How we explored Douro Valley on our own
Taking a trip along Douro River, the valley that is home to the famous (and delicious) port wine, was an absolute must while visiting our friends in Porto back in May 2018.
We didn’t plan much in advance because we thought it was going to be easy-peasy. Only after we arrived in Porto we looked at our options and, disappointingly, most of the appealing ones were 2 (or more) day cruises out of our budget and our timeframe.
We could also rent a car, but we were six people and this complicated things.
Then, we noticed there were guided tours combining train rides with short cruises as well and most of them were promoting the same itineraries. We looked a bit into it and decided it will be more fun and affordable to do a Douro Valley day trip on our own, including a picnic lunch with a scenic view of the port wineries (or so we thought.. more on this later).
Long story short, we had about 2 hours to plan the whole trip, for 6 people, for the very next day, so let’s see how it ended up.
After reading various reviews on travel groups, we decided our day trip will look like this:
- take the train from Porto Campanha station early morning,
- go all the way to the village of Pocinho (about 3,5 hrs long ride) and have a picnic brunch/ lunch there,
- take the train back from Pocinho and stop in Pinhao for a one-hour boat tour (everybody said it was a must to experience the scenery from the water as well),
- return to Porto in the evening.
All set and ready to go!
Our One-Day Douro Valley Trip Unravelled
Next early morning, on a pleasant sunny day, armed with picnic ingredients and a lot of enthusiasm, we ran to the train station, because someone (might or might not be me) didn’t consider we’ll waste time at the supermarket and end up being late.
Almost missed the train due to the awfully long ticket queues but, thankfully, the train was a bit late as well so we managed to jump in at the last moment.
I recommend you check here the official timetables, routes and ticket prices and make sure you arrive at least half an hour earlier at the station.
Try to sit by the window! The first leg of the trip is not very spectacular, however, once the train nears the river banks, you’ll be sorry if you didn’t take a window seat (on the way there, the river will be on your right most of the time).
About 1 hour into the trip you finally leave the outskirts and surrounding villages of Porto, get closer to the Douro River and the trip starts to become interesting.
The train tracks go right by the river following its meandering at a very slow speed, amongst hills covered with lush vineyards and here and there a quinta (wine-growing estate) rising proud, or a small white house hugged by the hill.
There are sections of the road where the train feels like literally hovering over the water, on frail little structures that give you a shiver of fear and adrenaline down your spine. You can’t peel your eyes off the window – the beauty of the area is truly worth its fame. The photos really don’t do this valley enough justice!
The train slowly follows its bitten track and somewhere around the village of Pinhao the scenery becomes a tad more arid and rocky, contrasting with the previous one. I’d say the differences make it even more spectacular, plus, it is said that you can explore this section of the valley only by train or boat – so had we rent a car, we would have missed this unique perspective.
Hitting the final spot, Pocinho, we got off and headed out of the train station to find our scenic spot for picnic. Unfortunately, we were slapped in the face with a big disappointment, because there was nothing scenic there: industrial buildings, some derelict houses and a dull road, that was it!
Our much expected picnic amongst juicy grapes with breathtaking views of the Douro Valley turned into an improvised lunch by the road overlooking the train station, chasing away begging stray cats and making jokes about our situation while waiting for the next train to hop in.
Lesson learnt: take the train to Pocinho for the scenery itself because it’s absolutely fantastic and worth every single minute and every single penny, but don’t get off and waste time there. Instead, head right back with the same train and better get off in Pinhao.
Why in Pinhao? Because it’s more offering and tourist-oriented: here you can rent a boat or go on a guided boat tour on the river. Or take a kayak if you’re more adventurous! You can also go on a Port wine tasting tour (and maybe lunch) at a nearby quinta.
Because we were pressed by time to catch the last train back to Porto (should I remind you again not to waste time in Pocinho?), we only took a one-hour guided Rabelo boat tour (I think it was about 10EUR/ person at that time) which offered another beautiful, yet completely different perspective of the Douro Valley. Moreover, the guide provided us with in-depth information – we found out, for example, that you’re not allowed to wander freely through the vineyards, as everything is private property. Seems that our earlier planned picnic would have been a disappointment anyway…
Once the tour was done, we took a short walk around the village to get some snacks and see if there’s anything interesting to visit in the little time we had left there – it wasn’t (or we didn’t find it). I wish we had time to visit one of the quintas and enjoy a proper meal somewhere nice, but at least there’s a reason for me to go back now..
A brief rain started right before boarding the train back and the sunset caught us silently watching out the train window, through tiny droplets, how the colourful houses of Porto are rapidly passing in front of our eyes.
It was a good day.