We had a busy 3 days in Porto. It was great to see the beautiful city. We did a small riverboat tour on the Douro River in Porto to see the 6 bridges. It was now time to head up the Douro River into the valley and see the countryside. When we plugged our hotel into the GPS, it was about a 90 minute drive. But the GPS had the route along the highway. We planned on driving along the Douro River Valley and not on the highway!
When we initially started planning our stay in Porto, we looked at doing a Douro River cruise. There were many options. Some were only one day. You cruise up the Douro River for a day to Regua and then take a late night train back. Some go a little further up the river and you spend one night in a hotel (at either Regua or Pinhao). Many people do longer Douro River cruises for 5 to 10 days. We finally decided that driving along the Douro River would get us the view of the river. It would let us meander at a slow pace to enjoy wine country.
David left our hotel in Porto and said he would be back in an hour with the rental car. When he did not return in 90 minutes I started to get worried. At 2 hours I was in a panic. When he finally showed up, I was just happy to see him safe and sound. We got another lesson in renting a car in Portugal. Never assume they will honour the online rate! It took forever to try to try to get the correct rate and finally David gave up. Some battles will not be won at the pickup counter.
We finally got a waypoint programmed into the GPS and my offline map app and headed off to find N108. Driving along the Douro River Valley on N108 would keep us close to the river for most of the way.
Starting Out On Lower Ground
The early part of N108 driving along the Douro River Valley was at the waters edge. We got a great view of the river and the riverbanks on either side. There were many small towns along the river with the characteristic red roofs. Every town had a church.
In most cases, it was pretty easy to follow N108. The turns and roundabouts were well marked. But then we hit an area where my map was not clear and the GPS seemed to get confused. There were two rivers. We crossed the wrong one and headed in the wrong direction. This gave us a great close view down into the river valley.
But luckily we managed to get ourselves turned back around and found N108 again. We were not done driving along the Douro River Valley!
Heading To High Ground
At about this point, the road started to wind its way higher and higher up the cliff sides of the Douro River. This gave us awesome high views driving along the Douro River Valley.
We sometimes had to drive inland to get around valleys before we headed back to the river. In some places we found marked parking spots or “miradouros” (viewpoints) to look out over the valley. Sometimes we stopped in a driveway. An abandoned convent and a church (Igreja S Lourenço do Douro) both provided stops with great views.
Occasionally we would see a boat on the river far below us. The boats could move far faster than we could on the twisty roads.
As we got higher, we also got closer to the vineyards. The grape vines were growing well in the fields but we did not see grapes yet in May.
Driving Along the Douro River Valley
What goes up must come down. Eventually the road started to wind its way back down. We were back to the water level driving along the Douro River Valley. At this point we also caught sight of the train track that runs along the river shore line.
At water level, we could now see the trellised wine vines going up the hill. While there were many small family owned fields, we also began to see the larger winery signs on the hills. It was a much different perspective being at water level than being high above the water.
Reaching Regua and Pinhao
We finally arrived at Regua. This is a key stopping point on Douro River water tours. Day trips often turn around here. The train from Regua will take you back to Porto. We could see a few river boats tied up at the dock.
At Regua we crossed the river and finally left N108. We got lucky when we got to the lock just outside of Regua. There was a riverboat just entering the lock far below us. We waited to watch the lock fill and the boat drive out on the higher side.
N322 ran along the other shore at water level to Pinhao. This was a much faster road and we were able to make up some time. Our hotel check in time had already passed.
We briefly looked around in Pinhao. We could see the large wine tasting rooms and a small town as we drove through. But we would not stop until we headed back through Pinhao on our way to visit Coimbra. There were still hills to climb before we stopped for the day.
Up The Hills To Provensende
Driving along the Douro River Valley on N322 provided a bit of a respite from the very twisty turns roads that had characterized most our drive that day.
But after N322 crossed the river in Pinhao it headed up into the hills. And we were back on mountain roads again. With one more push we finally turned onto the small N587 and followed the directions to our hotel.
We stayed in the Douro wine country in a small private country hotel (a “Quinta”) in the small hamlet of Provensende. It was a great way to finish our day driving along the Douro River Valley! We could look out from the hotel over the valley and see the stunning landscapes we had travelled. It was a great spot to spend a view days.
Did you choose driving along the Douro River Valley or did you go by boat? Would you like to try the driving route?