Portugal's Beautiful Douro Valley in a Motorhome
Our final few days in Portugal were some of our favorites. A couple of years ago we visited the lovely city of Porto. At the time our Bed & Breakfast host told us we should visit the Douro Valley. He showed us sumptuous pictures of the lush vineyards along a beautiful river where he ran small intimate tours from Porto. We didn't have time on that visit to go but we vowed to come back. Well we never quite made it back to do a tour with him but a couple of years later we did make it with our motorhome.
We based ourselves at the camper area at Peso da Régua. For just 3 Euros a night you can plug in, have your own water supply and drain while enjoying lovely views of the Douro River out of your window. If that's a little too much to pay :-) or you want to be right on the riverbank you can park for free without the hook ups a little further down the hill. We decided to give the good people of the town our 3 Euros in return for providing such a great camping area. The town itself is very pleasant and has a great little stretch of shops and restaurants in converted railway buildings a short walk up the hill from the camper area. We had an outstanding meal at Castos e Pratos and also did a wine tasting at the Gato Preto wine store next door.
We liked our spot so much we were reluctant to move. But we did want to visit Pinhão as we had heard great things about the journey along the river from Peso da Régua. Then we realized we could get there by train, that way we both get to enjoy the scenery and we didn't need to leave our sweet spot. If you decided to take the train, a few words of advice. Firstly, it is indeed a fantastically scenic journey so try and get a seat on the river side of the train. You will be astounded by the views. Secondly, and more importantly, it is a very infrequent service. Check the timetable when you arrive and be sure to set an alarm reminder to catch the return journey or you will be sleeping under the stars unable to get home.
Smaller than Peso da Régua, Pinhão is more of a tourist hub. We took one of the many boat rides on offer which was well worth it to get the amazing views along the river. The beautiful wooden boats called Rabelos are mostly replicas. Before the railway was constructed the originals traditionally transported port wine along the river to Porto for export but these days they ferry tourists like us up and down some of the most beautiful stretch of water you will find anywhere.
After the boat trip we visited Quinta do Bomfim to taste some of the local wine. This place is mostly about port but we had learned a lot and sampled many ports during our visit to Porto a few years ago. We opted for some of their table wine instead. We enjoyed a glass each of the local red but, since the day was warm and we needed something refreshing as we baked in the afternoon sun, we also decided to try a Port & Tonic. It is made with dry, white port and just like a G&T it is served long over ice. It’s delicious and now officially one of our new favorites.
Our final stop in the area was in the beautiful city of Guimaraes. We stayed in a free parking spot near the cable car station where we could walk to the centro. Another beautiful city, it made an excellent first impression on us with its flower filled boulevard. We were similarly taken with the lovely historic center with rambling streets and cozy bars and restaurants. It was an excellent last stop in Portugal.
In our Algarve post from three weeks ago I described how we had not fallen for Portugal during our previous visit. So how do we feel now after exploring more of the country? Well, not everywhere you visit can be your favorite place; that's just not how favorites work. We didn't dislike Portugal, it's just not our favorite place. We did love Porto Covo and the Duoro Valley and we did enjoy Porto and Sintra when we visited a few years ago. But overall the country is just not somewhere we truly love, not in the way we love Spain or Italy or California or Mexico. I know many people rave about Portugal and I can definitely see it's charm but it just didn't click with us in the same way.
We will return in the future as there are still many places we want to see. It helps that the wine is terrific and as a side note I am quite partial to a Pastel de Nata. It's been a fun few weeks with lots of great memories. Now onward to parts of Spain so far unexplored by us; Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria.
Recommendations & Tips
Where we stayed. We actually just stayed put in Peso da Régua and took the train to Pinhao, but it is perfectly feasible to drive this stretch of the Douro, and there is free parking near the water in Pinhao.
27. Peso da Régua Estacao de autocarros . 3 Euro includes electric, water and a drain at the site. Or you can stay for free at the waters edge without the electric. Pay at the little bar under the bridge. GPS 41.15559, -7.78008
28. Free Parking at Guimaraes cable car. There are a few spots and a motorhome service point, but we, like everyone else there, parked over at the large gravel spot opposite. GPS: 41.44069, -8.28554
You can always find details of where we stay on our overnight stays map.
Drivability: The roads heading to Peso from the south are quite windy, but perfectly passable and very scenic. We chose to leave Peso heading west on the N108 to then pick up the N101 to Amarante and found it quite a challenging drive. Passable but with some crazy drivers heading the other way, it ended up being a stressful stretch of road. If we do the journey again we will head north towards Vila Real instead.
Boat trip in Pinhao: When we were there in April there were plenty of Rabelo operators and a boat leaves every 30 minutes throughout the day. We chose an hour trip for 8 Euro. You can also take a trip for two hours for 20 Euro, including a glass of Port.