For millennia, wine has been an integral part of the histories of these villages. In 2001, six of the hundreds of villages along the Douro were chosen to be “wine-growing villages”.
The six are Favaios, Provesende, Barcos, Trevões, Salzedas and Ucanha. In these villages, shielded by breathtaking mountains and valleys, you will find a rich heritage and a mouth-watering cuisine. This is why they all deserve something more than a brief stay.
The villages are particularly lively in September and October, when the grape harvest takes place. But it is well worth visiting these six wine-growing villages at any time of the year. Thanks to the wine-growing village project, much of the architectural and cultural heritage of these lands and peoples has been restored. Various traditions, linked to local crafts and food, have been preserved, recovered or even rescued from oblivion.
When you visit the wine-growing villages, you will find that they seem almost unaffected by the passage of time. Visitors are struck by the sheer beauty of their narrow streets, emblazoned houses, mansions and farms, chapels, churches and monasteries. All this with the stunning backdrop of the Douro countryside.
In short, there is much to be gained by getting to know the wine-growing Douro, classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2001.
Favaios and Provesende
Your journey begins in Favaios, in the municipality of Alijó (Vila Real). The village, located on a vast plateau at the foot of Vilarelho Mountain, is just three kilometres from the county seat. Although small, it is famous for its home-baked bread, its Moscatel wine and much more.
Religious architecture will be a significant part of any visit to Favaios, or to any of the other wine-growing villages for that matter. Visit the Domingos Parish Church, a neoclassical building with the highest bell tower in the whole county. Drop into the Santa Bárbara Chapel, at the top of Santa Bárbara Mountain (bonus: a magnificent panorama of the vineyards, valleys and mountains along the Douro) and also the chapels of São Paio (16th Century) and Santo António (17th Century).
The Chapel and House of Santo António (Capela e a Casa de Santo António), one of the most interesting mansions on the Douro, are part of the important architectural conglomerate to be found in Largo da Praça and Rua Direita. Almost all these buildings date back to the 18th or 19th Centuries.
In Largo da Praça, there is the former town hall, now a post office, which boasts some erudite baroque architecture. In Rua Direita, your eyes will be drawn to the house called Casa Lopo Vaz Moutinho.
Favaios has also retained something of its even more distant past. At an altitude of 820 metres, Vilarelho Hill Fort (Castro de Vilarelho) was built during the Iron Age, to ensure geo-strategic control of the surrounding countryside. This fortified settlement comprises two well-preserved lines of walls and a field of stones driven into the ground to impede any attack.
In the centre of Favaios, Solar dos Sepúlvedas and Casa dos Távoras, both former stately homes, are worth visiting. The 18th Century building known as the “Work” is part of one of these mansions. Today, it houses the Bread and Wine Museum (Museu do Pão e do Vinho), which offers a journey through the history and making of Favaios’ two best-known products.
Whet your appetite by wandering past some of the traditional bakeries that still make their bread (and cakes and folar - bread with meat, sardines or eggs baked inside) in wood-burning ovens. Visit the Favaios Wine Cooperative (Adega Cooperativa de Favaios) to find out how wine is made and taste the much-appreciated Moscatel. Local cuisine is not just about wine and bread: try the Transmontana bean and meat stew, roast kid, haricot bean stew or skate soup.
It used to be called San Joanes, but today it is known as Provesende. One of the oldest settlements in the kingdom of Portugal is in the county of Sabrosa (Vila Real). It was in this village that the winegrower Joaquim Pinheiro de Azevedo Leite Pereira (1829-1918) began the fight against phylloxera, a 19th Century blight that almost destroyed the vineyards of the Douro valley and the making of Port wine.
The village lies on a high plateau (so it offers excellent views) on the north bank of the Douro River. Its Chapel of Santa Marinha dates back to the 4th or 5th Century and the dying days of the Roman Empire. It was a pagan temple before it was Christianised. It then became an Arab mosque until the Christian Reconquest took place. In its long history, it has also served as a Benedictine monastery.
Any trip back through the history of Provesende would be incomplete without a visit to S. Domingos Castle and its chapel, 809 metres above sea level. As you climb, turn back to take in the terraced vineyards that line the stunning Douro valley. Although now in ruins, the castle still contains Iron Age remains, most notably the schist-built walls. There is an interesting Luso-Roman cemetery near the Sanctuary of Senhor Jesus de Santa Marinha.
Provesende used to be a rich and powerful area, as its 11 manors and emblazoned houses show. These include the palace-like Casa da Calçada, the Casa da Praça, the oldest of its kind in Provesende (1460) and Casa do Fundo da Vila, built in the 18th Century by a descendent of Diogo Cão, the important 15th Century navigator.
Provesende’s pillory (1578), which is classified as a Property of Public Interest, also attests to the social and political importance of the area. The 1755 granite fountain in the centre of the village is also worth a visit. The traditional bakery next to the fountain is reminiscent of 1940, the year in which it was built.
Barcos and Trevões
Barcos lies on a slope above the Távora River, in the municipality of Tabuaço (Viseu). The region’s first monastery was founded in the hamlet of Santo Aleixo, in Barcos, in the Early Middle Ages.
Archaeological finds at the hill fort on Sabroso Mountain indicate that the village already existed during the Bronze Age. In Mata de Forca, the ruins of a wine press built into the rock attest to the Roman occupation. The village has also retained features from other eras, most notably the Middle Ages. The various estates, mansions and manor houses reflect the importance of agriculture and wine-growing in the local economy. The Solar dos Caiados mansion and its chapel are well worth making time for.
The must-see 12th Century Barcos Parish Church was classified as a national monument in 1922. Inside you will find an impressive gilded altar and a ceiling painted with scenes from the life of Christ. To see more of the village’s religious architecture, visit the Sanctuary of Santa Maria do Sabroso or take a walk along the Holy Way (particularly lively during Holy Week) that ends at the Santa Bárbara Chapel. In the past, many places had “foundling wheels”, where mothers could leave babies to the care of charity institutions. Barcos has such a wheel.
Any trip to Barcos should also include a visit to the Centenários de Barcos Cross, the fountain in Largo do Adro, the old Confraternity Oven (Forno da Confraria) and the Old Fountain (Fonte Velha).
One excellent way of getting to know Barcos, and other parts of the wine-growing Douro, is go on one of the walks. The first of these “Douro Terraces - Socalcos do Douro”, links Tabuaço, Barcos and Adorigo, while the second, “History and Nature - História e Natureza”, traverses Barcos and Santa Leocádia.
October is the perfect month in which to visit Barcos, as it is the time of the Wine Harvest Festival. Carnival is another good time of year, as visitors can enjoy a number of ritual celebrations, including the “weddings” of the parish’s young people, and traditional games.
The local cuisine is also delicious: from the oven-baked rice to the smoked sausages and the traditional convent sweetmeats. The numerous convent recipes for those with a sweet tooth include folar (sweet bread), egg candies, home-baked cakes, chestnut sweets and chestnut soup.
Trevões is the next stop-off on your tour of the wine-growing villages. Here, in this town in the municipality of São João da Pesqueira (Viseu), however, farming doesn’t just mean vineyards: olive oil, vegetables, fruit and pine and eucalyptus lumber are all produced here.
Faith has certainly left its mark on the area, as can be seen from the many chapels and hermitages that populate the countryside. These include the 17th Century Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, in the town square and the oldest chapel of all, the Chapel of São Sebastião, which dates back to the 16th and 17th Centuries. The famous Senhor dos Passos Procession (Stations of the Cross) takes place here in Holy Week. In the 18th Century Episcopal Palace, look out for “the eye of the Bishop”, a peephole in the southern façade that the bishop used to check if the congregation was going to be big enough to warrant him saying mass.
Trevões Museum safeguards and conveys the history, culture, lifestyle and traditions of the village and its people. Many of the old arts are no longer practised, although traditional shoemaking is still alive and well. Before leaving Trevões, take the time to see how shoes are made by hand.
Salzedas and Ucanha
The wine-growing village of Salzedas, which lies in the municipality of Tarouca (Viseu), was home to one of Portugal’s most important monasteries. It was founded at a time when Portugal as an entity was in its infancy.
The Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria de Salzedas was built on the orders of Teresa Afonso (1100-1171). It was remodelled a number of times over the centuries. Only a small chapel remains from the original building. The monks who lived here were the main drivers of the agricultural development of the region. They worked the fields around the monastery, which is now a national monument.
Salzedas has been settled for a very long time and has served as a home to Lusitanians, Romans, the Suevi, Visigoths and Muslims, amongst others. Jews also lived here and left traces of their presence in Quelho, the former Jewish quarter. There are also reminders of the more rural life of the past - in the form of ground floors that were used to stable animals and the wooden porches.
Salzedas is home to a famous work by the architect and painter Nicolau Nasoni, who designed the Clérigos Tower in Porto. His 17th Century Chapel of Desterro is remarkable for its hexagonal shape and the tiles in which it is clad. It is also worth visiting the Roman Bridge in Vila Pouca. This single arch structure crosses the Varosa River.
Before leaving the area, don’t forget to try a Salzedas Biscuit (Biscoito de Salzedas), also known as Biscoito da Teixeira. The biscuit is made to the traditional recipe of the Cistercian monks. But there is another of the monk’s secrets that, happily, made its way out of the local monastery: the elderberry liqueur.
There is one more wine-growing village in the Tarouca area. Ucanha is one of the oldest settlements in the region. The Romans farmed the fertile soil of the Varosa River valley. Later on, and just as they did in Salzedas, the monks played a key role in developing the land. This can be seen from the 12th Century fortified bridge, one of a kind in Portugal, and the toll tower that form the main points of interest in Ucanha.
No visit to the village would be complete if it didn't take in the 17th Century Parish Church of São João Evangelista, whose interior gilding contrasts starkly with the sober architecture, and the ruins of the Old Abbey.
One lovely way of finishing off your tour of the wine-growing villages is to discover the sparkling wine that the region produces. Try this wine with some of the convent sweetmeats (a heavenly combination) while admiring the calm waters of the Varosa River.
How to get there
There are numerous direct flights into Porto. If you are travelling low cost you can fly straight from London, (Stansted and Gatwick), Birmingham, Paris (Beauvais, Orly, Vatry and Charles de Gaulle), Marseilles, Dole, Lille, Strasbourg, Tours, St. Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat, Valencia, Milan Bergamo, Rome Ciampino, Brussels (Charleroi and Zaventem), Eindhoven, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Geneva, Basel/Mulhouse, Dortmund, Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe Baden, Nuremberg, Hamburg Lübeck, Munich Memmingen and Düsseldorf Weeze.
In the summer, low-cost airlines fly from Liverpool, Dublin, Bologna, Toulouse, Clermont Ferrand, Carcassonne, La Rochelle, Limoges, Rennes, Las Palmas, Palma de Majorca, Tenerife and Bremen.
The traditional airlines operate flights to Porto from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt, Paris Orly, Caracas, Geneva, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Milan Malpensa, Luanda, Zurich, New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels Zaventem, Rome Fiumicino, Toronto and Luanda. In the summer, they also fly from Montreal, Minorca, Brest and Brive.
From Porto, the A4 motorway offers the best route into the Douro region. To get to Favaios and Provesende, take the IC5. To visit Barcos and Trevões get off the A4 onto the A24 and then the N222. Take the A24 and then the N226 to reach the villages of Salzedas and Ucanha.