Cycling in Douro, Portugal: History, wine, and culture
This blog post was provided by tour operator partner Live Love Ride – Portugal Bike Tours.
Road cycling is a great way to discover the Douro region of Portugal. The perfect tarmac, winding roads, and great wine hotels can make for a beautiful bike tour in the world’s first demarcated region. Here are a few highlights of cycling in Douro. (See our tour here!)
Bike tour in the Douro river – what is it like to ride one of the world’s best wine countries?
Riding in the Douro region, the world’s first demarcated wine region of the world, you’ll get to experience the best the country has to offer. This region’s history goes back to nearly 30,000 years ago, which can now be observed in Foz Côa, a nominated UNESCO world heritage site for its traditional “socalcos,” the man-made terraced vineyards that are common in the slopes of the river banks.
This is a privileged region for producing wine: the soil, temperature, and humidity of the river provide unique conditions – so much so that Wine Spectator nominated the Dow’s Vintage Port as the best wine in the world in 2014. The best way to reach this region is to fly to Porto, the second largest city in Portugal and UNESCO world heritage site, and where tours start.
This region is challenging for road cycling: all the roads by the river are flat, but once you start moving away from the Douro, it’s all uphill. You can easily climb up to 2000 meters in 40km, which can be challenging for the more inexperienced cyclists. But, the tarmac is in great condition and the average incline is medium. With a bit of patience and determination, anyone can ride along these 7 to 10 km climbs with an incline of 6%. And, the views are worth it! Viewpoints like São Salvador do Mundo and Casais de Loivos provide great views of the river and the wine terraces.
You’ll find amazing roads between Porto and Freixo de Espada à Cinta, especially between Peso da Régua and Foz Côa. Riding the N222, voted the world’s best road by Avis, is an unforgettable experience. Its winding and flat profile by the Douro river make it a great warm up or cool down from a big ride.
You can complement your cycling experience with a boat ride along the Douro river
History around every turn
You’ll find history everywhere. After all, this northern region is the cradle of the country, and from where the support came so that D. Afonso Henriques, “The Conqueror,” could defeat his own mother and start adding new territory to the south. The north is therefore known for its castles, medieval fortresses and deep connection with the Portuguese roots. Visiting the Douro museum in Peso da Régua is a great way of getting to know the region. The river itself is part of history: as the wine was produced, the river was used as a “highway” to transport it towards Gaia and Porto, for aging in the wine cellars. The wines would stay there for several years before being shipped all over the world.
Agriculture is what the Douro is known for and especially wine, as it’s the birthplace of the famous port wine, although the red and white wines in this region are known for being fruity and light. Olives, almonds, and cherries make up some of the region’s main produce. And it’s all because of the micro-climate, which makes it similar to the Mediterranean, although Portugal is not bathed by that sea. Add the soil (schist) and the river, and you get a vibrant, fresh place with great temperature for growing grapes and for riding.
Great hotels and accommodations can be found everywhere, as tourism is important to the region. Late castles from the 12th century now hold amazing rural tourism projects in which guests are allowed to have a deeper and richer experience, as they get to know the owners of the house, walk through their vineyards, and enjoy a unique feel in the region. Most wine farms have their own wine hotel too.
Quinta da Pacheca is an amazing and charming wine hotel by Peso da Régua that is great to plan your cycling holidays from.
Eat, ride, and be merry
Gastronomy is a plus, too. The Douro region is known for great food, especially hearty, meaty plates. “Enchidos” like the “chorizos” and smoked sausages are the trademark of the Douro, as are the lamb, goatling, seared octopus, and the amazing desserts of the region.
Road cycling is one of the best ways to get to know the area, as it is mostly car-free and adds a more authentic feel to the experience. If you go cycling in the Douro, you can stop at the farms, get to know the locals, and relax at your own pace.