September and October are the best months in the Douro Valley: the light is golden, the vineyards are lush, the grapes are ripe and there is excitement in the air: it is Douro harvest time, a time when the whole valley is titillating with work and enthusiasm!
A unique time in the year when locals and visitors can happily mix in the hand-picking and grape crushing of the world-famous Port wines and of the rich, smooth Douro Reds. A time for a festivity – and a hard-working one! – which is attracting more and more visitors each year, charmed by the breathtaking beauty of the valley’s terraced slopes where men walk through vineyards carrying baskets of grapes on their backs, whilst women sing songs linked to this festive period.
So we headed to one of Portugal’s national treasures – a UNESCO site since 2001 – looking forward to a time of merriment, good wine and good gastronomy. Because September, besides harvest, is also a month for local festivals, such as the acclaimed Douro Film Harvest, now in its 6th edition, and for the typical “romarias”, namely the ones dedicated to Our Lady of the Remedies and Our Lady of Lapa, in the municipality of Lamego.
It is in September that thousands of local people and foreign visitors flock to Lamego, a city dating from Roman times, rich in churches and crested manor houses, to watch the processions and taste the delicious enchidos (a type of sausage) and traditional sweets and savouries. Check the ones from Lamego’s “Dalila” patisserie! You won’t be disappointed. Or, if you are of the gourmet type, head to smart restaurants such as the “Doc” or “Castas & Pratos” a little further away, in Peso da Régua. On the other hand, you will find many rustic small restaurants (“tascas”) a little bit everywhere. In these you will taste authentic, hearty meals for very friendly prices. Check them out, they are worth visiting as they are so genuine.
Vila Nova de Foz-Côa, São João da Pesqueira, Pinhão, Mesão Frio, São Pedro de Balsemão are sites worth visiting for their cultural and natural interest. We reached them driving along mountainous, winding roads where little belvederes made of wood make the perfect setting to stop and admire the surrounding countryside. Along the way, we came across some groups of muscled cyclists – apparently there are more and more of these groups – zigzagging incredibly steep roads …aouch!….
Apart from some excellent hotels, many Douro wine estates have now turned their own manor houses into charming inns, boutique hotels and delightful b&b’s, especially during harvest. One of them is the Quinta do Vallado wine producer and boutique hotel, one of the oldest estates in the region, famous for its production of top quality wines and for its offer of delicious gastronomy based on the estate’s own produce. Another one is the Morgadio da Calçada Manor House, a renovated 17th century palace and wine property. In both cases, visits to the cellars and strolls in the vineyards are a “must” do. They also offer attractive programs for overnight stays which, apart from the actual grape picking amidst the workers in the vineyards also include the “ultimate” harvest experience,,i.e, the feet-crushing of grapes. What an experience to feel the warm liquid squeezing beneath our feet whilst we hang on in a circle with friends and locals! Nowadays, some estates are even offering the possibility to buy the wine crushed with one’s own feet!
Activities related to wine obviously abound throughout the season and they include visits to grand wine estates, wine tastings in rooms with sweeping views over the valley, traditional local gastronomy, typical rustic harvest dinners, wine auctions, wine tasting workshops, tastings mixing wine with cheese and chocolate, typical dance evenings which gather locals and visitors, boat or canoe trips in the river, picnics …so much to choose from in the Douro Valley!