-the world as I see it
With its rich history of viticulture spanning over two millennia – yes, 2000 (NOT 200) years of wine production- the Douro valley has rightfully earned its place in the UNESCO world heritage list of cultural landscapes. The region is widely acclaimed for producing top quality wines, of which Port wine is the most famous. The Douro river that irrigates the valley, originates in Spain, where it is called the ‘Duero’ and flows across the breadth of Northern Portugal, draining into the Atlantic Ocean at Porto.
Why the name ‘Douro’? What does it mean?
Douro, translated literally, means ‘of gold.’ There are a couple of suppositions as to why it was named so. The most plausible one, in my opinion, is due to the wealth and opulence it brought, and continues to bring to the river basin. Another explanation is that the river had a yellowish-brown tinge because it coursed through hills and valleys, with full force, carrying a whole lot of dirt and debris with it downhill. In earlier times, the river was navigable only be means of Rabelo boats, that were principally used to carry port wine from the areas of production to the wine cellars in Porto. The recurrence of floods and the uninhibited flow of the river made it infeasible for alternate forms of water or land transport. In recent times, the river has become more tractable by building over a dozen dams along its course, making it safer for navigation and providing scope for the development of a railway line along its course. Nowadays, road tankers have displaced the quaint wooden Rabelo boats as the transporters of the port vine produced upstream.
The third hypothesis deals with the Latin derivative of the word, which has nothing to do with gold. The Latin word ‘duris’ means hard, an adjective for the solid undulating rocky contours along the path of the river. Some people say that the name Douro comes from the Celtic word for water- ‘dur.’
What is the reason for the excellent quality of wines in the Douro region?
Well, with wineries dating back to the Roman times, it is no wonder that these guys are miles ahead in the race for producing world class wines. The Douro region has a microclimate characterized by hot, dry summers and cold winters, that favours the cultivation of grapes. The harsh and humid winds from the Atlantic ocean are kept at bay by the Marão and Montemuro mountains that shield the vineyards.
Yesterday, I went to visit my friend who lives in Vila Real, a city in the Douro Subregion. The sun was shining bright and the weather was not playing spoilsport for the first time in weeks. So we decided to go for a drive up to São Leonardo de Galafura, a mirador (viewpoint) in the ‘Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro’ province of Portugal.
It’s a shame that I had forgotten to take my camera along because the pictures would make for great postcards – the river Douro snaking through the terraced mountains, flecked with little villages. It is so tranquil and serene up there. If you like to read, take a book along and enjoy a good read, undisturbed by the rest of the world. I have shared some of the pictures that I took with the crappy 3.15 MP camera of my Nokia phone (which did absolutely no justice to the beauty of the place). Anyway, since the place is just so gorgeous, the pictures came out decent enough.
Look at the picture below and you will notice two boats cruising along the river. These belong to companies that take tourists all around the Douro region and stop at wineries and estates for wine-tasting, as part of the tour. Some tour packages even allow you to be part of the wine-making process itself.
If you aren’t too fond of travelling by boat, you can take take one of the trains that pass through the towns lying along the valley. In the summer, a special train runs between the villages of Regua and Tua. From what I’ve heard, this is the coolest way to see the valley, and I’m going to opt for it this summer mainly due to these two reasons:
You could also choose to just drive though the valley in your car or cycle along demarcated bike paths in the area. Aerial views of the landscapes of the Douro valley are possible via cable cars and hot air balloon rides, for the adventure enthusiasts. If you truly would like to tour the valley in style, rent a helicopter. Had it not been financially prohibitive, I would rate this as the coolest way to tour the Douro region 😀