjoy the 2'200 square metre spa area, perhaps while swimming in the indoor swimming pool overlooking the garden; or discover the Alchemy Bar where the herbs from the garden, the grapes from the estate, the salt and all the fruits become aromatic potions for perfumes and tailor made cosmetics; or finally for at least a couple of trips to the surroundings.

Fantastic breakfast at the Six Senses

Fantastic breakfast at the Six Senses

The indoor swimming pool 

The indoor swimming pool 

Wine tasting

Wine tasting

The first trip we recommend is a visit to Casa de Mateus, a historic Baroque estate from the homonymous freguesia (a sort of town), in Vila Real, a 20-minutes' drive from  the resort. The building was designed in the 18th century by Italian architect Niccolò Nasoni from San Giovanni Valdarno, in the typical Portuguese baroque style, for the noble family of Mateus. It's beautiful, with rooms you can visit and show the opulence of the noble family; it's surrounded by beautiful gardens and famous all around the world because it's depicted on the labels of a wine that can be questionable, Mateus rosé, which has in fact nothing to do with the building and the surroundings, as the grapes don't come from here. The brand and the production (not local) were created in 1945 to attract north American and north-European consumers as their economies were growing fast.

Casa de Mateus

Casa de Mateus

The other trip we recommend is to Quinta do Bomfim, in the heart of the north Douro Valley, located in between temperate and Mediterranean climates, a 30 minutes' drive from Six Senses which can organise your transfer. It's one of the jewels in the crown of the wine production famous for Porto – with the rabelosthe boats that go up and down from Vila Nova de Gaia, next to the Ocean, in front of the homonymous town on the left bank of the Douro river, where the wines end up in the cellar for further ageing.

Quinta do Bomfim

Quinta do Bomfim

The cellar 

The cellar 

This quinta (which means “estate”, in English) of some 100 hectares belongs, since 1912 to the Symingtons, market leaders, who also own other famous brands like Graham, Dow'sWarre's, Cockburn's or Vesuvio. Today 30% of its production is dedicated to red wines, a growing sector which started only around 30 years ago; the larger market instead is always destined to the wines of Porto, in its typical varieties. During harvest time, visitors of Quinta do Bomfim can view the lively activity in the lagares, large pressing tanks in granite, from a special panoramic platform. The experience ends with a guided tasting that can culminate, as in our case, with a Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Porto 1995, extraordinary notes, huge body, delicious aromas of cassis balanced by strong tannins, a fantastic show of power and finesse.

A sort of super-concentrate of the emotions that the Douro Valley bestows.


THE LOCATIONS

Six Senses Douro Valley
Quinta Vale de Abrão, Samodães
Tel. +351 254 660600
sixsenses.com/en/resorts/douro-valley

 

 

Confeitaria da Ponte
Rua 31 de Janeiro 186, Amarante
Tel. +351 255 432034
facebook

 

 

Casa de Mateus
Fundação da Casa de Mateus, Mateus, Vila Real
Tel. +351 259 323121
casademateus.com

 

 

Quinta do Bomfim
PInhão, Alijo, Portugal
Tel. +351 254 730370
symington.com/vineyard/quinta-do-bomfim

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

 


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