The little train leaves Pinhão and snakes through the valley hugging the Douro River. The scenery is breathtaking. Many say it is one of the great railway journeys of the world
On a bright and sunny afternoon last June, we took the Douro train to Porto. We had just come down the winding mountain road to Pinhão from Quinta Noval where we had lunch and 1999 Nacional.
Pinhão is a small port town that sits on a particularly lovely bend of the Rio Douro. The river broadens, the terraced hills close in and cruise boats tie up along a broad riverside esplanade. Wineries dominate the scene and even the delightful little train station has a small wine shop and a wine museum and azulejos depicting the grape harvest.
I got myself a window seat on the left side of the carriage so that the Douro River and the Port vineyards would be visible all the way to Ribagdouro. A smiling conductor issued tickets. The river shone in the afternoon sun and Rabelo boats slowly made their way upriver. Quinta do Tedo on the river and Dirk Niepoort’s Quinta de Nápoles – solid and brown like a fortress further up the hill, appeared and disappeared. DOC restaurant where we had dinner the previous day, flashed past.
The track sticks closely to the river, clinging to the precipitous rocks as the river and track passes through the Douro gorge. Some of the stations are no more than a shelter on a platform, used by the local wine quintas. Then you come to Regua.
Peso da Regua abuts the river at the western edge of the demarcated port-wine region. As the region’s largest riverside town, it grew into a major port-wine entrepôt in the 18th century. The town lies in a peaceful spot beneath the Serra do Maoro Mountains and was traditionally the place where barrels of Port were loaded onto rabelo boats to be transported along the Douro to Vila Nova de Gaia.
At Ribagdouro, the train leaves the river and heads towards Porto and Sao Beneto station. Around 20,000 azulejo tiles illustrating the history of Portugal cover most of the atrium of the station. They’re the work of artist Jorge Colaço and date from 1916. The most remarkable panels are those showing King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster by the city’s cathedral in 1387, Prince Henry the Navigator conquering Ceuta in Morocco, and a representation of the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez.
This was my fifth trip on the Douro Line from Pinhao to Porto. The first was in 1993 when I made a day trip to Pinhao and back to have lunch at Quinta do Bom Fim. A group of Portuguese sommeliers on the train were drinking white port and singing haunting Fado. I was asked to join in – not singing but drinking!
- “Lovely to see all the Portugal posts – I would love to do that railway journey one day.” Jane Trewhella, Otley, 4 March