If you have a taste for port wine Peso da Régua in the UNESCO -listed Douro Valley is a somewhere you’ll love. The town is on the river in that strange but beautiful amphitheatre of high shale slopes with wine terraces cut from the rock.
Until the last century Peso da Régua was where barrels would be loaded onto wooden boats known as rabelos and shipped down to Vila Nova de Gaia at the mouth of the Douro. And this is also the base of the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, the Douro DOC, regulated since 1756. Wine tours, river trips and walks through this incomparable landscape all need to be in your plans.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Peso da Régua:
1. Port Wine
As the town that ran the world’s first demarcated wine region, Régua’s fortunes have been tied to this beverage for more than 250 years.
You’re in just the place to understand what port is all about, how it’s grown, fortified and aged.
At tasting sessions you’ll get a nose for the different types of port and their intricacies: For instance, you’ll learn why vintage port goes well with blue cheese, ruby with intense cheeses like cheddar, and tawny with more mature cheese like parmesan.
2. Wine Tours
If you’re in the Douro Valley for the port, it makes sense to let a company take the wheel and drive you to the various wineries and caves.
There are a couple based in Peso da Régua (CMTour and Wine Monets & Gourmet) that organise every detail for you.
You can book half-day or full-day trips that include lunch.
Depending on the length of your tour you’ll get to visit one or two wineries a day, getting firsthand insights about the story of this drink and how it’s made.
If you’re an independent soul there are six visitable wineries and caves in Régua and its outskirts.
The Quinta de Santa Eufemia and Quinta da Pacheca, just on the opposite side of the river come highly recommended.
3. Museu do Douro
This museum is in the old Casa da Comanhia Velha, which was in charge of the Douro DOC. Appropriately the building in on a terrace beside the Douro, and you can sit out at the wine bar or restaurant and see the river rolling by.
The museum opened in 2008 after a modern reworking of the 18th-century mansion and has multimedia displays recounting the history of wine production in the Douro Valley.
There’s a lot of archive footage and photography, and technical explanations of how the climate, soil and topography allow vines to thrive in the valley.
4. Miradouro de São Leonardo de Galafura
The Douro and its banks have a mesmerising beauty, and you may spend a lot of your trip just staring in awe at the scenery.
There are scores of vantage points in touching distance of Peso da Régua, but this scene will stay with you long after you’ve left.
At this elevation you’ll almost get a birds-eye view of the river and the verdant, contoured walls of the valley.
The lookout stands at 640 metres and a cluster of Upper Douro parishes will be laid out below, including Fontelo, Armamar, Sabrosa and Tabuaço.
5. Douro Historical Train
An evocative way to travel the Douro Valley is on the heritage steam train that trundles beside the river from June to October.
The vintage carriages are pulled by a Henschel & Son locomotive from 1925 and the line runs from Régua to Tua, 50 kilometres east.
It’s roughly a three-hour round trip, with a stop at the village of Pinhão to stretch your legs along the way.
You’ll be treated to awesome views of the river and its terraces, and accompanying the chug of the steam engine is a Douro folk band with accordions.
There’s also a toast with a glass of Ferreira port, and you can sample Régua’s artisanal candy.
6. Miradouro de São Domingos
Closer to Peso da Régua than the viewpoint at Galafura, this “miradouro” is right across the river.
Take the road for the village of Fontela and before you get there you can follow signs pointing up the hill.
Like Galfura you’ll be able to drive all the way there, and needless to say the vistas of the river from this the gazebo at this spot, 758 metres above sea level, are stunning.
You’ll be tempted to share them with jealous friends right away, but allow a moment to revel in the scenery.
In the distance to the north rises the dark outline of the Serra do Marão 20 kilometres, while to the southwest is the handsome skyline of Lamego.
7. Capela de São Pedro de Balsemão
On the left bank of the river, a circuitous road through the hills will deliver you to a chapel in the village of Sé.
From the outside this looks like a pretty, if unremarkable Baroque chapel.
But the 17th-century exterior conceals an interior that is far older, even if there’s a debate about just how old this chapel is.
It could date to any time between the 6th and 10th centuries, and it’s amazing how many early-medieval fittings survive.
There are friezes with geometric patterns, Corinthian capitals and semicircular arches.
See the sarcophagus of Afonso Pires, a Bishop of Porto in the 14th century.
His tomb is etched with high reliefs of the last supper and crucifixion.
A little way south, Lamego is an sophisticated cathedral city wreathed in vineyards.
Lamego’s speciality is sparkling wine, and if that piques your interest there are caves in the town.
The cathedral is an intoxicating melange of styles from Romanesque to Baroque, when the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni painted frescos in the vaults.
In the episcopal palace nearby there’s a sumptuous collection of art owned by Lamego’s bishops, like series of 16th-century Brussels tapestries and paintings by the Portuguese Renaissance master Grão Vasco.
9. Santuario de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios
In Lamego you can head off in a straight line from the main artery, Avenida Dr.
Alfredo de Sousa, and with some persistence and effort make it to this sanctuary.
You’re going to have to tackle 686 steps up a breathlessly sharp gradient.
To inspire you as you climb there are statues, obelisks, blue and white tile panels and fountains in the Baroque style.
Once you finally make it to you’ll be met by a splendid Rococo church that was more than 150 years in the making, between 1750 and 1905. Try to be here late August, early September when the steps are thronged with devotees for the annual pilgrimage.
10. Vila Real
At just 20 minutes through terraced valleys to the north there’s no excuse not to plan a day in Vila Real.
Resting on a plateau it’s a city of distinguished mansions for nobility, still emblazoned with coasts of arms from the 1500s onwards.
One man who made his mark on Vila Real was Nicolau Nasoni, once again.
In the 18th century he conceived the exuberant Clérigos Church and the Mateus Palace, believed by many to be Portugal’s Baroque masterpiece.
The Santuário de Panóias is a monument of a very different kind: It’s a Roman sanctuary where pagan rituals once took place, with a sacrificial altar, stairway and inscriptions hewn from the granite.
11. Walks and Bike Rides
You can get in contact with couple of businesses in Alto Douro that will meet you at the train station or your accommodation and take you out onto the terraced vineyards for a guided bike ride (GoOnBike and Naturimont). You’ll be kitted out with a safety helmet and can tailor your ride to suit your schedule and energy levels.
You could also set off on foot: It’s an environment that deserves to be seen in person to appreciate how human hands have shaped the landscape over centuries, cutting steps from the dark shale to adapt the hills for vines.
12. River Activities
The Douro’s lazy, rippling waters are safe for all kinds of activities in summer.
You could get in touch with companies like Naturimont or DouroAventura if you’d like to hire a kayak or paddleboard for the day.
There’s also a menu of organised trips that might take your fancy.
On one you can paddle five kilometres downriver from Régua to Caldas de Moledo.
This stretch winds beneath the vineyards of the Vale de Abraão (Valley of Abraham). You could also start near the dam upriver and float gently back to Régua, passing under the three over the Douro on the east side of the town.
13. Douro Cruises
An easier way to get to know the Douro from the water is to step aboard a yacht, RIB (Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat) or even an old-time rabelo cargo boat.
A host of cruises set sail from the pier in Régua or a few kilometres upriver at Folgosa.
If you’re up for something more than a simple two-hour jaunt, you can go on lunch or dinner cruises, or do an overnight trip.
There are intimate cruises especially for couples or the more convivial excursions organised by the companies that also tour the vineyards by road (combined packages are common). Most operators will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or accommodation, so it couldn’t be more convenient.
14. Festa de Nossa Senhora do Socorro
Since the time when Peso da Régua’s sailors embarked on long and dangerous voyages down the Douro on Rabelos, this town has always had a spiritual side.
There’s a good reason why the rabelo boats all have religious names.
And as you travel along the Douro you may notice the chapels on the banks where river travellers would stop to pray for divine protection.
This devotion is expressed today in a festival in the middle of August for Nossa Senhora do Socorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help). Over several days there are fado performances and evening pop, folk and classical concerts.
This all builds up to the Sunday, which begins with a mass and continues in the afternoon with a triumphal procession of the Marian image.
In a rural region like the Upper Douro there were two types of cuisine; one for the people who toiled in the fields and another for the traders and estate owners.
The recipes have been passed down come from both sides of this divide.
Poorer people would have had onion soup, or a broth with cabbage and red beans.
For the better off there would be sardines with cornbread and an array of baked rice dishes.
If you need something to fill you up on a damp day in winter, you can’t go wrong with feijoada à transmontana, a casserole with pork belly, pig’s trotters, chouriço and beans.