Jo’s Blog: The Douro Valley, Porto and Madeira


The Douro River
The Douro River

The government’s green list announcement in early May was pretty underwhelming and didn’t do a great deal to excite travellers desperate for some kind of break to sunnier climes.


However, Portugal was one of those countries that's now accessible, subject to necessary requirements, and if you are keen to get away sooner rather than later and would prefer to escape the UK holidaymakers headed for the Algarve, then a couple of my favourites may well float your boat, especially for the oenophiles amongst us.


The Douro River is a major waterway that flows from Spain and across the entire Douro River Valley in the Northern Portuguese countryside. It is known for its tranquillity and showcases Portugal’s stunning river-based cities, from vibrant Pinhão to the fabulous old-world city of Porto.


Porto
Porto

Perched on a hillside overlooking the river, Porto is a fantastic city. From one vantage point, the pastel-shaded houses with vibrant tiled facades appear to tumble down the hillside to the buzzing waterfront. From another, 2,000 years of history unfold. The historic centre has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, honouring a place where vibrant contemporary living meets traditional culture.


Porto is, of course, the home of port wine, and no visit would be complete without a trip to one of the wine lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. The traditional rabelo boats still sail the Douro laden with barrels on their way to and from the wine lodges. If you visit in early Autumn, you should be lucky enough to experience the harvest.


Located in an incredible setting in the Douro Valley, Six Senses is surrounded by ancient vineyards; wine lovers will be in heaven here. From the beautiful chandeliers made of wine bottles to the unique Wine Library & Terrace, this is a place to sample some of the world's most rare and entrancing vintages.


Throughout the hotel, including its guest rooms, suites and villas, the decor is chic and modern with large windows to take in the spectacular views on every side.


Quinta Deluxe Suites at Six Senses
Quinta Deluxe Suites at Six Senses

Typically for a Six Senses property, the spa is a real feature, with its expansive indoor pool and floor to ceiling viewings of the valley plus ten treatment rooms for indulgent massages and other treatments.


Dining is a delight, with a bar serving tapas and two à la carte restaurants featuring seasonal vegetables grown in the organic garden.


There is an emphasis on sustainable luxury throughout, with innovative use of cork flooring and beautiful chandeliers made from wine bottles lending a sense of place, whilst also 'upcycling' in an environmentally conscious style.


This attention to detail characterises what is a truly special Portuguese hotel.


Madeira Botanical Garden
Madeira Botanical Garden

I've had some fabulous trips to Portugal but I've yet to conquer Madeira and it's always been on my list, green or otherwise. It’s the closest subtropical island to northern Europe, west of Morocco, and under four hours flying time from the UK.


Blossoming orchids, bougainvillea, birds of paradise and jacaranda compete with flowering trees to add spectacular bursts of colour to a landscape where windswept mountain peaks, soaring cliffs and emerald valleys are framed by stunning coastal views.


The mild climate gives a high chance of good weather. In the south, the weather is warm and pleasant all year round but on mountainous terrain, you can expect occasional rain.


Early summer is a good time to see the island in bloom; autumn is a good time to escape chilly northern Europe and during Christmas and New Year the climate is pleasant, and Funchal is lit up spectacularly with lights and fireworks.


Whether your taste runs to gentle walks or more serious hiking, walkers of all ages and abilities can enjoy some of the finest countryside in the world.


Youthful and more adventurous travellers can choose between climbing, diving and horse riding whilst sporty types can play a round of golf, indulge a passion for surfing or deep-sea fishing.


Black scabbard fish with banana
Black scabbard fish with banana

With a ready supply of superb fish, locally grown vegetables and no end of tasty fresh fruit, it’s easy to eat healthily and heartily in Madeira. The most popular fish is the locally caught espada, or scabbard fish. The white, soft and succulent flesh served with banana or lemon is an inescapable feature of island cuisine. For dessert, the local bolo de mel, Madeira honey cake, made from molasses, is dark and delicious.


Madeira wine grapes
Madeira wine grapes

And, of course, one of the great treats here is the chance to sample some fine wines. There are four types of Madeira, each named after the grape that gives each wine its flavour.


The island's enduring appeal is an absence of man-made attractions and an abundance of natural ones making it a great holiday destination for those seeking recreation or relaxation.


Reid's Palace
Reid's Palace

For where to stay in Madeira, the historic gem Reid’s Palace, a Belmond Hotel, is the pick of the crop.


Set on cliffs overlooking Funchal harbour and the Atlantic, this glamorous hotel has been playing host to the rich and famous for years. It was here that Sir Winston Churchill wrote his war memoirs and where Sir George Bernard Shaw learned how to tango.


Although it has recently undergone many outstanding improvements, the grand colonial-style property still possesses old-world charm and an impeccable reputation for excellence.


Showcasing local, seasonal cuisine, Reid’s Palace also boasts some of the best restaurants in Funchal.


The Michelin-starred William Restaurant is a destination itself, with a menu celebrating the finest produce from the island to be enjoyed alongside panoramic views of the dramatic coastline, whilst the alfresco terrace of Ristorante Villa Cipriani is the perfect place to settle back with a glass of wine, soak in the view and choose from a menu that offers a slice of Italian life on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.



A superb spa offers a varied menu of therapies, including the indoor-outdoor therapy suite with a private jacuzzi for something extra special.


There are plenty of leisure activities to enjoy with tennis courts, swimming pools, golf and watersports, whilst youngsters are well catered for at the Fun at Reid's Children's Club.


Please contact me for further information on Portugal, the featured destinations and hotels or recommended alternatives.



#madeira #wine #citybreaks #dourovalley #porto