IMG_2909Portugal was born in the North. And arriving in Porto, it feels like taking a step back in time. Red roof tiles tumble from hilltops to the riverfront, the cries of gulls wheel above the river and out to the sea, ancient streets tangle around buildings covered in tile that that saw new lands discovered, kings and queens come into power, and the creation of some of the finest wines on the planet. But make no mistake – Porto may have an ancient soul, but its pulse is every bit modern with some of the best small hotels in Europe.

Porto is often called Portugal’s second city, second in size to Lisbon. But where Lisbon is graceful and full of light, Porto is darker, faster, and an assault to the senses. You can feel the energy – the collision of old and new – in the streets. For me, the best way to explore Porto is to wander. Take time to explore the back streets, visit the Port wine houses, sample the distinct and delicious cuisine of Porto in the tascas, market and specialty stores, and spend the night in one of the best small hotels, historic and charming.

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Photo credit: Maureen McDermott Ferguson

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Photo credit: Maureen McDermott Ferguson

After a few days in Porto, head out of town to the Douro Valley. The rest of the world is just starting to catch on to what the Portuguese have always known – they make great wine. And much of the country’s best wine is made here, in the Douro Valley. The Douro Valley is the world’s first officially designated wine region. It’s known internationally of course for its Port wine, but some spectacular table wines are being made here as well. The scenery is breathtaking with steep-terraced vineyards carved into mountains, the curvaceous river reflecting its magical light, and century’s old quintas (farms), dotting the region

Here you can immerse yourself in winemaking history and culture. Take a guided walking tour or, during harvest time, tread grapes in granite fermentation tanks alongside workers. But there are many other activities available as well. Try one of the many trails along the Romanesque Route, an introduction to the art of embroidery, or a tasting of typical local products accompanied by the regional Vinho Verde.

The rugged beauty of the Douro Valley, the tradition of world-class wines, the thriving UNESCO world-heritage city of Porto and the verdant countryside and historical villages of the North of Portugal, make this a destination that will live inside your soul long after you leave.

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Photo credit: Maureen McDermott Ferguson

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Photo credit: Maureen McDermott Ferguson

To perfectly complement your visit, these are our picks of the best small hotels in the Douro Valley and the North of Portugal.

The Best Small Hotels in the North and Douro

1872 River House

In one of the most distinguished Oporto locations, the Ribeira, we find a and charming small hotel, an eight-room guesthouse that invites us to discover spectacular views over the Douro and Porto.

The building dates back to 1872 and opened its doors in 2014, after an intense remodeling process in which the house’s original details were kept intact.

Here the Douro River’s beauty will be your background, while the charming and lively historic center of the city of Porto (a UNESCO world heritage site) is at your doorstep.

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Photo credit: 1872 River House

 

Solar Egas Moniz

Part of the emblematic northern region, between Porto and Douro, Solar Egas Moniz welcomes you in a building with 120 years of history. This newly opened manor house has a familiar, intimate ambience and total comfort, where everything has been planned down to the last detail. This charming family-run guest house is inspired by the historic achievements of Egas Moniz, Tutor of D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, who is buried a few short meters from the house, in the Paço de Sousa monastery.

The beautifully renovated house is well-located to explore the Northern part of Portugal. The lovely city of Penafiel is a few minutes away, and its 242 years of history give it loads of history and charm, while the historical center is alive with spaces for eating and shopping. The lush surroundings make this the perfect getaway to relax and contemplate the quietness. This charming small hotel represents a different kind of tourism experience, one in which it feels as if you are coming home to old friends…

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Photo credit: Solar Egas Moniz

 

Vintage House Douro

Just a few meters from the Douro River, in the village of Pinhão village, is the charming Vintage House Douro. This lovely property, born from an old cellar, underwent intense refurbishment. Today it offers extremely comfortable and cozy accommodations together with outstanding views.

All of the rooms here face the Douro River and receive its magnificent light. Bask in the glow of a magnificent Douro Valley sunset. The hotel’s restaurant, Rabelo, offers a twist on typical Portuguese flavors with modern flair. For the wine lovers, Vintage House Douro has a Wine Academy which offers different wine experiences, including courses and tastings.

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Photo credit: Vintage House Douro

Morgadia da Calçada

In the Douro wine region, in the charming village of Provesende, the Morgadio da Calçada resides. This XVII century opened its doors in 2012 as a result of a careful and inspiring renovation. The environment retained the classic decoration and palatial style of an older time, while a more contemporary interpretation provides historical unity with distinguished and comfortable details.

The eight rooms that where built were once the stables of the House, and are decorated in a simple and contemporary style. Especially important to the owners, all materials are made in Portugal, including the mattresses, the wood, and the sheets. The ancient kitchen is now a cozy living room that on cold winter days warms hearts with the heat of the lit fireplace. For warmer days, the swimming pool, rebuilt in an old warehouse, is a beautiful counterpoint to the view over the vineyards. The farm also has a long and excellent tradition in the production of Port and table wine. While you are here, walk through the vineyards and explore the cellar and taste the nectars of the grapes.

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Photo credit: Moradia da Calçada

 

Quinta do Vallado

In the heart of the Douro region, lives the charming Quinta do Vallado, one of the oldest estates in the region and one of the best small hotels, famous for its distinctive production of Douro and Port Wines. In 2005 Quinta do Vallado decided to open doors to overnight guests, the result of the refurbishing of an eighteenth century house.

Its century-old vines and the quality of the wines produced here are the landmark of this legendary Quinta. You can stroll through the vineyards and be inspired by this idyllic setting, visit the winery and cellars, become familiar with the production process, and most importantly, taste the various wines of the Quinta. The Quinta offers a sensational range of body treatments and massages, one of the highlights being the wine therapy massage. Quinta do Vallado offers you the perfect retreat to enjoy the Douro on a typical estate with a winemaking tradition.

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Photo credit: Quinta do Vallado

Award winning travel blogger who dedicates his work to the soul and sense of place of the locations he has visited, the people he has met and the food he has tasted.