Explore Porto and the Rio Douro
The Douro river route is one of the great European journeys, a careering 200-kilometre ride or stately cruise from Porto to the Spanish border. The full river journey there and back is in a class of its own, and pricey, all-inclusive cruises can take as long as a week, though short tours from Porto or Peso da Régua give you a flavour of the river. In many ways the train is best, though you’ll have a lot more scope in a car to visit wineries, stay in rural quintas en route and hang around at the majestic dams to watch the boats come through the locks. Be warned that the roads are very winding and often fairly precipitous, though they are all in good condition. It can also take much longer than you think to get from A to B, so give yourself plenty of time.
You can drive all the way from Porto, following the N108, though in reality the first 40km or so is nothing special. Things pick up at Entre-os-Rios (“between the rivers”), 12km south of Penafiel, which is the point at which the Douro and Tâmega rivers meet. Stick to the N108 along the north bank and the road is set a fair way inland of the river for much of the route, though you’ll get some stunning views at times before finally descending to Peso da Régua, 80km and a good couple of hours later.
If you cross the bridge at Entre-os-Rios to the south bank of the Douro, you’re in for a treat of a drive along the increasingly picturesque N222. It’s undoubtedly one of those “best in Portugal” routes, with the most compelling section the 40km or so between Cinfães and Peso da Régua, where the road hugs the terraced hills high above the glinting river. There’s the occasional panoramic café, and iron gates at intervals announcing venerable quintas tucked into the hillside folds, while at the sleepy spa town of Caldas de Aregos, where the Douro has been dammed, there’s a whiff of sulphur in the air, a quayside marina and an outdoor café. The settlements beyond nearly all boast a Romanesque church, the most significant being Santa Maria de Carquere, a twisting 5km above the small town of Resende. Part of a convent dating back as early as 1099, this is now set amid family vineyards, with extensive views across the rolling hills beyond. The N222 eventually descends to Peso da Régua (though you can also cut south over the hills on the N226 to reach Lamego) and then embarks on its straightest but most river-hugging section, the relatively quick 25km to Pinhão.
Beyond Pinhão, roads on either side climb away from the river and as far as following the Douro is concerned it’s trains only, on to the halts of Tua and Pocinho.Read More