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ALTO DOURO WINE REGION

Travel in the Douro is to make an appointment with tradition and culture, in a scenery of an unusual beauty. The Alto Douro Wine Region's landscape is breathtaking and extends along miles and miles, creating a truly unique region worldwide, which produces wine for over 2000 years, since the days of the Roman occupation. Those who visit the region cannot remain indifferent; they feel overwhelmed by its grandeur, the colors that transform it from season to season, and the magnificent sculpture carved by man on the meandering river's slopes: the terraces' rows are a mark of the creative and creator power of the Douro's man.

The Douro's soil is poor and the climate is very severe, with cold, harsh winters, and very hot summers, by which the necessity forced the Douro's man to invent his own survival. With the arms' force they molded, since ancient times, the landscape and the rural and poor soil, turning it in the suspended gardens that nowadays produce the world's most famous nectars.

The Alto Douro Wine Region is also the oldest demarcated wine region of the world, decreed by the Marquis of Pombal, in 1756, during the D. José's reign. All this contributed to its elevation, by UNESCO, to a World Heritage of Humanity, in December 2001. It's a unique region, which brings together the virtues of the schistose soil and the sun exposure, privileged with the micro-climate's unique characteristics, all conjugated and powered by the human hard work.

The scenery highlights the territory's unique character, the natural relationship between the wine culture and the olive and almond trees, and the architecture's diversity. The Douro Demarcated Region, of the Port and Douro's wines, extends for 250 thousand hectares and 22 municipalities, 48 thousand of which occupied by vineyards. However, only 24 thousand hectares (13 municipalities) were classified by UNESCO. They are though representative of the Douro's diversity, as they include the Baixo Corgo (Low Corgo), the Cima Corgo (Above Corgo), and the Douro Superior (Superior Douro). The Low-Corgo represents 51% of the area occupied by vineyards and the Douro River's entire right bank, from Barqueiros to the Corgo River (Régua). On the left bank, it extends from the Barrô parish to the Temi-Lobos River, in the proximities of the Armamar villa. The Above-Corgo represents 36% of the demarcated region, extending from the borders of the anterior, to the meridian that passes in the Cachão da Valeira. The Superior Douro is the smallest area, with approximately 13 % of the total area, from the borders of the Above Corgo to the Spanish border.

The classified area comprises the Douro River valley, also a World Heritage Site in the extremes, in Porto and in the Côa Archaelogical Park. the thirteen municipalities are: Alijó, Armamar, Carrazeda de Ansiães, Lamego, Mesão Frio, Peso da Régua, Sabrosa, Santa Marta de Penaguião, S. João da Pesqueira, Tabuaço, Torre de Moncorvo, Vila Nova de Foz Côa, and Vila Real, extending up along the Douro River's slopes and its tributaries: Varosa, Corgo, Távora, Torto, and Pinhão.

The classification by UNESCO spurred changes in the region through the territory's development and management and the environmental qualification and enhancement. The cruise boats' traffic had intensified and numerous farms joined the Port Wine route, promoting wine-tastings and conducting events. The historic train returned to the Douro Train Line, for a journey through time till the beginning of the last century. The entire region is in metamorphosis, constantly announcing new five-star hotels, and the restoration and adaptation of old properties in cozy rural hotels or tourism's houses.

In the Alto Douro Wine Region not only the landscape is altered by the wine's production, but also the rhythm of life of the Douro's inhabitants. if the winter is marked by the calm and quiet, which becomes visible in the naked vines, the transition from summer to autumn brings the bustle of the harvest, with the up and down of baskets and pruning shears, on the slopes populated by workers.

There you can visit museums, observe the nature or practice agricultural activities such as the traditional wine treading or the harvest - and there are many wine-producing farms, specialized stores and other retail outlets where you can taste and buy the Douro wines, of which you can obtain detailed information in the Douro Museum or in tourism's offices. You can also taste the regional cuisine or do a tasting of olive oils. You can still take cruises or mini-cruises, horseback riding or biking, besides the fishing, several water sports, the hunting, golf or mountain climbing, just to mention some of the countless possibilities that this region has to offer.

If you choose to know the Alto Douro Wine Region through the river route, there are various possibilities to choose from, through the numerous cruises organized by the different operators, or through the boat rental, in an also abundant and diversified offer. Those who have only a few hours, should take a short cruise: Régua-Barqueiros-Régua; Régua-Pinhão-Régua; or Pinhão-Tua-Pinhão, for instance. For those who dispose of more time, there are cruises with overnight stay on hotel-boats or others hotels of the region, which may last from two days to a week and allow you to know, beyond the landscape, the region's monuments, museums and restaurants.

The Douro River is the second largest river of the Iberian Peninsula, being born in northern Spain, on the Serra do Urbião, and travelling 850 km to its mouth, in Porto. It enters in Portugal through Barca d'Alva and traverses 213 km until it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It has also been, since ancient times, a central artery of the region's life, and a channel of the wine's transport. It was dangerous, with its flows and shoals, being the Rabelo boats the only ones navigating there. Nowadays, thanks to several dams' construction, it's, however, a completely safe and navigable river, traversed daily by numerous cruises and boats. The dams enabled the creation of the Canal de Navegação do Douro (Douro's Navigation Channel), with about 200 km from the Foz to Barca d'Alva. they also enabled the electricity's production and the management of the river's flow, which has an unevenness nearly 3m per kilometer in the international branch, leading to the construction of five dams in a 112km branch: Crestuma-Lever, Carrapatelo, Régua (Bagaúste), Valeira, and Pocinho.

The rail journeys are another alternative of great beauty to know the region. The trip can start in Cinfães, at the Mosteirô Railway Station, which disposes of a cars' park, and from there begin an experience of great sensory wealth. The route, of approximately one hour, goes by the Régua Station and ends in the Pinhão Station. There's also, on Saturdays, from June to October, a 1925's steam locomotive, which makes the branch line between the stations of Régua and Tua, in a romantic ride that takes us back in time. On board, you can enjoy a glass of Port Wine and a slice of the regional meat ball, to the sound of traditional singings.

Traversing the Douro World Heritage Site is also to appreciate its convents and churches and to know its craftwork, while savoring the genuine gastronomy. Always overwhelmed by the landscape's grandeur that every curve reveals us, we can enjoy it in its splendor in the eleven featured belvederes in the region. So, for those who want to know the Douro by car, the trip can begin in São Leonardo de Galafura, in Peso da Régua, in that which is the belvedere per excellence of the Douro's slopes. It's a must-visit site, with its scenic beauty described by Miguel Torga, in the Diário XII,as "the sublimed Douro" or "an excess of nature (...) that no sculptor have painted or no musician can translate (...) A geological poem. The absolute beauty." There's an area of great fauna diversity, where the wolf, the wildcat, and the red squirrel, stand out. The most common birds are the owl of the towers, the Tekla lark, and the round wing eagle.

Standing at an altitude of 630 meters, the S. Leonardo Viewpoint can be reached  through the N313-1 up to Galafura, and then by municipal road - Latitude 45º 59'' N; Longitude 6º 12'' O. From Galafura you can head to São Martinho da Anta, in Sabrosa, the Miguel Torga's birthplace, and there cycle through a 10km beautiful pedestrian path. The next destination can be Provesende, also in the municipality of Sabrosa, where the travelers can walk down to Pinhão (Alijó).

Here, you must climb up to the Casal de Loivos Belvedere, also a privileged place due to its fabulous scenery, considered by the BBC as one of the World's most beautiful sceneries. It has a privileged view over the Douro River, winding through the hills in a great extent, and from there you can see the "L" that describes in front of Pinhão, and still the Pinhão River's mouth. You can also identify the four types of vineyards: pre- phylloxeric terraces, post-phylloxeric terraces, high vineyards, and landings. The landscape is marked by many terraced olive groves and in the area you can see weasels, hedgehogs, wild rabbits and, in the riverside area, otters. Among the birds, the cormorant of white faces, the black stork, the heron and the goshawk, stand out. This belvedere is located at a 430 meters' altitude (Latitude 45º 62' N; Longitude 6º 23'' W), and you can get there through the N322, from Alijó to Favaios; the N322-3, from Favaios to the intersection with the N585; the N585 (to the intersection with the N585-1); the N585-1 to Casal de Loivos, and then by municipal road.

Crossing the river's south bank, you can climb up to the São Salvador do Mundo Belvedere, in the municipality of São João da Pesqueira, for a fantastic view over the Douro River in the Valeira Dam, with vines in modern landings. The beautiful Douro's Railway Line goes through one of the river's slopes, of an incredible sloping. Wildcats, red squirrels, wolves, foxes, otters, black storks, common kestrels, round wing eagles, Egyptian vultures and peregrine falcons are elements of the region's fauna. Located at an altitude of 450 (Latitude 4º 57'' N; Longitude 6º 37'' O), you may reach this belvedere through the N223 up to the intersection with the N222-3; and through the N222-3 up to the access municipal road.

Returning to Peso da Régua, you can visit the Santo António Belvedere. With the city and the Douro River as dominant elements and the vines always marking presence, it's possible to see the curve that the river does in front of Peso da Régua, the three Régua's bridges, and the Bagaúste Dam, in a very large visual range. The region's fauna is dominated by hedgehogs, weasels, wild rabbits, boars, foxes, herons, black storks, and black kites. At an 315 meters' altitude (Latitude 6º 00'' N; Longitude 45º 59'' O) the belvedere can be accessed through the N601, from Peso da Régua to Fontelas; and through the N600 from Fontelas up to the destination. From this belvedere is caught in sight, at a rocky mountain with strong visual impact, the S. Domingos belvedere, in the municipality of Armamar. From there you can admire a wonderful scenery in an enormous breadth of vision and of various kinds of landscape, due to the high altitude: the wine growing landscape with the several types of vines' plantation; the human landscape that goes from small villages to the cities as Lamego, Peso da Régua and Vila Real; the Douro and the Varosa Valley; and the Serras of Meadas, Marão, and Alvão. And you can still see the beautiful Maçarães Valley and Armamar. There's also a diversified fauna in the surroundings, which includes hedgehogs, weasels, badgers, otters, Thekla larks, herons, round wing eagles, and black storks. You can reach this belvedere, located at an 758 meters' altitude (Latitude 45º 53' N; Longitude 6º 05''), through the N313, from Armamar to Fontelo, or through the N1102 from Fontelo up to the destination, with a municipal road inside the belvedere.

Then, in the municipality of Alijó, you can visit the Nossa Senhora da Piedade Belvedere, near the homonymous chapel. It offers a huge breadth of vision over a landscape of great beauty, even though little typical of Douro: instead of being planted on steep slopes, the vineyard is in highlands, without resource to large terraces. The main fauna that can be spotted here consists of wild rabbits, hedgehogs, weasels, wild cats, black kites, great spotted woodpeckers, and peregrine falcons. Being situated at an altitude of 750 meters (Latitude 45 72'' N; Longitude 6º 25'), you can reach this belvedere through the N322, from Alijó to Sanfins do Douro (via Favaios), and then follow on a municipal road of about 1 km.

The Rota do Douro Belvedere is located in the Municipality of Carrazeda de Ansiães and it is, of all the characterized above, the one lying at a lower altitude, which allows to observe in detail the relevant landscaped elements, such as the vineyard, the wine-growing farms, the Douro River, and the riverside villages. At the riverside zones of the region, it's possible to observe otters, and, in the near pine forests and chestnut-trees' groves, wild rabbits, common squirrels, foxes, black storks, gray neck jackdaws, and crows, can be seen. You can arrive to this belvedere (situated at an 390 meters' altitude - Latitude 45º 58'' N; Longitude 6º 42'' O), through the N632 from Carrazeda de Ansiães to Seixo de Ansiães; and through the N632-3 from Seixo de Ansiães, via Beira Grande, up to the destination.

The S. Silvestre Belvedere is located in the municipality of Mesão Frio and it offers a magnificent view over the "L" that the Douro River describes in front of Régua. It's a verdant landscape and it's quite different from the one that lies upstream, with numerous villages in seemingly inaccessible escarpments. The vineyard is predominant, being most of it very old, but there are also olive trees, some patches of pine-groves and some woods. In the region you can observe wild rabbits, martens, wild cats, Schreiber’s bats, bats of savi, foxes, otters, green woodpeckers, herons, golden eagles, black kites, and little grebes. Located at an altitude of 530 meters (Latitude 45º 56' N; Longitude 5 92''), we may reach this belvedere through the N101 up to the intersection with the N581-1, and through the N581-1 up to the municipal road that leads us to the destination.

The Cristo Rei Belvedere is located in the municipality of Tarouca and it offers a considerably different landscape from the Douro's typical one, which combines the various villages (with Tarouca in a central plan) with large green spots, mainly of pine-groves. There aren't many vineyards. In the belvedere's surrounding  area, you can see hedgehogs, weasels, wild rabbits, red squirrels, herons, black hawks, Tekla larks, round wing eagles, and black storks. At an altitude of 919 meters (Latitude 45º 42'' N; Longitude 6º 00'' O), you can reach this belvedere through the N1173 from Tarouca to Gondomar, following then by a municipal road.

Another characterized belvedere is the Boa Vista, in the Lamego's Municipality. It offers an exceptional landscape, with a huge diversity, which manages to comprise practically all the elements of the others viewpoints; the villages on the valleys, on the slopes, in the mountain's ridges and in the highlands; the vineyard in all its forms; the Douro and the Varosa rivers; the Serras of Marão and Alvão; the S. Domingos Hill; chestnut-trees groves; pine-groves; and olive groves. All this in a huge breadth of vision, being still observable the São Domingos and São Leonardo Viewpoints. The area of this belvedere presents a great variety of wild life, where the wolves, the wild boars, the red squirrels, the herons, the black kites and the eagle owl, stand out. Located at an altitude of 860 meters (Latitude 45º 52'' N; Longitude 5º 98'' O), you can reach this belvedere through the N539 at Lamego's exit, and then by municipal road.

The last, but not least, of the characterized viewpoints, is located in the São João da Pesqueira Municipality. The Nossa Senhora das Neves Belvedere offers an astonishing landscape, with very distinct elements. On the south shore, the vineyard, planted in all forms, dominates. On the north shore, you are able to spot some villages, the Tua River's mouth with the railway bridge, and olive groves at the base of the hill. In the east side there's a view over the Douro River and small villages. There's still a privileged view over Soutelo do Douro and Nagozelo do Douro. In the region is possible to observe black storks, goshawks, owls, green woodpeckers, nightingales, hedgehogs, foxes, wild rabbits, and weasels. At an 680 meters' altitude (Latitude 45º 60' N; Longitude 6º 32'), you can get to this belvedere through the highway 222 from São João da Pesqueira to Ervedosa do Douro, going in direction of the N501 (which ends at Soutelo do Douro), and then through the intersection with Nagozelo do Douro, turning to a tarry municipal road. In the villages, the hotel offer and restaurant services are abundant and diversified, and you can also visit the region's farms. There are still five more paths, in a total of 25km, which can be traversed on foot: Barcos - Quinta do Monte Travesso and Barcos - Adorigo (Municipality of Tabuaço); Provesende - Pinhão (Sabrosa and Alijó Municipalities); São Martinho da Anta - Garganta (Sabrosa); and Mazes - Rio do Santo (Lamego).

 

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