It’s midday, the sun is shining and I’m eating lunch on a picnic table in the middle of the UNESCO protected vineyards of Quinta da Roeda, the grapes that make Croft Port wine. It’s a simple Portuguese meal but here, in the Alto Douro, among the centuries-old vines of Portugal’s oldest winemaker, it takes on much more significance. It’s living history.
These days the only grapes that get crushed by human feet are the tourists who get to try it out for real during the harvest time but there’s no mistaking the heritage up here.
There’s more heritage right next door at the Vintage House Hotel, a beautiful Quinta-style mansion that was once the country retreat of the Croft family. Sitting there, on a bend of the legendary Douro river surrounded by those terraced hillsides, I swear to myself there may be no finer place on Earth.
The Vintage House and Quinta da Roeda are still owned by descendants of the original British family. A family whose Fladgate Partnership owns and manages an impressive portfolio of Porto businesses. Croft, Taylor’s and Fonseca Port wines, of course, two other luxury hotels, The Yeatman and Infante Sagres, Porto’s only water taxi service and The World of Wine, a €100 million major tourist attraction currently under construction in the empty warehouses of Vila Nova de Gaia on the south side of the Douro.
Porto may be the business end of the Port wine business, but up here in the tranquil Douro Valley it’s all about letting Mother Nature do her stuff.
The Vintage House is the epitome of Portuguese rustic luxury; wood beamed ceilings, uneven tiled floors and sweeping gardens leading directly to the Douro. It’s the only luxury property right on the banks of the river. The fifty spacious rooms and suites all have private balconies and panoramic views of the river and valley and are surprisingly contemporary in contrast to the rest of the hotel.
For me, it is the public rooms that are the beating heart of the Vintage House. The Rabelo restaurant (named after the unique flat-bottomed boats that used to transport the wine down to Porto) with its vaulted ceilings and mural walls, the breakfast room decked out in Portuguese tiling and the lobby and library bar with their oak beam ceilings. And then there are the landscaped gardens; two lines of palm trees leading you down to the outdoor pool area.
Contemplating, I sit there a while watching the Douro riverboats glide by and think of the old days when the rabelo boatmen took their life in their hands sailing from here down the rapids to Porto with their precious wine cargo. Today it’s the railway that does all the hard work and Pinhão station is just a short walk away.
Dinner at Rabelo proves to be a delightful example of Chef João Santos’ regional culinary talents. The Douro is clearly a provider of more natural things than mere fruits of the vine, and at very reasonable prices too.
As I check out, I spot a rare bottle of olive oil from Quinta da Roeda on sale. They have a limited supply each year from their small crop of trees and as Estate Manager Miguel told me earlier at lunch, “when it’s gone, it’s gone.” I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.
The Vintage House Hotel is a luxury country retreat with an authentic wine heritage in a drop dead beautiful part of Portugal. It is an unmissable part of any trip to the Alto Douro. Of course, a picnic amongst the vines makes it all the more enjoyable.
Picnic image (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about The Vintage House Hotel
The Vintage House Hotel, Rua António Manuel Saraiva, 5085-034, Pinhão, Douro, Portugal.
T: (+351) 220 133 137 E: email@example.com
Rooms at The Vintage House cost from €120 a night including breakfast.
Tours of Quinta da Roeda vineyard including wine tasting are available from €12. Lunch is an additional fee by arrangement.